Sunrise on Impressionism: 7 Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic

Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic (1839–1889), La plage de Berck au pliant (1877-9), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Several of those who exhibited their work at the First Impressionist Exhibition in April 1874 were never Impressionists, but friends of others who were. Viscount Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic (1839-1889) had been a longstanding friend of Edgar Degas, and was a model for several of his paintings, including Count Lepic and his Daughters (1870), below, and Place de la Concorde (1875), showing Lepic, his daughters, and their dog.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917), Count Lepic and His Daughters (1870), oil on canvas, 65 × 81 cm, Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zürich. Wikimedia Commons.

On 10 February 2008, Count Lepic and his Daughters was stolen from the Foundation E.G. Bührle, Zürich, and was recovered in April 2012 with slight damage. Curiously, Degas’ Place de la Concorde was believed to have been lost for forty years after the Second World War, but was then rediscovered.

Lepic was the grandson of one of Napoleon’s generals, Louis Lepic. His father had been a close supporter of Napoleon III, and he had been expected to follow the family’s military tradition. But he persuaded his father to allow him to train as a painter, first under Gustave Wappers, court painter to the King of Belgium, and eventually with Charles Gleyre, whose academy trained other Impressionists, and Alexandre Cabanel. From his youth he was good friends with Edgar Degas, who was later to invite him to exhibit with this group of independents.

After a few years occupying himself with archaeology, including founding the Aix-les-Bains museum in 1872, he developed his techniques of etching, and painted mainly marine views.

At the First Impressionist Exhibition, the catalogue records that he showed four watercolours and three etchings. The paintings are given as:

  • High Tide in Cayeux,
  • Fishing, a study in the open sea,
  • The Gulf of Naples,
  • Departure of the Herring Boats.

Of those, the only painting which appears to have survived and is still accessible is the third, a pleasant but hardly innovative landscape.

Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic (1839–1889), César (c 1875), etching, dimensions not known, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

This etching of Lepic’s dog César has been dated to about 1875, but may well have been one of the three he exhibited in 1874. It’s an accomplished work, the result of his years developing and refining his techniques. The artist and his family were often associated with this small dog, who also appeared in Degas’ paintings.

Lepic returned to the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876, where he showed a total of thirty-eight paintings. However, he then separated from the group because of its insistence that members didn’t show at the official Salon, where his paintings were exhibited from 1863 until 1888, the year before his death.

In 1877, he started to pay annual visits to the beach resort of Berck, to the south of Le Touquet, not far from Calais, and many of his surviving paintings were made there. These brought him recognition as a marine painter, the award of a silver medal at the Salon of 1877, followed by a large one-man show in 1879, and he was appointed an official marine painter to the French State in 1883.

Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic (1839–1889), Fishing Boat Entering Berck (c 1876), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille. Photo by Remi Jouan, via Wikimedia Commons.

Lepic’s marine paintings, such as Fishing Boat Entering Berck (c 1876), were hardly in keeping with those of the Impressionists.

Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic (1839–1889), Berck Beach (1876), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille. Wikimedia Commons.

His paintings of the sands at Berck, here in Berck Beach from 1876, were brighter, but invariably scenes of desolation. The few beaches among Degas’ few landscape paintings are remarkably similar, and devoid of life.

Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic (1839–1889), The Wrecked Boat (1877), oil on canvas, other details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Apparently small in size, The Wrecked Boat (1877) may have been painted as a plein air sketch, and was well-received in the Salon that year.

Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic (1839–1889), La plage de Berck au pliant (1877-9), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

In his La plage de Berck au pliant (1877-9) the stepped masts of fishing boats make them appear abandoned and derelict, although that was common practice to avoid storm damage.

In retrospect, Lepic seems to have been better at making prints than painting. In 1874, for example, he and Degas collaborated in the making of a large monotype, which they both signed, The Ballet Master, now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. In the 1880s, he became so involved with the ballet that he designed and painted dresses, and made a prima ballerina his mistress. In 1889 he was unexpectedly taken ill, and died that October, at the age of only forty-nine.


Hans Weevers’ page with a thorough literature survey.
The First Impressionist Exhibition (in Italian), containing
the exhibition catalogue