Montepellier, Hérault, Languedoc-Roussillon, France
Summary of Frédéric Bazille
Frédéric Bazille had both exquisite timing and terrible luck. He was one of a group of radical, iconoclastic artists in early 1860s Paris - Manet, Monet, and Renoir among them - to turn the artistic establishment upside down with their revolutionary new approach to painting. Manet was something of a mentor and certainly a good friend to Bazille. Bazille received only a relatively limited amount of formal academic artistic instruction but his close alliances with fellow artists, including sharing studios with the likes of Renoir, Sisley, and Monet, helped shape his style. His paintings were just as often accepted as refused by the official Salon and, while he adopted some of the techniques and formal qualities of the Impressionist style, his work remained Realist except in the realm of subject matter. He was a pioneer in creating compositional strategies for situating human figures in outdoor settings and integrating them with the atmospheric effects of a given locale. He worked often in his studio but was also an advocate of painting en plein air, which Monet had encouraged him to do from early on. Bazille received positive support from important critics of the day and his career was taking very promising shape when he was killed just before his 29th birthday in a battle during the Franco-Prussian War.
- Bazille is regarded as one of the innovators of the Impressionist style even though he never exhibited his work with other members of the group. The first Impressionist exhibition took place in 1874, almost four years after his death and not one work by Bazille was displayed at the show. Despite being directly associated with important Impressionists like Monet and Renoir, his style was far more that of a Realist, sharing common formal features with the art of Courbet and Manet's earlier, pre-Impressionist paintings.
- Bazille had been encouraged by his good friend Monet to go outside to paint rather than confining himself to his studio. Together the two painters went to the countryside, often accompanied by other artists, so that they could paint in nature or en plein air. It was in his efforts to successfully integrate the human figure into a modern, Impressionist landscape where Bazille moved into more radical artistic terrain. In Bazille's harmonious, modernist compositions, the figure, whether nude or clothed registered the effects of light and other atmospheric phenomena like the other objects in the picture. While he incorporated modern compositional strategies such as unusual cropping that mimicked the cropping of a photograph and vantage points at extreme angles, Bazille's painting style, which could sometimes appear less restrained if not loose and varied like the brushstrokes of the Impressionist style, was much more controlled. Contours tended to be sharply defined, surfaces smooth and highly finished, and his palette was typically darker than that of most Impressionist works.
Biography of Frédéric Bazille
Frédéric Bazille, born Jean-Frédéric, was born into a wealthy family with ancient roots in the South of France. He was born on the family's estate, Meric, outside of Montpellier on December 5th (some sources say the 6th) in 1841. The Bazille family had settled in the area at least as early as the 13th century. He came from a family of artisans, including an 18th-century ancestor who was a master arquebusier, "a renowned weapons specialist and producer of luxury works of art ... who worked for the king." Eventually, the family channeled their artisanal skills into goldsmithing with which they earned a reputation for excellence as well as their fortune. One of the family treasures, which had eventually made its way to his mother, Camille Vialars Bazille, was a famously beautiful and extravagant ring "of diamonds with seven rosette stones" designed by Daniel Bazille in 1720.
Important Art by Frédéric Bazille
Bazille's milieu of avant garde painters, including Monet and Renoir and also Morisot, who had become an active figure in their circle, were inspired by the work of the Realists like Courbet and early Manet, which inserted contemporary figures into landscapes painted on site or en plein air. Bazille referred to this method as "painting figures in the sun" in a letter he wrote in December of 1863.
In The Pink Dress, Bazille isolates the figure of his cousin, Therese des Hours, who sits comfortably on a stone ledge, framed by the village of Castelnau-le-Lez. The village was in close proximity to the Bazille family's estate, Meric, outside of the city of Montpellier. The Bazille and Hours families spent summers on the estate, which was in the hills above the charming Castelnau-le-Lez with its sunbleached exteriors and terracotta tiled roofs so typical of the South of France.
Borrowing a compositional technique for landscape painting from the Barbizon painters, Bazille places trees in the middle ground to function as a kind of dividing line between the stone terrace and wall of the foreground and the village in the distance. The trees also filter the bright summer sunlight that illuminates the village. They cast shadows on the terrace and on the figure of Therese, who sits quietly in the shade of the terrace at one end of the estate's large garden, faces away from the viewer, seemingly introspective and relaxed in her stockinged feet; she wears a casual, light summer dress of pink and gray stripes and a black apron.
Despite the picture's radical departure from tradition, particularly with regard to the flat areas of barely blended color, the loose brushwork, and the blurring of details, Bazille places his model in a seated, three-quarters pose that is typical of conventional portraiture. In a preparatory sketch for the painting, Therese instead faces the viewer, creating a more pronounced connection between sitter and viewer. The adjustment emphasizes the artist's thought processes in terms of the overarching goal of figuring out how to integrate figure and landscape.
Four years later and still working out this formula that featured a sitter in the foreground framed by a landscape with a village in the background and trees in the middle ground, Bazille painted a similar picture called View of the Village (1868). Evidently, he had succeeded in his mission to create what was to become a standard Impressionist motif as, upon seeing the later picture exhibited, Morisot observed that he had "fulfilled the aspiration of [this] entire generation to place a figure en plein air."
In springtime of 1863, Bazille and a handful of other artists from Gleyre's studio accompanied Monet to the Fontainebleau Forest where they could paint en plein air. These artists were following a long tradition of painters before them, particularly those of the Barbizon school of landscape painting (c. 1830 to 1870) such as Rousseau, Troyon, and Corot. The school took its name from the small village of Barbizon, which was located on the edge of the Fontainebleau Forest. Major characteristics of the style that evolved with the Barbizon painters were their pictures' rich color and natural lighting, loose brushwork, and softened forms.
The new generation of painters that included Monet, Bazille, Renoir, and Sisley among others embraced the concept of painting en plein air (rather than confining themselves to their studios) but even the less hard-edged style of the Barbizon school, an offshoot of the Romantic movement, was too structured for them. They took their predecessors' fascination with the effects of light much further, establishing the foundations of what would become the Impressionist style. Less concerned with conveying emotion through dramatic, tonal paintings like the Barbizon painters, Bazille and the early, core group of Impressionists were interested in the science of the natural world.
Photography heavily influenced the way that they framed their images - something like snapshots with unusual cropping meant to imitate the spontaneity of a photograph. With this painting, Bazille shuns symmetry and instead provides a view that feels random, as though we are wandering among the trees in the shady forest. The rough, loose brushwork is ideal for describing the texture of the trees, the boulders, and forest floor scattered with debris and plants. The restrained palette is cool and inviting as must have been the feel of the forest itself.
In this painting, the artist Claude Monet lies on his back in a bed with his left leg propped on a folded blanket. Following their trip to the Fontainebleau Forest, Monet went to the town of Chailly near the city of Fontainebleau and asked Bazille to meet him there. Monet planned to begin painting his monumental picture, Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe (1865-66), a response to Manet's famous work by the same title, and requested that Bazille pose for the picture. Bazille arrived a day or two after Monet and checked into a hotel in Chailly, where he stayed for a few days there posing off and on for his friend's painting.
An anecdote from those few days describes how, when Bazille was just preparing to leave the outdoor setting where the painting was staged, a group of English students were playing a game involving flinging a fairly heavy metal disk through the air. A poorly launched attempt apparently went sailing toward a group of children; Monet intervened and was injured, his leg gouged by the disk. Bazille's medical skills are said to have saved the day as he applied a tourniquet to the wound, cleaned it thoroughly, and then remained in Chailly to care for his friend while he convalesced. During the convalescence, Monet also painted a portrait of Bazille - a portrait that became quite well known.
Here, the bedridden, immobile Monet looks out toward the viewer. A sort of traction device that Bazille rigged is suspended above the bed to the right of the patient. The reddened calf of the injured man is apparent as is his convalescent state, including the chamber pot sitting on the floor by the bed, an intimate detail that makes the scene feel quite private, the viewer an intruder. The style is more Realist than Impressionist, as though the seriousness of the circumstances and the bond between the two friends demanded a more careful, naturalistic, and detailed handling of the picture.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Frédéric Bazille
- Bazille: Purity, Pose, and Painting in the 1860sBy Dianne Pitman
- Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of ImpressionismBy Michel Hilaire, Kimberly Jones, and Paul Perrin
- Monet and BazilleBy Kermit Swiler Champa