Jules Breton. Part 3. Rural Life and Religious Ceremonies.

Breton Peasant Woman Holding a Taper by Jules Breton (1869)

Besides his rural works of art, Jules Breton will also be remembered for his religious paintings.  One simple work was his 1869 painting entitled Breton Peasant Woman Holding a Taper, which can be seen at the Brooklyn Museum.  It is an intimate portrayal of an elderly lady in Breton costume.  Jules Breton made the background plain and dark so that her white headdress and the starched folds of her collar stand out.   In one hand she holds the long thin candle whilst the other hand clasps her rosary beads.  France may have been reeling from revolutions and turmoil with even worse to come but Breton was happy to focus on regional dress and religious tradition.  Since 1994, the painting has been housed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Quimper

The Pardon in Kergoat by Jules Breton (1891).

One of his greatest religious works was his multi-figured depiction entitled The Pardon at the Chapel of Kergoat in Quéméneven.  A pardon occurs on the feast of the patron saint of a church or chapel, at which an indulgence is granted. Hence use of the word “pardon”. Pardons only occur in the traditionally Breton language speaking Western part of Brittany.   This “pardon” at the Chapel of Kergoat was one of the most popular pardons because of the virtues of the waters from the nearby fountain. The Chapelle Notre-Dame de Kergoat is a 16th century chapel in the hamlet Kergoat, in the commune Quéménéven, Finistère, in north-western France. People came from all over Cornouaille, as shown by the presence of people from the Bigouden area.  Jules Breton was moved by the number of beggars and the passion of the pilgrims.  His portrayal of the event lets us imagine the movement of this procession as it goes around the monumental chapel. 

Le pardon de Notre-Dame-des-Portes à Châteauneuf-du-Faou by Paul Sérusier (1894)

He, like many other artists such as Gaugin, Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret and the Pont-Aven School painter, Paul Sérusier, depicted similar scenes of devotion.

The Blessing of the Wheats in Artois by Jules Breton (1857)

Another religious procession featured in one of Jules Breton’s paintings.  It was his 1857 work The Blessing of the Wheats in Artois which he presented at the Salon that year and was awarded a second-class medal.  It was also the year that Jean-François Millet had his famous painting, The Gleaners, exhibited at the Salon.  Jules Breton’s painting was bought that year by the French State for the Luxembourg Museum.  The procession we see in the painting is a procession of the Rogations.  Rogation Days are days set aside to observe a change in the seasons. Rogation Days are tied to the spring planting. There is one Major Rogation, which falls on April 25, and three Minor Rogations, which are celebrated on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday immediately before Ascension Thursday.  Around Jules Breton’s village of Courrières, the girls in their communion dresses, the clergy, and the local notables walk the countryside to attract the blessing of heaven to the coming crops. This painting reminds us of the important place of Christianity in French rural life.

Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières by Jules Breton (circa 1860,)

Jules Breton was the self-proclaimed “peasant who paints peasants.”   During his career, he would paint many pictures that focused on the religious traditions of rural communities, especially those in the towns and villages of Brittany and his birthplace and current home, Courrières.   One of the earliest paintings to study the theme of communicants, people who receive or are entitled to receive Communion, was his 1860 work, Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières which hangs in the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris.  This work depicts the ceremony of First Holy Communion being held in the village of Courrières, a ceremony during which a person, around the age of eight, first receives the Eucharist.  The young girls who are about to receive the sacrament usually wear beautiful white dresses.

Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières by Jules Breton (circa 1884,)

In 1884, twenty-four years after Breton completed Les Premières Communiantes à Courrières, he was given a commission by one of his patrons, Samuel Putnam Avery, to complete another work depicting the First Communion ceremony and offered him 50,000 francs for its completion.  He gave the artist freedom to choose a depiction of the ceremony.  Avery was a great supporter and fan of Breton’s work and in a letter from May 4th, 1882, after Breton had accepted the commission, he thanked him saying:

“…I have so much confidence in your genius I am convinced that you will create a masterpiece, and want to leave you free to do what interests you most…”

Breton set to work in the summer of 1883 making numerous sketches for the finished commission.  Avery became impatient as over a year had passed since the commission had been agreed upon and in November Breton wrote once more to Avery saying that the work was nearing completion and that he intended to submit it to the 1884 Salon.  Breton has depicted a much broader view of the Communion ceremony.  The setting is a Spring morning and the mauve lilac is in full bloom.  The “ruralness” of the depiction is enhanced by the inclusion of birds fluttering over the thatched roofs of the whitewashed cottages.  The bright sunlight shines down upon the procession and lights up the virginal white diaphanous veils of the young girls as they slowly walk through the village towards the church of Courrières.  The painting was hailed a great success and the art critic for the Art Journal who wrote about the 1884 Salon said:

“…Les communiantes is perhaps the finest work in the exhibition… In the detail, the characterization, the perfect technique, the harmonious and varied coloration, and above all in the feeling, this picture is especially fine…”

The work was the culmination of numerous sketches that Breton had taken.   

Élodie with a Sunshade, Baie de Douarnenez by Jules Breton (1871),

After the Salon closed, Avery purchased the painting for 50,000 francs, and then promptly sold it to the American art collector, Mary Jane Sexton Morgan, the widow of Charles Morgan, an American railroad and shipping magnate.  She paid $12,000 for the painting. Charles de Kay, a writer on art wrote in the Magazine of Art:

“…What the most fabulous art dealer, what the most self-important artist asked, she paid without wincing…

Mary died in 1885 and the following year at the auction of her collection in May 1886, the work was purchased by Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, president of the Bank of Montreal, for $45,000, the highest price ever paid for a work by a living artist at the time.

La Communiante by Bastien-Lepage (1875)

Jules Breton’s decision to submit his work to the Salon jurists was not really a gamble as the Salon had shown a love for this type of depiction.  Bastien-Lepage’s La Communiante was favourably received by the Salon jurists in 1875.  In that work, the young girl at her First Holy Communion ceremony sits in front of us. Her hands are joined on her lap in a touch of reverence.  She fixes us with a steady gaze. Her eyes and hair are the only dark details of the canvas. The only colour is that on the face, wrists and arms which are covered under light gauze.  The rest of the work is bathed in tones of white and grey.

La première Communion à l’eglise de la Trinité by Henri Gretrix (1877)

Two years later, in 1877, the French artist Henri Gervex, had his painting, La première Communion à l’eglise de la Trinité, accepted into the 1877 Salon. 

Rolla by Henri Gervex (1878)

The interesting fact about Gervex and the Salon was his works later turned to more lascivious depictions of nude or semi-nude women and the submission of his painting, Rolla, to the Salon jurists of the 1878 Salon was rejected, on the grounds that it was too risqué and they wanted to avoid the furore which occurred with Manet’s 1865 Salon painting, Olympia, which was accepted into the exhibition but subsequently was condemned by many conservative critics as being “immoral” and “vulgar .

Summer by Jules Breton (1891),

Besides being a talented artist, Jules Breton was a poet and in 1880, had his poem Jeanne published.  His poetry was so good that it was awarded the Montyon Prize by the Académie Française.  However, he had little time to dedicate to his poetry as the demand for his artwork was escalating and he was now attracting considerable interest from the ever-expanding and lucrative market in America.

Last Flowers by Jules Breton (1890)

Samuel Putnam Avery was a critical part in exposing American audiences to European Art in the second half of the nineteenth century, importing major works by Ernest Meissonier, Charles-François Daubigny and William Bouguereau, among others, and he provided Breton with many sales and commissions on behalf of collectors.  The American public liked Breton’s depiction of rural labourers as one art historian, Madeleine Fiddell-Beaufort put it in her 1982 book, Jules Breton and the French Rural Tradition:

“…they [the Americans] appeared to exist in a harmonious and classless society that was appealing in a country that prided itself on a democratic tradition…”

The Weeders by Jules Breton (1860)

The American market was also aware of Breton’s awards from the various Salons and realised that buying his works was a real investment.  Two examples of his work that went to America can be seen in the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.  The Weeders was completed in 1860.  The painting impeccably demonstrates Breton’s Academic approach to painting.  The depiction is a delicate blend of realistic observation and a romantic sentiment. Breton has managed to beautifully capture the delicate mauves and roses of the twilight sky and added the simplicity of these stooped figures, Breton has managed to convert the activity of common field labour into a less harsh scene, almost one of graceful contemplation.

The Vintage at Chateau Lagrange by Jules Breton (1864)

Another of his works at the museum is his 1864 work, The Vintage at Chateau Lagrange.  The setting of the work is not Brittany where a number of his paintings were set. The painting depicts a festival being held in the Médoc district of southern France just north of Bordeaux.  Breton decided to travel to the southern parts of France where he believed lay the “sublime landscapes with inhabitants embodying extraordinary beauty.”  It was fortuitous that Breton was invited by Count Charles Tenneguy Duchâtel, the owner of Chateau Legrange winery to visit him and paint a picture depicting the grape harvest at his estate.  The setting was ideal for Breton but the adverse weather on his first visit necessitated a second visit to complete his sketches.  The painting was then completed in his Paris studio.  It is interesting to note Breton’s portrayal of the grape pickers.  They seem well-dressed and happy and their work has afforded them a distinctly classical quality and the hard-working process of picking the grapes from the vine has been depicted as a noble task rather than a tiring and arduous chore by poorly dressed and unhappy peasants.  Could it be that the Count wanted the painting to depict his workers as well dressed, well fed, happy people who were pleased to serve him?

Planatation d’un Calvaire by Jules Breton (1858)

In his painting, Planatation d’un Calvaire, Jules Breton recounts an event, which he witnessed in his youth.   Before us, we see a group of monks carrying on a stretcher the statue of Christ that will be fixed to the wooden cross.  In the background of the painting, we can see the cross being erected in the grounds of the churchyard.   In front of monks, three young girls wear the symbols of the Passion (the crown of thorns, the nails, and the spear). Finally, behind them, comes the priest, the children’s choir and the parishioners who close the march. The group moves forward in a slow procession towards the great cross, which is in the process of being erected in the background.  Breton, through this depiction, reminds himself of the fervor and recollection of this village community. The palette he has used is dominated by grey and beige, and is warmed by colourful tones of yellow, red and blue.  Breton’s wife, Élodie de Vigne, is represented twice in this painting. She is both the character of the mother holding her two children by the hand and that of the girl in white carrying a cushion on which rests the crown of thorns.

Young Women Going to a Procession by Jules Breton (c 1890),

In 1861 Jules Breton was named Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.  In 1867 he exhibited ten paintings at the Exposition Universelle and was given a first-place medal. In 1872 he was given the Medal of Honour at the Salon. Jules continued exhibiting at the Salons and was promoted from Officer to Commander of the Légion d’Honneur in 1885, and in 1886 he was elected as a member of the Insitut de France. In 1889-1900 he was also a jury member of the Salon. Towards the end of his career his works often focused on a single figure within the composition.

Jules Breton died in Paris on July 5th 1906, aged 79.  His wife Elodie died three years later on July 30th 1909, aged 73.

If you have enjoyed reading about Jules Breton, I can thoroughly recommend you try and read his 1890 autobiography entitled The Life of an Artist which gives you an insight into the great man’s life and his thoughts.

Jules Breton. Part 2. Ruralism and Naturalism.

Jules Breton (1890)

Little did Jules know but this trip with his father to arrange his art tutoring was the last time they would be together as shortly after his father returned to Courrieres, he died.  On hearing of his father’s death, Jules returned home and he was alarmed to see on checking, that the finances of the family business were in a bad state, so much so, some of the family’s furniture had to be sold. Breton finally realised what it was like to be poor and suddenly was able to imagine how the local peasants must feel about their impoverished lifestyle.  He had always loved playing with and mixing with the young peasants but he had never really had to share their lifestyle or their social position in life.  With that in mind the depictions in his paintings began to be all about social realism and the predicament of the poor and the downtrodden.

Calling in the Gleaners by Jules Breton (1859)

Many of Breton’s paintings featured the peasant workers, mainly women, who were known as gleaners, gatherers of grain or other produce left behind in the fields after harvest. This was a charitable activity that allowed the poor and destitute members of a community to collect leftover material after a commercial harvest.   Jules Breton’s desire to depict the plight of the poor and oppressed, was sated with his many depiction of the gleaners.  A good example of this is his 1859 painting housed at the Musée d’Orsay entitled Le rappel des glaneuses [Calling in the Gleaners].  It is an ordinary scene of peasant life in his hometown of Courrières. 

The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet completed in 1857.

Unlike Jean-François Millet’s famous depiction in which we see three women bent over picking up the grain, Jules Breton had portrayed the gleaners leaving the field in which they had been working.  It is the end of the day and the sun has set behind the trees which gives the painting the warm golden glow of late afternoon.  We see the crescent moon in the sky above and to the left and we catch sight of the rural policeman leaning against a milestone cupping his hands around his mouth like a speaking trumpet as he calls in the gleaners.  There are elements of realism in the way Breton has shown the female workers in threadbare, ragged clothes and barefooted but in a way this is also an idealised scene with the peasants walking out of the field with their heads held high in a noble and dignified pose and it was this idealistic and picturesque representation of the peasants and their working life which pleased both the critics and public. The painting was exhibited at the 1859 Salon and was much admired by those who saw it.  It even caught the eye of the Empress Eugenie, who arranged for it to be bought by the French state.  It was then exhibited at the Château de Saint Cloud, and three years later, it was given by the Emperor to the Musée du Luxembourg, which was then known as the Musée des Artistes Vivants.

The Last Gleanings by Jules Breton (1895)

Female gleaners also featured in Breton’s painting entitled The Last Gleanings which is part of the Huntington Art Museum collection in San Marino, California.

The Last Gleanings by Jules Breton (Detail)

In his painting. The Last Gleanings, there are three main characters in the foreground.  A young girl standing alongside a mature woman, both bare-footed, maybe mother and daughter, whilst, slightly behind them is an elderly woman.  This differing of ages, youth, maturity and old age, along with the sunset and the gathering of the remnants of the wheat harvest, can be seen as a metaphor for the passing of time.  The painting has a beautiful background featuring the setting sun, the rays of which wash over the low-lying clouds.  More gleaners follow behind the three in the foreground and to the left we can see a man with a raised stick, signalling the end of the working day.  Although Breton’s painting focuses on the practice of gleaning, we do not see the Millet-type women bent double picking up the remnant grains highlighting the back-breaking nature of the work.  In Breton’s depiction we see the mother and daughter adorned in their peasant attire look well fed and it does not suggest poverty and hardship so his depiction is offering us a mixed message.   On one hand we have a beautiful sunset and the two main characters wearing traditional costumes are carrying, with ease, bundles of wheat.  They look well nourished and yet on the other hand they are walking bare-footed amongst the sharp stubble of the wheat field and we also are aware that continually bending over to gather the wheat is a back-breaking task performed by poor peasants.  

 Catherine Hess, the chief curator of European Art at The Huntington, said we should be aware of the situation in France at the time.  She wrote:

“…In the late 19th century, the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent Paris Commune led to bloodshed and deprivation. And throughout the century, France remained a peasant nation, with three out of four men—many poverty-stricken—making their living by farming. Women, children, and the aged sought out gleaning to supplement their meagre provisions…”

The painting was bought by the American industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick.  He purchased the painting for $14,000 in 1895, immediately following its presentation at the Paris Salon. Jules Breton wrote to Frick and talked lovingly about the depiction:

“…it expresses a feeling I have frequently felt before the majestic simplicity and beauty of our rustic scenes, when bathed in the last rays of the sun. Those daughters of our fields seem then to be transfigured, the reflections of the heavens giving them the semblance of being surrounded by a natural halo…”

In 1905 Henry Frick returned the work to the art dealer as his taste in art had changed and in 1906 it was purchased by Henry Huntington for his collection.

The End of the Working Day by Jules Breton (1886-87)

Another of Jules Breton’s paintings featuring female peasants at the end of their working day was completed in 1887 and entitled Fin du travail (The End of the Working Day).  In this painting Breton has depicted three women returning from their day’s work in the potato fields.  The way they have been backlit by the sunset adds to the theatrics of the depiction.  Jules Breton had received Academic training and was well aware of the way historic paintings were very much the vogue when it came to teaching at the academy and maybe he remembered how the heroic betrayal of people in those paintings was thought to be currently  de rigueur.  Breton explained:

“… art was to do [the workers] the honour formerly reserved exclusively for the gods…”

The painting is part of the Brooklyn Museum collection.

The Wounded Sea Gull by Jules Breton (1878)

In the late 1870’s Breton completed a number of single-figure paintings of young females, mainly part of peasant families.  One example of this is his 1878 painting entitled The Wounded Seagull.  It depicts a young Breton peasant woman cradling and stroking a wounded gull whilst other gulls fly around in the background.  The strange thing about this depiction is that although tending to the bird she is not looking at it.  Her demeanour is one of pensiveness and it seems that her mind is concentrating on other things in her life.  This work was shown in 1881 at the first special exhibition at the newly founded St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts and remains part of the Saint Louis Art Museum.

A Fisherman’s Daughter b y Jules Breton (1878)

Another single-figure work by Breton is housed at the Musée de la Chartreuse de Douai and is entitled A Fisherman’s Daughter which he completed in 1878.  The painting depicts a girl wearing a red headband under a white cornette.  She is dressed in a blue wool petticoat and a tawny bodice. Around her neck, she wears a purple cotton handkerchief crossed on her chest.  On her arms there are false sleeves and in front of her an apron of grey canvas. She is barefoot, and leans against a rock as she repairs a fishing net for her father.  This was a traditional task that women did for their sea-going folk.   The setting is Port-Rhû near Douarnenez, in Brittany.

The Tired Gleaner by Jules Breton.(1880)

When Breton returned home to Courrières to help the family, he embarked on a number of figurative paintings of full-figure views against the flat fields.  One such work was his 1880 painting, The Tired Gleaner.  It portrays a young woman, stretching her arms, after a back-breaking day working in the fields, with a backdrop of the setting sun.  Breton repeated this backdrop in many of his rural works.

The Song of the Lark by Jules Breton (1884)

One of Breton’s best known and most successful single-figure work is Song of the Lark which he completed in 1884.  It was exhibited at the 1885 Salon where it was purchased by George A. Lucas a dealer from Paris, for his client, Samuel Putnam Avery, an American artist, art dealer, and philanthropist best remembered for his patronage of arts and letters.  It eventually came part of the Art Institute of Chicago collection in 1917. It was deemed the most popular painting in America in a poll conducted in 1934 by the Chicago Daily News  to find the “most beloved work of art in America”  The First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt unveiled The Song of the Lark as the winner and declared the painting as being her personal favourite.   It depicts a barefoot young peasant woman farm worker, sickle in hand, happily singing as she sets off to work in the fields near Courrières.  For this painting Breton’s model was a local woman, Marie Bidoul, who stood for him outdoors in the field at dawn and dusk until the artist was happy that he had captured her form.  

First edition cover of The Song of the Lark

Willa Cather’s 1915 novel The Song of the Lark takes its name from this painting.

…………………………..to be continued.

Jules Breton. Part 1. The beginning of an artistic journey.

Before the era of photography and mobile phones, paintings were often bought as  pictorial aide-mémoirs and I am sure it still happens nowadays.  It could be a portrait of a friend, relative or somebody one admires.  It could be a specific landscape or cityscape which one had once visited and wanted to be reminded of.  The completed painting would then adorn a wall in the room of one’s house and be looked at with pleasure every time we passed by it.  Sometimes a painting is placed on display to lift our mood.  Sometimes the painting may be there to remind us of a life we once had or a life we hanker for.  Whatever the reason, artists cater for our wishes to remember.  Of course, one has to decide whether the depiction in the landscape or cityscape painting is topographically accurate or is it an idealised version.  Maybe we want an idealized version, as over time, do we not conjure in our mind just that.

The Rest of the Haymakers by Jules Breton (1872)

When we look at paintings of rural scenes of the past and focus on the peasant workers, what are we wanting to see?  Do we want to have a painting on our wall which focuses on the difficult times the peasant labourers faced?  Do we want to see the folk poorly dressed, shoe-less and struggling to survive?  If that is what we want hanging on the wall of one of our rooms then we need to search for works by the social realism painters.  However, if we want to see depictions of happy smiling workers then we need to look for works by the rural naturalism painters such as today’s featured painter.  Let me introduce you to the nineteenth-century French painter, Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton, one of the greatest artists who managed to convey the beauty and idyllic vision of rural existence, even if it was an idealised vision of peasant life.

Jules Breton

Jules Adolphe Breton was born on May 1st, 1827 to an important family in the small village of Courrieres situated in the Pas-de-Calais department in the Hauts-de-France region of Northern France.  His father, Marie-Louis Breton, oversaw land for a wealthy landowner. His mother died when Jules was four and he was brought up by his father. Other family members who lived in the same house were his maternal grandmother, his younger brother, Émile, and his uncle Boniface Breton.  Jules lived a contented life as a child despite losing his mother at that early age.    His home life was relaxed and was a happy environment, and he got great pleasure playing with the local children belonging to the local peasant farmers despite Jules and them having come from different social classes.

Young Mother nursing her Child, Courrières by Jules Breton (1873)

 

At the age of ten, Breton was sent to school at a Catholic seminary run by the Jesuits.  It was an unhappy experience for him.  His fellow pupils were unkind to him and he had many a run-in with the authoritarian Jesuits. In the summer of 1842, fifteen-year-old Breton met a man who would shape his future.  He, his father and uncle had been staying with friends at Muno, a Belgium town close to the French border and near the Amerois forest in the Ardennes.  One evening a visitor called on his uncle.  He introduced himself as Félix de Vigne, a painter and professor in the Academy in Ghent. He had come to examine four volumes of French costumes which had beautiful colour plates and belonged to Jules’ uncle.  Although Jules Breton was introduced to de Vigne, the boy’s bashfulness prohibited him from talking about his love of drawing and painting and his desire to become an artist.  When de Vigne left, Jules was devastated at missing the chance of confiding his artistic dreams with the painter.

La Petite Coutière by Jules Breton (1858)

 

In the autumn of 1842 Jules attended the College St. Bertin near Saint-Omer and it was here that he received his first artistic training.   A year later, in 1843, Breton’s uncle happened to be returning home from Lille in a coach and found himself sitting next to Felix De Vigne.  Knowing about his nephew’s disappointment with not conversing with de Vigne, he decided to arrange another meeting under the pretence that he would like the artist to come to their house in order to complete a portrait of my uncle.  The artist agreed.  Not to be wanting to miss another opportunity to talk about art to de Vigne, Jules presented him with sketches he had completed at the college.  Although not liking Jules’ copies of mythological busts he was impressed by his pencil portraits and landscapes.  In the summer of  1843, de Vigne then arranged with Breton’s father and uncle to allow Jules to live with his family and to study with him for three months at his atelier at no.8 Rue de la Line in a quiet quarter of the Belgium city of Ghent.  In his autobiography Jules remembered his first impressions of the city:

“…The city of Ghent seemed to me magnificent.  I felt proud and happy to be able to walk at will through the streets of this Flemish Venice, with its innumerable bridges, its old wharves crowded with merchandise, its ancient houses, some of which look down upon you from the middle ages and whose trembling images are reflected from the waters of the canals, where glide countless boats…”

Breton also remembered de Vigne’s eldest child, seven-year-old Elodie.  And in his autobiography, he described her, writing:

“The eldest, Elodie, was a gentle child, in whose blue eyes, shaded by long, silken lashes, there already shone a mysterious charm.   She went about the house silently, gliding rather than walking.  She held her fragile figure thrown slightly backward and her delicately outlined face, resembling that of one of the angels in a Gothic cathedral, inclined forward, as if bending under the weight of a prematurely thoughtful brow……She was about seven years old and I danced her on my knees…”

Portrait of Elodie de Vigne by Jules Breton (1853)

 

Unbeknown to the then sixteen-year-old Jules, he and Elodie would become man and wife fifteen years after that first meeting.  The couple married on April 29th, 1858.  Jules was thirty-one and his wife was twenty-two.  On July 26th 1859, their daughter Virginie was born.  She studied art under her father and, through her father, she was introduced to other painters, the most influential being Rosa Bonheur who became her role-model and mentor.

Virginie Demont-Breton c.1900, Photograph by Pierre Petit

 

Virginie was a very talented painter and by the age of twenty, she was exhibiting at the Salon where she received an Honourable Mention and, four years later, she won a Gold Medal at the Amsterdam Exposition.  Virginie travelled extensively and exhibited her work in Holland and France, often receiving medals and citations.  She became President of the Union of Women Painters and Sculptresses, and she was the second woman to receive the cross of the Legion of Honour, the first one going to Rosa Bonheur. Her paintings often featured motherhood or French fisherfolk themes. In 1880, she married artist Adrien Demont, once a student of her uncle, Emile, and the couple moved to Wissant, a small coastal village on the Côte d’Opale, midway between Calais and Boulogne.

Her Man is at Sea by Virginie Demont-Breton

 

Whilst living at Wissant, Virginie Élodie Marie Thérèse Demont-Breton began depicting the fishermen and their families in a Realist-style and one 0f her many paintings of that genre, which I particularly like is entitled Her Man is at Sea.  In it we see a mother cradling her baby as she sits by the open fire.  All her thoughts are about her husband who has left the home to go to sea with the local fishing fleet.

Her Man is at Sea (after Demont-Breton), by Vincent Van Gogh, (1889),

 

Obviously it was not just me that liked the work because in 1889 Van Gogh painted a work based on Virginie’s depiction!

Portrait of Félix de Vinge, by his student Lievin De Winne

 

Whilst in Ghent Jules Breton enrolled at the city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts where de Vigne was once again, one of his tutors.  The director of the Academy at the time and another of Breton’s tutors was the Belgian portrait artist and sculptor, Henri van der Haert.  During his stay at the Academy, Jules Breton became great friends with a fellow art student, Liévin de Winne, who would later become one of the foremost Belgian portrait painters of his time.  The friendship between the two would last for many years.  Breton studied at the Academy for three years and during this time he would study the works of the great Flemish Masters.   

Jules Adolphe Breton – Jeune fille tricotant (Young girl knitting)

 

Jules Breton left Ghent midway through 1846 and travelled to Antwerp where he stayed for six weeks at the Hôtel Rubens in the Place Verte.  He enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at which time the director and one of Breton’s tutors was Gustaf Wappers.  As a professor at the Academy Wappers had taught such well-known painters as Ford Madox Brown, and Lawrence Alma-Tadema.  Breton’s tenure at the Academy lasted a mere three months as he decided it would be more beneficial to spend his time at The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp where he studied and copied the paintings of Rubens.  Besides his love of the works of Rubens, Breton was influenced by the paintings by Memling, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden and Quentin-Matsys.  Nineteen-year-old Breton contracted chronic bronchitis at the end of 1846 and his father had to bring him home from Antwerp.  Jules was very surprised to see how old and ill his father looked and this, despite his own illness,  was of great concern to him.

A Peasant Girl Knitting under a Tree by Jules Breton (c.1870)

 

Eventually father and son got back to full health and Jules needed to decide upon his next step of his artistic journey,  He and his father had visited Paris in 1845 and Jules believed he should return to the French capital and hone his artistic skills.  The decision made, Jules returned to Paris in 1847 and took up residence in a small room on the third floor, at No. 5 Rue du Dragon, on Paris’s Left Bank.  Now the only decision left to be made was which atelier should he join.  After a recommendation Jules Breton went to study at the atelier of the neoclassic French painter, a painter of history and a portraitist, Michel Martin Drolling, who was a professor at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  Breton remembered the moment he and his father knocked on the door of Drolling’s atelier:

“…I knocked timidly at the door of his studio, it was Drolling himself, his palette in his hand, who opened the door.   He wore a knitted woolen jacket and a red Greek cap, as he is represented in the portrait painted of him by his pupil Victor-Francois Biennourry.   His frank and simple manners, somewhat brusque, and his long white moustache, gave him the air rather of a retired officer than of an artist…”

……………………to be continued.