Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio at Les Batignolles) by Henri Fantin-Latour

Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio at Les Batignolles)

Today I am looking at a work of art by the French painter, Henri Fantin-Latour, or to give him his full name, Ignace-Henri-Jean-Théodore Fantin-Latour.  The family was of Italian ancestry and the “Fantin” part of the name came from the fact that some of the ancestors hailed from the southern Italian town of San-Fantino.  In the 17th century, a Jean Fantin added “Latour” to the name of Fantin.

Henri was born in Grenoble in 1836.  His father, Theodore Fantin-Latour, originally from Metz, was a society portraitist painter.   In 1841 the family moved to Paris.  Having shown a liking for drawing at an early age, he received his initial artistic training from his father.  Then at the age of fourteen, he enrolled on a three-year course at the École de Dessin of the French artist and drawing instructor, Lecoq de Boisbaudran.  Following this, he spent a short time at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  During his art student days he spent most of his time at the Louvre copying the painting of the old Masters as well as making many visits to the Musée de Luxembourg to study and copy the works of Eugene Delacroix.  In 1861, after he graduated from the art schools he worked for a time at the atelier of Gustave Courbet and supported himself by earning money as a copyist.

During his time copying paintings at the Louvre he came across and became friends with a number of the future Impressionists, such as Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Berthe Morisot.   In 1858, he struck up a special friendship with the American-born artist James Whistler and along with French-born English painter Alphonse Legros he founded the art group known as the Société des Trois.   Whistler, who had moved to London, invited Henri over for a visit which he accepted and through the good auspices of his two friends Whistler and Legros he was introduced to the art world of London.  This was the first of many trips to London made by Fantin-Latour.  One very important introduction whilst there was to Edwin Edwards, who had trained as a lawyer but also practiced as an artist and etcher.  He acted as Henri Fantin-Latour’s agent in England and found him many buyers for his floral paintings as well as a number of patrons.

Henri Fantin-Latour had started painting a number of works of art featuring floral still-lifes and these were well received in London although strangely enough never popular in France during his lifetime.  Henri Fantin-Latour exhibited a number of his works at the Paris Salon in 1861 and 1862  and later in 1863, at the Salon des Refusés, and  he exhibited regularly at the London Royal Academy.  Although he had been close friends to a number of the Impressionists, he never put up any of his paintings for their eight Impressionist Exhibitions.  The reason for that decision was probably due to the fact that although he counted them as friends, he disagreed with their artistic theories and philosophy.  His artistic style was more conservative.

Henri-Fantin Latour will always be remembered for his luxurious floral paintings but he was an artist who painted many group portraits and it through these works that we get an insight into the friendship between the now-famous artists, poets, musicians and writers of that era.  During his time as an artist he also completed no fewer than twenty three self-portraits.

In 1875, aged thirty nine, Henri Fantin-Latour married a fellow painter, Victoria Dubourg and the couple spent their summers at the country estate of his in-laws at Buré.  In 1879 Henri Fantin-Latour was awarded the Legion d’Honneur medal.  Henri Fantin Latour died in 1904, aged 68 and was buried in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.

The painting I am featuring today was not one of Fantin-Latour’s beautiful floral works of art but instead I am going to look at one of his group portraits. It is very like a painting I featured in My Daily Art Display on November 10th 2011 entitled Bazille’s Studio; rue de la Condamine by Frédéric Bazille, who also actually appears in today’s painting.

My painting today is entitled Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio at Les Batignolles) and he completed it in 1870.  Batignolles is part of the 17th arondissement of the city of Paris.  At the time of Fantin-Latour, this was a cultural hive of activity and served as a base for young painters such as Édouard Manet and many of his artist friends who, because of the locality, became known as Le groupe des Batignolles.  The painting today is a kind of “who’s who” of that group.   It is more than just that.  In some ways it is Henri Fantin-Latour paying homage to his friend Manet.

We are in the atelier of Édouard Manet and we see him sitting at his easel. He concentrates on the man sitting in the other chair, the subject of his painting, Zacharie Astruc.  Astruc was a painter, poet, sculptor and art critic who had rallied to support the likes of Courbet and Manet and the Impressionist group of painters when they were constantly being criticized.   Standing around and watching the artist at work are some of his friends.  At the far left of the painting, seen standing directly behind Manet is the German painter Otto Schölderer.  Next to him, wearing a hat, is Auguste Renoir.  Further to the right of the painting and almost in the background, are Emile Zola, the writer who also championed the cause of the Impressionists in their struggle with the Salon and its condemnation of this new grouping of artists, Edmond Maître another supporter of the Impressionist painters and who was, at the time, a civil servant at the town hall.  Almost hidden in the corner of the painting is Claude Monet.   Standing tall and upright behind the chair with a full beard is the twenty-six year old, Frédéric Bazille, who two months after this painting was completed was killed in the Franco-Prussian War.  There is a  formal air to this group portrait.  The men are all dressed in somber dark suits and their expressions are serious and unsmiling.   All these young artists had suffered at the hands of the art critics of the day.  They and their paintings were accused as being frivolous and contrary to what the art establishment was used to.  It is possibly for that reason that Henri Fantin-Latour decided to depict the gathering so formally and with an air of respectability.  Could this desire to show how these young artists had not completely put the antique traditions of the Academics of the Salon behind them be the reason why the artist has included a statuette of Minerva on the table at the left of the painting?  In my last blog regarding Monet and Camille Doncieux I mentioned that all things Japanese were the rage in Paris and France in the late nineteenth century.  Look how Fantin-Latour has positioned a Japanese stoneware vase next top Minerva in the painting.

This work by Henri Fantin-Latour is almost a historical painting.  It records for us a time in history when these characters were leaving their mark.  Each one of them is posing for posterity.  Zola once wrote about the struggle these artists had to endure and the way in which Édouard Manet tried to rally them when they became dispirited.  He wrote:
“…Around the painter so disparaged by the public has grown up a common front of painters and writers who claim him as a master…”

Henri Fantin-Latour put forward the painting to be exhibited at the 1870 Salon  The painting was accepted and he was awarded a  medal by the salon for this work of art.  In spite of his close relationship with the Impressionist painters he never followed their artistic techniques.  He remained a traditionalist and remained faithful to that traditional technique. In the latter part of his career he painted less and concentrated on lithography.

Did you wonder whether Manet was actually painting a picture of Zacharie Astruc as depicted in today’s featured work?  Who knows, but coincidentally, Manet did complete a portrait of Astruc four years earlier in 1866, which now hangs at the Kunsthalle in Bremen………………….

Portrait of Zacharie Astruc by Manet (1866)

Camille Doncieux and Claude Monet

My next two blogs deal not with a particular painting but with the subject of a series of paintings completed lovingly by one artist.  The subject is Camille-Léonie Doncieux, who was the beloved model, mistress and wife of Claude Monet.  In 1861, Monet had enlisted as a soldier in the Chasseurs d’Afrique regiment and spent two years in Algeria.  His military life came to an end in 1863 because he had fallen ill with fever.  He went back to Paris where he studied at the atelier of the Swiss artist Charles Gleyre and it was during this time that he met up with the artists Sisley, Bazille and Renoir, who would later join together with others and become known as the Impressionists..

Camille Doncieux was born in 1846 and met the impoverished but talented painter, Claude Monet, for the first time in 1865 when she was just eighteen years of age.  She came from an ordinary unprivileged background.  She fell in love with him, leaving her home to live with the talented 25-year-old painter who struggled to sell his work. People called her La Monette.  Everyone she met fell under her spell.   It was recorded that she was a ravishingly good-looking girl with dark hair, very graceful, full of charm and kindness.  Monet, her future husband, was struck by her beauty and described her eyes as being wonderful.    It was not long after they met that she began modeling for him and soon became his favourite model.  His professional interest in her soon became personal and the two soon became lovers.   The first time we come across Camille in a painting by Monet was in a study for his ill-fated work Déjeuner sur l’Herbe.

Study for Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (1865/6)

In 1863, Édouard Manet had exhibited his painting Déjeuner sur l’Herbe at the Salon des Refusés (see My Daily Art Display, December 23rd 2010).   The critics and public were shocked by the work and Manet’s depiction of a nude woman seated with a pair of clothed men in a landscape setting.    Monet, who was known for his competitive streak decided to paint his own version of Déjeuner sur l’Herbe in the spring of 1865. This audacious venture would culminate in putting it forward for an exhibition at the Salon of 1866.  Following outdoor studies he made in the Forest of Fontainebleau, he immediately headed back to his nearby studio at Chaillyen-Bière and started to make preparatory sketches for what would be his mammoth canvas measuring an unbelievable 4.5 metres x 6 metres.  In one of his preparatory sketches, which he did in oil entitled Bazille and Camille (study for Déjeuner sur l’Herbe) we see Camille Doncieux and Monet’s fellow artist friend Frédéric Bazille.   Ultimately the painting was not a success. Monet was unable to finish it in time for the 1866 Salon and eventually abandoned the work. He left it, rolled up, with his landlord as part payment for rent he owed but it became damp and all that now remains are fragments of the work and some preparatory studies. The experience did, however, contribute to Monet’s realisation that to portray the brief moment in time, he would have to work on a much smaller scale.

La Femme à la Robe Verte by Monet (1866)

The next time we see Camille is in a painting Monet exhibited in the 1866 Salon.  The work was entitled Camille or Woman in a Green Dress and now hangs in the Kunsthalle, in Bremen.  After his disastrous attempt to emulate Manet with his painting of Déjeuner sur l’Herbe this work of his gained him critical acclaim.  Rumour had it that in his rush to meet the Salon deadline he completed the work in four days but one must doubt that assertion.  It is not strictly a portrait of Camille.  It is all about the dress.  She was simply his model for the painting.  The first thing which strikes one as we look at the work is the colour of the promenade dress which had probably been borrowed for the occasion.  Monet loved colour and the green he has used is awesome.  It dominates the painting and even detracts from the woman herself.  This is not about Camille but on the dress she wears and how it hangs.  The painting reminds one of a photograph out of a fashion shoot for a fashion magazine when the clothes are the important thing and not the model.  Look how the background is undefined.  It is simply plain and dark.  Monet had decided that nothing should deflect our gaze from the woman and her dress.  I like how Camille is just raising her right hand towards her face as if the picture has captured her just about to do something, a fleeting gesture, and we are left guessing as to what.  Maybe she is adjusting the ribbon of her bonnet.  The painting was accepted by the Salon jury and hung in their 1866 exhibition.    It was an immediate hit with both the art critics of the time and the public and the Paris newspapers called Camille the Parisian Queen.

One amusing anecdote about this painting was the story that Monet’s signature on the painting had been mistaken by many viewers for that of Manet, who had entered the Salon to a chorus of acclaim for his supposed work.  Monet told this story to the newspaper Le Temps:

“….imagine the consternation when he discovered that the picture about which he was being congratulated was actually by me !   The saddest part of all was that on leaving the Salon he came across a group which included Bazille and me.  ‘How goes it?’ one of them asked.  ‘Awful,’ replied Manet, ‘I am disgusted.  I have been complimented on a painting which is not mine’…….”

Camille au Petit Chien by Monet (1866)

That same year Monet produced a hauntingly beautiful and intimate portrait of his lover entitled Camille with a Little Dog, which is in a private collection.  We see Camille sitting side-on to us in quite a formal pose.  This is one of the few paintings of her by Monet that looks closely at her.  Once again as was the case in the Woman in a Green Dress, the background is plain and dark and in no way serves as a reason for taking our eyes off Camille.  We are not to be distracted from her beauty.  This painting is all about Camille.  It is interesting how Monet has painted the figure of the dog simply by thick brush strokes.  At a distance it looks like a dog but if you stand close up to the painting you can see it is just a mass of brush strokes.  However Monet has not treated the painting of Camille’s face with the same quick thick strokes of his brush.  She has been painted with delicate precision.  Monet did not want to depict the love of his life with hastily swishes of a brush. He took pains in her appearance.  This was a labour of love.

Luncheon by Monet (1868)

In 1867 Monet’s lover Camille gave birth to their son Jean.  A year later, during the winter of 1868, Monet started on his painting entitled Luncheon, which can be seen at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Franfurt.   This family, which now included their son Jean, were staying in Étretat at the house of a patron, where Monet had taken refuge from his Parisian creditors and critics.  It is a large highly detailed oil on canvas painting measuring 230cms x 150cms.   It is simplistic in its subject.  Before us we have sitting at the dining table Camille and her blonde-haired son.  She looks lovingly at him whilst he seems to only have eyes for the food.  A visitor stands with her back to the window and the maidservant is seen leaving the room.  A place is set out ready for her husband to join her at the meal table.  Look how Monet has painted a number of items overlapping the surfaces they are resting on.  On the table we have the loaf of bread, the newspaper and the serviette  all hanging over the cloth which Monet has depicted as being somewhat creased.  In the background we have two books overlapping the edge of the table.  All this in some ways adds to the realism of the painting.  Sunlight pours through the large window to the left of the painting and bathes the well-stocked table in light and by doing so brings it to life.  Monet submitted the painting to the 1870 Salon jury but it was rejected.  Four years later he included the work in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.

to be concluded tomorrow………………………………

Étretat by Various artists

There are many subjects depicted by artists in their paintings which are the same.  One only has to think of religious paintings and the likes of the pietà or the deposition or even the crucifixion itself to see how numerous artists choose the same subject for their works of art.  It is also reasonably common for one artist to paint many versions of the same subject.  Think of how many times Vincent van Gogh painted his Sunflowers.  The last blog I did featured a painting of Bentheim Castle by Jacob van Ruisdael and I told you that he had actually painted the subject no fewer than fifteen times.  Today I am going to focus on geological structure that many artists have used in their paintings and I will let you compare them and see what you think.  First let me show you the location as you would see it today.

Cliffs and The Pinnacle at Étretat

The place is Étretat which is situated in the Haute-Normandie region of Northern France.  The town itself is about twenty miles north-east of Le Havre but it is not the town which claims the fame and which has always fascinated artists but its cliffs.  The single beach of Étretat is separated from the town by a sea-wall promenade and lies between two well-known cliffs.  To the east of the town lies the Amont Cliff and to the west lies the Aval cliff with its huge arch, Porte d’Aval,  cut through the chalk structure.   Slightly offshore of the Porte d’Aval stands the solitary needle rock known as L’Aiguille.    During the late nineteenth century this area of Normandy was very popular with Parisian families and with this popularity it soon became a very fashionable place to visit.

In 1868, Claude Monet lived at Étretat with Camille Doncieux,  whom he was to marry two years later.  He revisited the town on a number of occasions in the 1880’s so as to work on a number of paintings depicting the cliffs and sea.   Étretat had already been painted by both Delacroix and Courbet and in fact Monet owned a Delacroix watercolour of the area.. When Monet visited Étretat in 1883 he had planned to create his own Normandy seascapes, saying:

“I reckon on doing a big canvas on the cliff of Étretat, although it’s terribly audacious of me to do that after Courbet who did it so well, but I’ll try to do it differently.”

Because of the increasing popularity of the area with holidaymakers, Monet sensed that there would be a good market for paintings depicting this area. The area had everything, magnificent cliff structures from the top of which one had spectacular views of the sea, which sometimes had a mirror-like calm sheen about it, whilst on other times it exhibited a terrible unforgiving  ferocity as it crashed on to the foot of the cliffs, biting away at the base of the massive chalk structures

During the 1880s, Monet rediscovered the Normandy coast and visited the area many times so as to draw by the sea. He was fascinated by its dramatic cliffs and rock arches and was constantly looking for somewhere with outstanding natural beauty and a place where he could observe the effects of natural light on the sea and on the chalk and limestone cliffs.  He would move from one position to another continually looking for the best natural lighting of the cliffs and the sea. His search for the perfect light on the sea and the perfect position from where it could be seen was of paramount importance.  He once said:

“…I know that to really paint the sea it has to be seen every day at any hour and from the same spot to know its life at this very spot ; that’s why I’m repeating the same subjects up to four and even six times…”

Stormy Sea at Étretat by Claude Monet (1883)

In 1883 Monet completed a work entitled Stormy Sea in Étretat, which is now housed in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon.  The painting is set on a winter day and we can see is being whipped up by gale force winds.  It is believed that Monet worked on this painting as he sat at the window of his hotel room.  What a wonderful depiction of the ferocity of the sea with the white curls of the surf atop the waves.  In the foreground we have the beach on which we see five boats.  Three of which are filled with what looks like thatch whilst the other two on the right seemed to have been abandoned and show signs that they have had to endure a battering in the waves.  Two men, stand by the boats, looking out on the rough seas.  To the left we have the cliffs and the Porte d’Aval,  above which we have the storm and rain clouds rushing towards the land.

The Étretat Cliffs after the Storm by Gustave Courbet (1870)

The next painting I am featuring is one which depicts a similar view but is a work which depicts the time after a storm.  The title is La falaise d’Étretat après l’orage [The Etretat Cliffs after the Storm] and was completed by Gustave Courbet in 1870.  Courbet visited Étretat that summer and stayed in a house by the sea which was tucked against the Aval cliffs to the left of the bay.  He painted a number of versions of this scene but the one you see above is housed at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.  Courbet like other artists was attracted to this area not only because of the breathtaking geological structures but because of the quality of natural light and the clarity of the air.  The composition of the sea, the land with its cliffs and rocks and the sky is well balanced.  Courbet had sent the painting for exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1870 where it was well received and Courbet’s reputation as a painter was enhanced.  Of the painting, the art critic and Courbet’s friend, Jules Antoine Castagnary, marvelled at the beauty of his friend’s work and described the elements of the work, speaking of:

 “…the free, joyous air which circulates in the canvas and envelops the details…”

Beach at Etretat by Eugène-Louis Boudin (1890)

Another artist to depict this area in his painting was Eugène-Louis Boudin who in 1890 completed his work entitled Beach at Étretat.  Here we are looking at the scene from a vantage point similar to the previous works.  On the beach we once again see abandoned fishing boats which have been ravaged by the wind and sea.  Sails can be seen hanging from mast boom, shredded by the ferocity of a previous storm and probably act as a warning to the men as they contemplate a return to the fishing grounds.  In the distance we can just make out a steamship passing westward.

Étretat, Laundresses on the Beach, Low Tide by Eugène Bourdin (1892)

Two years later in 1892, Boudin, a noted marine painter, completed a very interesting depicting the beach at Étretat entitled Etretat, Laundresses on the Beach, Low Tide which is held in a private collectionThe setting is the same but the tide has retreated into the distance.  We are left with the brown and green of the rocks which have briefly lost their watery covering.  The breathtaking rock structure of the cliffs is not the focus of our attention in this work.  Before us we have a large group of women who have come down to the beach to do their washing.  It is a veritable hive of activity.

The Manneporte near Étretat by Monet (1886)

For my final painting I am returning to one painted by Monet in 1886 of the Manneporte, a spectacular rock structure just to the west of Étretat and the Aval cliffs.   It is entitled Manneporte (Étretat) and can now be found in the Metroploitan Museum of Art in New York.   This was one of nearly twenty views of the beach at Étretat and the spectacular rock formations such as the Porte d’Aval, Porte d’Amont and the Manneporte which rise upwards on along the coastline that Monet painted. In this painting Monet has captured the way the sunlight strikes the Manneporte, this beautiful natural wonder.  The reason for Monet painting so many pictures of the same scene was that he wanted to capture the changing light at different times of the day and during differing weather conditions

The writer Guy de Maupassant wrote his eyewitness account of Monet at Étretat.

“…The artist walked along the beach, followed by children carrying five or six canvases representing the same subject at different times of the day and with different effects. He took them up and put them aside by turns according to changes in the sky and shadows…”

One can so well imagine that scene.

The Artist’s Studio, Rue de La Condamine by Frédéric Bazille

The Artist’s Studio, Rue de La Condamine by Frédéric Bazille

quem di diligunt, adolescens moritur

Whom the gods love, die young.”

The aphorism comes from the Roman playwright Plautus, who flourished around the end of the 3rd century and actually based his story on a Greek legend about a mother and her two sons.   The point of bringing up this saying is that it unhappily could refer to my featured artist of the day, who was so talented and yet was taken from us at such a young age by war.

Jean Frédéric Bazille was born in Montpellier in 1841.  His father was a senator and the head of an affluent and cultured middle-class Protestant family.    In Montpellier, Jean became acquainted with a friend of his father, a local art collector Alfred Bruyas.  Bruyas was a close friend of Gustave Courbet and he owned a large number of expensive paintings by Millet, Corot, Eugène Delacroix and many by his friend Courbet.  Young Frédéric Bazille was fascinated and inspired by the collection and this was the start of his love affair with art. He loved to paint and sketch but his father told him that if he wanted to continue with his art he had to agree to continue with his medical studies. He agreed to his father’s terms and in 1860 he started studying art.

 In 1862 he moved north to Paris to continue with his medical studies but spent most of his time sketching and painting.  Later that year he joined the studio of Charles Gleyre, the Swiss artist.  It was whilst there that he met and became friends with fellow aspiring artists, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Whistler.   Gleyre’s studio closed the following year and Bazille decided to leave Paris and follow his friends whilst he waited on the results of his medical exams.

During his journeys around Normandy with Monet  in 1864 they stopped off at Honfleur, which was at that time a special meeting place for the en plein air painters.   It was here that he met up with Monet’s friends, the French marine and landscape painter, Eugene Boudin and the Dutch landscape and seascape painter, Johan Jongkind.  These two artists would later be instrumental in the development of Impressionism.    In the autumn of 1864 Bazille returned with Monet to Chaillyen-Bière, near Fontainebleau.  It was around this time that he finds out that he had  failed his medical exams but fortunately for him, his father did not press him to re-sit them and instead allowed his son to concentrate solely on his artistic career.  In 1865 he put forward two of his paintings to the Paris Salon, Young Girl at the Piano and Still-life with Fish.  Annoyingly for him only his still-life was accepted for the exhibition by the Salon jury.

Bazille and Camille (Study for Déjeuner sur l'Herbe) 1865

Monet, who had a competitive streak, knew about Édouard Manet’s work  Déjeuner sur l’herbe (See My Daily Art Display December 23rd) and knew of the masses of publicity it had received (not all good of course!) when it was exhibited at the 1863 Salon des Refusés.  In the spring of 1865, he decided that he too would embark on his own version of Déjeuner sur l’herbe.   This idea of figure painting in the open air was a new venture for Monet.  He began sketches for his new large-scale painting (4metres x 6 metres) which he planned to finish back in his Paris studio.  The reason for huge size for the proposed work was mainly down to Monet being inspired by Courbet’s recent large scale paintings.   The figures in Monet’s painting were life-sized.  It was almost a group of portraits set in a landscape.  Bazille and Monet’s girlfriend Camille posed for part of this work.  This preparatory oil painting of the two of them exists entitled Bazille and Camille (Study for “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe”) and can be seen at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  However, only fragments of Monet’s completed grand scale painting survive.   Monet left it with a landlord to cover a debt, and it was ruined by moisture and neglect.  At the same time Bazille himself completed a painting The Pink Dress, which was part of the study for Monet’s open-air mammoth portrait/landscape. 

Bazille having come from a wealthy family never had any financial problems unlike his newly found artist friends and he would often help them out by sharing his studio with them and providing them with artistic materials when they couldn’t afford to buy them.   He actually bought some of Monet’s paintings, including a large work entitled Women in the Garden,  just because the artist needed money.  His friendship with the soon-to-be Impressionists was recorded in a series of paintings he did one of which was set in his Paris studio where they would all meet and it is this work which is My Daily Art Display’s featured painting of the day. 

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war in August 1870, Bazille enlisted in the Zouave, which was the title given to certain light infantry regiments of the French army.  His friends had all tried to dissuade him from this patriotic gesture but to no avail.   In a battle close to the village of Beaune-la-Rolande, his commanding officer had been killed and he took control of his men leading an assault on the Prussian position.  He was hit twice by enemy fire and died on the battlefield.  His death on November 28th 1870 was just a few days before his twenty-ninth birthday.    His father was devastated by the news and a week later came north from Montpellier to the scene of the battle and took his son’s body back home for burial.

Today I am giving you The Artist’s Studio in the Rue de La Condamine, which Frederic Bazille completed in 1870, the same year he went off to fight and die for his country.  The painting currently hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.   One can imagine a group of friends nowadays doing the same as Bazille has done  – recording for posterity a gathering of companions in a photograph but of course in Bazille’s day,  it had to be a sketch or a painting.   The setting for the painting is Bazille’s studio at 9 rue de la Condamine, which he shared with Renoir from the beginning of 1868 until May 1870.   Some of Bazille’s works  are scattered around the room.  To the left, on the wall, we have his Fisherman with a Net and his painting entitled La Toilette can be seen hanging just above the white sofa.  The small still-life above the head of the piano player is a still life by Monet which Bazille had bought in order to support his friend.   We see three men standing at an easel discussing the painting on display.  The man with the hat standing in the middle is Édouard Manet and behind him we think is Monet.  The tall man to the right of the easel, palette in hand, is Bazille himself.  On the staircase is the journalist, writer and art critic, Emile Zola, who is in discussion with Renoir, who is seated below the staircase.  At the piano is Bazille’s musician friend Edmond Maitre.  The National Gallery at Washington houses a portrait of Maitre by Frédéric Bazille.

Frédéric Bazille was considered to be the most gifted of the soon-to-become Impressionists and, if he had lived, he might well have become one of the leaders of that group.  Camille Pissarro described him as one of the most gifted among us.

Two Women Chatting by the Sea by Camille Pissarro

Two Women Chatting by the Sea by Camille Pissarro (1856)

Jacob Abraham Camille Pissarro was born to Abraham Gabriel Pissarro and Rachel Pissarro (née Manzano-Pomié ) in 1830 on the island of St Thomas in the Danish West Indies, now known as the US Virgin Islands.  His father, a Sephardic Jew, held French nationality, but was of Portuguese descent.  He originally came to the Caribbean to sort out the business affairs of his uncle who had recently died.  He ended up staying in St Thomas, took over the running of the dry store business and married his late uncle’s widow, Rachel.   This found no favour with the small local Jewish community, maybe because he had married his late uncle’s wife or maybe because his new wife and Camille’s mother,  was a native Creole, a Dominican of Spanish descent, and not of the Jewish faith.  Camille and his siblings because of this were excluded from the Jewish school on the island and had to attend the all-black primary school.

Pissarro’s father and mother went on to have four children.  Camille was the third son and he and his parents and siblings lived a comfortable existence in a large and spacious apartment over the family shop on Dronnigens Gade, the main street, of Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St Thomas.    At the age of twelve, so as to ensure he had a good education, Camille was sent to France to attend a boarding school in Passy, a small town in a district of Paris , on the right bank of the Seine.  It was whilst studying in Paris that the young Camille developed a love for art and would often visit the Louvre.  After five years studying in France,  Camille Pissarro returned home to Saint Thomas where his father was hoping he would enter the family business.  However the young Pissarro was unimpressed at having to act as a cargo clerk at the harbour and had other ideas for his future.  During his time at the harbour he would spend most of his time sketching.  It was whilst sketching one day that he met Fritz Melbye, a Danish marine painter who was also living on St Thomas.  He liked the enthusiasm Pissarro had for sketching and painting and he began to mentor him and eventually persuaded him that he should become a full time artist.  Pissarro was delighted and much to his father’s chagrin in 1852 gave up the family job and went off with Melbye to Venezuela where the two of them based themselves in Caracas and stayed for two years sketching and painting landscapes and village scenes.  Pissarro once reflected on his decision to leave his comfortable home and his position in the family business saying:

“…I abandoned all I had and bolted to Caracas to get clear of the bondage of bourgeois life…”

In 1854, he returned home to Saint Thomas and his parents realised that any attempt to persuade the son to settle down would be fruitless and so they gave him their blessing to seek his fortune as an artist and the following year he left Saint Thomas for the last time and went to live in Paris.  He went initially to stay with the French branch of his family who gave him financial support, in order to have him follow a more serious artistic training.

His first position was to act as an assistant to his friend Fritz Melbye’s brother and Danish artist, Anton.  In 1856 he attended private art classes at the École des Beaux-Arts and at the age of thirty-one registered as a copyist at the Louvre.  He was influenced in his early days in Paris by the likes of Courbet, Corot, Millet and Daubigny.  He also attended the prestigious Académie Suisse which was an art establishment in Paris.  The Swiss Academy did not offer courses, but provided the aspiring young artists with models made it possible for them to study nudes together, and in this way helped the usually poverty-stricken young painters who found the price of a model being too high for a sole artist.  It was also a great meeting place for the young artists to discuss their work and their personal ideas.   It was here that he met the future Impressionists Claude Monet, Armand Guillaumin and Paul Cézanne and through them was introduced to the likes of Renoir and Sisley.

Even though now living in Paris his early paintings were of the Caribbean and he was still influenced by Anton Melbye to such an extent his early exhibits at the Paris Salon bore the signature “Pupil of A. Melbye”  a moniker he used until 1866.  Studying at the Academies was not all together to Pissarro’s liking and he railed against having to work in the traditional and prescribed manner set down by these institutions and having to follow the official line when it came down to getting works exhibited in their official exhibitions.  He felt that their official standards were subduing his creativity and he decided to look elsewhere for help and inspiration which he eventually found when he was being tutored by Camille Corot.  It was their mutual love of rural scenes which endeared Corot to Pissarro and it was Corot that first introduced Pissarro to the technique of outdoor painting, en plein air.  Pissarro would spend much time around the countryside on the outskirts of Paris.  He would make many painting trips around Montmorency and Pontoise building up his landscape portfolio.

A few years after he had arrived in Paris his parents left their business in Saint Thomas leaving the running of it to their manager and moved to Paris.  They hired a maidservant by the name of Julie Vellay, the daughter of a Burgundian wine producer.   Camille struck up a relationship with Julie in 1860 and she was to become the love of his life and his constant companion.  In 1863, following a miscarriage the previous year, they had their first child, Lucien.  Just over a year later their daughter Jeanne was born.

The style of Pissarro’s works with their natural settings did not now find favour with the Salon juries and the pretence of grandeur the Salon jurists required in works if they were to be allowed into the Salon exhibitions.  A turning point came in 1863 when all the works by Pissarro and his like-minded contemporaries such as Monet, Cézanne and Guillaumin where rejected for the forthcoming exhibition by the Salon jury.  According to the author, Ross King, in his book, The Judgement of Paris, only 2217 out of 5000 paintings were accepted into the Paris Salon exhibition by the Salon jury.  The French ruler at the time Emperor Napoleon III voiced concern at the time for this wholesale refusal to allow so many works enter the official Salon exhibition and decreed that the rejected painters could have their works hung in an annex the regular Salon, the Salon des Refusés (Exhibition of Rejects).  He wanted the public to judge the works which had been rebuffed by the Salon jurists.   Artists who had their works hung in the 1863 Salon des Refusés exhibition included Pissarro, Manet, Whistler and Cézanne.

The Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870 and Pissarro moved his family to Norwood on the outskirts of London and it was here he met the Paris art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, a man who would, from then on, organise the sale of Pissarro’s works.  It was also the art dealer that reacquainted Pissarro with Monet and the two French artists spent their time in London studying the work of the great landscape painters, Turner and Constable.  It was in 1871 whilst still in London that Pissarro married his lover Julie Vellay who was expecting their third child.   That year, after the war had ended, he and his family returned to their home in Louveciennes and much to his horror most of the works in his studio, which he had completed in the previous twenty years, had been destroyed by the invading Prussian soldiers.

I will leave Pissarro’s life story at this point and conclude it in my next blog but for today I want to end by looking at one of Pissarro’s early paintings.  My Daily Art Display featured oil on canvas painting is entitled Two Women Chatting by the Sea which he completed in 1856 around the time he left his homeland for the final time.  The painting had been owned by Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon, the late American philanthropist and his wife and was given to the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1985.  Unfortunately,  according to their website it is not currently on view.  It is amazing the high percentage of paintings that all large museums have in their vaults, waiting their turn to go on display.  It is just a shame that there is not more wall space available for us to see these hidden gems.

Les Charbonniers by Claude Monet

Les Charbonniers by Claude Monet (c.1875)

When I think of Impressionism and Impressionist paintings I think of light airy scenes.  I think of lily ponds and flowering arches at Givenchy.  I think of colourful young things boating on the mirror-like waters of the Seine.  I think of people sitting on the banks of the Seine staring out at blue cloudless skies.  I think of fashionable people promenading along the Grand Jatte in gorgeous sunlight.  I associate Impressionism and the paintings associated with that particular “–ism” as being light, colourful and full of smiling faces on the people as they relax from the rigours of their working lives.

That all changed when I came across the work of the Impressionist, Caillebotte and his Floor Scrapers (see August 3rd).  Today, I am featuring another darker and more sombre painting by one of the greatest Impressionist painters of all time, Claude Monet.  He painted today’s painting in 1875 when he was thirty five years old and living at Argenteuil.  It is entitled Les Charbonniers (The Coalmen) or sometimes referred to as Les déchargeurs de charbon (Men unloading coal).

Before us is a view of the docks at the Quai de Clichy, a little downriver from Paris.  Framed at the top of the painting in the background, we can just make out through the haze, the broad arch of the Pont de Clichy railway bridge, one which Monet would have crossed many times as he took the train from Argenteuil to Paris.   It is also a bridge which he featured in a number of his paintings.  Horses and carts can be seen crossing the nearer bridge, the Pont d’Asnières.  These carts will transport the coal from the quayside to nearby factories, the chimneys of which we can just make out in the distance as they pump out their smoky pollutants.   Also on the bridge we see a few pedestrians gazing down at the unloading operation.

It is a dark and atmospheric picture.  We do not have the brightness of a summer’s day.  It is a dull grey wintery day with a smoke-filled sky.  We see the men struggling with their heavy bags of coal perched on their shoulders as they struggle up the narrow wooden ramps between ship and quay over the murky waters of the Seine, balancing like tightrope walkers on a high wire.  The wooden walkways bend ominously under the strain of man and his load.  We can just imagine the ominous groaning and creaking of the wood as it takes the strain.  Hour upon hour these men will trudge mechanically back and forth until all the coal has been discharged from the boat.  This is a labour intensive operation.  Les charbonniers have an unenviable job with its physical strain on the body coupled with the inhalation of coal dust into their lungs.  In the holds of the vessel itself we see men filling baskets with coal ready for the charbonniers to take them ashore.  These men will probably not live to an old age.  Unfortunately for them, the invention of quayside cranes and cargo escalators had yet to be realised.  This discharge of the coal from the boat would be a long operation, as fully loaded, the coal barge could probably transport about 300 tons of coal, which could take anything up to two weeks to manually unload.

The sailing barge has probably brought its cargo of coal from the mines in Belgium and Northern France along the Canal de Saint-Quentin which connects the rivers Oise, Escaut and Somme.  The canal, a great feat of engineering, was opened by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810.

The painting by Monet is simply a depiction of urban life and he might not have intended it as a political treatise with regards the conditions suffered by some working class people.  However the artist has given the painting a dark and solemn ambience which emphasizes the plight of some of the lowest paid workers.  This work was one of 29 works Monet presented in the fourth Impressionist exhibition.

The Floor-scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte

The Floor Scrapers by Gustave Caillebotte (1875)

Although I am sure people love to see the paintings of the so-called “Masters”, I believe it is good to look at the works of lesser known artists and by doing so, one can discover hidden gems.  After Renoir’s famous painting Luncheon of the Boating Party,which I featured yesterday,  I decided today that I would look for a painter, who until yesterday had been unknown to me.  However, I do understand that this may be due to my simple lack of artistic knowledge and in fact the artist is well known to you, if so, I apologise!

It is often the case that when I am researching a painting I come across another artist, whom I have never heard of, and that is the reason for my choice of artist today.  Amongst the guests at Renoir’s luncheon was his friend and lesser known Impressionist, Gustave Caillebotte and I decided to make him my artist of the day and I want to look at his unusual painting entitled Les raboteurs de parquet [The Floor Planers].

Caillebotte was born in Paris in 1848 and brought up in a very respectable and very wealthy upper-class family environment.  His father, Martial had inherited the family textile business.  Martial Caillebotte had been widowed twice before he met and married Gustave’s mother, Céleste.  When Gustave was eighteen his father moved the family home from Paris to the town of Yerres, a south-eastern suburb of Paris on the Yerres River,  an area which was familiar to the family as they had spent many summers there.

Gustave studied law when he was twenty years old and passed all his exams two years later. That year, he was drafted into army to fight in the Franco-Prussian War.  It was after the war and on leaving military service that Gustave wanted to concentrate on art and study painting.  He set up an artist’s studio in the family home and in 1873 he entered the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.  The following year his father died and in 1878 his mother passed away, at which time the three brothers shared the family fortune.  It was also around this time that Gustave met and became friends with Edgar Degas and came into contact with the Impressionists, a group of artists who had rebelled against Academicism art and academic painters, whose works were exhibited in the Paris Salon.  This group of artists had their own Impressionist exhibitions, the first of which was held in 1874.

In 1876 the Impressionists held their second exhibition and Caillebotte exhibited eight of his paintings including today’s featured work, The Floor Scrapers, which he completed in 1875.  The style of this work belongs to the Realism genre but unfortunately for Gustave the art establishment only considered peasants and farmers from the countryside as acceptable subjects in works of art which highlighted the realism of working-class life.

The Floor-scrapers, sometimes known as The Floor-strippers  was painted in the artist’s family home.  It is a painting which depicts working class people hard at work and although that in itself was not an unusual subject for French paintings as it had been done many times before but the difference was that in previous French paintings, the depiction of the hardships of the working class was all about working class farmers or country peasants.  This painting depicts the urban working class and as such it was one of the first such representations.  Caillebotte presented his painting for the exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1875 but it was rejected.  The Jury of the Salon were shocked by its crude realism and some went so far as to describe it as being vulgar and offensive.  The artist was both disappointed and angered by their stance and decided that exhibiting his works at the Paris Salon was not going to be the future course for his paintings.  Instead, he decided to align himself with another group of French artists, who like him, were disillusioned by the narrow views of the academics and had formed themselves into their own artistic group – the Impressionists.

The work of art today is simply a painting depicting men hard at work.  Here we see three men stripping the varnish off the floor of the artist’s new apartment.  There is neither a moralising message nor is there a left wing political message.  Caillebotte is merely showing the men hard at work carrying out a strenuous task.  This is why the artist was looked upon as one of the most gifted French realist painters of his time.  Look how Caillebotte has depicted the musculature of the upper body of his three workers as they perform their back-breaking task on their hands and knees.  See how the artist has made the light of the late afternoon streams through the long balcony window and illuminate their backs.   It harks back to the heroes we saw centuries earlier when we looked at the paintings of the heroes of Antiquity. France, like Britain, had just gone through an Industrial Revolution and with urbanization came a new social class which was termed la classe ouvrière or working class and it was in complete contrast to the bourgeoisie.  The hard working men we see in Caillebotte’s painting may have been brought up in the countryside and therefore they were used to exhausting and strenuous work and had moved to the city to seek their fortunes.

At the time of this painting, France was in its Second Empire stage and Paris was undergoing massive change under the Haussmann’s Renovation of Paris which was the great modernisation plan for the city which had been commissioned by Napoleon III.  The project encompassed all aspects of urban planning, both in the centre of Paris and in the surrounding districts: streets and boulevards, regulations imposed on facades of buildings, public parks, sewers and water works, city facilities, and public monuments. The planning was influenced by many factors, not the least of which was the city’s history of street revolutions.  This was a time of great change and in a way Caillebotte wanted to change art and what had been previously unacceptable, he wanted to be accepted but he was a little ahead of his time as far as this painting was concerned.  There is a great contrast in colours used in the painting from the light blue walls to the dark browns of the floor and the men’s clothes.   I note that a bottle of wine and a glass has been added – a French prerequisite to help with a day’s work !