Frits Thaulow. Part 2 – the realist landscape painter.

Frits Thaulow at work

Many of Thaulow’s best known Norwegian scenes are from Åsgårdstrand, a town 100 km south of Oslo.  It had become a significant centre for artists and painters from the 1880’s. The town had been home to many internationally famous painter, such as Edvard Munch, Christian Krogh, and Hans Heyerdahl, who had either visited or lived in the town.  Again, like Skagen, the reason it was popular with painters was because of its unique light which the best artists wanted to depict in their works.

Street in Kragerø by Frits Thaulow (1882)

Thaulow visited the Norwegian coastal town of Kragerø which was, and still is, a place where people went to “get away from it all”.  It was a location which the great Norwegian painter Edvard Munch fell in love with, calling it ” Perlen blandt kystbyene (The Pearl of the Coastal Towns). The town of Kragerø is characterized by clear, blue water and beautiful views.

Houses in Kragerø by Frits Thaulow (1882)

However, in one of Thaulow’s paintings of the town, Houses in Kragerø, we see a more realistic depiction of it.  Gone are the blue water and beautiful views and instead we see an everyday view of the backs of the old houses with clothes pegged to a washing line fluttering in a strong breeze.  There is a lack of bright colours, a lack of blue skies, just a simple depiction of an area of the town, “warts and all”.

Haugsfossen ved Modum by Frits Thaulow (1883)

In 1883 after a visit to Blaafarveværket, a cobalt mining and industrial company located at Amort in Modum in the Norwegian county of Buskerud, some thirty miles west of Oslo.  Here there is the spectacular Haugsfossen waterfall and it was here that Thaulow completed his 1883 painting entitled Haugsfossen ved ModumIt is a spectacular painting and once again we witness Thaulow’s great talent when it comes to painting scenes which include stretches of water.  The green tones used for the water when combined with shades of white in contrast to the black rocks allow us to imagine the ferocity of the water has it hurtles down the waterfall, carrying with it fallen logs.

Rialto by Frits Thaulow (1895)

Thaulow travelled to Venice on a number of occasions in the 1890’s and made many sketches and paintings of the city highlighting the city’s canals and architecture and completed many paintings of that city.  In 1892, Thaulow returned once again to France but this time to make it his home.  Originally, he lived in Paris but soon tired of the hustle and bustle and preferred a quieter life in the smaller towns of Dieppe, Montreuil-sur-Mer, Quimperle in Brittany and further south, the town of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.

Back Mills, Montreuil-sur-Mer by Frits Thaulow (1892)

Frits Thaulow had met Claude Monet when he was in Paris and a friendship between the two plein-air painters developed.   Both Thaulow and Monet painted in Normandy with Monet preferring to base himself on the coast and depict the stormy sea and the windswept coastal landscapes whereas Thaulow preferred the tranquillity of painting on quiet rivers.

A Stream in Spring by Frits Thaulow

Thaulow’s weather tends to be calmer which in a way was more in keeping with his temperament. Thaulow said of himself:

“…I am more drawn to the gentle and harmonic than to the vigorous…”

Thaulow had urged Monet to paint in Norway, and the French artist finally acquiesced and travelled there in the winter of 1895, to visit his stepson, Jacques Hoschedé, who lived in Christiania. It proved a disastrous visit because of the severe winter climate with the temperature at minus twenty degrees Celsius when he arrived and because of the amount of snow falling, painting outdoors was a very difficult chore for Monet.  One of the works completed during the visit was Sandvika.  This small town just south-west of Oslo, looks as though it had been done in a blizzard.

Sandvika, Norway by Monet (1895)

It is interesting to note the colours used in the painting – cold blues and lavender whereas Thaulow often used gold and yellow in his winter scenes giving it a slightly warmer feeling.  Maybe Monet just wanted to make sure we knew how cold and uncomfortable it was to paint winter scenes in such conditions whereas Thaulow was more forgiving.

The Akerselven River in the Snow by Frits Thaulow

Despite the adverse conditions, Monet painted twenty-nine Norwegian scenes during his two-month stay and these included at least six views of Sandvika.  It is thought that the iron bridge we see in the foreground may have reminded Monet of the Japanese bridge at his home in Giverny.  Monet never returned to Norway – he had had enough of the cold and inhospitable climate.

Evening in Camiers by Frits Thaulow (1893)

The Normandy coastal village of Camiers, which lies about ten miles south of Boulogne-sur-Mer, was visited by Thaulow in 1893 and that year he completed a painting depicting the village, entitled Evening in Camiers in which we see the sun setting over the dunes and rose-tinted houses caught up in the evening sunlight.

Thaulow the Painter and his Children by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1895)

Through an 1895 painting by Jaques-Emile Blanche we get an insight into Thaulow’s family life.   In the portrait, Thaulow the Painter and his Children, also known as The Thaulow Family, Frits Thaulow appeared with his daughter Else, aged 15 from his first marriage and two of the children from his second marriage, Harold then aged 8 and Ingrid aged 3.  The third child from his second marriage, Christian, was only born that year and does not appear in the work. The painting is housed in the Musée d’Orsay.  Blanche’s portrait was presented at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1896, was greeted with unanimous critical acclaim, which prompted Blanche to say later that this work was the one that “made him a painter”.

The Adige River at Verona by Frits Thaulow

In the 1890’s Thaulow travelled to various European cities constantly sketching and painting what he observed.  On his trip through northern Italy in 1894, he visited Verona on his way to Venice and completed a painting entitled The Adige River at Verona.  In this work Thaulow used only muted colours and understated tonal harmonies which depict the view of the fast-flowing Adige River as it passes beneath the five arches of the sixteenth century Ponte della Pietra.  In the background, we can see the Duomo of S. Maria Matricolare, and to the right the Sanmicheli’s campanile.

Small town near La Panne by Frits Thaulow (1905)

In the summer of 1905 Frits Thaulow spent some time with his family at La Panne, a small Flemish coastal resort. He had bought himself a small car and with this new-found transport was able to drive himself and his family to small Belgian towns in the area always looking for subjects for his paintings.  One such painting was his 1905 work entitled Small Town Near La Panne.  In the painting, we see small town houses nestled on the river bank and in the mid-ground a small arched bridge.  Thaulow made three versions of this scene all slightly different in the way he depicted the bridge and the houses.

Evening at the Bay of Frogner by Frits Thaulow (1880)

Thaulow received several honours for his artistic work including his appointment as commander of the 2nd Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1905. He received the French Legion of Honour, Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Italy and the Order of Nichan Iftikhar from Tunisia.

Johan Frederik “Frits” Thaulow
1847-1906

Thaulow developed diabetes in 1897, a time before insulin had been developed and his condition worsened over the next nine years Thaulow died in Volendam, in the Netherlands on November 5th 1906, aged 59.

Thaulow was a painter working within the framework of Realism, to which he made an original contribution. He forged a friendship with Monet and Rodin and was a valuable connection between Norwegian and French art.

John Peter Russell. Part 2 – Belle Île, Monet and Matisse

In the first part of my blog about the Australian painter, John Peter Russell, I told you about his early life in Australia and how his father and brothers had started a foundry and engineering works in Sydney.  He then went to England and was apprenticed at a Lincoln engineering company, qualified as an engineer but on the death of his father and the inheritance he subsequently received, gave up his engineering career to become an artist.  He studied at the Slade School in London and the Atelier Cormon in Paris. 

Les Aiguilles, Belle-Île by John Peter Russell ((1890)
Les Aiguilles, Belle-Île by John Peter Russell ((1890)

Russell had previously made painting trips to the Breton isle of Belle Île in 1883 and 1886 and fell in love with the island scenery and the light which offered up the myriad of colours of the island’s nature and the surrounding seas.  For Russell, his aim was to capture in his paintings the unadulterated purity of nature’s colour that the light highlighted at different times of the day.  To do this Russell realised that making quick preliminary sketches, later to be finished in his studio, would lose the purity of the colour and so he decided that the work had to be completed en plein air if he was to capture the true colour that the light had offered him.  He was not alone with this idea as many of the French Impressionists came to the region in search of the rugged beauty offered up by the island.  For these artists the island of Belle Île offered them a remote and secluded painting haven with its spectacular cliff configurations and outlying rock structures which had been shaped and whittled away by the unrelenting ferocity of the sea.  

Russell summed up his love for Mother Nature and capturing in his works the changing light he experienced on the island when he said:

“…I am a painter of nature, of nature’s moods, of sunlight and the changing temper of the sea”

His good friend the sculptor Auguste Rodin wrote to him about this love of colour, light and his desire to capture every facet of nature’s moods, saying:

“…I am very happy, dear friend, for you that you cling so enthusiastically to nature.   I am sure that your art is now full of sincerity and movement…”

The Rocks at Belle-Ile, The Wild Coast by Monet (1886)
The Rocks at Belle-Ile, The Wild Coast by Monet (1886)

One of the most famous Impressionist artists who spent time on Belle Île was Claude Monet.   He lived on the island from September to the end of November of 1886, in the tiny village Kervilahouenne.  The story goes that Russell met Monet one day, in the late summer of 1886, when Monet was perched high up on a windswept cliff top painting a seascape.   Russell approached him and looked over his shoulder at his painting.  On recognising Monet’s painting style Russell asked him:

Ne seriez vous Claude Monet, le prince des impressionists?”

(aren’t you Claude Monet, prince of the impressionists?). 

Monet was both amused and somewhat flattered by the question and this led him to allow Russell to sit awhile and paint with him and so an artistic friendship was formed.   There can be no doubt that Monet’s work influenced Russell.  Although the Australian artist believed in the Impressionist philosophy that the painting should be about light, Russell thought that form should not be disregarded.  Monet was fascinated and in love with the island’s wild coastal scenery.  He was in awe of the stark wilderness of the island’s landscape and, at first, quite unsettled by the frequent variations in the weather conditions.   He knew that the best depictions would be the views of the sea and the rugged cliffs and often had to battle, with an obstinate determination, taking his life into his own hands, to try and gain the best painting position on the cliff edge, notwithstanding the state of the weather at the time.  Monet wrote to his friend and fellow Impressionist Gustave Caillebotte of his joy at being on Belle Île and the artistic challenges it offered:

“…I am in a wonderfully wild region, with terrifying rocks and a sea of unbelievable colours; I am truly thrilled, even though it is difficult, because I had got used to painting the Channel, and I knew how to go about it, but the Atlantic Ocean is quite different…”

The Pyramides at Port-Coton by Monet (1886)
The Pyramides at Port-Coton by Monet (1886)

Monet completed a set of works in 1886, featuring the coastal scenery of Belle Île but when he presented them to his Paris art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, the latter was taken aback by the change in Monet’s work as seen in these new canvases.  These were very different from the artist’s Normandy paintings of a decade earlier.   Gone were the paintings bathed in sunlight for these Belle Île works were much more sombre and dark and Durand-Ruel was concerned as to whether they would sell.  In one such work, The Pyramides at Port-Coton, which Monet completed in 1886, he has magnificently captured the dark craggy rock formations which have been formed by the slow but persistent erosion by the sea and which now stand out like ancient pyramids.  The dark colour of these rock formations contrast with the superbly coloured waves which we see buffeting them.  Durand-Ruel quizzed Monet about the wisdom of the change in style but the artist was adamant about having variety in his works, saying:

“… I’m inspired by this sinister landscape, precisely because it is unlike what I am used to doing;   I have to make a great effort and find it very difficult to render this sombre and terrible sight…”

The art world, like Durand-Ruel were astounded in 1887 when Monet’s Belle Île paintings were first exhibited.

Les rochers de Belle-Ile, la Côte sauvage by Monet (1886)
Les rochers de Belle-Ile, la Côte sauvage by Monet (1886)

Another of Monet’s Belle Île paintings completed around the same time is entitled Les rochers de Belle-Ile, la Côte sauvage [The Rocks at Belle-Ile, The Wild Coast] which can be found at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.   This painting is one of five Monet completed featuring Belle Île.   It is in landscape format, unlike the other four, and in it Monet has depicted the never-ending clash between the forces of nature, the sea, and the rocks which try valiantly to withstand its ferocity.  Monet has used blues, greens and violets for the sea with white for the tops of the waves to give the stormy sensation. 

La Pointe de Morestil par mer calme by John Peter Russell (1901)
La Pointe de Morestil par mer calme by John Peter Russell (1901)

In Paris Russell had become great friends with Auguste Rodin and through that friendship had met, in 1885, the sculptor’s favourite model, Marianna Mattiocco, whom the sculptor once described as “the most beautiful lady in Paris”.  Russell and Marianne married in 1888 and it was now time for Russell to fulfil his much discussed desire – to move away from hustle and bustle of city life in Paris and move permanently to his beloved Belle Île.   The year before he had written to his friend and fellow Australian artist, Tom Roberts and told him of his dream:

‘…I am about to build a small house on Belle-Ile, off Brittany. The finest coast I’ve ever seen…”

Russell and his wife moved from Paris to set up home on Belle Île in 1888.  He was the first non-native to settle on the island and when he had built his new home, a large manor house, the islanders referred to it as Le Chateau de l’Anglais.  The completion of their large and spacious new home, with Russell’s studio facing  the Atlantic Ocean, was not just a place for the family to live it was to be the hub of Russell’s summer artist’s colony. Russell set to work on his own paintings of the shores of Belle Île and he would often depict the same type of scenes that Monet had done in 1886.  Russell had the same ideas as Monet.  He wanted to depict the coastline at different times of the day in different weather conditions always seeking the nuances of changing light.  Monet once said that Russell’s Belle Île paintings were better than his own ! 

ROCHERS À BELLE-ÎLE by Matisse (1896)
ROCHERS À BELLE-ÎLE by Matisse (1896)

Ten years after settling down on Belle Île, Russell played host to another up-and-coming artist, Henri Matisse, during the three summers of 1895 to 1897.   Russell spent many hours with Matisse and it is said that he introduced Impressionism to him.  They spent hours discussing the importance of light and how light and colour could be captured at different times of the day and under different weather conditions.  He also introduced Matisse to the work of his friend from Atelier Cormon, Vincent Van Gogh, who at this time was still to be recognised as a great artist.  Matisse always recognised the debt he owed John Peter Russell and in later life said:

“…Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained colour theory to me…”

In 1908 Russell’s wife Marianna died.   Russell was devastated by his loss.  It is believed that such was his grief that he destroyed four hundred of his works of art.   He buried Marianne next to Le Chateau de l’Anglais and decided his time at Belle Île was at an end and so returned to Paris.  Later, along with his daughter Jeanne, (Madame Jeanne Jouve), a Paris singer, they travelled extensively through southern France and the Ligurian coast of Italy and for a time he set up home in the Italian coastal village of Portofino.  Russell returned to live in Paris and in 1912, married his daughter’s friend, the American singer Caroline de Witt Merrill, whose stage name was Felize Medori. Russell and Caroline set up home in Italy and later Switzerland before moving to England where his sons were serving in the Allied forces.  Six years later, in 1921, Russell returned to Australia, and the following year he travelled to New Zealand where he helped one of his sons to set up a business on a citrus farm. In 1923 Russell returned to Australia and bought himself a fisherman’s cottage at Watson’s Bay on Sydney Harbour. John Peter Russell died in April 1930, aged 71.  The cause of death was a heart attack which struck him down whilst moving some heavy rocks outside his home.  He was survived by his second wife Caroline, their son and six children from his first marriage to Marianna. 

Russell was not one to have his paintings exhibited like his fellow artists of the time, such as Monet and van Gogh and so he is less well known but for those that knew him and his painting there was never any doubt about his ability as an artist.  Rodin, in one of his last letters to Russell, acknowledged his reputation and his legacy.  He wrote:

“…Your works will live, I am certain. One day you will be placed on the same level with our friends Monet, Renior, and Van Gogh…”

 

 

The Magpie by Claude Monet

The Magpie by Claude Monet (1868)
The Magpie by Claude Monet (1868)

Being in a much milder, wetter and windy climate it is always a novelty to see snow except atop distant mountains and for those of you are knee-deep in it, you have my sympathy, as I tend to agree with those who say snow is fine when viewed on a greetings card but not when one has to trudge through it.  However there is nothing as beautiful as a painted snow scene and for My Daily Art Display featured painting today I am featuring a beautiful depiction of a snow scene by Claude Monet entitled The Magpie, which is reputed to be one of the most popular paintings in the Musée d’Orsay collection.

Monet painted this work during the winter of 1868-9 whilst he was living at Étretat with his wife Camille and his one-year old son Jean.  He had left Paris and one of the reasons for his departure from the capital was given by him in a letter to his artist friend, Frederic Bazille:

“…In Paris one is too preoccupied with what one sees and hears, however strong-minded one may be, and what I shall do here will at least have the virtue of being unlike anyone else’s work, because it will simply be the expression of my personal experiences…”

Monet had been going through a very tough and trying period in his life.  Although his painting Woman in Green was exhibited in the 1866 Salon his offering of Women in the Garden the following year was rejected by the jury of the Salon.   None of the pictures he sent in the spring to the International Maritime Exhibition at Le Havre were sold and worse still, the canvases were seized by his creditors.   His lover, Camille Doncieux, whom he had met in 1865, had become pregnant and in August 1867 gave birth to their son, Jean-Armand-Claude.   Although his father had finally and reluctantly come around to his son’s chosen profession as an artist, he was totally against his son’s liaison with Camille and told him that he would only offer him financial help if he left Camille.  Monet’s financial situation in Paris had become dire and he survived on hand-outs from his friends.  His money problems and now the impending arrival of his child, which was yet another mouth to feed, were so bad that in 1868 he had attempted suicide by throwing himself off a bridge into the River Seine.  Penniless, Monet was forced to return home alone to his father’s house in Sainte-Adresse, a small coastal town west of Le Havre, and there he lived with his aunt, abandoning Camille in Paris.  To add to all these financial and family problems he suffered partial loss of his sight in July 1867 which prevented him from painting and sketching out of doors.

His luck finally changed in 1868 when he fortuitously received some timely aid from his very first patron, a shipowner and art collector, Louis-Joachim Gaudibert, who supported him by commissioning him to paint three full-length life-sized portraits.  Two were of Guadibert himself and the third one of his wife,  (Portrait of Madame Gaudibert).  He also managed to sell his painting Camille to Arsène Houssaye, the editor of the magazine L’Artiste, for 800 francs. Now, finally, with some money in his pocket he was able to return to Paris to once again be with Camille.  Gaudibert also helped Monet rent a house in Étretat for his family in late 1868. Recovering from an episode of depression, Monet joined Camille Doncieux and Jean at the house in Étretat in October 1868.  He wrote to Bazille about his change of fortune:

“…Thanks to this gentleman of Le Havre who’s been helping me out, I’m enjoying the most perfect peace and quiet and I look forward to do some worthwhile things…”

It was whilst he lived here that Monet painted the many famous scenes of the cliffs at Étretat and it was in December 1868 that he painted today’s featured work, The Magpie.  Although en plein air painting may be a joy in the sunny warm days of summer, it becomes a challenge in the cold harsh winter days but Monet was not deterred by this and never let the elements confine him to working indoors.  In fact he often claimed that he preferred the countryside in winter.  Monet loved to experience the differing effects light had on the countryside and for him the understated difference of shadows upon the snow covered ground presented him with a different challenge from the sun on green grass and blue water.  It would mean a complete change of palette with more emphasis on the whites, greys and violets.  He wrote to Frederic Bazille extolling the virtues of his surroundings and the freedom to paint en plein air:

“…I spend my time out in the open, on the shingle beach when the weather is bad or the fishing boats go out, or I go into the countryside which is very beautiful here, that I find perhaps still more charming in winter than in summer and, naturally I work all the time, and I believe that this year I am going to do some serious things…”

Before us we have Monet’s oil on canvas winter landscape scenes of the countryside close to Étretat.  It is entitled La Pie (The Magpie).  It is a prime example of the natural effet de neige (effect of snow).   It was one of the earlier snowscapes that Monet painted.  In all he completed over hundred snowscape paintings. The snow lies upon the ground.  A solitary magpie perches on the top rung of a wooden hurdle gate.  Its black and white feathers, along with the dark bark of the trees, contrast starkly against the snowy landscape and, despite the small size of the bird, it become the focus of the work. Its inclusion in the scene in some ways breathes life into the painting. The source of light comes from the background and dramatically creates blueish gray shadows of the wattle fencing on the pristine snow in the foreground.   Monet and the Impressionists, instead of making the shadows in their paintings a conventional black, preferred  to use coloured shadows as they believed that adding colour represented the actual, changing conditions of light and shadow as one would see in nature.  However this idea did not set well with the Salon jurists and this work by Monet was rejected when he submitted it for exhibition at the 1869 Salon.    There is a beautiful luminosity about this work.  In summery paintings the sky would normally be lighter in colour and tone in comparison to the ground colour but of course in winter this all changes and as we see in this work the sky is darker than the snow-covered ground.  Look at the way Monet has depicted the snow.  It is not pure white but more a tinted white and where the shadows straddle the snow-covered ground in the foreground we have patches of gray-blue.  We can also see darker spots in the snow of the foreground indicating that the snow is not as deep here and the ground below it is showing through the whiteness.

The painting is considered by art historians as one of Monet’s best and most accomplished snowscapes.  Monet once revealed that he wanted to paint not things in themselves but the air that touched things – the enveloping air.  I will leave you with a quote from a Harper’s Magazine article entitled The Enveloping Air in which the author John Berger wrote:

“… Monet once revealed that he wanted to paint not things in themselves but the air that touched things – the enveloping air.   The enveloping air offers continuity and infinite expansion.  If Monet can paint the air, he can follow it like following a thought.  Except the air operates wordlessly and when painted, is visibly present only in colours, touches, layers, palimpsest, shades, caresses, scratches……… Like many innovative artists, Monet, I believe, was unclear about what he had achieved.  Or, to be more precise, he could not name his achievement.  He could only recognize it intuitively

Réunion de famille (Family Reunion) by Frédéric Bazille

Family Reunion by Frederic Bazille (1867-69)

Often when I am driving down a large highway and see that the traffic flow in the opposite direction has stopped resulting in a formidable two or three mile tailback and I go further on, past the hold-up, around a bend in the road, and see cars heading towards the stopped traffic, the drivers of which are completely oblivious to what is around the bend.  They are happily driving on.  Life for them is good.  Maybe they are heading home or heading for a destination they have been counting down time to reach.   They have great plans with regards what they will do when they reach their destination.   It is at times like these that I think about life and death and the way we, like the driver and passengers of the cars heading unwittingly towards the tail-back.  We are happily going about our business, completely unaware of what is about to happen to us in a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days or a few months hence.

So why do I start my art blog in such a fashion?   The reason is that for my next two blogs I am featuring works by two young artists who had their whole lives ahead of them and who must have believed theirs was to be a successful and happy future and yet because of a conscious decision they both made, their lives would end suddenly in the theatre of war.  Today I am going to once again look at the life and works of the nineteenth century French painter Frédéric Bazille and in the following blog I want to introduce you to an artist, who you may not have come across before, the English Victorian painter Brian Hatton.

Jean Frédéric Bazille was born in Montpellier at 11, Grand’rue in 1841. His father was Gaston Bazille and his mother was Camille Victorine Bazille (née Viliars).  Gaston Bazille was a wine merchant, senator and president of the Agricultural Society of Herault.  He was the head of an affluent and cultured upper middle-class Protestant family.  He and his wife had three children, Suzanne the eldest, followed by Jean Frédéric and Claude Marc.  Whilst living in Montpellier, Bazille became acquainted with a friend of his father, a local art collector Alfred Bruyas.  Bruyas was also a close friend and patron of the artist Gustave Courbet and, over time, he had built up a sizeable art collection with works by Jean-François  Millet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Eugène Delacroix and of course, many by his friend Courbet.   Young Frédéric Bazille often had the chance to examine these precious works and was fascinated with and inspired by the collection.   This was to be the start of the young man’s love affair with art.  He began 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 studies. He graduated from high school in Montpellier, where he obtained a degree in 1859, and as he would do anything to continue with his art, he went along with his father’s wishes and began his medical studies at the Faculty of Montpellier.

To continue with his medical studies, Bazille had to move to Paris and so in November 1862 he travelled to the capital.   Whilst in Paris, Bazille, unbeknown to his father, spent more time sketching and painting than getting on with his medical studies.    In late 1862, Bazille enrolled at the private art studio of Charles Gleyre, the Swiss historical painter.   Whilst at this atelier he met and became friends with fellow aspiring artists, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and James McNeil Whistler.   Monet and Renoir would become close friends of Bazille’s and they were to influence his artistic style and approach toward art, particularly through the practice of en-plein air painting and directly observing life and nature.  During this time, a frequent meeting place for these artistic friends was the Café Guerbois in Paris, where new ideas and theories were discussed passionately.    Bazille, unlike Monet, had no money problems.  He came from a well-off family and he would often pay for many a round of drinks.   Bazille also paid for studio rent and art supplies and always helped ease the financial worries of the likes of Monet by buying some of their paintings and by doing so ensured that his new-found friends would be saved from complete financial despair.

When Gleyre’s studio closed the following year Bazille decided to leave Paris and follow his friends whilst he waited on the results of his medical exams.  In 1863 he went and lived alongside Monet at Chailly and learnt the en plein air painting technique in the Forest of Fontainebleau.  In 1864, he found out that he had failed his medical exams, much to his father’s disappointment.   Bazille gave up any idea of entering the medical profession and, from this time on, he concentrated all his efforts on his painting.

France declared war on Prussia on 19 July 1870 but the other German states quickly joined on Prussia’s side and France was soon defeated.  In August 1870, at the age of 28, Frédéric Bazille, against the wishes and advice from his friends, enlisted in the Third Regiment of the Zouave.    Zouave was the title given to certain light infantry regiments in the French army which trained in Algeria.   One must remember that Bazille was a wealthy man and could, if he had so wanted, not have gone to war, for in those days, even if he had been drafted, he and his family could have paid for another person to substitute for him. However Bazille chose to serve his country.   Bazille died on November 28th 1870 at the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande, near Orléans.  Bazille’s biographer, François Daulte wrote about the incident:
“... The company halted on the top of ridge overlooking Beaune. It was greeted with a hail of Prussian bullets. The first of the men advancing toward the town fell like flies …….. In the general chaos women and children were escaping from the town and running towards isolated farm buildings which would offer some protection …….. Bazille’s turn came and he charged, crying: “Don’t shoot! Women and children!” He was hit by two bullets to the arm and chest. He fell, face down in the earth, fifty metres from the château where Corot had painted one of his masterpieces…”

Bazille died on the battlefield just eight days before his twenty-ninth birthday.   His family was devastated and his father travelled to the battlefield a few days later to take his body back for burial at Montpellier.

My featured painting today is probably Frederic Bazille’s most famous work, entitled Réunion de famille also called Portraits de famille (Family Reunion also called Family Portraits) which he completed in 1867 and altered slightly two years later.  It is a large painting, measuring 152cms x 230cms.  The subject of the work is an extended family gathering at Bazille’s family’s country estate at Méric, near Montpellier during the summer of 1867.  The sun is shining brightly but the people are safeguarded from the harsh rays of the sun by the very large tree on the terrace, the foliage of which filters the sunlight, which allows the artist to cleverly depict the very sophisticated light and shadow effects against the subjects, their clothing and surroundings.  Look at the strong contrasts of the bright colours between that of the landscape and the sky in comparison to the shaded areas under the tree.  As the sunlight manages to filter through the leaves it manages to light up some of the pale clothing contrasting it against the darkness of the jackets, shawl and apron.  It illustrates how Bazille’s liked painting in the light of the South of France.

In this painting, Bazille has depicted various figures in a tableaux-type style.  Although there is a peaceful feeling about this depiction, it is just a group of figures.  There is a lack of interaction between the family members with all the figures stiffly-posed and all, except the father, looking towards us as if we were the photographer recording this family get-together.  The photographer aspect of this painting may not be as far-fetched as it seems as it is known that around about this time Frédéric’s brother Marc married Suzanne Tissié and it could well be that Frédéric was in some ways recording the family get-together a few days after this wedding.  There is an air of confidence about the demeanours of the people depicted, which probably came with their affluent status in society.  In the picture Bazille has included ten extended family members and he even added himself in the painting.  He is not in a prominent position.  He has squeezed himself into the far left of the painting, which may infer that he was somewhat reluctant to include himself.    Next to him stands his uncle by marriage, Gabriel des Hours-Farel.  Seated on a bench with their back to him is his mother, Camille, and father, Gaston, whilst at the table is his aunt, his mother’s sister, Élisa des Hours-Farel and her daughter Juliette Thérèse.     Standing by the trunk of the tree with their arms linked are Bazille’s cousin Thérèse Teulon-Valio, the married daughter of Gabriel and Élisa des Hours-Farel,  and her husband, Emile.  On the right of the painting, standing by the terrace wall is Marc Bazille, Frédéric’s brother with his wife of a few days, Suzanne Tissié and his sister Suzanne.    The Bazille and des Hours families used to spend every summer on the magnificent estate of Méric, in Castelnau-le-Lez, a village near Montpellier. The house and its grounds were slightly higher up, overlooking the village.

Two years later, after it was shown in the Salon, Bazille re-worked parts of the painting, replacing little dogs, which had been in the foreground, with a somewhat contrived still life made up of a furled umbrella, a straw hat and a bunch of flowers.

The painting was accepted by the French Salon of 1868, which slightly embarrassed Bazille as his friend Monet had failed to get any of his works accepted by the Salon jurists that year.  Bazille didn’t gloat much about his inclusion in the Salon, stating that his being chosen over Monet was “probably by mistake.”  Bazille’s is often now looked upon as a dilettante, an amateur who flirted with avant-gardism but lacked application and so remained a follower rather than a leader. However some of his contemporaries would disagree, Camille Pissaro described him as:  “one of the most gifted among us.”

Bazille produced many beautiful works of art during his short lifetime and who knows what he may have accomplished if he had not patriotically decided to fight for his country and sadly, within a year of painting today’s picture he was lying dead on a battlefield.

Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris

Musée Marmottan Monet

For my blog today I am not showcasing an artist or a painting but a small museum , the Musée Marmottan Monet, which I visited last week when I was in Paris and I hope that for any of you who are intending to visit the French capital and want to take in some of its artistic heritage you will make time to visit this museum.  I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.  The museum is situated at 2 rue Louis Boilly in the vibrant and colourful 16th arondissement and is easy to get to as there are two nearby Metro stations, La Muette and Ranelagh.

I have often advocated that when one goes to London one should not always head for the major art galleries such as the National Gallery or the two Tate galleries as they are so big that one has no hope of seeing everything in one session and trying to often means that you skimp on the time each painting deserves.  A better plan of action if your time is limited is to go and visit one of the smaller galleries.  In London one has the Wallace Collection, the Courtauld Gallery and the Dulwich Picture Gallery, to mention just a few.  So to practice what I preach, when I was in Paris last week I didn’t revisit the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, instead I visited, for the first time, the Musée Marmottan Monet and it was unquestionably a most worthwhile visit.

The building was originally constructed as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Valmy and a few years later was sold to Jules Marmottan which on his death along with all his belongings was bequeathed to his son Paul.  Paul Marmottan later built a small pavilion in the courtyard as the original building was too small to house all of his paintings, furniture and bronzes.  Paul Marmottan bequeathed his home and collection to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, which opened up the house and collection as the Museum Marmottan in 1934.

If you like the work of the Impressionists and in particular the works of Claude Monet then look no further as this museum houses the largest collection of Monet’s work in the world and this is partly due to the fact that Monet’s youngest son Michel donated his father’s paintings from Giverny to the museum.  The building originally had two floors, the ground floor and an upper floor but to exhibit all the works they had to build a large underground room.  A number of bequests to the museum over the years have filled the building with beautiful and priceless art treasures.

The Duhem Collection was bequeathed to the museum by the daughter of the French painter, Henri Duhem.  These included works by Boudin, Caillebotte, Corot, Gaugin,  Monet and Renoir.  In 1980 an amazing group of illuminations spanning the 13th to 16th century was donated to the museum by Daniel Wildenstein.  The collection is exceptional for both the quantity and quality of the works.  There are over three hundred miniatures.  In 1996 the museum received an extraordinary donation from Annie Rouart.  Her husband was Denis Rouart, the grandson of Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet.  Among the paintings given to the museum by Annie Rouart were masterpieces by Degas, Manet, Monet and Renoir and of course works by the famous female Impressionist Berthe Morisot.

Berthe Morisot Exhibition

For those of you who love the work of Berthe Morisot, and I include myself in that particular fan club, there is currently running a brilliant exhibition of her work.  It is housed in the basement.   It opened on March 8th and runs until July 1st 2012.  It presents the first major retrospective of the work of Berthe Morisot to be held in Paris for almost half a century.  One hundred and fifty paintings, pastels, watercolours and drawings in red chalk and charcoal, from museums and private collections all over the world, retrace the career of the Impressionist movement’s best-known woman painter. Works which have been selected for the exhibition cover the whole of Berthe Morisot’s artistic career, from her earliest works around 1860, to her untimely death at the age of 54, in 1895.  In my next few blogs I will feature a few  of the many paintings I saw when I walked around the museum.

Camille Doncieux and Claude Monet (Part 2)

Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux

In my last blog I looked at the first meeting of Camille Doncieux and Monet.  It occurred in 1865 when Frédéric Bazille, a good friend of the twenty-five year old Monet, introduced him to Camille Doncieux who was still in her teens.  Camille, who was of humble origins, worked as an artist’s model.  Monet soon made her his number one model and shortly afterwards the two became lovers. The couple, because of the poor sales of Monet’s works of art, lived in depressing poverty.   Today I complete the story of Camille and Monet and look at a few more paintings the artist completed depicting Camille.

From the 1860’s till the end of that century, France was in love with all things Japanese.  This Japonisme as it was called had inspired both artists and the public.  Monet was not immune from this trend which swept his country.  Besides his art, he had two other hobbies.  He loved gardening and he loved to collect Japanese art, especially the Japanese woodblock prints.   In all he had built up a collection of over two hundred of these.  He had also accumulated a number of Japanese fans, kimonos and screens, some of which can still be seen at his house in Giverny.

 The most palpable and undeniable proof of Monet being influenced by the art and culture of Japan is his oil on canvas painting, Madame Monet en Costume Japonais (La Japonaise), which he completed in 1875 and which currently hangs in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. This work was in complete contrast to his earlier works.   Large-scale figure paintings had usually been looked upon as a major challenge for an artist.  Camille is depicted dressed in an elaborate kimono, holding a Japanese fan in her hand.   It is interesting to note that Camille is wearing a blond wig so as to emphasize her Western identity. Her kimono is sumptuously embroidered and the background is adorned with numerous Japanese fans. These accoutrements could, at the time, be bought for a few centimes in many of the Parisian shops and even the larger department stores had exclusive sections for all things Japanese.

In the painting Camille’s pose is of a conventional style and it is believed that Monet did this so as to enhance the chance of selling the work.   Because of this, there is a somewhat loss of spontaneity about it.  The scene looks very contrived.   However the brilliance of the colours he used is breathtaking.   Monet exhibited this work at the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876, where it attracted much attention.  Maybe Monet was saddened and felt somewhat guilty by the compromise he had made with this work solely to make it more attractive to potential buyers.  He later described it as “trash” and “a concession to the popular taste of its time”.

On June 28th 1870, Camille and Claude were married in a civil ceremony performed at the town hall of the eighth arrondissement of Paris. The French painter Gustave Courbet was one of the witnesses. Although Camille’s parents were present at the ceremony, Monet’s family were horrified by their son’s choice of partner and would not accept Camille Doncieux as their daughter in law, nor would they acknowledge their grandchild, Jean-Armand-Claude who had been born in August 1867.   Monet’s parents even tried to bribe their son into leaving his wife with the threat of their allowance to him being stopped if he continued the liaison.  However Monet chose his wife over money and refused to abandon Camille and Jean.   As a result, his allowance was cut off and his financial situation worsened and the three of them suffered extreme financial hardship, sometimes unable to afford food and often unable to afford paint.   He carried this burden for many years, and struggled greatly with poverty and the stress caused by Camille’s poor health, and his inability to pay for her medical care.   After the wedding and just before the start of the Franco-Prussian War the family travelled to London and Zaandam before returning to France and setting up home in Argenteuil, a town to the west of Paris.

Camille Holding a Posy of Violets by Monet 1877

In 1876, Camille Monet fell ill with what is believed to have been the beginnings of cervical cancer.   In Monet’s 1877 painting Camille Holding a Posy of Violets, which he completed that year, one can see the toll the disease has had on her health. Her face looks pale and haggard.  She looks tired and older. It was around this time that Monet received a commission from a patron Ernest Hoschedé and for a short time his finances took a turn for the better.  However in 1877 all this changed when Hoschedé went bankrupt and his art collection was auctioned off. This was a blow to the Impressionists, whom Hoschedé had supported,  and especially Monet.   The bankrupted Hoschedé and his family moved to a house in Vétheuil with Monet, Camille and Jean. However Ernest Hoschedé spent most of his time in Paris before fleeing to Belgium to avoid his creditors.   There soon followed speculation that Monet may have been carrying on an affair with Alice Hoschedé.    Some art historians have translated the look on Camille’s face in this painting as one of disgust with her husband and his liaison with Alice Hoschedé.  This was the last painting Monet did of Camille whilst she was alive.

Camille on her Deathbed by Monet (1879)

On March 17th 1878, Camille gave birth to her second son, Michel.  The birth of Michel further weakened Camille.   Over the next twelve months Camille’s health deteriorated and on August 31 1879, a priest was called to the house to administer the last rites and to sanction her marriage to Monet, although they had been married in a civil ceremony nine years earlier.   Camille’s death on September 5th 1879 devastated Monet. She was just thirty-two years of age.   Monet painted a picture of his wife on her death bed and the work can be seen at the Musée d’Orsay.  Monet remembered the time well writing to a friend telling him of his urge to paint that last portrait of Camille:

“…I caught myself watching her tragic forehead, almost mechanically observing the sequence of changing colours that death was imposing on her rigid face. Blue, yellow, grey and so on… my reflexes compelled me to take unconscious action in spite of myself…”

Monet included lots of blue and gray in this painting, as well as yellow,orange and red and in some people’s opinion the use of these colours made the painting too light. Light, coming from the right hand side, shines on the face of his deceased wife.   We do not get a very clear view of Camille although we can just make out her face and that she is wearing a shroud.

After Camille Monet’s death in 1879, Monet and Alice along with the children from the two respective families continued living together at Poissy and later Giverny. Ernest Hoschedé died in 1891, and, in 1892, Alice and Claude Monet were married.   Little is known about Camille Doncieux Monet mainly because Monet’s alleged mistress and second wife, Alice Hoschedé, was so jealous of Camille that she demanded that all photographs, mementos and letters between Monet and Camille were destroyed.  She was determined that Camille’s very existence was denied.

Why did she hate Camille so much?    Maybe she realised that Camille Doncieux was the one and only true love of Claude Monet.

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell

If you would like to read a fictional account of the relationship between Camille Doncieux and Claude Monet then I suggest you read:

Claude and Camille: A novel on Monet by Stephanie Cowell

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.

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.