Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Pre-Impressionists: Jules Bastien-Lepage

Jules Bastien-Lepage was born in Damvillers, Meuse in 1848. After studying under Cabanel at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Bastien-Lepage became a ground-breaking plein-air painter of realistic rural scenes, influenced by Courbet and the Barbizon School. Essentially a painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage only made 5 etchings himself, under the tutelage of Léopold Flameng, one of which is Retour des champs. In works such as this, Bastien-Lepage updated Millet's spiritual admiration of the peasant class into an unflinching reportage.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, Retour des champs
Etching, 1878

Most etchings of the art of Bastien-Lepage are, like this portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, interpretative etchings by others after Bastien-Lepage paintings. In addition to his landscapes, Bastien-Lepage was a sought-after and very accomplished portraitist, though I feel his heart was in his rural scenes.

Ricardo de Los Rios, Sarah Bernhardt
Etching after Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1879

Jules Bastien-Lepage influenced Manet and the Impressionists, and was especially important to the British plein-air painters who have become known as the British Impressionists, such as George Clausen, Henry Herbert La Thangue, Stanhope Forbes, and James Guthrie.

Henry Herbert La Thangue, A Study (Boy holding a calf)
Lithograph, 1903

Jules Bastien-Lepage made an enormous contribution to art in his short lifetime. He died in 1884, at the age of just 36, a fact which may explain his relative obscurity today.


Jane Librizzi said...

I had no idea that Bastien-Lepage did etchings, but why not? The only one of his paintings I've seen in person is "Joan of Arc" at the Metropolitan Museum and now I wonder who posed for it. He spent time in England, so he may have met some of the artists you mentioned?

Neil said...

Jane, according to Kenneth McConkey's British Impressionism, the key influence was not direct contact with the artist, but the exhibition of Bastien-Lepage's oil painting Les Foins (The Hay Harvest) at the Grosvenor Gallery in London in 1880. Quoting a contemporary report in The Spectator, he writes, "Around this large Salon picture of two exhausted field workers 'a little knot of worshippers or scoffers, admiring or condemning in the most vehement manner…' gathered."