The Beggar, (Le Mendiant)

"October", Potato Harvesting, 1878

Sarah Bernhardt

(1 November 1848 - 10 December 1884)

Lepage grew up on a farm; his parents violently objected when he decided to become a professional artist. To mollify them he worked for a time as a postal clerk in Paris while studying at the École des Beaux-Arts. In 1868, he left civil service and was accepted into Alexandre Cabanel’s atelier. During his apprenticeship, Bastien-Lepage won two prizes in drawing, and in 1870, he made his début at the Salon with a "Portrait of a Young Man" (untraced). In the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) he joined a regiment of sharpshooters and was severely wounded in the chest. When he recovered he attempted unsuccessfully to find work as an illustrator. A pastiche of Watteau was accepted at the Salon in 1873, and two further canvases in 1874 - an allegory, "Song of Spring" (Verdun, Mus. Princerie), and "Portrait of my Grandfather" (Nice, Mus. B.-A.), the critical success of which launched his career.

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First Communion (Communiante)

Joan of Arc

Haymaking (Les Foins), 1877

French painter, was born in the village of Damvillers, Meuse, France, and spent his childhood there. Jules Bastien-Lepage first studied at Verdun, and prompted by a love of art went in 1867, to Paris, where he was admitted to the École des Beaux-arts, working under Alexandre Cabanel (French, 1823-1889). After exhibiting in the Salons of 1870 and 1872, works which attracted no attention, in 1874 Jules Bastien-Lepage made his mark with his "Song of Spring", a study of rural life, representing a peasant girl sitting on a knoll looking down on a village. his ""Portrait of my Grandfather", exhibited in the same year, was not less remarkable for its artless simplicity and received a third-class medal. This success was confirmed in 1875, by the "First Communion" (Communiante), a picture of a little girl minutely worked up as to color, and a "Portrait of M. Hayern".

In 1875, Jules Bastien-Lepage took the second Prix de Rome with his "Angels appearing to the Shepherds", exhibited again in 1878. His next endeavour to win the Grand Prix de Rome in 1876, with "Priam at the Feet of Achilles" was again unsuccessful (it is in the Lille gallery), and the painter determined to return to country life. To the Salon of 1877 Jules Bastien-Lepage sent a full-length "Portrait of Lady L." and "My Parents"; and in 1878, a "Portrait of M. Theuriet" and "The Hayfield" (Les Foins). The last picture, now in the Luxembourg, is regarded as a typical work from its stamp of realistic truth. Thenceforth Bastien-Lepage was recognized in France as the leader of a school, and his "Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt" (1879), painted in a light key, won him the cross of the Legion of Honor.

In 1880, Jules Bastien-Lepage exhibited a small portrait of "M. Andrieux" and "Joan Of Arc listening to the Voices"; and in the same year, at the Royal Academy, the little portrait of the "Prince of Wales".

In 1881, he painted "The Beggar" (Le Mendiant) and the "Portrait Of Albert I. Wolf"; in 1882, "Le Pre Jacques"; in 1888, "Love in a Village", in which we find some trace of Courbet's influence.

Many artists developed a particular interest in rural life and themes, including subjects that highlighted regional customs and industries that were slowly disappearing. In his work, Bastien-Lepage blended a contemporary approach to painting such as "October", 1878, (everyday subject matter and landscapes painted en plein air in an Impressionist style) with aspects of traditional academic art practice (figures painted with clear, firm outline and strongly modelled form). This blending of styles treated everyday subject matter, such as the work of the potato harvesters in October, with the dignity and nobility traditionally reserved for ‘serious’ history painting. Naturalism was regarded as the fashionable and progressive art in Europe. The influence of Bastien-Lepage and Naturalism is clearly evident in the large-scale figure compositions focusing on rural life and labour made by Roberts and McCubbin.

Jules Bastien-Lepage
French Naturalist painter, sculptor & printmaker
Born: 1 November 1848, Damvillers (Meuse, France).
Died: 10 December 1884, Paris (Département de Ville de Paris, Ile-de-France, France).
Student of: Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889)
Teacher of: Maria Konstantinowna Bashkirtseff (1858-1884)
Influence on: Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857-1947)

Jules Bastien-Lepage's last dated work is "The Forge" (1884). The artist, long ailing, had tried in vain to re-establish his health in Algiers. Jules Bastien-Lepage died in Paris on the 10th of December 1884, when planning a new series of rural subjects. Among his more important works, may also be mentioned the portrait of "Mme J. Drouet" (1883); "Gambetta on his death-bed", and some landscapes; "The Vintage" (1880), and "The Thames at London' (1882). "The Little Chimney-Sweep" was never finished.

See A. Theuriet, Bastien-Lepage (1885 English edition, 1892); L. de Fofircaud, Bastien-Lepage (1885).

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