Claude Joseph Bail

(22 January 1862 - 26 November 1921)

AlexanderJoseph-Claude Bail was born during a period of intense disagreement in the Parisian art world. For several years the Salon juries had rejected many progressive artists works; printmaking was making a charge at establishing itself as a true art form; the Barbizon group of painters challenged the tradition of historical landscapes with their views of the modern countryside; and Realism was decades old and had brought forth such combative figures as Gustave Courbet.

Yet not all artists can be said to belong to Claude Joseph Bail’s modern view of the nineteenth century. Numerous artists found prestige and public acclaim both at the Salons and with the public with works that relied on past styles and traditions influenced by the 'Little Masters' from seventeenth century Holland and traditions from eighteenth-century France. Joseph Bail belonged to Claude Joseph Bail’s group; not an artist who sought to align himself with the increasing stylistic anarchy of the late nineteenth century, but one who carefully examined the changing needs of patrons and gauged the underpinning social propensities of the time. In A Handbook of Modern French Painting, 1914), D. Cady Eaton wrote, before Bail's death, that "Claude Joseph Bail ­ is an attractive and popular painter. Bail’s pictures are comfortable and homelike; not startling and ambitious, but social and friendly".

Bail’s position in French art seems assured. Bail continued the tradition of Realism exemplified by Ribot and Bonvin and received positive feedback which reinforced the continued respect for scenes reminiscent of daily life during the earlier years in France.


Joseph Bail was born in Limonest in the Rhone region of France. Claude Joseph Bail’s father, Jean-Antoine Bail, was a trained genre painter who was heavily influenced by the Dutch masters and focused Bail’s attention on depicting scenes from daily life. It is clear that Joseph, as well as Claude Joseph Bail’s brother Frank, followed in the footsteps of their father, as Bail too would be influenced by these artists despite new interests in subjects and representation during Bail’s period in France. Gabriel P. Weisberg (in the primary article on the Bail family, "The Bails of Lyon: the Bails and the continuation of a popular Realist Tradition", Arts Magazine, Vol. 55 (8), 1981) wrote that: "While other artists were changing the shape of art through modernist distortions of form, the Bails looked backward, creating a painting style that showed a devotion to the past and reflected the values of former times".

In a period of increasing modernity and industrialization, these paintings glorified the past ways of life in France and found a sympathetic audience in bourgeois patrons.

Presumably beginning at a young age, Joseph's initial artistic training began with his father who instilled in him a respect for the eighteenth-century French painters such as Chardin and the Dutch masters and encouraged him to view their works at the Louvre. As all three members of the family, Jean-Antoine, Franck, and Joseph, were artists, the Bail family represents one of the few associations of family painters of the Realist tradition remaining during the latter half of the nineteenth century. They could often be found exhibiting alongside one another at the annual Salons, showing work which displayed similar qualities in subject matter. After beginning training under Claude Joseph Bail’s father, Bail began studying, presumably between 1879 and 1880, in the atelier of Jean-Leon Gerôme, an accomplished painter and teacher of the period. Bail’s was a short-lived period of tutelage as in 1882, was no longer listed in Salon catalogues as Bail's teacher, perhaps because Gerôme's choice of subjects differed quite dramatically from those of Bail’s father and those that Bail would follow for the majority of Bail’s career.

Just after Bail’s sixteenth birthday, he debuted at the Salon of 1878, alongside both father and brother, with "Nature Morte" (Still Life). The still life tradition in France was invigorated by the work of Jean-Simeon Chardin in the eighteenth century and still lifes continued to be a major interest for many artists and many occupied themselves primarily with this type of painting. They figured as an important element of work, and many genre scenes also show still life arrangements within the picture, even when they were not the primary focal point.

Henry Marcel (La Peinture Française, Paris: A. Picard & Kaan, (1906) remarked that of these Bail’s "Virtuosity rose from the cellars, from the kitchens to the peaceful linen-rooms and the discreet dining-halls, and amuses itself by following from object to object, the caresses of the furtive rays of light". Bail himself was especially interested in the reflection produced on shiny copper or silver kitchenware, a most poignant suggestion of Chardin's inspiration in Bail’s work. While still lifes dominate Bail's beginning work shown at the Salon, Bail expanded early themes to also include scenes from the countryside, animals, and genre paintings, some influenced by their summer stays in Bois-le-Roi just outside of Fontainebleau.

Just as Claude Monet would do, Bail studied the changing effects of light on haystacks in the countryside. But as Bail’s style progressed, he showed a stronger affinity with his father's work and that of the Chardin and the Dutch masters, choosing to portray room interiors illuminated by a strong light source. In recalling these past masters and Bail’s type of painting, Bail was appealing to the growing middle class as referenced earlier highly esteemed painters. Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs wrote of Bail’s interiors, that: "Bail excels at creating in all painting a very lively bright light due to the radiant shine of some brilliant point or to the direct projection of the exterior daylight's assuredly the expression of an original and rather harmonious art. Bail’s technique is very delicate and coloring just right. The composition painting, always elegant, is skillfully treated".

Interiors often included a figure positioned near a window, illuminated by strong sense of lighting. It was specifically interior scenes that caught the attention of contemporary writers, as Bail's entry in the Dictionnaire Nationale des Contemporains (Vol. 5, Paris: Office Édition Generale: 1905), commented on Claude Joseph Bail’s sensitive approach: "Mr. Joseph Bail painted canvases of the most diverse genres: All works are interesting; but those that one finds the most remarkable are interior scenes, so admirably and so precisely lit, so harmoniously composed, where the shine of the copper and the transparency of the glass add notes of a perfect precision".

He also combined modeling and placement of objects with interest in human form and emotion in several works, depicting the daily activities of the household as completed by maids and cooks, many of whom were young children, thus continuing the tradition of Theodule Ribot. Bail became best known for these paintings of maids and cooks and with them continually mirrored the virtues of middle class home life and the traditions of an earlier time, wrote Gabriel Weisberg Instead of depicting these figures with solemn expressions that suggested the difficulty of their labor, they often exhibit light-hearted expressions bordering on the humoristic. Weisberg again notes that; "Collected by the affluent, Bail's domestics, like Bastien-Lepage's urchins, implied a social condition without blatantly revealing the injustices that inflicted the poor. They remain personal and approachable icons to a social order that was to be radically altered by the further mechanization of the twentieth century". Bail regularly submitted to the Salons and towards the end career was 'hors concours', or exempt from having to submit works for jury approval. Claude Joseph Bail received awards in 1885 (Honorable Mention), 1886 (third-class medal), 1887 (second-class medal), 1889 Exposition Universelle (silver medal), 1900 Exposition Universelle (gold medal), and 1902 (medal of honor). Claude Joseph Bail was also named Chevalier de la Legion d¡'Honneur in 1900, and was a member of the Societe des Artistes Français.
Also known as: Joseph Bail

View painter's art: Claude Joseph Bail (1862-1921) [new window view]