Oil on canvas, 1865-1866
Art Institute of Chicago
An outdoor painter who died too young to fulfill his early promise, Frédéric Bazille was born on December 6, 1841 into a wealthy and cultured family living in Montpellier, Hérault, Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France. At the Montpellier home of the art collector Alfred Bruyas, his boyish imagination was excited by two paintings by Eugene Delacroix: Woman of Algiers and Daniel in the Lions' Den. When Bazille was 18 he obtained his parent's permission to study painting, but only on the condition that he read medicine at the same time. So in 1860 he began art lessons.
After two years he went to Paris and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Charles Gleyre's studio, where he met Pierre Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Alfred Sisley. The four young men soon became friends and formed a group independent of the other students. With Monet, Bazille would watch, from a window, the aged Delacroix at work in his garden studio. Like Monet he was also an admirer of Edouard Manet. During Easter, 1863, all four friends made outdoor studies in the Forest of Fontainebleau. Later that year Gleyre's studio closed down.
Bazille spent the summer of 1864, while waiting for the result of an examination in medicine, at Honfleur on the Seine estuary with Monet. There he met two marine painters, Monet's friends Eugene Boudin and Johan Barthold Jongkind. In Paris again in the autumn he found that he had failed his examination. At last his parents permitted him to study painting full time. In the Forest of Fontainebleau in 1865, when Monet was in bed for some days with an injured leg, Bazille painted Monet, after his accident, at the Inn in Chailly. During the following year he was working on two canvases which he submitted to the Paris Salon, Young Girl at the Piano and Still-life of Fish. As he had feared, only the still-life was accepted.
The influences of Courbet and Manet encouraged Bazille, Monet, and Renoir to attempt a new kind of subject, figure painting in the open air. In 1865 Bazille posed for Monet's life-size, unfinished Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe and himself produced a study, The Pink Dress, in which the figure is in the shade, silhouetted against a summer evening landscape. In 1867 he achieved a successful tonal integration of figures and background in The Artist's Family on the Terrace or Family Reunion exhibited at the Salon in 1868, but later retouched and dated 1869.
Portrait of Pierre Auguste Renoir, 1867
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
During the summer, Bazille asked Renoir to finish setting up the new studio. From Voisins-Louveciennes, Renoir responded: "if you want me to do as you ask and if you have money, you would do well to send me some quickly, if only so you don't spend it all. You can count on me, seeing as I have neither wife nor child, and as I'm not about to have either the one or the other. Send me a note, so I'll know if I need to begin work on the renovations immediately, which would annoy me greatly, first of all because I'm working, then because I don't have resources to keep myself fed in Paris, while here I manage quite well. I'll write to you at greater length another time, for I'm hungry, and brill in white sauce is sitting in front of me. I'm not paying the postage, I only have twelve sous in my pocket, and that's to pay my way to Paris when I need'to go." In the summer of 1869, Renoir wasn't the only one who didn't pay postage, leaving that to Bazille. August 9, Monet to Bazille: "Dear friend, would you like to know what my circumstances have been and how I've been living during the eight days I've been waiting for your letter? Then ask Renoir, who brings us bread from his house so we won't starve." August 17: "I have to think that what I tell you about my circumstances scarcely concerns you, because I tell you we're starving." August 25: "If I don't get some help, we'll die of hunger. I can't paint, as I hardly have any paints left, otherwise I'd be working. Just see what I must be suffering and try to help me out!" September 25: "1 sold a still life and I've been able to work a bit. But as always happens, I've had to stop for 45 lack of paints.... That makes me furious with everyone, I'm jealous, vicious, I'm fuming; if only I could work everything would be all right.... I have a dream, a painting, the baths at la Grenouillere, for which I've made a few poor sketches, but it's a dream. Renoir, who's come to spend two months here, also wants to make this painting." The Grenouillere paintings were made. And at the same time, Renoir wrote to Bazille: "I'm waiting for your masterpieces. I expect to savage them unmercifully when they arrive. I've seen no one. I'm at my parents' and almost always at Monet's, where, between parenthesis, they can't hold out much longer. We don't eat every day. Still, I'm pretty content, because for painting Monet is good company. I'm not doing very much because I don't have a lot of paints."
Family Reunion was a leading example of what is now known as outdoor figural art. The painting was exhibited at the Salon, France's exclusive state-run art show, in 1869. Family Reunion showed Bazille's extended family at their country estate, Méric, and exemplified the artist’s use of color and adept depiction of human figures, both hallmarks of the Realist-Impressionist style. The painting was an example of the challenge that faced all impressionists: how to reconcile traditional figure painting with an outdoor practice.
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During a summer holiday in the family home at Méric, near Montpellier, he worked on this motif in a fairly large painting showing ten of his close family gathered on the terrace, and adding himself at the far left of the painting.
The strong contrasts show Bazille's liking for the light of the South of France. The group is in the shade of a large tree, which accentuates the bright colours of the landscape and the sky. The light filtered by the foliage enhances the pale clothes, contrasting with the dark note of the jackets, a shawl or an apron.
Unlike Monet's large canvas Women in the Garden, which Bazille had recently bought, each figure is also a portrait and almost all are looking towards the spectator as if at a camera. As a result, although it is a group portrait of family life, the postures are rather stiff. The execution seems restrained and Bazille reworked the canvas extensively during the winter and returned to it again a year later after it was shown in the Salon, replacing little dogs with a contrived still life.
These hesitations and compromises probably explain why his painting was accepted by the Salon in 1868 while Monet's more daring compositions were refused. Bazille was surprised by this, modestly writing that the jury had accepted him "I don't know how, probably by mistake."
Current location Musée Fabre, Montpellier
Summer Scene, 1869
Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Studio in the Rue de la Condamine, 1870
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Financially more secure than most of his friends, Bazille often gave them material help. He shared his Paris studio with Monet in 1865 and, when Monet was in difficulties, arranged to buy in installments his enormous Women in the Garden. Renoir stayed for some time at Bazille's next studio, in the Batignolles district of Paris. This spacious room was the setting of Bazille's The Artist's Studio in the Rue de La Condamine, in 1870, which incorporated portraits of Renoir, Manet, Monet, and the writer Emile Zola. Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, and sometimes Courbet, were also visitors at his successive studios. He in turn was often present at the gatherings of the avant garde in the Cafe Guerbois. He was one of the few people capable of indulging in verbal duels with the erudite and sarcastic Edgar Degas, displaying clarity of mind and matter-of-factness that were reflected in his work.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Studio in the rue de Furstenberg
Gleyre emphasized the importance of originality, and Bazille once said "Thanks to Gleyre's teaching, I shall at least be able to boast that I have not copied anybody."
He was interested in plein air painting, but of figures rather than pure landscape, and his work is of interest for its exploration of the effects of light on flesh tones, (e.g. Family Reunion, 1867, Paris, Musee d'Orsay). Much of his work retained a high finish and dark palette (e.g. Negro Woman and Peonies, 1870, Montpellier Musee Fabre). He was also a portraitist and recorder of the Impressionist scene (e.g. Studio in the Rue de la Condamine, 1870, Paris, Musee d'Orsay)."
Bazille painted this piece as a way to amuse himself. It represents his studio with many of his friends. They include Monet, Zola, Renoir, Maitre, and Manet. Manet is in front of the canvas talking to Monet and Bazille. What makes this painting really interesting is that it was Manet who painted the figure of Bazille.
In 1870, Frédéric Bazille joined the infantry after the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). He was almost immediately sent to Algeria for combat training and by the end of the year, he was battling in the frontlines. Frédéric Bazille was tragically killed in action in his first battle, on November 28, 1870, at age 29.
Frédéric Bazille never married, and his many intimate relationships with men prompted claims that he was gay. At the time, homosexuality was considered deviant and was almost universally repressed, particularly among the social elite in which his family was firmly rooted. Were it not for his untimely death, Frédéric Bazille was almost certainly destined to become one of the leaders of the Impressionist revolution.
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The work of Jean Frédéric Bazille poses numerous questions. The brevity of the period in which it was produced and the variety of its genres and styles have often encouraged commentators to ask themselves how he might have developed as an artist if he had not met, with a tragic end in the war of 1870. The question is as legitimate as it is futile, for all responses to it must be conjectural, and cannot but be influenced by the enthusiasm of those who have studied this painter's moving and complex body of work. Bazille can be classified as an Impressionist only with the wisdom accorded by hindsight, because of his association with those painters, particularly Monet and Renoir, who were his youthful companions, and who sometimes painted the same subjects as he. At the time of Bazille's death, these artists, steeped in the example of Courbet, would have been perfectly willing to classify themselves as Realists.
And a Realist is what Bazille was, if we are to judge from the subjects he frequently chose to depict: his own family, familiar views of the countryside around Montpellier, and still lifes, or austere studio interiors proclaiming their author's love for his art. This was limited repertory, deploying its modernity within the most established pictorial tradition and, in its banality, defiantly rejecting the anecdotal painting so beloved of the Salon jury.