Dead at the age of 36 and already famous at that time, yet essentially forgotten today, the
naturalist painter Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884) is being rediscovered at the musée
d'Orsay in a retrospective of his work. He was an innovattor who developed a different
style, between realism and tradition.
"At the age of 31 he had already been awarded the Legion of Honor. The next year he was
a member of the jury at the Salon. At the time of his death he was world famous, and his
works were being sold as far away as Australia", said Dominiqu Lobstein, director of the
exposition "Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884)" which will present 55 works of the artist from
March 6- May 13 2007..
This is a painter who, from the first time he submitted works to the Salon in 1870, "proposed
new solutions", said M. Lobstein. His studies were very academic at the school of
Beaux-Arts and in the studio of Alexandre Cabanal, "but he looked at the waves being made
by the modern painters, notably Degas and Manet".
The writer Emile Zola, a fine art critique, called him at that time "the grandson of Courbet
and of Millet". But this praise ended with an acidic tone: "But he is a student of Cabanel,
and this will be to his detriment", Cabanel being at that time the best example of rigid
Born at Damvillers (Meuse) of a father who was a farmer and a mother who originally came
from Verdun, Bastien-Lepage left in 1867 for Paris where he copied classic paintings in the
Louvre, studied at the Beaux-Arts and failed twice to win the prize of Rome. He nevertheless
did not cease to come and go between the capitol and his native region which gave him
inspiration for his country themed canvases.
From the time he started as an artist and during the ten years of high regard during his
career, each painting, be it a country canvas, a portrait, or a scene de genre, was admired
and copied. "He was an idol of the Salon", said M. Lobstein, "his works were seen by art
lovers around the world. All the artists who traveled through Paris would stop to see his
work", he added.
His most famous work, "The Hay", is on permanent exhibition at the musée d'Orsay, and it is
a synthesis of his style. He "takes on country subjects, but without the dramatic character of
Millet, but in a clear color", says the director. His faces show surprising realism and stem
from his academic training, but the way he plays with the colors of his country subjects
seems to be inspired by Manet and Impressionism.
When he paints a "communicant" all the artists start painting young girls in white. In England
where he often went, he painted small country scenes. In France after "The Portrait of M.
Hayem", he becomes the quasi-official portrait painter for the Jewish bourgeoisie.
After his death from cancer, Rodin produced a statue of the artist in his native village, but
memory of him faded. "The family managed his memory so poorly that France forgot about
him", said M. Lobstein.
The exposition, co-sponsored by the General Counsel of the Meuse, will subsequently be
presented at the World Peace Center in Verdun from 14 June to 3 September.
(The museum is open every day but Mondays, from 09H30 to 18H00, on Thursdays from
09H30 to 21H45. Cost is 7.50 euros, and on Sundays the price is 5.50 euros.
Article from TV5 web site on 3/5/07
Translated by Walt Ballenberger
Le musée d'Orsay is presenting a
retrospective by Jules Bastien-Lepage,
I confess that I never heard of this
artist, but that seems to be the case
for many people. He died young but
was already world famous, but was
then largely forgotten. WB