Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bastien-Lepage, Jules

Hay Making (Les Foins)
oil on canvas
160 x 195 cm
Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

Dubbed the "grandson of Millet and Courbet" by Emile Zola, Jules Bastien-Lepage specialised in agricultural scenes which were a far remove from the affected pastoral scenes that cluttered the Salon. Zola was excited by Hay Making, seeing it as the masterpiece of naturalism in painting.

Indeed, Bastien-Lepage has powerfully captured the epic of the French countryside and depicted the peasants in their simplicity and despondency: the young woman sitting in the foreground is haggard with weariness. The composition this painting is daringly photographic: the horizon is unusually high, allowing the hay "like a very pale yellow cloth shot with silver" to fill the main part of the canvas. The effects of accelerated perspective, the light palette, and close framing of the figures are signs of modernity within the naturalist approach. 

Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848 - 1884), was a French naturalist painter, a style following the Realist movement.
He was born in the village of Damvillers, Meuse, and spent his childhood there. His father grew grapes in a vineyard to support the family. Bastien took an early liking to drawing, and his parents fostered his creativity by buying prints of paintings for him to copy. His first teacher was his father, himself an artist. His first formal training was at Verdun, and prompted by a love of art he went to Paris in 1867, where he was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-arts. He was awarded first place for drawing but spent most of his time working alone, only occasionally appearing in class.

When the Franco-Prussian war broke out, he fought when men were needed for the troops. After the war, he returned home to paint the villagers. He was recognized in France as the leader of a school, and his Portrait of Mine Sarah Bernhardt (1879), painted in a light key, won him the cross of the Legion of Honor. Bastien-Lepage, long ailing, had tried in vain to re-establish his health but died in Paris in 1884, when planning a new series of rural subjects. His friend was with him at the end and wrote,  "At last he was unable to work anymore; and he died on the 10th of December, 1884, breathing his last in my arms. At his grave's head his mother and brother lovingly planted an apple-tree, which every spring showers down its wealth of pearly petals over the last resting-place of the great master whose loss we all mourn."
After his death, a special exhibition of more than 200 of his pictures was formed at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1889 some of his best work was shown at the Paris Exposition.