Frédéric Bazille, The Youth of Impressionism

June 30, 2017

A Glimpse Into the Short Life of Frédéric Bazille
frederic bazille

Bazille’s Studio, 1870. From left to right: Pierre-Auguste Renoir sitting, Emile Zola (standing on the stairs), Eduard Manet and Claude Monet (with the hat) – next to Bazille, talking about one of his paintings.

As the son of a upper-middle-class Protestant, Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), from Montpellier in southern France, was slated to go into medicine. Instead, he became a renowned French Impressionist painter after being inspired by the early Impressionist works of Eugène Delacroix. Bazille traveled to Paris in 1862, where he met Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and avant-garde painters like Henri Matisse and writer Emile Zola. Unfortunately, Bazille’s career was cut short when he served in the Franco-Prussian War, in which he was killed.

Frédéric Bazille Comes to America

The family reunion, 1867 

Bazille never rose to the height of popularity achieved by his Impressionist friends. Since he led a tragically short life, Bazille’s body of work is limited, and he has flown under the radar of art appreciators for almost 150 years. However, The National Gallery of Art currently plays home to a temporary exhibit that showcases a whopping 74 paintings in addition to two of Bazille’s workbooks.

Inside the gallery, Bazille’s paintings can be seen alongside those of the predecessors who inspired him and the contemporaries he knew from his inner circle.

Bazille’s Works

La Toilette, 1870

Bazille excelled at depicting the variety of Parisian life in the mid-19th century. His final painting, La Toilette (1870), brings to mind Édouard Manet’s 1963 painting, Olympia, which is reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance master Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538). Bazille, however, adds a highly modernized style to his paintings, including his takes on classical nudes, as can be seen in Fisherman with a Net (1868).

In all of Bazille’s works, there is a vibrancy that comes through in his color palette and subject matter. His scenes range from realistic landscapes to still-life, and he painted a few portraits, such as those of Renoir and the poet Paul Verlaine. Had he lived longer, who knows what masterpieces Bazille would’ve produced?

The Paintings Today

Frédéric Bazille, Self-portrait, 1865–1866

Technology has come a long way from the time of Bazille’s death in 1870, and it now helps 21st-century art lovers understand and appreciate the painstaking methodologies of artists like Bazille. Before being put on display in The National Gallery of Art, about half of Bazille’s works were x-rayed. These x-rays revealed a dozen other compositions hidden beneath the topmost layers of paint. Quite miraculously, Bazille’s first Salon submission, Young Woman at the Piano, was found among these compositions. It had been presumed lost for many years. Thanks to the collective effort made by the National Gallery of Art, the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France, and several other museums, we now see the extent of Bazille’s talent.

Exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C until July 9th, 2017

Aigues-Mortes, 1867

Organization: The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington; the Musée Fabre, Montpellier; and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Passes: Admission is always free and passes are not required.
Where: East Building, Concourse 1, 6th & Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC
Hours: Every day 10 AM – 5 PM Except Sunday 11 AM – 6 PM


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