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Nine days of impressionism: November 1862, Frédéric Bazille and his friends

This article is taken from Figaro Hors-série Paris 1874, Impressionisme- Soleil levant, a special issue published one hundred and fifty years after the first impressionist exhibition commemorated by the Musée d'Orsay which brought together, in a striking face-to-face, a wide selection of works which were then revealed to the public.

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Nine days of impressionism: November 1862, Frédéric Bazille and his friends

This article is taken from Figaro Hors-série Paris 1874, Impressionisme- Soleil levant, a special issue published one hundred and fifty years after the first impressionist exhibition commemorated by the Musée d'Orsay which brought together, in a striking face-to-face, a wide selection of works which were then revealed to the public.

He remembers this beginning of autumn. Freshly arrived in Paris, his eyes still shone with the southern sun, and his heart was warm from the good farewells he had received. Very quickly, he began looking for a painting studio, thinking back to his drawing lessons with the sculptor Baussan, in Montpellier. They made up for the disgust and boredom that medical school always caused him. To reassure his father, an agronomist and wine grower from a large Protestant family which manages the family estates of Méric and Saint-Sauveur, Frédéric committed to completing his doctorate in medicine. But his goal is to perfect his art, which is still too clumsy. His cousin, Eugène Castelnau, recommended to him the workshop through which he himself had gone: that of Charles Gleyre, a Swiss of around sixty years old, who trained Gérôme, does not charge his students and would leave him, a- he said, a great freedom. A lover of form, of drawing, of the antique, Gleyre has, since Le Soir or Les Illusions perdus, his masterpiece, something in his way of painting, a gentleness, a freedom with regard to everything model, which makes even its mythical heroes almost accessible. He knows how to abolish the distance of centuries.

Also read: Michel De Jaeghere: “Impressionism, an aesthetic revolution in the shadow of the old masters”

Bazille arrived, one of those gray mornings, at 69, rue de Vaugirard, a little awkward and emotional. In front of a platform set up for the model, stools, low chairs, a few easels and drawing boards constitute the basic furniture of the large room. A stove for heating. He returned the next day and every morning since, confining medicine to his afternoons. He sometimes feels nostalgia for the South, for the Baussan, for his friends, and writes to his father: “I have indigestion for walls and streets.” But he works hard every day, and the “Boss”, although stingy with compliments, even congratulated him on his certain progress. At the workshop, he made friends: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, a tailor's son who had joined Gleyre a year earlier, Alfred Sisley, Viscount Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic, son of Napoleon III's aide-de-camp , “and another from Le Havre named Monet,” who, too reluctant to academic teaching, only stayed three months. Together, they are twenty years old and ready to fight. Together they work and play. They put on a play, La Tour de Nesle, which Gérôme comes to see, and Régamey caricatures for Le Boulevard. The long character on the far left of the drawing is him, Frédéric Bazille.

In the spring of 1863, Renoir, Bazille and Monet went to paint outdoors, in the forest of Fontainebleau, like their elders, the Barbizon painters. The days are radiant. They spend memorable evenings at Cheval Blanc, in Chailly, filled with laughter, drinks, games and silence, shared ideals. Monet, “who is quite good at landscape painting,” gave his advice to Bazille. They like to quickly paint what a furtive glance seizes in an instant, whatever the motif after all, as long as it is, before them, alive, vibrating in the soft light of spring. And Renoir laughs to see Monet, a touchy dandy perpetually ruined, so small compared to the great attentive, generous and jovial Southerner. They will often return to refresh their eyes when disappointed by the successes of the Salon officials, “who hardly seek,” rages Bazille, “than to make money, by flattering the tastes, most often false, of the public.”

At his Lejosne cousins' house, on Avenue Trudaine, Bazille met Baudelaire, Verlaine, Fantin-Latour, Zola, Nadar. When Manet caused a scandal by presenting his Déjeuner sur l'herbe at the Salon des Refusés, Commander Lejosne hosted a banquet in his honor at his home. For Bazille, lunch is a model, full of air and light. Monet also presses him, sometimes oppresses him, and stimulates him. Frédéric poses for him alongside Camille for his version of lunch on the grass, and will even buy his Femmes au jardin. This will be his research to the end, nourished every summer by his stays in Méric, his “summer vacation paradise”: integrating the true figure in an open-air setting and translating the power of the day under his brushes. After The Pink Dress and The Little Gardener, his Family Reunion will be his manifesto, as well as a tribute to his family and his land, the final declaration before the war takes him down, too soon.

Paris 1874. Impressionism, rising sun, Le Figaro Special Edition. €14.90, available on newsstands and on Figaro Store.

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