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Jules Bastien-Lepage Photo

Jules Bastien-Lepage

French Artist

Born: November 1, 1848 - Damvillers, France
Died: December 10, 1884 - Paris, France
"Beauty, I am convinced, is exact truth: neither to the right nor to the left, but in the middle."
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Jules Bastien-Lepage
"It would be so simple to teach the use of the brush and palette, without ever once mentioning the name of Michelangelo or Raphael or Murillo or Domenichinio! We could then go home, back to Brittany or Gascony, Lorraine or Normandy, and peacefully paint the portrait of our own province...."
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Jules Bastien-Lepage
"That is the way for an artist to succeed in breathing the breath of life into his art and in making it beautiful and appealing to the eyes of the whole world. And that is the goal towards which I am striving with all my strength."
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Jules Bastien-Lepage
"We need to renew the education of our eye, by looking with sincerity upon things as they are in nature, instead of holding as absolute truths the theories and conventions of the school and the studio."
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Jules Bastien-Lepage
"If I was told: They are going to cut off your two legs, but after that you will be able to paint again, I would willingly make the sacrifice...."
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Jules Bastien-Lepage

Summary of Jules Bastien-Lepage

In spite of a career that spanned no more than a decade, Jules Bastien-Lepage - or the "painter of peasants" as he was sometime known - can be credited with expanding the vocabulary of French modernism beyond the light tones and touch of the Impressionists. He built a bridge between the Barbizon School and French academy painting while still allowing for the influence of the "new painters" to inform his style. Known primarily for two genres, the rural landscape and portraiture, he captivated the Salon with the honesty of his canvases and built up a group of devoted followers throughout France and across Europe. Without consciously doing so, Bastien-Lepage created a body of highly personal work that saw him fix his place in the timeline of the Naturalism movement.

Accomplishments

  • Bastien-Lepage made no concessions to romanticism in his art having felt a personal duty to remain "true to nature" and to the Meuse region in which he grew up. Such was his attention to detail, his rural landscapes carried an almost photographic quality. It was an approach that helped defined an alternative modern approach to plein air painting such as that practiced by the likes of Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley.
  • In defiance of the Salon artists who traveled to the provinces to create sentimental views of rural living, Bastien-Lepage painted that milieu as someone who understood the heritage of the terrain and its people. His landscapes were populated with honest workers and peasants who his brush rendered with authenticity and dignity.
  • Many historians have drawn direct comparisons between Bastien-Lepage and the co-founder of the Barbizon School, Jean-François Millet. Both artists celebrated the honest toil of peasant labor. But whereas Millet imbued his subjects with a biblical reverence, Bastien-Lepage's peasant paintings "spoke for themselves" in the sense that his land workers were represented without the adornment of a moral sub-text.
  • Bastien-Lepage complimented his rural scenes with a series beautifully-executed portraits. He was much in demand as a portraitist and his reputation spread throughout Europe. With fluid handling of brush and palette, his portraits showed a rare empathy between artist and sitter while his subjects were drawn from all groups in society including nobility, political figures, performing artists and the working classes.
  • Though sometimes forgotten, Bastien-Lepage was an academy trained painter. In his early career he produced some magnificently staged religious parables. But his greatest legacy to his Academy training came later in his career when he overturned the conventions of History Painting by representing France's greatest war heroine, Joan of Arc, as a peasant girl in a contemporary naturalistic setting. The painting was not to every critic's liking but it was hugely popular with the public and remains arguably his most well-known painting.

Biography of Jules Bastien-Lepage

<i>The Grape Harvest</i> (1880). Oil on canvas, Collection of Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

"Instead of holding as absolute truths the theories and conventions of the school and the studio", Bastien-Lepage implored his fellow painters, "we need to renew the education of our eye, by looking with sincerity upon things as they are in nature".

Important Art by Jules Bastien-Lepage

Son grand-père (Portrait of My Grandfather) (1874)

Bastien-Lepage's beloved grandfather is the focus of this painting. The old man is depicted in a garden, seated in a cane chair, with arms crossed in his lap and a stare that seems to engage the viewer. In describing this painting, author André Theuriet stated: "His striking face stood out well detached from the background of trees; the black velvet cap sloping jauntily towards his ear give effect to the shrewd Socratic face; his blue eyes twinkled with humour; the nose was broad [;] the white forked beard spread itself over an ancient vest of the colour of dead leaves; the hands, painted like life, were crossed upon the grey trousers".

This was an important early painting in Bastien-Lepage's career. As well as providing evidence of his love for his family and the countryside of Damvillers, it introduced what would be the two dominant threads in his oeuvre: nature and portraiture. The charmingly tender portrait had the effect of bringing him an early taste of public recognition when it debuted at the Paris Salon in 1874. Speaking of the significance of this event, Theuriet describes how, "before this picture, so true, so frank [...] the public stood delighted, and the name of Bastien-Lepage, unknown before, figured the next day in the first place in the articles on the Salon".

The Annunciation to the Shepherds (1875)

The Annunciation to the Shepherds (1875)

According to author Fr. Crastre, "Bastien-Lepage was no studio painter; it was not from the height of a window that he chose to contemplate nature, but in the open fields, in the very heart of the furrows; and it was there also in the midst of the wheat and the rye, that he set up his easel and painted his peasants in action in the daily fulfilment of their thankless task". But it is easy to overlook that Bastien-Lepage was a classically trained painter (as The Annunciation to the Shepherds amply demonstrates).

As a student of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, he was one of ten finalists in the 1875 Prix de Rome competition. The Académie selected the biblical theme and, as the painter and writer Cathy Locke describes, the "Finalists were required to enter into the loge for ninety days to paint their interpretation of the given theme. This ordeal entailed confining the aspirants into small rooms separated by partitions working under the supervision of guards, with each entrant permitted to depart only during evening hours". On completion of the paintings, the works were put on public display and the general consensus was that Bastien-Lepage's canvas would easily win him the prestigious award. The Prix de Rome went, however, to Léon Commere. The jury had objected to Bastien-Lepage's entry because he chose to render the Annunciation at twilight when, according to historical accuracy, the Annunciation was a night scene.

Locke speculates that the artist might have fallen under the influence of the Impressionists in that "Bastien-Lepage felt that the quality of light at twilight was more aesthetically pleasing than the limited amount of light available to him in a night scene". Though he did not win the grand prize, Annunciation to the Shepherds revealed his technical virtuosity for all to see.

Les Foins (Haymakers) (1877)

Les Foins (Haymakers) (1877)

In the painting, Bastien-Lepage depicts two peasants taking leave from the heavy toil of working the land. In the foreground a weary young woman is seated, arms resting on her outstretched legs; her shoulders slumped. The artist described her thus: "my young peasant is sitting with her arms apart, her face hot and red; her fixed eyes seeing nothing; her attitude altogether broken and weary. I think she will give the true idea of a peasant woman". Her companion is lying on his back, hands on his chest and his straw hat covering his face. In the background can be seen stacks of hay, effectively confirming the pair's status as manual farm workers.

Bastien-Lepage makes no effort to romanticize or dramatize his scene. He said of the painting: "I have had hard work to set up my first ideas, being determined to keep simply to the true aspect of a bit of nature. Nothing of the usual willow arrangement, with its branches drooping over the heads of the people to frame the scene. Nothing of that sort". The famous Realist novelist, Émile Zola, described the painting in fact as "the masterpiece of naturalism in painting" and honored Bastien-Lepage by calling him the, "grandson of [Jean-François] Millet and [Gustave] Courbet". The Musée d'Orsay went further, calling the composition "daringly photographic" in the way that "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 d'Orsay adds that "the light palette, and close framing of the figures are signs of modernity within the naturalist approach".

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Jules Bastien-Lepage
Influenced by Artist
Artists
  • No image available
    Marie Bashkirtseff
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    Leon Augustin Lhermitte
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    Fred McCubbin
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    Tom Roberts
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    John Felsing
Friends & Personal Connections
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    André Theuriet
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

Useful Resources on Jules Bastien-Lepage

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Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Anthony Todd

"Jules Bastien-Lepage Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Anthony Todd
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First published on 20 Feb 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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