Summary of Frédéric Bazille
Frédéric Bazille had both exquisite timing and terrible luck. He was one of a group of radical, iconoclastic artists in early 1860s Paris - Manet, Monet, and Renoir among them - to turn the artistic establishment upside down with their revolutionary new approach to painting. Manet was something of a mentor and certainly a good friend to Bazille. Bazille received only a relatively limited amount of formal academic artistic instruction but his close alliances with fellow artists, including sharing studios with the likes of Renoir, Sisley, and Monet, helped shape his style. His paintings were just as often accepted as refused by the official Salon and, while he adopted some of the techniques and formal qualities of the Impressionist style, his work remained Realist except in the realm of subject matter. He was a pioneer in creating compositional strategies for situating human figures in outdoor settings and integrating them with the atmospheric effects of a given locale. He worked often in his studio but was also an advocate of painting en plein air, which Monet had encouraged him to do from early on. Bazille received positive support from important critics of the day and his career was taking very promising shape when he was killed just before his 29th birthday in a battle during the Franco-Prussian War.
- Bazille is regarded as one of the innovators of the Impressionist style even though he never exhibited his work with other members of the group. The first Impressionist exhibition took place in 1874, almost four years after his death and not one work by Bazille was displayed at the show. Despite being directly associated with important Impressionists like Monet and Renoir, his style was far more that of a Realist, sharing common formal features with the art of Courbet and Manet's earlier, pre-Impressionist paintings.
- Bazille had been encouraged by his good friend Monet to go outside to paint rather than confining himself to his studio. Together the two painters went to the countryside, often accompanied by other artists, so that they could paint in nature or en plein air. It was in his efforts to successfully integrate the human figure into a modern, Impressionist landscape where Bazille moved into more radical artistic terrain. In Bazille's harmonious, modernist compositions, the figure, whether nude or clothed registered the effects of light and other atmospheric phenomena like the other objects in the picture. While he incorporated modern compositional strategies such as unusual cropping that mimicked the cropping of a photograph and vantage points at extreme angles, Bazille's painting style, which could sometimes appear less restrained if not loose and varied like the brushstrokes of the Impressionist style, was much more controlled. Contours tended to be sharply defined, surfaces smooth and highly finished, and his palette was typically darker than that of most Impressionist works.
Important Art by Frédéric Bazille
The Pink Dress
Bazille's milieu of avant garde painters, including Monet and Renoir and also Morisot, who had become an active figure in their circle, were inspired by the work of the Realists like Courbet and early Manet, which inserted contemporary figures into landscapes painted on site or en plein air. Bazille referred to this method as "painting figures in the sun" in a letter he wrote in December of 1863.
In The Pink Dress, Bazille isolates the figure of his cousin, Therese des Hours, who sits comfortably on a stone ledge, framed by the village of Castelnau-le-Lez. The village was in close proximity to the Bazille family's estate, Meric, outside of the city of Montpellier. The Bazille and Hours families spent summers on the estate, which was in the hills above the charming Castelnau-le-Lez with its sunbleached exteriors and terracotta tiled roofs so typical of the South of France.
Borrowing a compositional technique for landscape painting from the Barbizon painters, Bazille places trees in the middle ground to function as a kind of dividing line between the stone terrace and wall of the foreground and the village in the distance. The trees also filter the bright summer sunlight that illuminates the village. They cast shadows on the terrace and on the figure of Therese, who sits quietly in the shade of the terrace at one end of the estate's large garden, faces away from the viewer, seemingly introspective and relaxed in her stockinged feet; she wears a casual, light summer dress of pink and gray stripes and a black apron.
Despite the picture's radical departure from tradition, particularly with regard to the flat areas of barely blended color, the loose brushwork, and the blurring of details, Bazille places his model in a seated, three-quarters pose that is typical of conventional portraiture. In a preparatory sketch for the painting, Therese instead faces the viewer, creating a more pronounced connection between sitter and viewer. The adjustment emphasizes the artist's thought processes in terms of the overarching goal of figuring out how to integrate figure and landscape.
Four years later and still working out this formula that featured a sitter in the foreground framed by a landscape with a village in the background and trees in the middle ground, Bazille painted a similar picture called View of the Village (1868). Evidently, he had succeeded in his mission to create what was to become a standard Impressionist motif as, upon seeing the later picture exhibited, Morisot observed that he had "fulfilled the aspiration of [this] entire generation to place a figure en plein air."
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris
The Fontainebleau Forest
In springtime of 1863, Bazille and a handful of other artists from Gleyre's studio accompanied Monet to the Fontainebleau Forest where they could paint en plein air. These artists were following a long tradition of painters before them, particularly those of the Barbizon school of landscape painting (c. 1830 to 1870) such as Rousseau, Troyon, and Corot. The school took its name from the small village of Barbizon, which was located on the edge of the Fontainebleau Forest. Major characteristics of the style that evolved with the Barbizon painters were their pictures' rich color and natural lighting, loose brushwork, and softened forms.
The new generation of painters that included Monet, Bazille, Renoir, and Sisley among others embraced the concept of painting en plein air (rather than confining themselves to their studios) but even the less hard-edged style of the Barbizon school, an offshoot of the Romantic movement, was too structured for them. They took their predecessors' fascination with the effects of light much further, establishing the foundations of what would become the Impressionist style. Less concerned with conveying emotion through dramatic, tonal paintings like the Barbizon painters, Bazille and the early, core group of Impressionists were interested in the science of the natural world.
Photography heavily influenced the way that they framed their images - something like snapshots with unusual cropping meant to imitate the spontaneity of a photograph. With this painting, Bazille shuns symmetry and instead provides a view that feels random, as though we are wandering among the trees in the shady forest. The rough, loose brushwork is ideal for describing the texture of the trees, the boulders, and forest floor scattered with debris and plants. The restrained palette is cool and inviting as must have been the feel of the forest itself.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris
The Improvised Field Hospital (Monet after his Accident at the Inn at Chailly)
In this painting, the artist Claude Monet lies on his back in a bed with his left leg propped on a folded blanket. Following their trip to the Fontainebleau Forest, Monet went to the town of Chailly near the city of Fontainebleau and asked Bazille to meet him there. Monet planned to begin painting his monumental picture, Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe (1865-66), a response to Manet's famous work by the same title, and requested that Bazille pose for the picture. Bazille arrived a day or two after Monet and checked into a hotel in Chailly, where he stayed for a few days there posing off and on for his friend's painting.
An anecdote from those few days describes how, when Bazille was just preparing to leave the outdoor setting where the painting was staged, a group of English students were playing a game involving flinging a fairly heavy metal disk through the air. A poorly launched attempt apparently went sailing toward a group of children; Monet intervened and was injured, his leg gouged by the disk. Bazille's medical skills are said to have saved the day as he applied a tourniquet to the wound, cleaned it thoroughly, and then remained in Chailly to care for his friend while he convalesced. During the convalescence, Monet also painted a portrait of Bazille - a portrait that became quite well known.
Here, the bedridden, immobile Monet looks out toward the viewer. A sort of traction device that Bazille rigged is suspended above the bed to the right of the patient. The reddened calf of the injured man is apparent as is his convalescent state, including the chamber pot sitting on the floor by the bed, an intimate detail that makes the scene feel quite private, the viewer an intruder. The style is more Realist than Impressionist, as though the seriousness of the circumstances and the bond between the two friends demanded a more careful, naturalistic, and detailed handling of the picture.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris
The Family Reunion (Family Portrait)
The Family Reunion commemorates the birthday celebration of Gaston Bazille, the artist's father, who gathered the family together for the occasion on August 27, 1867. Rather than seeming to pose for the picture, the Bazille family members seem to have been abruptly interrupted, surprised even and looked toward the viewer as though at a camera. The setting is once again the family's estate, Meric, outside of Montpellier. Ten in all, the Bazille clan sit or stand here and there on the terrace, enjoying the shade under the large tree. The mostly shaded ground of the terrace is dappled here and there with sunlight that filters through the leaves of the tree. In contrast, the bright summer light illuminates the clothing, connecting the many blues and whites of the sitters' attire with the extraordinarily blue sky and the smattering of clouds that seem fixed in it.
Rather than turning away, Bazille's family members face the viewer and each figure constitutes an individual portrait. The stiff postures of the figures convey a sense of disapproval; they are all rather stiff and formal. The style falls somewhere between Realism and Impressionism and it is said that Bazille reworked the canvas extensively throughout the winter. After completing the large painting, he submitted it to the Salon Jury for the 1868 exhibition and, to his delight, it was accepted. That same year, the Jury rejected his friend Monet's submission, one of his most radical yet, Women in the Garden (1866). Surprised by the news, Bazille very modestly suggested that the Salon Jury had accepted his work "probably by mistake."
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fisherman with a Net
Bazille was eager to demonstrate his capability as a figure painter and, in keeping with the Realists and early Impressionists efforts to situate the figure in an outdoor setting and to accurately depict the effect of light and other atmospheric phenomena, he chose this very unusual subject of a naked fisherman. Depicting nudes in landscape settings was not new; in fact, the motif dates back at least to the Renaissance. What was novel was, as art historian Gary Tinterow explains, "making the relationship between the naked body and its setting as accurate as possible in terms of proportion, depth and light."
The results of Bazille's efforts are two expertly constructed male nudes that conform to the exacting principles of the academy in terms of construction of the human figure. The contours of their bodies are sharply defined, unlike an Impressionist work and, while Bazille locates them in the outdoors, he places them in the shade while still demonstrating his prowess at depicting natural light as the sun pierces the canopy of the woods here and there.
The male figure in the foreground stands with his back to the viewer, looking for all the world like a classical sculpture. He holds a net, which is preparing to cast into the river, a practice that was evidently common along the Lez River outside of Montpellier.
Bazille wrote to his parents about this work, telling them how his friends complimented him on this painting. He submitted it as well as another painting, A View of the Village (1868), to the 1869 Salon but it was refused. Years later, at the 1910 Paris Salon, the painter Suzanne Valadon saw Fisherman with a Net and produced a similar version of the painting.
Oil on canvas - Rau Foundation for the Third World, Zurich
Bathers (Summer Scene)
Bazille's painting, Bathers, more commonly referred to as Summer Scene, depicts a group of young men clad only in bathing suits either swimming, reclining in the sun, or, in the case of the figures in the background, wrestling. It is thought that he first began the work in his studio in Paris but finished it during a stay in Montpellier using the landscape and the Lez River for references. Sources for the male figures include figure groups by the Renaissance artists, Sebastiano del Piombo and Andrea Mantegna. A likely literary source was a contemporary novel by the Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, Manette Salomon (1867), in which a brightly lit scene of youthful male bathers is described in great detail.
This work, considered by some as Bazille's "final masterpiece," was exhibited at the Salon of 1870. In some ways, argues art historian Michelle Facos, the work conformed to the standards of the academy: the degree to which it is finished and the way in which it is evocative of the traditional formula for classical landscapes "with its flanking rows of trees leading the viewer gradually into the picture." Further, it is symmetrical and it is emblematic of the long-standing academic tradition of studying the male nude. Where it deviates, however, is that such scenes of outdoor bathers typically featured female nudes. Thus, a large-format painting of nude and mostly nude male bathers was quite unprecedented. The shape of the painting, a square, was definitely not the standard format for a landscape painting, which was almost always horizontal; likewise, paintings featuring figures tended to be vertical. Summer Scene, a hybrid of the two genres, is therefore a fairly radical departure from convention. The painting reveals in a roundabout way the legal reality of the period: an 1835 law forbade nude bathing in public; men could do so in bathing suits but women were forbidden even that allowance and were required to bathe "in a single-sex, indoor facility."
Facos also asserts that the poses of the bathers on the left are more typical of the poses of nude females rather than exemplary of, she elaborates, "the heroic virility of associated with ancient sculpture." For centuries, scenes of women bathing or otherwise frolicking nude in natural settings was the standard. In fact, femininity was conjoined with the natural world. In contrast, argues art historian Tamar Garb, "images of unclothed contemporary men stripped of the uniform of masculinity which inscribed them within the realm of culture, made them seem rather vulnerable and decidedly unheroic."
Given the many unconventional features of the painting, it is therefore somewhat surprising that the Salon Jury accepted it for the annual exhibition; this suggests that, by 1870, Bazille had achieved considerable success, bridging the gap between radical, avant garde painting and academic art.
Oil on canvas - Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA
Bazille was working on this painting at the same time he was painting Bazille's Studio (1870) with a mind to submit The Toilette to the 1870 Salon. This painting, smaller than most of his works, can be seen in the studio painting; it is unfinished and hangs on the far wall of the studio above the small white settee. He described the work in progress in a letter to his mother written in January 1870; in the letter, he first expresses doubts about Summer Scene being accepted by the Salon Jury and then goes on to describe The Toilette: "I am starting another [painting] which I think will be accepted; it is however very difficult to do. There are three women, one of whom is entirely nude, another nearly so. I have found a ravishing model who is going to cost me an arm and a leg: 10 francs a day plus bus fare for her and her mother who accompanies her."
Preparatory sketches indicate that Bazille originally planned to depict only two figures and later added the third, the standing woman on the right. This additional figure was very likely Lise Trébot, Renoir's frequent model and companion. Bazille probably based the pose of the black servant on that of a figure in Renaissance painter, Veronese's Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine (c. 1575), which he had copied in the Louvre.
This work emphasizes the extent to which Bazille was willing to adapt his work to the preferences of the Salon Jury. He deliberately chose to represent a scene straight from the Orientalist galleries of the Louvre knowing that one of the deciding votes of the jury would be cast by the famous Romantic painter, Jean-Léon Gérôme, who was the jury president at the time. According to art historian Gary Tinterow, this was an excellent strategy because "It enabled a painter to paint nudes, to depict elaborate decors and rich fabrics, to demonstrate his ability to render flesh, fur, silk, and satin." It had worked for Renoir, whose stunning, Realist Odalisque (1870) had been accepted by the jury. Ironically, while The Toilette was rejected, Bazille's Summer Scene was accepted by the jury. The decision seems to have been, not surprisingly complex and political and it remained a frustrating conundrum for Bazille.
Without a doubt, Bazille meant to represent the interior of a harem or at least the sensual overtones of such a setting. With his inclusion of the black servant, he was also very likely referencing Manet's Olympia (1863), an iconoclastic take on the odalisque motif. According to art historian Joan DelPlato, there was a rash of paintings representing the motif of the harem produced between 1868 and 1870. The long popular theme, which had been represented by artists such as Ingres. Gérôme, and Delacroix, the latter of whom Bazille admired deeply, persisted as a favored theme but had become politically problematic, to a considerable extent representative of privilege (of both painter and patron).
While this Realist work, with roots in a favored theme of Romanticism, is an erotic tribute to Orientalism, it reinforces the standard spectatorial dynamic. The viewer is presumed to be male and is titillated by this scene with arguable lesbian underpinnings, which had long been a component of the erotic charge of such works.
Oil on canvas - Musée Fabre de Montpellier Mediterranee Metropole
Bazille painted scenes from three of his different studios but this one is the best known of the trio. A later work, this large painting nevertheless is far more Realist than Impressionist in terms of style. Indeed, Bazille's most experimental, Impressionist-style works are those which he has painted en plein air and in which his use of Impressionist techniques such as loose brushwork, softened edges, and light-infused tonalism is most apparent.
Probably inspired in part by Courbet's enigmatic, allegorical, The Painter's Studio (1854-55) but far more convivial, Bazille's Studio, also known as Studio on the Rue de la Condamine, features portraits of five of his friends as well as a portrait of Bazille himself painted by Manet. The brightly lit studio in the Batignolle district of Paris, which Bazille shared with his friend Renoir between January 1, 1868 until May 15, 1870 "records," writes Dianne Pitman, "the material and social conditions of his last winter in Paris: the collection of paintings by himself and his friends that spurred continual self-evaluation; the piano that occupied many of his moments of leisure; the group of friends - painters, critics, and amateurs - who provided encouragement and friendly rivalry."
In contrast to Fantin-Latour's group portrait of several artists of the Batignolle circle surrounding Manet, which included Bazille, this painting is distinctly informal. A large expanse of open floor space divides the viewer from the group of men who are gathered at the far end of the studio. We can have a glimpse into the world of these radical artists but we can only observe them from a distance; while technically we've been admitted to the studio, we are still on the outside looking in. In a letter written to his parents in December of 1869, Bazille referred to the pleasure he was taking in producing this painting: "I have been amusing myself recently with painting the interior of my studio with my friends. Manet is helping me with it..."
In the center of the picture, near the easel, the unusually tall Bazille stands holding a palette in his hand, which marks him as the owner of the artist's studio. He is speaking to Manet (the figure with the reddish beard closest to the easel) and Astruc (some scholars) have identified this figure as Monet instead) regarding the work in progress. On the far right, Bazille's close friend with whom he shared a passion for music, Edmond Maitre, is seated at the piano. According to art historian, Terry Strieter, the figure on the stairs is the writer and critic, Emile Zola but others have suggested it is Renoir with Sisley seated on the table below; alternatively, the person seated on the table is said to be Renoir. We'll probably never have definitive identifications but suffice to say the painting features members of Bazille's cherished inner circle.
The paintings displayed on the walls of the studio have all been identified by scholars and include The Toilette (1869-70), which had been rejected by the Salon Jury in 1870 and is hanging on the wall just above the small white settee. Another one of his rejected paintings, Fisherman with a Net (1868) featuring a nude male, can be seen on the far left. The small still life painting near Maitre has been identified as a work by Monet, which Bazille had purchased to assist his friend financially - a fairly common occurrence. The large painting of the nude in the gilt frame above the settee is a work by Renoir that was rejected when he submitted it to the Salon of 1866. Its inclusion here probably amounts to a veiled condemnation of the academy, which Bazille and his friends found exasperating in its inconsistency.
Oil on canvas - Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Biography of Frédéric Bazille
Childhood and Education
Frédéric Bazille, born Jean-Frédéric, was born into a wealthy family with ancient roots in the South of France. He was born on the family's estate, Meric, outside of Montpellier on December 5th (some sources say the 6th) in 1841. The Bazille family had settled in the area at least as early as the 13th century. He came from a family of artisans, including an 18th-century ancestor who was a master arquebusier, "a renowned weapons specialist and producer of luxury works of art ... who worked for the king." Eventually, the family channeled their artisanal skills into goldsmithing with which they earned a reputation for excellence as well as their fortune. One of the family treasures, which had eventually made its way to his mother, Camille Vialars Bazille, was a famously beautiful and extravagant ring "of diamonds with seven rosette stones" designed by Daniel Bazille in 1720.
The affluent and influential family were members of the High Protestant Society but Bazille's father, Gaston, a vintner and agronomist and eventually a senator of the Hérault, was still apparently liberal enough to allow his son to be somewhat self-determining. Evidently, the young Bazille had decided very early in life that he wanted to be a painter and, by 1859, had declared his intentions to his parents. At that time, he had begun attending lectures on drawing and painting at the Musée Fabre in Montpellier and took drawing courses from local sculptors, the father and son, Joseph and Auguste Baussan. He became a skilled draughtsman and copyist, reproducing works by Old Masters such as Veronese. However, while his father had for years encouraged his son's pursuit of painting as a hobby, he insisted that Bazille should receive a formal education for a more worthy profession that would allow him to live comfortably. Therefore, the young man agreed, evidently very reluctantly, to study medicine.
In 1862, Bazille moved to Paris; he enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine. During his leisure time, rather than studying, he painted. Quickly, he began neglecting his studies and instead attended the artist Charles Gleyre's drawing workshop. Gleyre was a well-known academic painter who specialized in history painting, still considered by the art establishment to be the most noble of genres. He had taken over the studio of the famous history painter, Paul Delaroche. Some of his best-known students were Monet, Renoir, and Sisley, all of whom Bazille met when he attended the workshops at Gleyre's studio. Ironically, none of them remained for long under Gleyre's tutelage, as they did not agree with his academic approach to teaching art.
By 1864, Bazille had failed his medical exam, largely due to disinterest, and at last his father reluctantly agreed to provide him with support so that he could pursue painting full time. Bazille had received plenty of encouragement both from Gleyre and his avant garde artist friends, Monet, Sisley, and Manet. In turn, he was a generous friend who often provided his struggling artist friends with support - sometimes with money and most often by lending them materials and studio space.
By the time Bazille was 23, in 1864 and really only beginning his artistic career, he had already painted a number of successful works. Like his fellow avant garde artists, Bazille enjoyed the Paris nightlife, making the cafés, bars, and bistros of the slightly seedy New Athens district of Paris (located between the bustling Grands Boulevards and the Place Pigalle in the 9th arrondissement) his haunts. In particular, Bazille and his crowd - then still aspiring artists and writers - populated the cafés including Tortoni, Baudequin, and Guerbois. It wasn't unusual in the early years, the early 1860s, for Bazille to pick up the tab for his friends like Monet, who were still struggling financially.
Bazille painted almost feverishly from 1863 to 1870. After leaving the workshop of Gleyre, he established his own studio. He occupied a total of six studios through the years, with three of them - one on rue de Furstenberg, one on rue de Visconti, and one on rue de la Condamine - documented via his paintings, which have been characterized by some art historians as "indirect self-portraits." As he received a generous monthly allowance from his parents, Bazille could maintain a comfortable apartment, which he sometimes shared with friends, and also shared studio space with fellow artists. In 1864, he and Monet shared the rue de Furstenberg studio. He shared his space on rue de Visconti in 1867 with Renoir, and sometimes Sisley and Monet. From time to time, he would also pay for models for the group of artists to draw and paint, when money was tight they'd also model for one another. By 1868, Bazille had acquired the large studio on rue de la Condamine in the Batignolles district.
In addition to mixing and in some cases establishing close friendships with less-established artists (at the time) such as Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Cézanne, Bazille connected socially with artists such as Corot and Courbet, who had already made a name for themselves. He also associated frequently with more academic-style painters like Henri Fantin-Latour, who in his painting A Studio in the Batignolles (1870) included Bazille in a group portrait of notable, anti-establishment artists of the period. Additionally, the young artist was at least a fringe associate of contemporary avant-garde literati - important figures like Charles Baudelaire and Paul Verlaine - who were influential adjudicators of avant-garde tastes at the time and who also frequented of the cafés and bars popular with Bazille's artist friends.
It is thought that Monet and Bazille were close friends but there are indicators, based on gossip of the day and accounts by people from the cultural inner circle, that Monet may have regarded his wealthy friend as a sort of "piggy bank." While that may have been the case, Monet did honor Bazille by making him the godfather of his son, Jean. Bazille is depicted in Monet's monumental painting, Luncheon on the Grass (1865-66), a direct response to Manet's controversial work by the same title from 1863. Bazille appears at the bottom center of the painting.
Bazille's friendship with patron of the arts, Edmond Maitre, was also evidently very close and persisted until the end of the artist's life. The two shared a passion for music, which they both regarded as "sacred." Bazille is said to have had some talent, probably inherited from his mother, who was an accomplished pianist. So immersed in this love for music was the enthusiastic young aesthete that he sought out a professor of piano to "give him lessons in harmony." In 1863, he acquired a piano for his home and, while awaiting its delivery, wrote to his mother in Montpellier, saying, "I am very impatient for my piano to arrive safely and beg you to send me music as soon as you can, my symphonies for four hands, Chopin waltzes, Beethoven sonatas and the Gluck score..." He and Maitre were especially fond of the work of Berlioz, Schumann, and Wagner, although the latter two were still somewhat obscure in France at that time.
Bazille first displayed his work at the official state exhibition, the Salon, in 1866. To his great disappointment, a painting he'd hoped would be accepted, Girl at the Piano (1865-66), was rejected. Instead, the Salon Jury agreed to include a small still life in the annual exhibition. Bazille had written a letter to his parents in March of that year discussing the painting, which Courbet himself had praised, and describing his nervousness painting in the radical new style inspired by Manet and Courbet. "Not being able to undertake a grand composition," he wrote, "I have tried to paint, as best I can, as simple a subject as possible." This choice, to represent a mundane subject rather than one favored by the academy, particularly the most favored genre of history painting, was a direct consequence of the influence of Courbet and more emphatically Manet, whose work bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism.
Apparently, so disappointed was Bazille in the rejection of the painting, that he reused the canvas, painting over the work that for him symbolized rejection and failure. Originally, Girl at a Piano was thought lost but then rediscovered via x-ray technology underneath a later painting, ironically of a biblical subject, Ruth and Boaz (c. 1870). It wasn't unusual for an artist to reuse a canvas if they were unhappy with a painting or were running short on money. Bazille is known to have done so on a regular basis.
Bazille is said to have visited his family's estate, Meric, outside of Montepellier frequently, particularly during the winter months. He found it a refuge from city life and would go there to read and paint. It was there in 1867 that he produced what is probably his most masterful painting, La Reunion de famille (The Family Reunion). Like his Impressionist friends, Bazille painted often en plein air, in the outdoors, and one place he most enjoyed doing so besides Fontainebleau and thereabouts, was at Meric.
Art critic, Edmond Duranty commented in 1870 on Bazille's productivity during his winters in the South of France: "Every spring Monsieur Bazille returns from the South with summer paintings [...] full of greenery, sunshine and simple assurance." Zacharie Astruc, a painter, sculptor, poet, and art critic praised Bazille's role in the early Impressionists' endeavor to capture "the astonishing fullness of light and the unique impression of the outdoors and the power of daylight." Perhaps ironically, as his good friend Monet was painting in a similar style, Bazille's work was accepted a number of times by the Salon Jury. Monet's never was.
Enlistment and Early Death
By 1870, Bazille had achieved considerable renown and respect for his work. However, fate stepped in when France declared war on Prussia on July 19, 1870. As the Prussians moved further into French territory later in the summer and a full-scale invasion of France was inevitable, the passionate young Bazille went to a military recruitment office on August 10, 1870 and enlisted in the 3rd Zouaves light infantry regiment.
His friends and family members were stunned by Bazille's decision to join the Zouaves. Renoir is said to have joked that his friend had elected to join that particular regiment "to keep his beloved beard" as they "did not require shaving." One historian has argued that Bazille's hasty decision to join the fighting may have in part been due to his discontent at the time; he had stopped painting prolifically as he had done for nearly ten years and evidently wrote shortly before joining up, "I have constant migraines; I am deeply discouraged." Upon hearing that his dearest friend had enlisted, Maitre wrote to Bazille, "My dear, my only friend. I received your letter in which you told me you have just signed up. You are crazy..! Why didn't you consult your friends? May God protect you." Renoir also wrote to him, "You are an imbecile to make this commitment because you have neither the right nor the duty! Merde! Merde! Merde!"
Bazille first spent several weeks in Algeria training with the Zouaves and then his battalion returned to France. The war and siege touched everyone and artistic production came to a standstill for the most part. Around the same time that Bazille was ordered to return to France to fight, Renoir was conscripted and commanded to join a Chasseur regiment; Monet went to London to avoid fighting and Cézanne essentially hid out in the South of France. Later, both Manet and Degas joined the National Guard and were stationed in Paris.
On November 28, 1870, Bazille's unit was engaged in combat at the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande in the Val-de-Loir about 100 km south of the capital, which had been waged by France in an attempt to end the Siege of Paris. The unit's commanding officer was injured so Bazille took command, leading an assault during which he was shot twice. He died on the battlefield. A few days later, his grief stricken father traveled to Beaune-la-Rolande and retrieved his son's body. Bazille, who died at age 28, was buried in Montpellier.
Two years after his death, in 1872, Duranty published a fictional story, "The Painter Louis Martin," about a visionary artist who had died prematurely in the Franco-Prussian War. Duranty named his character "Louis Martin," but it was clear that the protagonist of the story was based in part (with some deviation and invention) on Bazille. In the story, the fictional painter found himself disillusioned by the staid, academic artistic scene of 1860s Paris. Not content to go to the Louvre and copy great works of art, he followed the examples of Manet and Courbet, going outside and painting everyday subject matter disdained by the tradition-steeped art establishment.
As the story progresses, Martin convinces other artists who share his discontent to shun the annual Salon, the official exhibition, and to establish an alternative exhibition where they could show their work. The dream went unfulfilled as the young Martin was killed in battle. "In Duranty's eyes," explains art historian Diane Pitman, "Bazille seems to have epitomized the vitality that the young Impressionists brought to painting, and his early death underscored the freshness and poignancy of their art."
The Legacy of Frédéric Bazille
Bazille made his mark as a Realist artist whose most lasting contribution was through paintings featuring figures situated in landscapes, produced en plein air. By working out the process of combining two very traditional motifs - the landscape and the portrait - and allowing neither to usurp the other in importance, he helped establish along with close colleagues like Renoir and Monet, one of the core motifs of Impressionism: the genre scene of a figure or group relaxing in an outdoor setting. These outdoor scenes are produced in a less academic style that is anticipatory of the Impressionist style and Bazille has been referred to as a "Proto-Impressionist." Until some of his paintings appeared in the Universal Exhibition of 1900 in Paris, Bazille's work had not exerted much influence on artists who followed the Impressionists. By 1910, when a modest retrospective of his work was presented at the Salon d'Automne (Autumn Salon), avant garde artists like Picasso began to take notice thanks to critic and writer Guillaume Apollinaire's recognition of Bazille's modernism, including his direct link to Manet and the way in which the two artists radically reimagined the nude, both male and female.