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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Théodule-Augustin Ribot

The Card Players, Theodule Ribot. Realism, though usually composed very carefully, often has a photographic "snapshot" quality which we, today, take for granted in painting, but which was really quite radical 150 years ago.
Cimabue Teaching Giotto to Draw,
Theodule Ribot. There's little doubt
which of the two figures Ribot most
identified with.
The term "realism" is probably the most misunderstood word in art. There are several reasons for this, the first being that it's so damned broad. A very large majority of people would consider any image in which you can identify the subject as being "realistic." That's manifestly not the case at all. Second, there is realism and then there is Realism (with a capital "R"). The first is generic, the second refers to a distinct, limited style first formulated in France around the middle of the 19th-century by painters such a Courbet, Millet, Daumier, Corot, Manet, and others, though both the term and its roots go back centuries before that to Flemish painters such as the van Eyck brothers. Third, Realism is often mistaken as a style of panting when really, it was more of an art movement. Realism involved a stripping away of all academic pretense in search of truth and gritty honesty in the depiction of everyday life at all levels of society. Primarily, though, it dealt with those who had, for so many centuries, been ignored or underrepresented by artists reflecting the tastes of their upper-class collectors (including the church) with enough money to pay them a decent living. Realism was often not a very lucrative type of art. Perhaps we can best understand this plain, simple, no-frills type of art by looking not at the leaders of the movement, those mentioned above, but at some of the lesser adherents whose work was, in many was, even more Realist than the "big four or five" named above. One of he best such artists to observe in this regard was the French painter, Theodule-Augustin Ribot (not to be confused with the early French psychologist, Theodule-Armand Ribot).

Still Life with Pumpkin, Plums, Cherries and Figs with Jar, ca. 1860, Theodule Ribot
Theodule Ribot Self-portrait
Theodule-Augustin Ribot was born in 1823. He grew up in the small French town of Saint-Nicolas-d'Attez (north-central France) where he studied at the École des Arts et Métiers de Châlons before moving on to Paris in 1845. There he worked decorating gilded frames for a mirror manufacturer. That, such as it was, came to be about the extent of his formal art training. In the late 1850s, while still working at peripheral art-related crafts, Ribot began to paint seriously, at night, after a full day's work, by lamplight. That's pretty serious. Having little exposure to anything else, Realism came naturally to him, as did this lower-class subjects. Judging from several of his still-life paintings, Ribot seems to have had a deep appreciation for food, and good friends with those who prepared it (below left and right). His self-portrait, (left) suggests he may have been a good friend of Vincent van Gogh as well.

The Kitchen Boy,
Theodule Ribot.
The Cook and the Cat,
Theodule Ribot.
To the Sermon, Theodule Ribot.
Even for the starving artist, food wasn't his only solemn content. Like many Realist painters, there was often a devotion to the spiritual, in Ribot's case, scenes from the New Testament such as his The Good Samaritan (below) from 1870, and his Saint Sebastian, Martyr (bottom). His more contemporary The Sermon, (left) is almost humorous in is dark solemnity. Despite the lower-class content of his work, Ribot was able to obtain a degree of acceptance, thanks to his devotion to the Baroque artists, Ribera, Rembrandt, and ultimately, harkening back as far as Caravaggio. Using his family as models, Ribot was able to place one of his kitchen paintings and one of his religious works, St. Sebastian, Martyr in the 1864 and 1865 Salon show. Collectors purchased them all. The final decade of his life, Ribot spent in Colombes in poor health. He died there in 1891.

The Good Samaritan, 1870, Theodule Ribot--extreme Realism.
Saint Sebastian, Martyr, before 1865, Theodule Ribot.


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