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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Frederic Bazille

When you were growing up, your mother no doubt warned you about falling in with the "wrong crowd" and all the dastardly things that could happen to a young person who keeps the wrong company. In a manner of speaking, that's what happened to Frederic Bazille (pronounced Ba-ZEE-a). Coming from a wealthy Montpelier family, and highly educated, the 21-year-old was studying to become a doctor in Paris when he decided that he'd like to take some painting classes as a hobby. He went to the studio of the academic painter Gleyre, who liked to put away a little extra income by privately teaching those who, for one reason or another, couldn't make it in the traditional academic setting. It was here (from his parents point of view at least) he fell in with the wrong crowd. He found himself hobnobbing with the shiftless likes of Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, and through them, that rapscallion, Monsieur Manet, one of the most dangerous artists in Paris.

Family on the Terrace, 1867-68, Frederic Bazille
During the next few years, he picked up some bad habits too, like working outdoors, painting landscapes at out-of-the-way places like Honfleur and Barbizon. By 1865, he knew his true calling. He gave up medicine to share a studio with Monet (or more likely, the other way around). However, Bazille was not a typical Impressionist landscape painter. Unlike Monet, he preferred painting people, usually populating his paintings with up to a half-dozen figures at a time against an Impressionist background. His painting, Family on the Terrace done in 1867, of his family reunion is typical of this trait. Such a work must have somewhat mollified his family's disappointment in his not sticking with doctoring. And he didn't always paint "in plein air" either.  His Studio in the Rue de la Candamini gives us an interesting peek into the atelier of a successful Parisian painter of the time.

 Studio in the Rue de la Candamini, 1870,
Frederic Bazille 
Bazille's career was all too brief. In 1870, he fought and died in the Franco-Prussian War, the only one of the Impressionists to be killed in this needless brouhaha. He was 29.  But even with such a short painting career, Bazille's exploration of the effects of natural light upon flesh tones broke new ground at a time when portraits were seldom painted out-of-doors. The ironic element in all this is that, had he remained a practicing physician, he might never have seen combat or met such an untimely death.

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