Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bastien-Lepage: Reinstating Nature



“Art is indebted to Bastien-Lepage for having reinstated nature in all her literal truth by proving that, in order to be beautiful, she has no need of artificial and superfluous adornment.”

——Francois Crastre “Bastien-Lepage” New York: Stokes Publishers, 1914
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Jules Bastien-Lepage on Wikipedia
Limited preview of Crastre's book at Google Books.
Image La Pauvre Fauvrette" 1882 from The-Athenaeum.org.

16 comments:

Alex said...

There's a tiny cow impaled on that tree!

BobN said...

Lovely painting, colors are deep, wonderful. But the composition bothers me quite a lot. Tree impaling cow (hehe), tree branches crowded into sky area, top of figure's head nearly in line with a line in the landscape. The overall design scheme is "cow and tree on this side," "figure on that side." No flow, unity. Just my opinion.

As always, you find these wonderful under appreciated artists for us to appreciate. Thank you for that.

Darren said...

The whole book is online here:
http://www.archive.org/details/bastienlepage002211mbp

etc, etc said...

I don't doubt that Bastien-Lepage's Naturalism intended to jar traditional composition sensibility. There is nothing unnatural in seeing a cow behind a tree.

I was surprised to learn this painting was by Bastien-Lepage:

http://tinyurl.com/34tf953

Gordon Napier said...

Bastien-Lepage is the favourite artist of one of my painting mentors, David Aldus. I'm coming around to that point of view, though I found Lepage a bit earthy to begin with.

Doug said...

I think this may have been intensional, the naturalist theme of the artist suggests that she was commenting on illusions that can occur in the natural world. The decisions made in this painting are not consistent with her other works with regards to the use of congruencies seen here, with the cow, tree and horizon line. Her Joan of arc is incredible! here is the link:
http://uptowndowntownnyc.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/bastienlepage_jules_joan_of_arc.jpg

James Gurney said...

Thanks for all the interesting comments--Naturalism is an elusive concept because every painting is by definition an artificial construction, but some of the most interesting painters have succeeded in surprising us with visual ideas that break through conventions.

It must have looked even more like a "cow stuck in a tree' to the people of Crastre's time, but such visual juxtapositions always face us. (Maybe a bit of a shadow under the cow would have solved the misreading illusion.)

I mention Bastien Lepage now and again on this blog because his name comes up all the time when I read art journals from the 1880s. His work has been unfairly neglected compared to his better known impressionist contemporaries.

Alex said...

Interesting.

While I certainly agree that these are gripping paintings and I'm very pleased to be introduced them, I find that the Joan of Arc has similar compositional choices that I wouldn't make.

What strikes me first about that painting is that there's a tree growing out of her head. The second thing I see is a giant diagonal line starting in the upper left corner and running all the way across through her arm that dominates the painting and flattens everything onto a single plane. The third thing I see is the pinwheel, a big black dot against a plain light field smack in the middle of the painting.

The compositional element I really dig is the rigid vertical line running down the front of Joan's skirt. Wonderful contrast to the twisted organic pose of the figure.

Carl Samson said...

I've been a LePage afficianado for many years, even making a pilgrimage to visit his hometown of Damvillers in France. I don't get overly emotional over many paintings, but I did have tears in my eyes in front of Joan of Arc at the Met. In terms of interpreting form and Nature under a broadly diffused light out of doors, no one can touch him. Thanks for reminding everyone of his life and work.

Ian Schoenherr said...

You might be interested to learn that Howard Pyle used (or wanted to use) this very image in his lectures. In a 1905 letter he explained to Harrison S. Morris that he was trying to locate the painting in order to have a lantern slide of it made. He didn't remember the title, but recalled that it depicted "a little child with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders standing on a rather bleak hillside watching a cow." He also recalled seeing it in a New York exhibition in the early 1880's. I don't know Pyle's opinion of this particular work, but a newspaper described an appearance he made in Milwaukee: "With the aid of a stereopticon a number of pictures were thrown on the screen, works of prominent painters, and these were criticised by the lecturer. He pointed out the defects of each one and showed how they might be remedied." So perhaps Pyle also found some faults with this one.

James Gurney said...

Thank you, Ian! Making the connection to Pyle, who was so daring with composition, really adds a depth of understanding.

I also read that when Sorolla travelled through Europe, the artists he most wanted to study were Bastien and Menzel, not the usual suspects.

Ian Schoenherr said...

And another thing...

This (from 1882) is a variation of a work Bastien-Lepage made in 1881. If you do a Google Image search for "Pauve Fauvette" (not "FauvRette") you'll see the earlier version. The elements are more or less the same, but the artist widened the composition in the second - to better effect, I think. The impaled cow seems to have been deliberate, however.

And after poking around, I now know that the second one (seen here on Gurney Journey) is the one that Pyle saw at the Pedestal Fund Art Loan Exhibition (a fundraiser for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty) at the National Academy of Design in December 1883. The New York Times for December 16, 1883, said, "The girl is all that one need ask in a disciple of Millet and rouses one's pity without repulsion; the questionable part is, strange to say, the cow which is badly managed in the matter of the two perspectives - namely, in the drawing of the beast and in aerial perspective. The planes occupied by the cow and the tree in front of her are not well distinguished."

The first version, by the way, is in Glasgow, Scotland, and D. H. Lawrence described it as "a terrible picture of a peasant girl wrapped in a lump of sacking; you feel her face paint itself in your heart, and you turn away; the sorrow is too keen and real."

James Gurney said...

Great sleuth work, Ian! I take it that D.H.L's quote uses "terrible" in the older sense of evoking terror or pity for the state of the girl.

It's always fascinating to hear what bygone critics from that time had to say.

Larry said...

I can't begin to count the number of times I've been to the Met, but I still get excited to see Lepage Joan of Arch.

etc, etc said...

A little-known Bastien-Lepage gem at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

http://tinyurl.com/by77bv

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Etc, that's a fascinating piece, and I'd never seen it before. I wonder if they have it on display.