Friday in the atelier: "The Beggar" by Jules Bastien-Lepage

I've shown that several painters of the 19th century achieved financial success during their lives due to their art, but that sort of success eluded Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848 – 1884). His art won awards, and his paintings became famous due to their simplicity and life-like portrayal, but at the time they just didn't sell very well. Bastien died early at the age of 36. The cause of his death is not explained in the histories that I've read, only that his health was failing, and that he had spent the last years of his life traveling to Italy and perhaps North Africa in the hopes of restoring his health.

Bastien was born in Damvillers France, and he first studied art at Verdun, possibly at the Commune or Monastery in that city. At the age of 19 he moved to Paris and studied at the École des Beaux-arts. Since his parents had objected to his wish to become a professional artist, he attempted to placate them by taking a job as a postal worker while he studied – but Bastien soon realized he couldn't do both, so he gave up his job and was accepted into Alexandre Cabanel's atelier.

He first started exhibiting his work at the Paris Salon in 1870, and another art work in 1872, but attracted no attention until 1874. The Franco-Prussian war happened during this time, and Bastien joined a regiment of sharpshooters and was severely wounded in the chest. It isn't said, but perhaps this was the root cause of his failing health.

After his recovery, his art started winning awards at the Salons. I've been unlucky that I haven't found much of his award winning art on the Internet. These pieces seem to be owned by private collectors.

Bastien received the cross of the Legion of Honor in 1879 for his painting of Madame Bernhardt.

His works were considered to be remarkable due to their simplicity and realistic truth. Although the art itself was detailed and followed the methods of the Academic style, the compositions were often very simple. A notable exception might be that of his painting of Joan of Arc, where Bastien attempted to show the voices that Joan was hearing in her head.

Bastien's first art exhibition seems to have happed after his death, (and perhaps was due to his death.) About 200 of his works were gathered and exhibited at the École des Beaux-arts in 1885. Many of his best pieces were shown again at the Paris Exposition in 1889. Although he won awards and was honored by the art world while he lived, most of his public fame seems to have resulted from these exhibits.

I'm showing two of my favorite works here. As you may notice from the art I choose to display, I have a preference for the female figure – so a work has to be really special for me to choose a male figure as a favorite. I think Bastien's work, “The Beggar” more than qualifies. The face of the Beggar invites careful attention to the details of the lines and wrinkles, and shows a history of this man all in his face.

The next painting I want to show you is that of the “Flower Seller in London”. This shows the simplicity that I mentioned earlier, the background is unimportant and therefore only hinted at to show location. The details of the painting fall into place with the subject's shawl and face. I like the casualness of this painting – it's like a quick snapshot in passing of a woman who is just trying to make a living. She takes a moment to look into your eyes and offer her flowers before looking on at the next passer-by.

That's what Bastien was good at, painting those little slices of life.

Credits to: Wikipedia, Art Renewal Center, Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums, and the Firefly Jar

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