The biography of Frédéric Bazille (1841 - 1870)

Jean Frédéric Bazille (December 6, 1841 – November 28, 1870) was a French Impressionist painter (one of the early impressionist group) best known for his depiction of figures.

Frederic Bazille was born in a Protestant family of the upper middle class of Montpellier in the south of France. His father was a rich landowner and wine grower as well as a notable of the city of Montpellier. In August of 1870, following France’s declaration of war against Prussia, Bazille enlisted. On November 28th, Bazille was killed in an action the same year at Beaune-la-Rolande in Burgundy, before Impressionism had fully developed. He was 29 years old.

Bazille became interested in painting after seeing some works of Eugène Delacroix. His family agreed to let him study painting, but only if he also studied medicine. In 1862, he comes to Paris to continue with his studies of medicine, but also decided to take classes with Charles Gleyre at the School of Fine Arts. After failing his medical exam in 1864, he began painting full-time.

In Gleyre's studio, Bazille met Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He was also acquainted with the English-born Impressionist Alfred Sisley. They became close friends. Attracted by the modernist tendencies of avant-garde art, the four abandoned the studio in favor of direct observation of nature (they painted out of doors at Fontainebleau and in Normandy). Working in close harmony, they gradually invented impressionism. Through them he met Edouard Manet.

Born to a wealthy family, Bazille helped support some of these artists. He supported Monet financially. From 1865 to 1866, he shared a studio with Monet and then the following year, shared a studio with Renoir.

Though Bazille painted with Monet and Renoir, and was strongly influenced by his friendships with the impressionists, Bazille remained notably faithful to the more traditional styles and subjects of painting, favoring portraits and figure painting over landscapes. His themes are monumental and dramatic, and he applied that monumental approach to both modern and conventional themes. His brushstroke was free and powerful; under the influence of Manet he modeled his figures with great vigor and boldness.

In the late 1860’s, some of Bazille’s paintings were accepted at the Paris Salon. His best-known painting, “Family Reunion”, a group portrait in an outdoor setting, was shown at the Salon in 1868.

Bazille was just twenty-three years old when he painted several famous works, including The Pink Dress.

His work is of interest for its exploration of the effects of light on flesh tones (e.g. Family on the Terrace, 1867, Paris, Musee d'Orsay). Much of his work retained a high finish and dark palette (e.g. African woman with Peonies, 1870, Montpellier Musee Fabre). He was also a portraitist and recorder of the Impressionist scene (e.g. Studio on the Rue La Condamine, 1870, Paris, Musee d'Orsay)."

Since 1866, Bazille exhibited at the Salon; he painted numerous portraits of friends and members of his family in the various studios. In his painting style he was influenced by Manet and Courbet. In 1869, his picture Angler with Nets caused a fierce debate. His quiet clear landscapes and harmonious family scenes in muted colors made him one of the most significant representatives of Early Impressionism: The Terrace at Méric (Oleander), 1867 and Family Reunion, 1867.

He submits two works to the Official Salon of 1866, Girl at the piano and Still Life with Fish, the latter being accepted. Thereafter he will be regularly admitted to exhibit to the Salon.

He executed in 1870 his famous painting Studio on the Rue La Condamine, where one can see him presenting a new work at Manet and Monet, whereas his friend Maître plays at the piano and Zola discusses with Renoir. This painting with an open composition, where Manet himself painted the high silhouette of Bazille, underlines the friendly and good working relationships of the protagonists with no hierarchical order between them.

Pissarro, Cézanne, and sometimes Courbet, visited him in his successive studios. He was also one of the rare persons able to face verbal arguments with erudite and ironic painter Degas, showing of a clear thinking and a realism which one can find in his paintings.

The work of Bazille, stopped by his untimely death during the war of 1870, shows new compositions developed with audacity and diversity: open-air portraits with bottom panoramic as in The Pink Dress, 1864 or View of the Village of Castelnau-le-Lez, 1868 , scene of family as his large painting Family Reunion, 1867 (152x230 cm), scenes of plain-air such as Summer Scene, 1869.