Jules Bastien-Lepage (French painter) 1848 - 1884
Jules Bastien-Lepage was a French naturalist painter, a style following the Realist movement. Bastien-Lepage was born in the village of Damvillers, Meuse, and spent his childhood there. Bastien's father grew grapes in a vineyard to support the family. His grandfather also lived in the village; his garden had fruit trees of apple, pear, and peach up against the high walls. Bastien took an early liking to drawing, and his parents fostered his creativity by buying prints of paintings for him to copy. Jules Bastien-Lepage's first teacher was his father, himself an artist. His first formal training was at Verdun, and prompted by a love of art he went to Paris in 1867, where he was admitted to the École des Beaux-arts, working under Cabanel. He was awarded first place for drawing but spent most of his time working alone, only occasionally appearing in class. Nevertheless, he completed three years at the école. In a letter to his parents, he complained that the life model was a man in the pose of a mediaeval lutanist. After exhibiting in the Salons of 1870 and 1872 works which attracted no attention, in 1874 he made his mark with his Song of Spring, a study of rural life, representing a peasant girl sitting on a knoll looking down on a village. His Portrait of my Grandfather, exhibited in the same year, was not less remarkable for its artless simplicity and received a third-class medal. When the Franco-Prussian war broke out, Bastien fought when men were needed for the troops. Bastien was a man by this time, medium height and stout. After the war, he returned home to paint the villagers. In 1873 he painted his grandfather in the garden, and this painting later became a favorite for many art lovers for its true-to-life qualities. In 1873 he was also commissioned to paint the Prince of Wales. This success was confirmed in 1875 by the First Communion, a picture of a little girl minutely worked up as to color, and a Portrait of M. Hayern. In 1875 he took the second Prix de Rome with his Angels appearing to the Shepherds, exhibited again in 1878. His next endeavour to win the Grand Prix de Rome in 1876 with Priam at the Feet of Achilles was again unsuccessful (it is in the Lille gallery), and the painter determined to return to country life. To the Salon of 1877 he sent a full-length Portrait of Lady L. and My Parents; and in 1878 a Portrait of M. Theuriet and The Hayfield. The last picture, now in the Luxembourg, is regarded as a typical work from its stamp of realistic truth. Thenceforth Bastien-Lepage was recognized in France as the leader of a school, and his Portrait of Mlle Sarah Bernhardt (1879), painted in a light key, won him the cross of the Legion of Honour. In 1880 he exhibited a small portrait of M. Andrieux and Joan of Arc listening to the Voices; and in the same year, at the Royal Academy, the little portrait of the Prince of Wales. In 1881 he painted The Beggar and the Portrait of Albert Wolf; in 1882 Le Père Jacques; in 1885 Love in a Village, in which we find some trace of Gustave Courbet's influence. His last dated work is The Forge (1884). Between 1880 and 1883 he traveled in Italy and enjoyed his voyage very much. The artist, long ailing, had tried in vain to re-establish his health in Algiers. He died in Paris in 1884, when planning a new series of rural subjects. His friend, Prince Bojidar Karageorgevitch, was with him at the end and wrote, "At last he was unable to work anymore; and he died on the 10th of December, 1884, breathing his last in my arms. At his grave's head his mother and brother lovingly planted an apple-tree, which every spring showers down its wealth of pearly petals over the last resting-place of the great master whose loss we all mourn. After his death, a special exhibition of more than 200 of his pictures was formed at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1889 some of his best work was shown at the Paris Exposition. Among his more important works, may also be mentioned the portrait of Mme J. Drouet (1883); Gambetta on his death-bed, and some landscapes; The Vintage (1880), and The Thames at London (1882). The Little Chimney-Sweep was never finished. An exhibition of his collected works was opened in March and April 1885. A museum is devoted to him at Montmédy. A statue of Bastien-Lepage by Rodin was erected in Damvillers. An obituary by Prince Bojidar Karageorgevitch, appeared in the Magazine of Art (Cassell) in 1890. In October 2011 the statue was given to Armenia. The gift was dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Armenia's Independence and symbolizes friendship between the two nations. One of probably more painters that were influenced by Bastien-Lepage was the Scottish painter Robert McGregor (1847-1922), who was of a similar age too.