Artist biography - Frederic Bazille
Frederic Bazille is the lost Impressionist. He was a core member of the
Impressionist circle in the 1860s and a respected artist. The reason he did not
participate in any of the Impressionist exhibitions was that war tragically cut his
life short before any of those exhibitions were held.
Bazille was born on December 5, 1841 on his family's estate (known as
Meric) near Montpelier in the South of France. His French Protestant family was
quite wealthy and well-connected.
His father, who was a vintner and later a senator, hoped that his son would
enter one of the professions. However, he did allow his son to study drawing and
painting at the Musee Fabre in Montpelier as well as to take lessons from local
The various art lessons served to confirm Frederic's desire to become an
artist. Accordingly, in the late 1850s, he announced his desire to go to Paris to
continue his art studies. His father acquiesced and agreed to finance this
adventure but only if Frederic also undertook the study of medicine.
Therefore in 1862, Frederic moved to Paris where he enrolled with the
Faculty of Medicine. However, he spent little time on his medical studies.
Instead, he continued to purse his artistic training at the studio of Charles Gleyre,
an academic painter who gave lessons and provided studio space to young artists.
Although Gleyre praised Bazille's work, Bazille found that he was more
interested in the avant garde work of some of his fellow students including Pierre-
August Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet. Through them he became part
of the circle of artists that centered upon Edouard Manet and which socialized at
the Café Guerbois. He also became friends with intellectuals such as Emile Zola
and Edmond Maitre.
Bazille failed his medical exams but nonetheless, his family continued to
send him a generous allowance. This enabled him to have his own studio. In
addition, since his friends were always short of funds, Bazille allowed them to use
his studio. Indeed, he often paid their living expenses.
A very tall man, Bazille appears in a number of his friends' paintings,
including works by Theodore Fantin-LaTour, Renoir and Monet. In turn, some
of his friends appear in Bazille's paintings of his various studios. After Bazille's
death, Manet added the image of Bazille to one of these paintings.
Monet encouraged Bazille to leave the studio and engage in plein air
painting. Bazille also incorporated other avant garde ideas in his work such as
cropping the image like a photograph. However, he did not break completely
with the academic tradition.
At that time, the road to success for an artist was to have their pictures hung
at the annual Paris Salon. This was a juried exhibition and the jury was devoted
to the conservative principles of the Academie des Beaux Arts. It routinely
rejected avant garde works. In 1866, Bazille submitted two works to the Salon.
One was accepted and to his bitter disappointment, one was rejected.
Nonetheless, Bazille continued to submit works to the Salon with some success.
In July 1870, Emperor Louis-Napoleon declared war on Prussia However,
he did not the military genius of his uncle Napoleon I and the Germans soon
invaded France. Unlike most of his artist friends who either left the country or
waited to be drafted, Bazille volunteered for a Zouave regiment.
The reason Bazille volunteered is unknown. Perhaps it was a burst of
patriotism. However, when his close friend Maitre heard the news, he wrote to
Bazille speculating Bazille must have gone crazy. Renoir was even more blunt
calling Bazille an “imbecile.”
At the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande in November 1870, Bazille's
commanding officer was wounded so Bazille was given the assignment of leading
an assault on a German position. Wounded twice, Bazille died on the battlefield.
The tragedy, of course, is that Bazille's career was ended prematurely.
Although he was only 28 when he died, Bazille was respected by his piers and
had produced some important works. When you compare the works done by
Monet and Renoir in the 1860s with the works that they produced after 1870, the
quality blossoms. So too, the work of Bazille would most likely have blossomed,
achieving new heights.
Bazille pioneered the idea of plein air portraiture, going beyond painting
landscapes outdoors to painting faces and figures as well as the background
outside. His “Family Reunion” is the best example. (The earlier “Pink Dress”
foreshadows the idea but it was partially done in the studio). Monet and Renoir
went on the develop the idea.
It has been said that Bazille was more of a Realist than an Impressionist.
However, Bazille's work in similar in style to that of Monet and Renoir of the
same time period. Again, it seems likely that Bazille's work would have flowered
in the same direction.
Above: "The Pink Dress."
Below: "The View of the Village".
Above: "The Family Reunion."
Below: A portrait of Bazille's friend Renoir.