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Title: Bastien Lepage
Author: Crastre, Fr.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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 GREUZE             RAEBURN
 TURNER             SARGENT
 ROMNEY             MEMLING
 BELLINI            DÜRER
 TITIAN             INGRES
 MILLAIS            COROT
 LUINI              DELACROIX
 DA VINCI           VAN EYCK
 RUBENS             MANTEGNA
 LE BRUN            GOYA


  (Museum at Verdun)

  This is one of the artist's earliest works. A certain embarrassment may
  be noted in the manner in which the Cupids are treated; even at this
  period, it is easy to see that allegory is not suited to the precise and
  realistic talent of this painter; yet the young girl is designed with a
  vigour which already foreshadows the masterly art of _Hay-making_.]

    Bastien Lepage




    [Illustration: IN SEMPITERNUM.]


    COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY

    [Illustration: March, 1914]



 His Youth                                                          16

 His Best Years                                                     31

 His Premature End                                                  65



    I.   The Song of Springtime                             Frontispiece
         Museum at Verdun

   II.   Portrait of M. Wallon                                      14
         Museum of the Louvre

  III.   The Artist's Mother                                        24
         Collection of É. Bastien-Lepage

   IV.   The Hay-making                                             34
         Museum of the Luxembourg

    V.   Portrait of M. Hayem                                       40
         Museum of the Luxembourg

   VI.   Portrait of M. X----                                       50
         Museum at Verdun

  VII.   The Little Boatman                                         60
         Collection of É. Bastien-Lepage

 VIII.   The Artist's Uncle                                         70
         Museum at Verdun


There are certain beings who bear the stamp of the divine seal and are
preordained to receive the highest favours within the gift of glory;
they are fated to pass through life like those brilliant meteors which
are seen to flash across the heavens and disappear in the same instant.
Bastien-Lepage was one of these meteors. But while the others leave
behind them only a luminous trail that swiftly vanishes, this rare
artist, snatched so prematurely from the field of art, traced his
passage in a furrow of dazzling splendour, the radiance of which has not
even yet begun to fade.

Bastien-Lepage was a painter in the noblest acceptation of the term; it
may even be asserted that he would have exercised considerable influence
upon the art of his epoch if Destiny had not stupidly mown down the
sturdy flower of his genius in the very hour of its brightest
blossoming. Born into this world with a solid tenacity of purpose which
seems to be a special gift of the soil of Lorraine to her sons and
daughters, he had a clear-cut and unalterable conception of what
painting should be. His mind was receptive only of simple ideas, his eye
perceived only visions that were tangible, such as were unobscured by
any shadow or any artifice. He was the apostle of clearness, both in
conception and in execution. Every time that he tried experimentally to
turn aside from his chosen path, he ceased to be himself, he fell
below his own standards. What interested him most of all, in the life of
this world which he observed so eagerly, as though he had a presentiment
of his early end, was nature's most precise and most uncompromising
manifestation, both in line and in relief; namely, the peasant and the
environment which frames him. Having deliberately chosen such models,
Bastien-Lepage could not pretend to be the painter of the Beautiful, nor
did he ever become so. He did not even adorn his subjects with that
special sort of idealism with which Millet embellished even his most
uncouth rustic types, a slightly melancholy idealism obtained by a
sombre toning down of colour, which Bastien-Lepage held in horror. His
peasants stand out boldly, in the crude glare of flamboyant noontide,
under a summer sun that refuses to leave hidden any part of their
ugliness or their defects. He painted them as he saw them, with the
searching rays striking them full in the face; and his brush was a
stranger to any compromise, intolerant of even the slightest
betterment, in the course of the literal transference of his model to
his canvas. It made no difference how handsome or how homely a given
subject might be, Bastien-Lepage would always render him precisely as
nature, in a grudging or indulgent mood, had made him,--that is to say,
truly and sincerely, with a precision that would be almost photographic,
if the minuteness of his technique were not ennobled by the high quality
of his art. With such gifts, Bastien-Lepage was foreordained to be a
marvellous interpreter of rural life, and such he was in the highest
degree; in like manner, he could not fail to become a portrait painter
of the first order, and it was in this capacity also that he enrolled
himself among the most interesting and vigorous artists of our epoch.



  (Museum of the Louvre)

  Few artists have been able to endow their models with such an animated
  expression of life. All the keenness, intelligence and austerity of this
  prominent personage, known by the name of Father of the Constitution,
  are eloquently transferred to this page, with a sobriety of means that
  still further emphasizes its vigour.]


Jules Bastien-Lepage was born at Damvillers, in the department of the
Meuse, on the first of November, 1848. His parents were of the
well-to-do farming class, occupied from one year's end to the other with
the work of the fields. Consequently, all the early boyhood of the
artist was passed in daily contact with the soil of Lorraine and with
the sons of that soil. He knew them, one and all, in his native village;
he grew up among them; he went to school side by side with the other
little rustics of his own age: he understood the peasant class, with all
their faults, their virtues, their habits of life; he learned to read in
their faces, which were a sealed book to the outsider, the opinions and
emotions which they had in common with him.

These childhood impressions were destined to abide with him throughout
his life; he cherished to the end a fervent love for his native land,
and he felt that he had an infinitely noble task in painting that life
of the fields which the Second Empire affected to despise.

But though he came of peasant stock, it was Bastien-Lepage's good
fortune that these same peasants were in prosperous circumstances and
could afford to give him an education. They were ambitious for him; and
it hurt them to see their little Jules, who was so wide-awake, so
intelligent, and at the same time so frail, leading the hard and
monotonous life of the fields, following the plough, tilling the soil.
It needed only a few household economies to enable him to continue his
studies; so, when the time came, young Bastien-Lepage wended his way
towards Verdun, where he entered upon his college course.

There is nothing that marks in any particular way these years of study,
nothing to indicate that the boy was a youthful prodigy, nor that he
showed any special aptitude for drawing. But he was studious, diligent,
and anxious to avoid repremands and to fulfil the expectations of his
parents. In due time he obtained his bachelor's degree, which at that
period was highly prized. His father, filled with pride, already began
to form brilliant projects for his future, already foresaw him a
distinguished official, supervising some great branch of the public
service. As a matter of fact, a position was found for the young
baccalaureate in a government department which was neither the most
desirable nor the one of least importance; namely, the Post Office
Department. Bastien-Lepage was not vastly delighted with the choice,
but, dutiful son that he was, he accepted the modest clerkship offered
him. One circumstance contributed, in a large degree, towards overcoming
his reluctance: the post assigned to him from the start was in Paris, of
which he had often heard marvellous things, and in which he hoped that
he would be able to follow his secret inclination. For, in the interval
his vocation had revealed itself; he had conceived a passion for
drawing, for colouring, for painting; and, like Correggio, he was eager
to say in his turn, "I too am a painter!"

Accordingly he set forth, leaving behind him no suspicion of his
purpose. Upon arriving at the capital, he acquitted himself scrupulously
of his official duties, but every leisure moment was consecrated to
visiting the museums and exhibitions. He saturated himself with the
wealth of beauty strewn broadcast through the Louvre, and was thrilled
with admiration at contact with the masters of every school and country.
He did not care equally for them all, in spite of their genius; his
intimate preferences leaned to the side of Flemish rather than Italian
art; but he was not insensible to the lofty inspiration, the severe
harmony, the faultless composition, which have made the great masters of
the Renaissance the most astonishing prodigies in the history of

But while the older schools of art delighted him, he followed with no
less attention the movement of contemporary painting. At the hour when
his critical spirit awoke, certain new elements and new formulas had
come to light and had been put into practice by two audacious and gifted
artists by the names of Courbet and Manet. Although the prolonged
struggle between the classicists and romanticists had not yet come to an
end, these two rival schools were entrenched in their positions and
refused to stir forth from them. Supporters of Delacroix and of Ingres
confined themselves strictly to their respective hostile formulas, doing
nothing either to expand or to rejuvenate them. Whoever dared to venture
outside of one of these two beaten tracks was regarded as a madman, and
his attempts were greeted with derisive clamours by both parties, who
declared a momentary truce, for the purpose of annihilating him by a
joint attack. Courbet, who was scorned by Ingres, met with equally harsh
criticism from Delacroix; and as for Manet, he had managed to call down
universal wrath upon his head, and at the Salon of 1863 it became
necessary to place his _Olympia_ in the very topmost line upon the wall,
in order to protect it from the fury of the public, hounded on by the
hue and cry of the critics.

Bastien-Lepage made mental notes of all the episodes of this struggle;
he listened to the criticisms and passed them through the crucible of
his unspoiled mind, in the presence of the very works under indictment.
His good sense showed him how large an element of injustice entered into
these hostilities. Moreover, his peasant blood inclined him to
sympathize with those artists who refused to bind themselves to seek for
beauty only within the limits of academic form, and who had the ability
to make it flash forth from the humblest and even the most vulgar type
of subject. Furthermore, this constant study of matters pertaining to
art, day by day added fuel to the hidden fire smouldering within him; he
was conscious of its mounting flame. Back of the rude sketches, drawn
and coloured in the tiny chamber befitting an humble postal clerk, he
perceived vaguely that he also possessed the temperament of a painter,
and little by little he witnessed the unfolding of his artist's soul.


  (Collection of É. Bastien-Lepage)

  What a kindly and gentle face this is, the face of the woman to whom the
  artist applied the tender endearment of "Good little mother!" In this
  work, it is evident that the heart guided the hand of the painter. None
  but a son could have rendered with such emotion the humid tenderness of
  those eyes and the maternal caress of those lips. It is a powerful work,
  which enrolls Bastien-Lepage in the foremost rank of portrait

At last, unable to bear it longer, he resigned from the postal service
and enrolled his name at the Beaux-Arts. At this time, when he entered
the studio of Cabanel, he was but little more than nineteen years of
age. Cabanel, to be sure, was not the painter of his choice, but
Bastien-Lepage was not for that reason any the less appreciative of a
system of instruction which was dominated by a worship of line-work. His
training under Cabanel was not without value to the young artist, who
throughout his life, even in his most realistic paintings, proved
himself to be an impeccable master of design.

At the outset, however, he was beset with difficulties. Now that his
salary as a postal clerk had ceased and remittances from the family were
necessarily restricted, Bastien-Lepage exerted himself to gain a living
by his own efforts. He had no lack of courage, and he had in addition
that Lorraine tenacity which enabled him to confront all difficulties
with tranquil assurance. He worked with desperate energy, and in the
intervals of respite from his labours he overran all Paris in search of
orders from business houses. It was an inglorious task, but at least it
enabled him to live; thus it happened that about 1873 he produced a
widely circulated advertisement for a perfumery house. Up to this time
he had remained wholly unknown; and although he had already exhibited
one painting, at the Salon of 1870, it was passed by unheeded both by
the critics and the general public.

This lack of success in no wise discouraged him, for he had faith. It
was in the year 1874 that he exhibited _The Song of Springtime_. It was
a veritable revelation. There was no neglect this time. The public
gathered in throngs before his canvas, and the critics, notwithstanding
a few objections to details, were lavish in their praise and hailed him
as having the qualities of a true artist. Naturally, the picture was not
perfect, but it well merited the flattering reception which it received.
In a springtime landscape a young peasant girl is seated beneath a
tree, looking before her over a sunlit plain. Around her skirts a whole
bevy of Cupids are gathering blossoms and offering them to the girl.
Here, at the first stroke, is an assertion of the young painter's
independence, his formal determination to emancipate himself from the
accepted formulas in his treatment of the eternal theme of a young
girl's soul, opening to the first appeal of love. As a matter of fact,
the allegory is somewhat clumsy; you realize that the author's talent
does not run to sentimental compositions. Yet the young girl is brushed
in with an energetic hand, and all that rather coarse robustness that
distinguishes the women of peasant stock is blended in a masterly manner
with the naïve innocence of simple souls. _The Song of Springtime_ was
Bastien-Lepage's first attempt in that vein of realistic painting in
which he was soon destined to excel.

That same year he produced _Grandfather's Portrait_, which also
attracted much attention. The artist had placed his model in the little
garden adjoining the home of his birth. This portrait, which belongs
to-day to the painter's brother, is remarkable for its naturalness, its
touch of intimate understanding, and its vigour of execution.

Bastien-Lepage had now acquired a name. His _Song of Springtime_ won him
a third class medal, and the State purchased the painting for the museum
at Verdun, where it at present hangs.

In the following year he exhibited _Her First Communion_, picturing a
young and pretty country girl, stiff and self-conscious under her white
veil. This work was the product of keen observation, and is deliberately
stilted and traditional in its style of execution, recalling in some
measure the French primitive school. Bastien-Lepage evidently had in
mind the portraits by François Cluet: his little communicant is
infinitely artificial in her spotless finery, yet infinitely alive under
the thin surface wash of colour which recalls the _Elizabeth of
Austria_, wife of Charles IX, as painted by the greatest of the French

Simultaneously with this picture he exhibited the _Portrait of M.
Hayem_, in which the vigorous treatment of the face, with its clear,
firm colour tones and sober workmanship, proclaimed him already a
portrait painter of the first order.

His success this time was more marked: he received a medal of the second
class. A less modest artist would have allowed himself to be borne
tranquilly along by the mounting tide of glory; but Bastien-Lepage did
not yet feel that he was sufficiently sure of himself. He wished to
continue for a while longer, working, learning, perfecting himself; he
even conceived the idea, in spite of his renown, of competing for the
_Prix de Rome_. Accordingly, the painter of _The Song of Springtime_ and
_Her First Communion_ might shortly after have been seen entering the
lists like any ordinary nobody. He obtained only the second prize.

He presented himself again the following year, but with no better
success. The subject assigned for the competition was _Priam at the Feet
of Achilles_. It is easy to understand that such a theme was little
calculated to inspire an artist of Bastien-Lepage's temperament; he
found it impossible to attain full development unless in the presence of
nature herself. No amount of manual dexterity can take the place of
inborn faith, and the young artist had no faith in antiquity; he never
could muster any enthusiasm for the Greek or Roman gods, nor for
historic scenes in which the very attitudes are dictated by the rules
and regulations of time-honoured tradition.

Nevertheless, the work is not without merit; it is forceful, its
colouring is good, and it falls short of perfection only in failing to
conform sufficiently with what we know of ancient life. This painting is
at present to be found in the Museum at Lille.

This rebuff did not discourage Bastien-Lepage unreasonably; but he
decided to confine himself in the future to painting portraits and
picturing the life of the fields.


The same year that he failed for the second time in the competition for
the _Prix de Rome_, Bastien-Lepage painted _The Portrait of M. Wallon_,
which is one of his most important works as a portrait painter. In spite
of its tendency towards naturalism, this canvas was nevertheless still
conceived in accordance with the established technique, and the keen and
serious visage of the Father of the Constitution standing out against
its sombre background is a fine study in chiaroscuro.

But the following year he struck the naturalistic note more strongly in
his _Portrait of Lady L._, the only full-length, life-sized portrait
that he ever painted; and he declared himself plainly and definitely a
realist in his picture entitled _My Parents_. It would be impossible to
find two figures more life-like, more literal, or painted with greater
sincerity. This canvas amounted to a declaration of principles; for an
artist whom filial piety cannot turn aside from the truth will never
make sacrifices to convention: he will never consent to embellish or
idealize his models through tricks of his craft; he will paint them as
he sees them, without correcting any of the imperfections and ugliness
with which nature has afflicted them. How clearly we recognize that
these likenesses of Bastien-Lepage's parents are absolutely true to
life, and how much better we like them as they are, in the simple
intimacy of daily life, than if they had been decked out, all spick and
span, as a less scrupulous artist would inevitably have shown them to

Bastien-Lepage's brother, himself a painter of some talent, has
preserved in his studio at Neuilly a certain number of the artist's
works, which he surrounds with pious care and feelingly exhibits to
occasional visitors. The family portraits are there, pulsating with life
and radiating that generous peasant kindliness which finds
expression in a broad and tender smile. The father, seated in a chair in
his garden, an old man with shrewd yet friendly eyes, seems so real, so
actual, that we almost expect him to step down from his frame to bid us
welcome. And what a marvel the _Portrait of my Mother_ is, which forms a
companion piece on the same wall! A somewhat wistful charm pervades this
face, with its deeply graven lines, and an infinite tenderness, a true
mother's tenderness, hovers over the thin, pale lips.

  [Illustration: PLATE IV--HAY-MAKING

  (Museum of the Luxembourg)

  A masterpiece of contemporary painting, because of the truth of its
  attitudes and the vigour of its execution. It would be impossible to
  render more forcibly the blissfulness of rest when the body has been
  racked by the exhausting labour of the soil. In this picture,
  Bastien-Lepage revealed himself as an incomparable painter of rural

Perhaps this is the moment, in the presence of these pictures, to
emphasize Bastien-Lepage's great value as a colourist. Few contemporary
painters have used colour with so much tact, such veritable mastery as
he. Others have employed more dazzling tonal schemes and have achieved
more gorgeous effects, but no one has rendered with such exact truth the
tints of the flesh, the grayish folds of wrinkles, the profound light of
the eye. And his colour is always clear, always unmistakably employed
to produce a sought-after effect. There is no artifice, no trick-work,
it is all straightforward, honest, precise; the opposition of light and
shade never result in opacity, bitumen plays no part in his canvases,
the astonishing relief of which is obtained by means of such perfect
simplicity that it recalls the inimitable technique of Correggio.

In 1878 he exhibited _Hay-making_, that magisterial page from the life
of the fields which to-day is the pride of the Luxembourg museum, and
which the art of the engraver has scattered broadcast to the extent of
millions of copies.

This picture represents a vast sun-bathed meadow, overstrewn with
new-mown hay and punctuated, here and there, by the rounded cones of the
stacks. Against the blue background of the sky, green hill-tops trace an
undulant line. In the foreground a robust, bony-armed country-woman is
seated on the grass, her legs stretched out before her in an attitude
expressive of the utter weariness resulting from the work performed.
Her head, solidly planted on her massive neck, is a marvel of realism;
in her vulgar peasant face we may read health, strength, and a sort of
dulled mentality born of physical fatigue. In every fibre of her
exhausted body the woman is veritably resting, and through her
half-parted lips it seems as though we could detect the passage of her
hurried breathing. The man beside her, no less worn out than she, is
stretched at full length on the thick couch of grass, and with his hat
over his face, to shelter it from the sun, he is sleeping as though dead
to the world.

Every detail of this canvas is perfect, because every detail is true,
drawn straight from life, the fruit of minute observation. In it
Bastien-Lepage once more affirms his predilection for the open country;
and nothing could be more impressive than these two uncouth, vulgar,
homely human beings, set amid the splendour of a meadow turned golden by
the sun. It is an every-day spectacle; it would not seem at first sight
to contain material for a picture. But Bastien-Lepage has succeeded in
proving indisputably that beauty does not consist solely in the harmony
of the body, but in the impression which emanates from scenes that are
most humble in outward appearance. In these few square feet of canvas
the artist has summed up, perhaps without intending it, all the majesty
of nature and all the grandeur of the life of the fields. It is scarcely
necessary to add that this work is a transcript of the soil of Lorraine,
that good natal soil which he loved so profoundly and to which he
returned eagerly, year after year.

Bastien-Lepage was exclusively the painter of the rural aspects of
Lorraine; he loved its horizons, its fertile and undulating plains. And
when, occasionally, he ventured into allegory, the background was still
Lorraine, and the characters were developed in the familiar setting of
his native village, Damvillers. And how he loved it! How he enjoyed the
warm atmosphere of affection which always awaited him when his
father, grandfather, and valiant and devoted "little mother" gathered at
night around the family table! He made his home in Paris, because
residence there was indispensable, both for business and artistic
reasons; but the moment that he could escape from the capital and its
constraints, he would go to rest and gather new energy in the midst of
the family circle. He had a spacious studio installed in the second
story of the ancestral home; and there he worked, absolutely happy so
long as he could see the old grandfather at his side, pipe in mouth,
examining the work with a knowing air, and the father and mother in a
sort of ecstasy, as they watched him fill in his canvas.

  [Illustration: PLATE V.--PORTRAIT OF M. HAYEM

  (Museum of the Luxembourg)

  A marvel of discernment and of rendering. The face, to be sure, has a
  strong originality; but there is no slight merit in having expressed
  with such striking truth the piercing intelligence of the eyes that
  twinkle behind the lenses of the spectacles, and the energy, tempered
  with satiric humour, of his whole odd physiognomy.]

Nevertheless, Bastien-Lepage was no studio painter; it was not from the
height of a window that he chose to contemplate nature, but in the open
fields, in the very heart of the furrows; and it was there also, in the
midst of the wheat and the rye, that he set up his easel and painted
his peasants in action, in the daily fulfilment of their thankless
task. And by picturing them thus, without artifice, in all their
simplicity of gesture and coarseness of feature, he imbued his canvases
with a profound spirit of poetry, through which the often brutal realism
of his subjects was redeemed and ennobled. In the presence of these
peasants he experienced a joy more genuine than he had ever felt before
the rarest canvases in any museum. Not that he denied or disdained the
genius of the great ancestors of painting; he had too much reverence for
his art ever to dream of doing so. But when it came to a question of
training, he could learn more from nature than from them. Listen to his
own exposition of his ideas:

"What a pity," he wrote, "that we are initiated, whether we will or not,
into traditions and routines, under the pretext that this is the way to
train us to be artists! It would be so simple to teach the use of brush
and palette, without ever once mentioning the name of Michelangelo or
Raphael or Murillo or Domenichino! We could then go home, back to
Brittany or Gascony, Lorraine or Normandy, and peacefully paint the
portrait of our own province; and if some morning the book we had
chanced to read aroused the wish to paint a Prodigal Son, or Priam at
the feet of Achilles, we could reconstruct the scene to suit ourselves,
without needing to resort to the museums, taking the setting from our
own surroundings and making use of the models close at hand, as though
the old drama dated only from yesterday. That is the way for an artist
to succeed in breathing the breath of life into his art and in making it
beautiful and appealing to the eyes of the whole world. And that is the
goal towards which I am striving with all my strength."

As painter of the open air, he became in a certain sense the founder of
a school, without meaning to be; for his conception of the painter's art
won over a whole group of young artists who united in hailing him as
their master. Each year his offerings to the Salon were impatiently
awaited, and his followers gathered in full force before them,
discussing, comparing, acclaiming; each Salon became the occasion for a
new success, the critics were unanimous in praising him, the public
adopted his pictures for their own, because they could understand his
clear and rigorous manner. Whatever hostility he met with was among his
own colleagues, at least among such of them as were discouraged and
humiliated by his vigorous originality. Nevertheless, the Exposition of
1878, at which he had gathered together all his works, was an especially
triumphant occasion for him; yet when the awards were distributed, he
discovered that he had received nothing but a medal of the third class.

At the Salon of 1879, Bastien-Lepage exhibited his _Women gathering
Potatoes_, which formed a companion piece to his _Hay-making_. Here
again we have the landscape of Lorraine and the eternal and infinitely
varied theme of rural labour. In a sun-parched field two women are
toiling to reap the harvest of potatoes. While the one in the middle
distance is stooping to turn up the ripe bulbs from the soil, the other,
placed in the foreground, is striving to empty the contents of her
basket into a sack which she holds open by a wonderfully natural
movement of her knee. Nothing could be simpler or more humble than this
subject, and yet one feels drawn towards it, conquered by the truth of
these two figures, both in their attitude and their expression.
Involuntarily memory conjures up another canvas, _The Gleaners_, and we
realize that it is impossible to resist that higher appeal which the
great artists succeed in giving to the most commonplace episode of
farming life. But, unlike Millet, Bastien-Lepage does not awaken in us
any compassion for these beings who toil, stooping above the earth; no
touch of bitterness saddens his pictures, and the types which he shows
to us have the healthy vigour of peasants who live their lives in the
open air and love the soil which nourishes them.

This picture, when it appeared, produced a sensation. Coming directly
after the _Hay-making_, it definitely established Bastien-Lepage's
talent and placed him in the foremost rank of painters of rural life.
The critics hailed this powerful canvas with enthusiasm. Théodore de
Banville, writing of the Salon of 1879, said: "M. Bastien-Lepage is the
king of this Exposition. Young as he is, he has started in to produce
masterpieces: he is very wise! For in later years an artist continues to
copy himself, with more or less cleverness and success; but the creative
genius has taken wing, like a bird on whose tail we have failed to drop
the indispensable grain of salt. The _October Season_ pictures the
harvesting of potatoes. The earth, the encompassing air as far as we can
see, the sky, the solitude laden with silence, are all evoked for us in
this picture by the sincerity of its powerful painter; the peasant women
are done in a masterly manner, and precisely for the reason that he has
seen them apart from all convention and has not tried to idealize them
by any hackneyed device."

Albert Wolff was no less enthusiastic: "The colouring in _Women
harvesting Potatoes_ is ingratiating and discreet; not a discordant
touch disturbs the beautiful harmony of this canvas, over which the
silence of the open country has descended, enveloping the obscure toil.
It is only artists of superior powers who can embody so much charm in a
single conception."

Another feature of the same Salon was his magnificent portrait of
_Madame Sarah Bernhardt_, a marvel of expression and of delicate art,
embodied in a pale symphony of tenderest whites, blending harmoniously
with the warmest tones of gold. The great tragic actress is portrayed
draped, almost swathed, in a gown of white china silk, verging on the
faintest yellowish caste; she is posed in profile, that cameo-like
profile that has so often been portrayed. She is seated, with a sort of
intentional rigidity, on a white fur robe, and is examining a statuette
of Orpheus, in old ivory, which she holds in her hands. Her expressive
and intellectual features are treated with a vigour which does full
justice to the classic beauty and virile energy of the sitter.

"The work as a whole," wrote the critic of the _Revue des Beaux-Arts_,
"possesses supreme distinction and an admirable delicacy of colouring.
The silvery tones of the whites, the warm grays of the draped gown lead
up to the freshness of the delicate, rose-like flesh tints, beneath the
crown of close curled locks that seem at once massive and weightless.
The artist's hand was sure of itself; it neither groped nor hesitated.
The execution is such that the drawing of the gown and the lines of the
face seem to have been traced by an engraver's tool. In this case,
however, definiteness has not resulted in stiffness. The sharp design
has not imprisoned unwilling forms; it leaves them free to move as they
please within the limits of their contours which are its domain. It is
worth while to examine with a lens the marvellous process which, by
the aid of imperceptible half-tones, has softened the modelling of the
face and hands."

  [Illustration: PLATE VI.--PORTRAIT OF M. X----

  (Museum at Verdun)

  Bastien-Lepage possessed the rare quality of being able to bestow the
  same superior skill upon every part of a portrait. Being sincere before
  all else, he never tried to shirk any difficulty; this is seen in the
  care he took in painting the hands of all his various sitters, showing
  something akin to vanity in the marvellous talent he displayed in
  rendering them. In this portrait--just as in all the others--the hands
  are quite as truly a miracle of execution as the face itself.]

These two pictures earned Bastien-Lepage the Cross of the Legion of
Honour and a definite recognition of his talent. The artist could not
keep his delight to himself and, good son that he was, wished to share
it with his beloved family; so he sent for them, to pay him a visit in
Paris. The grandfather and the "good little mother" arrived, full of
pride in this famous son, of whom the whole world was talking. He showed
them the sights of the city and was only too happy to have a chance to
introduce them to his friends; he took his mother to the big shops and
insisted on choosing silk cloaks and silk dresses for her. The poor
woman protested, saying that they were far too fine, that she would
never dare to wear anything like that. "Show us some more," ordered the
devoted artist, "I want mamma to have her choice of the best there is!"

After the old people had returned home to Lorraine, Bastien-Lepage set
out for England, where he was to paint the portrait of the Prince of
Wales, who afterwards became King Edward VII.

In this portrait of tiny dimensions the Prince is represented in fancy
costume, after the manner of Holbein. His garments recall in a measure
those worn by King Henry VIII, in the celebrated portrait done by the
great painter from Basle. The Collar of the Golden Fleece is displayed
upon his breast. In the background of the picture may be seen dimly,
through a veil of mist, the panorama of London and the gray ribbon of
the Thames. The portrait is a little gem, which Bastien-Lepage wrought
with the minuteness and affectedly hieratic mannerism of Holbein and the
French primitive school. Although at present in possession of M. Émile
Bastien-Lepage, it will eventually find its place, together with a
goodly number of other canvases, in the museum of the Louvre, to which
the brother of the great artist intends to bequeath them.

It should be mentioned here, in connection with this work, that
Bastien-Lepage continued to make more and more of a specialty of
portraits of reduced dimensions, and that he acquired in this respect a
reputation of the first order. He loved these little canvases, scarcely
larger than miniatures, and he expended on their scanty surfaces an
inimitable skill; he embellished them with a wealth of accessory detail
which brings to mind, as we look at them to-day, the formidable labours
of the illuminators of the middle ages. But this goldsmith's work, far
from impairing the effect of the whole, adds a certain fascination to
it. And he expended upon the study of the face the same degree of
devotion that he gave to the rendering of a garment. His models relive
with an intensity of life such as could be expressed only by an artist
who has made a life-long study of nature in her minutest manifestations.

To name over his portraits would be to mention an equal number of
masterpieces. The catalogue would be too long, for Bastien-Lepage was
an indefatigable workman. We may content ourselves with citing those
that are most widely known: that of _M. Andrieux_, one-time Prefect of
Police, whose refined features are rendered with striking truth; that of
_J. Bastien-Lepage_, the artist's uncle, which is here reproduced and
which shows him violin in hand, a clear and vigorous piece of
brush-work, transcribing life in telling strokes, with an astonishing
simplicity of means. This fine example is to be seen to-day in the
museum at Verdun. And in the same museum there is still another that
deserves mention; namely, the excellent _Portrait of M. X._ And we must
not forget the _Portrait of André Theuriet_, born, like Bastien-Lepage,
on the banks of the Meuse and attached to the painter by ties of almost
fraternal affection. One feels that, in this picture, the heart must
have guided the hand, for it would be difficult to find another work
more magisterial in execution and more delicate in finish. And lastly,
there is _Mme. Bastien-Lepage_, the "good little mother," as the great
artist and loving son used to call her. He posed her in the garden of
the home at Damvillers. She is seated on a stone bench; on her knees
rests a large garden hat; her two hands are crossed, one over the other,
and in the left she holds a little bunch of field flowers. She is clad
in a loose dress of sombre colour, cut with a pelerine; and nothing but
the one bright spot formed by the white collar reveals the severity of
the costume. The whole attitude of the body in repose is perfect in its
truth and naturalness; but our admiration changes and quickens to
emotion when we raise our eyes to the level of the face of this "good
little mother," a bony, irregular face, almost ugly, but so gentle, so
kind, so touchingly illumined by the tender caress in the eyes as they
rest upon the adored son in the course of painting her. Those emaciated
features, which not even the crown of blonde hair is able to rejuvenate,
are unmistakably those of a mother; if we had not known, we should
inevitably have divined it; no one but a son, and a great artist as
well, could have crowned the brow of a woman with such an aureole of
gentleness and love.

Bastien-Lepage, whom those who envied him affected to regard as
dedicated wholly to the reproduction of rustic uncouthness, had no equal
in catching the radiance of feminine charms, even in their subtlest
manifestations. No one was more skilled than he in seizing and recording
the one particular trait, often elusive and intangible, which
characterizes a woman and makes her beautiful. What delicious portraits
of women we owe to him! Where could we meet with a more smiling image
than that of _Mme. Godillot_, radiant and seductive, a rosy vision in
the black velvet of her gown, relieved by the brilliant sheen of her
white satin corsage! And what studied and elaborate art was expended on
the _Portrait of Mme. Klotz_, whose magnificent brunette beauty emerges
like a gorgeous lily from the surrounding whiteness of her scarf, that
is all the more dazzlingly white by contrast with her sombre robe! And
still again, there is the _Portrait of Mme. Juliette Drouet_, another
beautiful and noble specimen of portraiture. And how marvellously
Bastien-Lepage could detect the hidden soul lurking in the inmost
recesses of his models and reveal it behind the transparent screen of
their eyes! If Bastien-Lepage had not achieved eternal glory as an
interpreter of rural life, he would still have remained celebrated as a
portrait painter.

But to Bastien-Lepage portrait painting was only a side issue, a form of
relaxation between two landscapes; his predilection, his one object in
life, so to speak, was to return constantly to his peasants, his scenes
of toil, his fields of Lorraine.

After his return from England he passed some months at Damvillers, when
an impulse seized him to visit Italy, to which the verdict of a
prejudiced committee had once upon a time barred his way. He proceeded
straight to Venice, and it may as well be acknowledged at once,
Venetian art left him cold, if not indifferent. He had never in the
least understood any of the big "set pieces," and in spite of all the
art of Veronese and Titian, in spite of their dazzling flare of colour,
he never succeeded in understanding their sumptuous allegories or in
accepting the fantastic interpretation of nature which the Venetians
allowed themselves. He returned to Damvillers, profoundly disillusioned
and more than ever convinced that nature alone, such as he saw it, was
deserving of the attention of the true artist. There would be no object
in discussing here how rightly or how ill founded such an opinion was;
we note it only to indicate once more the absolute independence of the
painter, his fixed determination never to imitate anyone.

And, beyond question, there is no resemblance to any other painter in
that curious and remarkable picture known as _Jeanne d'Arc listening to
the Voices_. Lorraine in heart and soul, Bastien-Lepage desired to pay
his tribute, as so many had done before him, to the glorious
heroine who, like him, had come from the banks of the Meuse. And he
wished also to restore her to her natural setting, with the greatest
degree of historic accuracy. Consequently it is in a Lorraine garden
surrounding a Lorraine cottage that he shows us Jeanne, the shepherdess;
around her are the familiar garden utensils such as peasants use to-day
just as they did in the fifteenth century. She is standing in an
inspired and attentive attitude, which gives to her whole countenance
that forceful character which Bastien-Lepage imprints upon all his
compatriots. For he wished to make her, in a certain sense, a composite
type of the women of the Lorraine race, such as Theuriet has described:
"The forehead low but intelligent, the eyes with drooping lids that half
conceal the somewhat sullen glance; the bones prominent in cheek and
jaw, the chin square, indicative of an opinionated race; the mouth
large, with half parted lips, through which one perceives the passage of
the deep-drawn breath." This head is always the same; under all the
variations in physiognomy we always meet with the same local type: it is
the head of the woman in _Hay-making_ and of the _Women gathering
Potatoes_, and it is also that of the "good little mother," so
fundamentally and emphatically representative of Lorraine.


  (Collection of É. Bastien-Lepage)

  This attractive picture, full of charm and vigour, belongs to the
  closing years of the artist's life, at the time when he was enjoying the
  flood tide of his talent. How much force and truth there is in this
  picture of the little chimney-sweep, and what graceful nimbleness in the
  movements of the cats that he is watching at play.]

Nevertheless _Jeanne d'Arc listening to the Voices_ was rather badly
received by the critics. Without disputing the originality and vigour of
the inspired shepherdess, they reproached the artist for the presence of
the traditional saints. Bastien-Lepage had indicated these under the
form of luminous vapour, radiating through the branches overhanging the
garden: St. Michael in the golden armour of a knight of the fifteenth
century, St. Margaret and St. Catherine as phantoms so diaphanous as to
be hardly perceptible. The idealists complained that the picture was
lacking in idealism; the realists were somewhat disconcerted to find the
apparitions there at all. It must be acknowledged that Bastien-Lepage
ceases to be himself the moment that he ventures to attempt the
supernatural or even allegory pure and simple. He feels that he is no
longer on familiar ground, he hesitates, he fumbles, and the harmony of
the work suffers in consequence. Nevertheless, in spite of this
undeniable defect, the face of Jeanne d'Arc will be remembered as a
piece of powerful painting and genuine inspiration.

At all events, Bastien-Lepage was keenly aware of the half-way nature of
his success, and from that day renounced forever the element of the
marvellous and confined himself to that concrete and tangible poetry
which emanates from the earth.

Some little time after his _Jeanne d'Arc_, he produced _The Mendicant_,
veteran knight of the road, whose lazy life is passed in going from door
to door, asking charity and compelling it if need be; suspicious looking
old tramp, perhaps a thief as well, who inspires fear and whose sack is
often filled through unwillingness to provoke him. The artist has
pictured him with a stout stick in his hand, stowing away the slice of
bread which a pretty slip of a girl in a blue apron has just given him.
This fine and vigorous canvas scored almost as much of a success, at the
Salon of 1881, as the admirable _Portrait of Albert Wolff_, a critic on
the _Figaro_ and close personal friend of the artist.

In 1882 he won a further success with his superb _Father Jacques_, a
masterly study of the Lorraine peasant, and with his charming _Portrait
of Mme. W._

In 1883 came _Love in a Village_, one of his most popular canvases, in
which he depicted with charming naturalness the uncomplicated and naïve
courtship of rustic lovers. Here are a pair who are untroubled by
curious glances; the nearer houses of the village are quite close by.
Bending slightly towards his sweetheart, the man is murmuring his
avowals in her ear, in a voice that, we suspect, is by no means steady.
Strapping fellow that he is, he evidently lacks the habit of making
pretty speeches; we can see that from the embarrassed air with which he
twists his fingers. His words, however, are plainly not lacking in
eloquence, for the girl, type of buxom young womanhood that we have
already learned to know, has bent her head and, although her back is
turned, we are sure that she is blushing as she listens to his
declaration. A special atmosphere emanates from this picture, as well as
that profound spirit of poetry which is inseparable from the eternal
song of love.


At this period Bastien-Lepage had already begun to incur the first
attacks of the disease which was destined so soon to end his days. He
suffered violent pains in the kidneys. He became melancholy, nervous,
irritable; he shut himself up in his studio in the Rue Legendre, and
even his best friends could not gain admittance. The doctors who were
called in recognized the gravity of his illness and ordered energetic
treatment and a change of air. The poor artist reconciled himself to go
for a time to Brittany, and his choice fell on Concarneau. The keen sea
air produced a temporary betterment, and he took advantage of it to
work, for he could not resign himself to lay aside his palette and
brushes. He spent entire days in a boat and, in spite of his sufferings,
executed several landscapes of rare beauty. But his condition, instead
of improving, took a turn for the worse. "The digestive tube," he wrote
to Theuriet, "is always kicking up a row!" The pain in the kidneys and
bowels became at this time so violent that he was forced to decide to
return to Paris, in order to consult the men of science once again.

This time, when Dr. Potain examined him, he could no longer deceive
himself as to the artist's fate; he saw that his patient was
irremediably condemned. However, a sojourn in a milder climate might
prolong his life for a few months; so he advised Algeria. The prospect
of the journey, the desire to make the acquaintance of this land of
sunshine which Delacroix, Decamps, and Fromentin had taught him to love,
for a few days gave a false strength to the poor sufferer, which
produced a deceptive appearance of renewed health and even deceived the
artist himself. Besides, Mme. Bastien-Lepage, the "good little mother,"
was to accompany him, and this unselfish and tender devotion warmed his
heart. The poor woman forced back her tears in order to smile upon the
unfortunate son whom she knew to be doomed. And so the pitiful pair set
forth for the land of sunshine, she consumed with grief, and he almost
joyous in the hope of a speedy cure.

His first letters to his friends bore the imprint of good spirits;
Algeria aroused his enthusiasm by its clear and vibrant colours; his
disease declared a brief truce and he began to form projects. The
thought of dying had not yet even vaguely occurred to him, though, for
that matter, he had no fear of death. The previous year he had painted
_Gambetta on his Death-bed_; and his frequent visits to Ville-d'Avray
led him to discuss the inevitable end of life. "I am not afraid of
death," he said, "dying is nothing,--the important thing is to survive
oneself, and who can be sure of establishing a claim upon posterity? But
there! I am talking nonsense! So long as our work is true, nothing else

But before long the ravages of the disease began to make headway; the
kidneys no longer performed their function, and he suffered atrocious
agonies which stretched him for days at a time on his back. Even the
burning heat of the African sun no longer had strength enough to animate
his shattered physique; the brush, which the artist from time to time
still attempted to take up, fell from between his fingers. He,
Bastien-Lepage, painter of the soil, found himself unable to
transfer to canvas the enchantment of that land of fairy tale! And
he poured forth his distress in long and poignant letters, in which
could be read in every line the loss of hope and the sure prevision of
the now inevitable end.


  (Museum at Verdun)

  Here is still another kindly and vigorous face from Lorraine, forcefully
  modelled, with salient jaw bones, betraying the obstinacy of the race.
  An air of good nature softens the energy of this face, and the eyes
  sparkle with intelligence. This portrait is treated in a free-handed
  manner, with unfaltering strokes, and its colouring is especially

As no amelioration took place, Bastien-Lepage made the return journey to
Paris towards the end of May, 1884. He went back to his studio in the
Rue Legendre, where he had formerly passed such happy hours in the full
enjoyment of a talent at its zenith and a constitution apparently able
to defy all tests. Now, however, he dragged around a dying body, with
disease gnawing at his vitals. He could no longer sleep without the aid
of powerful doses of morphine. The winter-time increased his suffering;
his strength rapidly failed him; and, on the tenth of December, at six
o'clock in the evening, he drew his last breath, at the age of
thirty-six years.

As long as he could hold a brush, Bastien-Lepage continued to work, in
spite of the sufferings which racked him. During the year preceding his
death, while he was already experiencing frightful tortures, he painted
_The Woman making Lye_ and _The Little Chimney-sweep_, the latter of
which is here reproduced. This admirable canvas is to be seen now at the
studio of the painter's brother at Neuilly, and forms part of the legacy
which M. Émile Bastien-Lepage intends to bequeath to the Louvre. It has
never been shown at any Salon, and for that matter there are a good many
other paintings and portraits which have never been exhibited in public
and which are not for that reason any the less remarkable. We may cite
at random: _The Portrait of M. É. Bastien-Lepage_, _The Prince of
Wales_, _Mme. Juliette Drouet_, _A Little Girl going to School_, _The
Little Pedler asleep_, _The Vintage_, _No Help! The Thames at London,

The very year of his death, shortly before his departure for Algeria,
Bastien-Lepage executed a delicious little canvas entitled _The Forge_,
in which the artist expended a surprising amount of talent and skill,
and which enables us to realize what extraordinary heights his ever
progressive genius might have attained, but for the blind and brutal
cruelty of Destiny.

His death was a time of mourning for the arts; the regrets which he left
behind him were unanimous. Even those who had been opposed to his
aesthetic creed paid homage to his great conscientiousness as an artist
and his noble character as a man.

During March and April, 1885, only a few months after his death, all
literary and artistic Paris flocked to the Hotel de Chimay, an adjunct
to the École des Beaux-Arts, where a posthumous exhibition of his works
had been organized.

At this exhibition the entire body of his works had been brought
together. The museums had loaned the canvases which they possessed and
the private collectors had done their share towards the glorification of
the artist by entrusting to the organizers a goodly number of paintings
and portraits which had never figured in any of the Salons.

Thus it was made possible to comprehend at a single glance the life-work
of this remarkable artist and to appreciate the distance he had
traversed, the progress he had made during his brief existence, and the
brilliant prospects that were destroyed by his untimely death.

From all these numerous works, exhibited side by side, what stood out
most clearly was the unity of thought which had conceived them and the
dogged fidelity to principles which had controlled their execution. At
the same time they revealed the amazing adaptability of his talent,
which essayed the most diverse and conflicting subjects with the same
realistic vigour, bestowing even upon his vaporous and delicate
portraits of women a touch which, while light, is unmistakably his own,
and in which we recognize that noble, conscientious workmanship, free
from all artifice, which was the distinctive hall-mark both of his
painting and of his character.

But the quality which dominates all the rest in the work of
Bastien-Lepage, and which emanates from it like the fragrance which is
exhaled by certain precious essences, is his ardent and deep-rooted love
for his native soil. This form of local patriotism, determined by the
boundaries of Lorraine, underwent a noble expansion to the point of
encircling the entire earth; for while the painter chose his models out
of the familiar landscape of his childhood's home, his observation and
his art broke out of the bounds of this special setting and embraced
rustic humanity throughout France and even beyond. His peasants are
unmistakably from the banks of the Meuse in type and in customs, but
they are from the world at large in gesture and in philosophy of life.
Whether he comes from the North or from the South, the tiller of the
soil wages the same conflict with ungrateful furrows, the spade and the
plough imprint the same calluses on his bony hands, the sun browns his
energetic and stubborn features to the same deep tan. It is in this
respect that the art of Bastien-Lepage assumes a higher significance;
like Millet, it is not a peasant whom he paints, but the peasant,
forever unchanging in spite of latitude. But if his work has attained
this higher eminence of generalization, it is precisely for the reason
that the artist's watchful eye has succeeded in discovering, in the life
of the peasantry, that state of mind which is common to them all, that
immutable gesture which they have always made and always will make. He
has understood and translated with inspired eloquence their rugged
strength, their naïve awkwardness, their simple intelligence.

Another glorious distinction of Bastien-Lepage was that he loved the
fields as well as he loved the peasants. Not fields drowned beneath
melancholy shadow and pallid shifting light, but fields bathed in
sunshine, until the golden tassels of the grain crackle like sparks
under the fire of the midday sun. Always and everywhere he sought for
light, and in the midst of it his modest protagonists of rustic life
stand out in all their vigour.

It would be easy to cite, among our best contemporary painters, a
considerable number of artists who are brilliantly continuing the
tradition left by Bastien-Lepage and emulating his predilection for the
luminous brilliance of the open air. How often, in the presence of a
canvas by Lhermitte, our thoughts go back to the painter of Lorraine,
whose vigorous execution and joyous colouring seem to have been
reincarnated! 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.

Lorraine, out of gratitude, wished to perpetuate the memory of this
glorious son of the Meuse, who had so eloquently celebrated the vitality
and poetry of his natal earth. It was at Damvillers itself that it was
decided to raise a monument to the great painter; and around its
pedestal there were gathered the "good little mother," all in tears, the
assembled population of the village and the whole region round about,
and even the Government took part in the pious ceremony by sending as
its representative M. Gustave Larroumet, director of the Beaux-Arts.
This eloquent art critic brought as a tribute to the departed painter
the official seal of immortality, and he pronounced it in terms vibrant
with emotion.

"At the moment," he said, "when ordinarily the best of artists have done
no more than to give indications of their originality and when ripening
years alone begin to keep the promises of youth, Jules Bastien-Lepage
died, leaving masterpieces behind him, besides having liberated an
artistic formula from the tendencies and exaggerations which hampered
it, and indicated to the art of painting a new pathway along which his
young heirs are advancing with an assured step. He loved nature and
truth; he loved his own people, and no one ever lived who was surrounded
with a greater degree of affection; he inspired faithful friendships
which he himself enjoyed to the full; and those whom he left behind
soothe their heart-ache with the balm of tender memories; he practised
his art without ever making sacrifice to passing fashion or sordid
profit; there was no place in his mind or in his heart for any other
than noble and generous thoughts. Let us comfort ourselves, therefore,
for what his death has taken from us by the thought of what his life has
left to us, and let us assign him his place in the ranks of the younger
master painters who have been mown down in full flower, close beside
that of Géricault and of Henri Regnault."

In his admirable biographic and critical study of Bastien-Lepage, whose
personal friend he had been, M. L. de Fourcaud, by way of conclusion,
bids him this touching farewell:

"Poor Bastien-Lepage, snatched away one winter's night, at thirty-six
years of age, in the fairest flowering of his bright promise, in the
richest expansion of his personality; may each returning month of May
bring at least an abundance of blossoms to the apple tree beside his
grave! For the blossoms of the apple were always, in his eyes, so fair a

To-day he sleeps forever in a corner of that Lorraine land which he
loved so dearly, and perhaps in the cemetery of his native village his
shade can still hear the familiar accents of his native dialect. The
great painter of Lorraine could never have slept his eternal sleep in
any other soil than that.

Painter of flowers, painter of nature, painter of the earth which is
forever deathless and forever renewed, Bastien-Lepage has chosen that
better part; his work will live as long as these, his models, and will
go down through the centuries in all the splendour of increasing beauty
and eternal youth.

Transcriber's Note: Typographical errors have been corrected as

Page 22: "Bastine" replaced with "Bastien"

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