Friday, March 3, 2017

Out and About: Exhibits: Bazille at Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris is one of the main showplaces for Impressionism in the world.
     This ex-train station turned museum is stunning to seem inside and out.  It also has a nice restaurant tucked away just over the entrance a few floors up, complete with Belle Epoque mirrors and bronze decoration.  And now two - count ‘em, two! - gift shops so you can’t leave without dropping some change.  (But then again, you couldn’t exchange euro coins anyway, so why not spend them?)
     Right now there’s an exhibit of the works of Bazille at the far end of the top floor.  (Take the escalators aesthetically hidden behind the wall at the end opposite the entrance.)

Frédéric Bazille, one of the lesser-known Impressionists, was born in Montpellier (southwest France) in 1841.  His wealthy Protestant family had intended him to become a doctor and sent him to Paris to continue his medical studies.  Mistake!  There he met Renoir and Sisley, and it was all downhill from there.  At least from a social status standpoint.
     Bazille started taking classes in Charles Gleyre’s studio, as had Renoir, Sisley and also Whistler.  In 1864 he failed his medical exam, whether on purpose or from missing too many classes we’ll never know.  So it was the artist’s life for him, much to his parents’ chagrin.  And to the joy of Monet, Sisley, Manet and other artists whom he helped survive financially, spreading his family’s wealth around beyond their wildest dreams.

Bazille met with some success in his artistic endeavors.  The extremely conservative Salon de Paris accepted one of his works, a classic nature morte entitled Fish.  His friend and colleague Fantin de la Tour painted him standing in profile on the right of his famous Un Atelier aux Batignolles
     And then the Franco-Prussian war broke out, stoking Bazille’s patriotism.  A mere month later, in August of 1870, he joined a Zouave regiment.  By late November, he and his unit were on the front lines.  When his commanding officer was injured, Bazille took command and led an assault on the German position. Wounded twice, he died on the battlefield at the ripe old age of 28.  His body was taken back to Montpellier for burial by a bereaved father, whom, I’m sure, wished his son would have stayed in med school.
     Thus ended the brief career - and life - of Frédéric Bazille.

Ramparts of Aigues-Mortes - 1867

The young artist’s talent might have gone unnoticed.  Four years after his death, the first exhibition of Impressionism - held at photographer Nadar’s studio - included not even one of his paintings.  And then in 1900, for the Exposition Universelle in Paris, two of his works were selected by art critic and historian Roger Marx.  That leaves 58 other works to choose from, many of them now hanging in the Musée Fabre in his native Montpellier.
Poêle dans l'Atelier - Cézanne
     The Orsay show covers the range of Bazille’s works as he progressed from the classicism that won him that spot at the Salon toward an ever-more personal expressionism.  It’s organized by both theme and chronology, mixing Bazille’s paintings with those of his contemporaries:   Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Fantin-Latour, Guigou, Scholderer and Cézanne.  That gives you a better idea of how he fit in - or didn’t - with the trends of his time in portraits, nature morte, nus, and landscapes.
     It was nice learning something new about Impressionism, long a favorite of mine.  I recommend the show.  And even if you’re not won over by this young artist, there are plenty of works by other more sainted Impressionists to make the trip worth your while.

BAZILLE:  The Youth of Impressionism

Musée d’Orsay
1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur; Paris 7è
Métro:  Assemblée Nationale, Solférino

November 15, 2016 - March 5, 2017

Open 9.30 am - 6 pm (to 9:45 pm Thursdays)
Closed Mondays

12 € & 9 €

For a video (in French) which shows many of the paintings on exhibit:

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