While Paris museums are coming back to life, even if extremely slowly and under strict sanitary conditions, the news of the sale that took place a few weeks ago, of a few works by a largely ignored Impressionist painter, has created some bustle in the art world here.
Frederic Bazille, born in the southern French town of Montpellier into an upper-class family, was expected by his father to follow his own example and become a doctor. For this reason, young Frederic was sent to a medical college in the year 1859 at age 18. Three years later, he would move to Paris for higher education in the same domain.
But his life would change abruptly as Frederic watched painters working under bright sunlight in the hilly streets of the Montmartre neighbourhood where he was given an apartment.
He soon made friends with a number of future Impressionist legends, such as Eugene Delacroix, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet and Édouard Manet. As a result, he would quite simply give up his father’s idea of becoming a doctor and devote himself entirely to painting.
Frederic Bazille died at the age of 30 but had already created some 68 pieces by then, many of them now considered masterpieces
By now only in his early 20s, Bazille would create such legendary chefs d’oeuvres as The Pink Dress, Family Reunion or Little Gardner and so many others, housed today in the Musée d’Orsay of Paris and many American museums.
A very typical and unmatched characteristic of his landscapes would be the details of houses, trees, hills, flowers and rivers, viewed by a solitary figure always present in the foreground. The Study of Trees is another breathtaking example of bare, leafless branches against a fading blue autumn sky and white clouds.
An eternally restless youth, Frederic Bazille joined the army when the Franco-Prussian war broke out in the year 1870. On November 28 that year, while leading an attack on the German position, he was shot twice in the head and died two years short of his 30th birthday.
When the art movement he had so passionately followed and encouraged during his brief lifetime finally and officially took off the ground, Bazille was ignored and his works were totally absent from the first-ever Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874. It was only in the year 1900, when another similar but larger event was being organised, that a well-respected and powerful art critic of the period, Roger Marx, would insist that Bazille’s paintings should also be included in the show.
Despite his short lifetime, Frederic Bazille was nevertheless able to create some 68 works. A large number of them are permanently housed in the Museum of Montpellier, his birth-town.
The sale that was held contained around a dozen paintings that Frederic’s brother, Marc Bazille, had left as inheritance to his children. Their descendents had put them on auction, where they were valued at an average sum of about half a million euros as a starting price.
The writer is an art critic based in Paris
Published in Dawn, EOS, July 25th, 2021