Monday, October 31, 2011
the almost truthful letters a young Impressionist sent home
One of the frequent reports of life among the young painters who would be one day called the Impressionists are the letters sent home to his mother and father by Monet's best friend, the painter Jean Frédéric Bazille. Bazille came from a well-to-do family in Montpellier and moved to Paris to study medicine. After telling his family repeatedly that his medical exams were once more postponed, he confessed all he wanted to do was paint! (It was a big distraction to study anatomy when Renoir and Monet and Manet and Pissarro were in the other room of the studio talking painting!) From his letters we learn something of the joyous life of these young men, and Bazille's constant avoidance of his parents' attempts to marry him off. He was a very good person and rushed off to fight for France in the Franco-Prussian wars to a disastrous outcome.
This self-portrait from the Chicago Art Institute is rather strange; he was only about 24 or 25, and painted himself at least fifteen years older. Or perhaps it is the tension of staring at himself in the mirror or some discomfort about himself which made him paint that way. Various paintings and photos of him show him as dashingly handsome, humble while painting at his easel, and very much the formidable son of a great family in still another. The first drafts of my novel CLAUDE & CAMILLE featured Bazille as the main character; he later moved to third major character. I have many books about him, perhaps all that have been published in English and a few in French.