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.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reading about Pissarro's family

I arrived at the Clark Museum to speak about my novel the week after they took down their exquisite exhibit Pissarro's People, but I did get a copy of the excellent exhibition book. I was particularly struck at how much he loved his children and with what an atmosphere of unconditional love he raised them. He lost three of them before his own death; Jeanne, called Minette (shown right), died when she was nine. There are many portraits of her, from an enchanting little girl to a somber and sickly one. I don't know how she died or if any record is left. It was devastating for Pissarro and his wife.

The exhibition book is a fine portrait of the man as well as the painter...this most tender, humble painter! I would have loved to have known him.