Page images

The picture is interesting in its historical aspect, because it tells so well the story of the young enthusiast "listening to the voices"-voices personified by the painter in the two floating female figures who plead with her and the warrior who offers her a sword, St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret, we suppose. She has abandoned her reel, and is standing in an attitude of rapt and devout attention. No French artist is without motive or inclination to present his own view of the Maid of Orleans, but doubtless Lepage undertook the task with a peculiar ardor and sense of fitness, owing to the fact that he himself is of peasant stock, and from the same part of France as that in which Joan was born. He has, in this most sincere picture, painted his own country, his own flesh and blood. There is a sort of archæology of the heart in Lepage's Joan-he has not looked up historical costumes or backgrounds, but has felt that he was close not only to the historical facts, but to the true spirit of the event, in placing the scene in the yard of a peasant's cottage in his own native town.

The picture is interesting not merely because its moving story is so well told, but because it is a notable instance of the new

movement in French art. Lepage is a striking example of an artist trained in the French orthodox academical traditions, but also strongly influenced by the doctrine. and example of the protestants of Barbizon.

But let us here take up the story of his life, following almost literally the account. by Paul Hourie, published in "L'Estafette" for March 22, 1880:

"Jules-Bastien Lepage was born at Damvillers, in the department of the Meuse, the 1st of November, 1850. His father imparted to him his own liking for drawing, and sought to develop his natural bent in this direction. When a child, little Bastien copied from the drawings of Bellanger and from other prints bought for his use. He became so fond of this study that it was difficult to induce him to do anything else, and he acquired an extraordinary dexterity for his age.

"At nine years old he was sent to the Verdun Seminary, where, for seven successive years, he easily carried off all the prizes for drawing. For a while, however, his career was undecided. His father, knowing the great sacrifices necessary to an artistic education, thought at first of sending him to St. Cyr, or the École Centrale.' But his vocation was too strong, and one morning the young collegian awoke, crying, I, too, will be a painter." Soon after, the father yielded to his son's desire and allowed him to go to Paris.

"Bastien Lepage arrived in the capital at the age of sixteen. Having for sole support the sum of twenty dollars a month sent him by his family, who had to bleed themselves to raise it, he decided to gain VOL. XXII.-20.

a livelihood as quickly as possible and relieve his people of this burden. Gifted with an unusual energy and power of continuous work, he entered, as soon as he reached Paris, the postal service. He was obliged to be on foot at three in the morning to see to the going out of the letters. For eight months he lived this galley-slave existence. Finding that he was becoming perfectly exhausted, and that the postal service made him neglect the fine arts, he was obliged to retire.

"He did not despair, but went back to Damvillers, where he spent his holidays in study. Returning to Paris, he entered the studio of Cabanel. After a few months, he presented himself at the same time for competition at the Beaux Arts and at the municipal course of drawing in the Rue de l'École de Médecine. In both he was passed first. Until the middle of 1870 he remained in the studio of Cabanel, who did not fail to give him all the encouragement and advice in his power. He had hardly been a few months in the studio when he made his début at the Salon with the portrait of a friend. "The war interrupted his studies. painter shouldered a musket and enlisted in a company of francs-tireurs. He did his duty bravely, and as soon as the armistice was declared went to Damvillers to see the family, who were impatiently awaiting him. The Commune found him there, chained to his easel, trying to make up for lost time, painting portrait after portrait. The whole village He made forty portraits that year, and, among others, one of his mother, of which he justly proud.

sat for him.

Our young

"His fixed desire, when he got back to Paris, was to put an end, as soon as possible, to the sacrifices which his family were making for him. The friendship of an employé of a fashion journal brought him some drawings to do. Between whiles our artist knocks about Paris to find something interesting to sketch. Some of these sketches are little marvels, and show a real artistic temperament, full of feeling and originality.

[ocr errors]

"He went to each of the principal illustrated periodicals, the Monde Illustré,' and 'L'Illustration,' but he was rebuffed, and, after several fruitless attempts, he gave up trying to be understood by people who could not speak his language, and, after this, he did not aspire beyond the little work given him by the fashion journal. By a curious sarcasm of destiny, these very papers now smile upon the successful artist. They would doubtless accept with delight the very sketches which they formerly despised.

"During the winter of 1872, our young artist, who could not afford the luxury of models, painted from inspiration a picture in the Watteau style, representing women in the woods attacked by a cloud of little Loves.' The quality of this small canvas struck Cabanel, who defended it strongly against the attacks of the jury. The work was well received by the public, and among the critics Gonzague Privat saluted with real enthusiasm the début of an artist who was destined to make his mark. This picture came into the possession of a restaurantkeeper in the Rue Saint-Benoit, where Lepage had his meals. A whole year of food was its price. Painting began to be of some use to him; besides, the philanthropic tradesman had not made a bad bargain.

"Returning to Damvillers in the summer of 1873, Bastien Lepage profited by his holiday to paint his Grandfather's Portrait.' He began, besides, a picture in the manner of Watteau. A peasant woman, seated by the road-side, having picked flow

ers in a field, has stopped, weary; 'Loves' with harps and pipes fly around her, and she seems to hear a delicious melody which fills her with enchantment. This picture and the 'Grandfather's Portrait' were exhibited at the same time. The latter was one of the successes of the Salon of 1874. Every one remembers this old face with a mocking expression and eyes full of fun. This year the jury gave Lepage a third-class medal, and the State bought his picture for the Museum of Verdun. At this time he received his first important order, the portrait of M. Hayem. The time of sacrifices was now over, and one of the greatest joys of this excellent son was to carry himself the good news to his father. The months he spent at Damvillers were devoted to the portraits of his father and mother. At the same time he finished his "First Communion." In the winter he did his portrait of M. Hayem. These

traditions of these competitions. This injustice was later in part repaired by the same picture taking a third-class medal at the Universal Exhibition of 1878.

"In the summer we find Lepage again at Damvillers, making a study of a girl in the open air, and giving the finishing touches to the portraits of his father and mother. In the winter he received an order for the portrait of M. Wallon, then Minister of Public Instruction and of the Fine Arts-a difficult task, for it is no secret that the person called 'the father of the constitution' is unfortunate as regards appearance. The artist, who is sincerity

itself, painted M. Wallon as he saw him and as all knew him to be. This is enough to explain how Edmond About, in his "Salon" of 1878, seized the opportunity to gratify the dislike which he felt toward the public man by cleverly running' the painter,



two works gained for him a second-class medal at the Salon of 1875.

"The First Communion' is a symphony in white. The face, dull and placid, shows at once thoughtfulness and surprise, and expresses well the feelings in the soul of the child. As to the portrait of M. Hayem, he is very much alive, with a look of self-satisfaction, a smile, a natural pose. He is an easy-going bourgeois, as you might see him any day in the year. After this success, Lepage competed for the Grand Prix de Rome.' The subject was The Shepherds.' When the exhibition of the competing pictures was opened, all artistic Paris proclaimed Lepage the winner. But the prize was given to another. Doubtless, the jury could not forgive the artist for breaking with the conventional

* This famous little picture is being engraved for a subsequent number of SCRIBNER'S MONTHLY.

[ocr errors]


who was, indeed, helpless. Marshal MacMahon, stopping before the portrait of his minister, judged the work with more justice. It is an astonishing likeness, but why did he want himself painted?'

"After the Salon, Bastien Lepage finished the portraits of his parents and began that of Lady LThey were all exhibited in 1877, and won for the young master a frank recognition. In 1878, he exhibited at the Saint Armand Club a remarkable portrait of Madame Klotz.


"In the same year he sent to the Salon Wheat-field,' a country scene of the most extreme fidelity, and a portrait of his friend André Theuriet, which was praised for its charming tones and exquisite delicacy.

"To the Universal Exhibition he sent the Grandfather,' The First Communion,' M. Hayem,' and the Shepherds.' This last won a third-class medal. Toward the end of 1878 he went to London, and

* #

was well received by the English artists. The Prince of Wales, to whom he was presented, ordered a portrait. 'October,' and the portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, exhibited in 1879, sealed the reputation of the young master, and won for him the only recompense still open to him, The Cross of the Legion of Honor.' The delight of the public in the portrait of the great comédienne has never been forgotten. The same year he showed at the Saint Armand Club the portrait of his brother, who was then competing for the Prix de Rome,'-architectural division. Talent appears to run in the family. With his 'Joan of Arc' he sent to the Salon of 1880 a very fine portrait of M. Andrieux, prefet de police."

One point in the above sketch should be amplified. A reference was made to the circumstance in Henry Bacon's paper in SCRIBNER for March ("Glimpses of Parisian Art, III."). J. Alden Weir's account of it is that, when the prize of Rome was given to another student against the judgment of nearly all the artists and students in Paris, and the painting of the successful rival was found decorated with a painted laurelwreath, one of the students, with a genuine laurel-wreath in his hands, was borne aloft on the shoulders of the crowd, and the wreath was hung by him on Lepage's picture, amid loud applause and cries of "The real laurel for Bastien!"

It was, as we have heard him say, during Lepage's studentship in the Latin Quarter that he was first attracted to Jean-François Millet, by means of the little prints exhibited in the shop windows. That he was strongly impressed by these and Millet's other work no one need be told who has watched his career, but if he were ever in danger of a tendency toward mere imitation, this danger is now past. We see in his work, besides the influence of Millet and the "Beaux Arts," a careful study of the manner of Holbein, as exemplified, for instance, in his portrait of the Prince of Wales. But in the "Joan of Arc," Lepage has not only fully discovered his own individuality, but he has reached at power of expression of a high order.

Those who, while according Lepage an exalted place among contemporary artists, still do not refuse to criticise his work, find in much of his painting a lack of sensitiveness with regard to beauty which is an element of weakness in his art. Such critics declare that Velasquez, in his "Æsop" and even in his dwarfs, does not afflict you with a sense of ugliness. We are glad to look at the presentment by Van Eyck or Holbein of the ugliest and most grotesque human beings. The early Italians, too, painted thoroughly ugly people, but always with a saving clause. But Lepage spares no one,


not even his own father and mother. the ugliness of these good people is painfully detailed, and the beauty that must have existed in their countenances is not preserved on the canvas. The "Joan," if it has little or none of the fault referred to above, is still, perhaps, not quite impeccable. Seeing the picture, as we have, in four different rooms, under various circumstances and in different lights, we still cannot defend it against the charge of spottiness. It is for artists to explain why its effect is not as single and simple as it should be; with all the knowledge displayed in its execution, there seems to be a confusion that should not exist. A fully satisfactory picture is a unit in its impression upon the retina and upon the memory, but in looking at the Joan, the eye is troubled until it rests upon the main figure. Yet how satisfactory, how spiritual, how restrained and exquisite in expression is this! Different in many ways, we should imagine, from the austere Millet, is the gay young Parisian who has painted the "Joan of Arc." And yet, broadly speaking, he is of the same stock as Millet-as Joan herself; and he has put into this work all the devotion to home and kindred, all the romance, all the religious passion, of the class from which he springs.

Along with whatever technical defects the picture may possess, are so many technical as well as other excellences that its presence in America will doubtless not be without good effect upon the large and earnest body of youthful artists and art-students. Though we have few "old masters" in our galleries, we have a number of the best examples of modern contemporary art. But here is the vigorous work of a man of the very age of the new generation of painters; a classmate and associate of many; the very latest product of what is perhaps the best contemporary school of art-using the word school not only for the" Beaux Arts," but for the sound and serious part of Parisian influence. The appeal of such a picture to our younger painters must be especially close, intimate, and provocative of emulation. Some of them may learn from it that, while actual drawing and painting, and the laborious drilling and cultivated observation that lead to proficiency, are the first things for an artist to consider, they are not the last and only things; that a work of art, to live at all, must take hold of the intellect; while to be still surer of lasting, it must go farther and reach through the intellect the human heart.

« PreviousContinue »