Frédéric Bazille, The Improvised Field Hospital, August 1865. Oil on canvas, 48 x 65 cm (18 7/8 x 25 9/16 in.). Musée d’Orsay, Paris © Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt.
Frédéric Bazille (1841–1870) created paintings inspired by contemporary life that challenged the aesthetic conventions of his day and helped to lay the groundwork of impressionism. In celebration of the 175th anniversary of the artist’s birth, Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism brings together some 75 paintings that examine Bazille as a central figure of impressionism. The National Gallery of Art, which holds the largest group of Bazille’s works outside of France, as well as important related impressionist paintings of the 1860s, is the sole American venue for the exhibition. The first major presentation of Bazille’s work in America in 25 years, the exhibition is on view in the East Building from April 9 through July 9, 2017.
Bazille was actively engaged with the most significant pictorial issues of his era—the revival of the still-life form, realist landscapes, plein-air figural painting, and the modern nude. Drawing inspiration from the vibrant cultural life of Paris as well as from his native Provence, Bazille painted with a style that was distinctly his own.
“This exhibition shows Bazille’s key role in the developments of French painting and provides new insight into this period of impressionism,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “The outstanding partnership between the National Gallery of Art, the Musée Fabre in Montpelier, and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris made it possible to undertake this new study of Bazille’s work. We are delighted to reveal brand-new scientific examinations that offer new analyses, identifications, dates, and attributions.”
Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism is the most comprehensive retrospective of Bazille’s career, featuring nearly three-quarters of his artistic output. Organized thematically, this exhibition juxtaposes works by Bazille with important works by the predecessors who inspired him—Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Gustave Courbet—and by contemporaries such as Édouard Manet and Claude Monet with whom he was closely associated.
“Frédéric Bazille is such an extraordinary talent, though he still remains relatively unknown. This exhibition offers a rare opportunity to bring together the majority of the artist’s work for the first time in almost 25 years,” said Kimberly A. Jones, curator of 19th-century French paintings, National Gallery of Art. “They are remarkable paintings and people are going to be astonished by their quality and their vibrancy. It is such a pleasure to be able to introduce Bazille to a new generation of admirers.”
The exhibition begins with his student works, self-portraits, still lifes, small portraits, and luminous landscapes painted in the forest of Fontainebleau and the coast of Normandy. Portraits of fellow artists are juxtaposed with interior scenes of Bazille’s studio depicting the dynamic circle of avant-garde artists and writers to which he belonged. The fifth and sixth galleries explore Bazille’s plein-air figural paintings, created while he was in Montpellier, and the male and female nude as subjects. The exhibition continues with a gallery dedicated to floral still-life paintings and concludes with a return to outdoors with seascapes painted in the south of France.
In preparation for this exhibition, the National Gallery of Art and the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, Paris (C2RMF), performed extensive conservation and research on nearly half of the artist’s known works. In 11 of those paintings, earlier compositions of fruit, flowers, or figural works were discovered underneath the surface of the visible painting. The conservation efforts revealed Young Woman at the Piano—Bazille’s first submission to the Salon in 1866 and a work previously believed to have been lost—underneath Ruth and Boaz (1870), as well as a study of Renior’s 1867 painting Diana the Huntress beneath The Studio on the Rue La Condamine (1869–1870).