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Posts tagged ‘French art’

Artist in Focus: Frédéric Bazille

Impressionism was not just an artistic movement. It was a way of seeing which radically changed the path of art, paving the way to practically every contemporary creative vision which followed whether it be abstract expressionism or visceral photorealism, or even works of sculpture and photography. Accordingly, as an artistic epoch, its works have become so well known that even the most unknowledgeable could probably associate Monet’s Japaenese bride or a watery vision of waterlilies with the movement. But for all the fuzzy edged Renoir portraits, and the softly lit Monet landscapes, few people ever refer to one of Impressionism’s earliest pioneers: Frédéric Bazille.


Bazille’s Studio; 9 Rue de la Condamine, 1870

Born in Montpellier in 1841, Bazille was both a contemporary and working companion of  Monet and Renoir whom he met while studying fine art in Paris having given up his parents’ preferred discipline of medicine. Coming from a wealthy family, Bazille was more than just a friend to his budding co-artists, providing them with shared studio space and much needed income during their crucial early years of creation. It was as a trio that the zealous three began to paint en plein air, rejecting the studio-based historical compositions that were in fashion and favouring the recreation of reality, or at least an impression thereof.

However Bazille was not just an early Impressionist. In fact his works were not even included in the first renowned Impressionist exhibitions in which the most iconic artists of the movement were hung. His work was stylistically unique, with a finessed confident line and clear figurative composition which eschewed the feathery brush work of his colleagues and endowed his work with a potent but still poetic atmosphere.


Family Reunion, 1867


Aigues-Mortes, 1867


View of the Village, 1868


The Pink Dress (View of Castelnau-le-Lez, Hérault), 1864

When the opportunity to see the works of Bazille enmassed arose this winter in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I rushed to the show as quickly as I could get through the enormous queues outside. There, I cherished an encounter with the majority of Bazille’s most famous works, such as his captivating Family Reunion, and his highly homo erotic works, Fisherman with a Net, and Summer Scene. For capturing the male was another way in which Bazille differed from his contemporaries. For unlike the womaniser Renoir and the almost married Monet, Bazille was more of a loaner, said to be drawn to his own sex, and in these beautiful languid portrayals of the male, you can feel both a passionate admiration for the masculine form, and what must have been his frustration at not being able to openly explore it otherwise than in paint.


Scène d’été, 1869


Fisherman with a Net, 1868

Sadly for us, the show at the d’Orsay was a short one, for the oeuvre of Bazille was cut tragically short by his early death at the age of only 28 while fighting during the Franco-Prussian war. Thus a needless bullet ended what might have been one of the most prolific careers of the Impressionist age, and who should always be remembered as one of its most promising young stars.

The Wrestlers (after Courbet)

I adore art, especially the masterpieces of old, and I spend a lot of my time gazing in admiration at the works of the old masters and the more recently celebrated artists of the 20th century. However, of all the works I see, only a few inspire me to recreate the work in my own way. Velázquez´s Las MeninasTitian’s Bacchus and Ariadne and Rubens’ Descent from the Cross are three such works which have recently driven me to paint the old masterpieces afresh, and a few weeks ago, another chance encounter had a similar effect.

It was on Instagram in fact that I stumbled across this most recent inspiration – a work by the French master, Gustave Courbet, The Wrestlers – which the instagram user had also discovered for the first time. Painted in 1853, in the typical realist style for which Courbet was best known, and which saw him break away from the classical genre style of painting which was predominant in the mid-19th century, the work is not one I have seen before, perhaps because it is housed in the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest. But as soon as I saw it on the screen of my iPhone, I was struck by the incredible energy of the wrestlers, and the brilliant realism of their taught muscles, interlinked as they strain and struggle against each other – a fantastically visceral image in contrast with the refined crowds watching them from civilised stands in the background.

The Wrestlers FINAL

The Wrestlers (after Courbet), 2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas

It didn’t take long for my own version of the image to form in my head, following my new interpretative abstract style with which to give the work a new treatment. I have included some realistic elements myself, in homage to Courbet, but for the most part my reinterpretation is highly abstracted, not least the central figures themselves. This was by far the most difficult element to complete, and it took me some 20+ attempts before I was happy with the final abstract form. Unsure whether to separate the figures, or paint them as one, I latterly settled on a unified form, since the wrestlers in Courbet’s original are so obviously, almost erotically combined into a single star-like figure. The cadmium red colour however was clear as soon as I saw, around the same time as discovering the Courbet work, a photo of a brilliant red Alexander Calder mobile against a green grassy background. I knew from that moment that my wrestlers had to be red, creating a central contrast which is key to the balance of the painting. And so it was born.


The Wrestlers (1853) by Gustave Courbet (Fine Arts Museum, Budapest)

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