Saturday, June 24, 2017
The Unanswered Question of Frederic Bazille
When: through July 9, 2017
I had heard of Bazille before I went to see this show, and I'm pretty sure I'd seen at least one of his works at the National Gallery, but I wasn't really familiar with his work, in the way that I am with the bigger names of Impressionism.
I suspect that's true of many people as regards Bazille: vague sense, but no real knowledge. This show should change that, and that's a worthy goal. The one thing the show doesn't do, and perhaps it really can't do it, is answer the great question of Bazille's life: why did he give up a promising artistic career, leave his friends behind and join the army to fight in the Franco-Prussian War? It was a decision with tragic consequences, as he was killed in his first battle.
Bazille had a comfortable upper-middle class upbringing. His parents wanted him to be a doctor, and he studied medicine for several years before giving it up to become an artist. He became friends with a who's who of Impressionist luminaries: Monet, Renoir, etc.; he lived, worked and exhibited with them throughout his very brief career.
The show begins with several portraits, then moves on to still lifes, including one called "The Dog Rita, Asleep" which caught my eye, as Rita looks very much like my own dog, Sherlock. I would have taken a picture, but it was labeled as "no photography," so I was out of luck.
His largest, and in my opinion, best work comes towards the end. The Family Gathering is considered his masterpiece, and it is wonderful. It's the sort of painting that makes me imagine a backstory for those pictured; I think there's more going on than just a family enjoying the sun on a summer afternoon. Summer Scene and another piece of a fisherman (I've forgotten the name now) are also marvelous.
The show ends with a room of floral paintings, which seems sort of tacked-on, as if there wasn't any other space for these, so they were put in where they fit. I think it would have been better to end with the large works, but I understand that sometimes, the physical space has other demands.
Verdict: I highly recommend this show; a welcome exploration of an overlooked artist.