THE LIBERATED VOCATION
At Méric, during the summer of 1864, Bazille painted The Pink Dress: it was his first important work, the first in which his own originality asserted itself. He thus marks his entry into a new era which finally allows him to fully accomplish himself, and which it is tempting to call that of the liberated vocation. But such a formula, to which our previous chapter naturally led us, is acceptable only if it is accompanied by serious reservations and if we show to what extent it is adapted to Bazille's particular situation, to his behavior and to his personality. The time has therefore come to take stock, asking ourselves what the two words freedom and vocation mean, applied to him.
Freedom, we have seen, he is, in the sense that no external constraint now stands in the way of his will to paint. But he was not independent, for he received a comfortable sum of at least 300 francs each month from his father, which sheltered him from need, and in the future nothing would be changed in this state of affairs. Bazille will never try to live from his work. In Paris, he spends a lot and often goes into debt; he then asks his father for additional funds; and if the latter sometimes protests before granting them, it is only because his own financial situation makes it difficult for him to pay. The letters they exchange reflect their mutual trust and affection; they also reflect the submission of one to the authority of the other, a submission that is all the less burdensome because Gaston Bazille - especially when his wife interferes - is visibly reluctant to refuse his son anything. As for the correspondence between the young man and his mother, it gives an important place to all the details of daily life. He does not let her know anything about the state of his furniture or bedding, his shirts, his pants or his socks, thus allowing her to watch over his installation, his laundry and his wardrobe as if he were still living under the family roof. Between his family and himself, the circulation of parcels is going well; he receives parcels of all kinds and sizes, one day a codfish brandade and another a piano. Thus stretched from Montpellier to Paris an umbilical cord that neither he nor his parents thought of cutting, all of them seeming on the contrary to regard its maintenance as the most natural thing in the world. Until his death at the age of 29, Bazille would thus remain the pampered son he had always been since birth; he would remain so because he was happy to be so, and it can be said that in this respect his behavior would never be that of an adult.
This freedom, not conquered but granted, has moreover very positive aspects. It allows Bazille to manifest the full extent of a generosity that is one of the most endearing aspects of his nature. Born in a rather wealthy environment, and preserved by his family from all the hardships of life, he has a good heart and knows how to be an incomparable friend. This way of being gives him an essential role within his small group of young artists and, in difficult moments, he brings them both moral and material support. This is particularly apparent in the case of Monet, for whom, as we shall soon see, he immediately became a kind of financial provider. On the other hand, Bazille owes it to his situation to be able to look down on the painting market. Since he did not need his art to live, he would never degrade it by pandering to the demands of buyers. On this crucial point, his attitude would not vary; it was already expressed in a letter he wrote to his father on June 3, 1863, after more than twenty visits to the Salon: "My general opinion is that there are very few living painters who are truly in love with their art, most of them hardly seek anything but to earn money, by flattering the tastes, most often false, of the public."
Between Paris and Montpellier
But now that Bazille was master of his time, was he going to devote it entirely to painting? He would be hard pressed to do so. Social life takes up a good part of it and, certainly, he does not deviate from the path he has traced for himself when he comes into contact with other painters whose works he admires. Through the friends from Montpellier that he left in his native city or that he found in Paris, through his cousins Lejosne and Mamignard who lived in the capital, he was introduced to famous artists or those who were about to become famous and thus created lasting relationships. In 1863, he returned from Montpellier with a letter from Fajon recommending him to Courbet, and in 1865, Courbet in turn introduced him to Corot. At the Lejosne's, as early as 1863, he met Cézanne, through whom he would meet Pissarro and Guillaumin; at their house, around the same time, he became acquainted with Fantin-Latour and Stevens, and, at the beginning of 1864, they introduced him to Jongkind. As for Manet, familiar with both Lejosne and Mamignard, he was able to discover him in the homes of both; in any case, we see that on January 1, 1864, he dined with the latter. Finally, in circumstances we do not know, he met Whistler in 1862.
What could be more stimulating for his art than these exchanges with men whose vocation was also his own, than these encounters with the various currents in contemporary painting? But Bazille looked far beyond painting, and if Paris fascinated him, it was because all the intellectual and creative life of his time was concentrated there. Literature, theater and music all appealed to him at the same time; and far from resisting, he let himself be drawn in by all that attracted him. Thanks especially to the Lejosne family, who occupy an essential place in his life, the circle of his relations does not cease widening. Major Lejosne and his wife run a very brilliant salon, an avant-garde salon where all the opponents of the regime and the aesthetics in place in cultivated Paris can be found. A very penetrating critic, a poet at times and gifted with an ardent nature, Hippolyte Lejosne hated both the Empire and official art; he attacked with equal vigor the enemies of Delacroix, Manet and Wagner; and the cenacle of fervent republicans he received in his apartment on the Avenue Trudaine lived in the cult of the outlaw from Guernesey. In addition to the painters we have just mentioned, Bazille discovered, over the years, personalities as diverse as Baudelaire, Banville, Barbey d'Aurevilly, Coppée and Verlaine, or Théophile Silvestre, Zacharie Astruc, Gambetta and Spuller, or even Fioupou, Nadar, Bracquemond and Victor Massé. He took part in their often lively discussions on politics, art, literature and music; as he was fascinated by the jousting of ideas, nowhere did he enjoy it more than in this cenacle, and he introduced his close friends Renoir, Sisley and Monet. But he also frequented the Lejosne family in private, dined at their home every week and often accompanied them to the theater or to the Opera. Finally, to the already long list of his relations we must add two important names: those of Fauré and Zola, of whom we know neither when nor how he knew them.
Painting, music and theater
His interests are thus multiple, but it should not be thought that, for all that, they are superficial. In a variety of fields, he was sometimes tempted by creation: thus, his love for the theater led him to write a play in collaboration with the librettist Edouard Blau, whom he seems to have known at the Hotel du Berri. Completed in 1865, Le Fils de Don César will never be performed despite their efforts, but this failure will not prevent him from immediately thinking of writing another play, all alone this time. As for his passion for music, it will lead him, in 1868, to take harmony lessons. He still devotes a lot of time to the piano, goes regularly to concerts and does not miss an opera. Bazille was a painter, but he was capable of being literally bewitched by the magic of sounds, and the word "passion", which we have just used, must be understood in its strongest sense. Let us judge this, by reading this fragment of a letter of June 17, 1865: "The appearance of Meyerbeer's Africaine is the most important event in my life since my return to Paris. Such productions (genius being a despot) have the gift of captivating my whole soul, of absorbing all the forces of my intelligence and my heart, and during a whole period of fever, living only in it I neglect (I do not say: I forget) my most natural and sweetest affections". Let us add to this all the attraction of social life in itself and the multiple distractions that offer themselves to him, especially in the beautiful season; we will not then be surprised to see Bazille anticipate the worried reactions of his father when he announces to him at the same time, in July 1865, that his play is completed and that he has just won "by force of arms" a first prize in the regattas of Bougival: "You see that I work pleasantly in many genres (I hear you say from here, too much). Be assured, my dear father, these appetizers do not make me forget that painting is my only middle course, yet I always devote myself to it with more eagerness, telling myself that it is quite permissible for a roaster to try a blown omelet from time to time."
No doubt Gaston Bazille will find when he reads this letter that between the overabundant appetizers and the omelet, there is very little room left on the menu for the middle course; the least we can say, in any case, is that Frédéric Bazille's pictorial vocation does not mobilize him entirely.
Bazille and Monet
Nothing is more conducive to grasping his temperament and behavior than a look at his relationship with Monet, for what then jumps out is the contrast between their two personalities, between their two ways of taking life. At first comrades in the Gleyre studio, we saw them gradually become friends and, in December 1863, writing to his father that Villa and Monet were the only students of Gleyre that he assiduously attended, Bazille added: "They love me very much and I return it to them, for they are charming boys". Between Monet and himself, the affection was solid and long-lasting but, curiously, they were never on first-name terms and this distance maintained in intimacy seems to be due to different reasons for each of them. Obviously, Bazille respected Monet because of his greater pictorial experience: the pupil of Jongkind and Boudin possessed a science of landscape and light which Bazille, in 1864, did not hope to achieve for another two or three years. But if Monet respects Bazille on his side while asserting himself as his mentor, it is surely because of his social superiority, a culture, an education and an ease that he envies him. Their origins separate them, their personal affinities and their art bring them together. Their art and, should we add, their common will to proclaim the independence of art. But their material situations are so different that their friendship will not always be without clouds. It will be troubled by periods of tension, because, if Bazille's kindness has no limits, his means, unfortunately, have some, and he cannot grant everything that is asked of him. And yet, he is asked for a lot. The first letter we have from Monet to Bazille is from March 1864, and what do we read? "Will you be my savior once again... Forgive me if I ask you so often". In other words, Monet very quickly got into the habit of asking Bazille for money, who just as quickly got into the habit of giving it to him. A year later, Monet asked Bazille to come and join him in Chailly and bring him paper and pencils. "I absolutely need them", he added, "and what I need even more is a little money; you must find some at all costs". But how would Bazille find some? He is then himself saddled with debts and, if he cannot go to Chailly, it is because he is "in deep misery" as he explains to his mother who must therefore also send him money "by hook or by crook". The difference is that Bazille's "misery" is the result of his reckless prodigality, while Monet's is perfectly real from the moment he falls out with his family. To the demands that Monet pestered him with, Bazille sometimes opposed silence, a silence not of harshness nor of weariness, but of impotence, which Monet did not always understand. It also happens that they exchange very bitter and dry notes. This was the case in the summer of 1867, when Monet's mistress, who was as destitute as he was, was about to give him a son who was doomed to starve. "Oh, I'm very angry with you, I didn't think you would leave me like this, it's very bad", Monet wrote at the time; and a little later: "At least, if you don't want to send me any money, it would be polite to answer me". Between these two equally sensitive natures, the tension will be such that they will be on the point of breaking up. However, the affection that bound the two men would remain unchanged in its depths, since in 1868, when little Jean Monet was baptized, Bazille was his godfather. It is necessary moreover that this one plays for his friend only a role of piggy bank.
. He provided him with canvases and colors; he struggled to find buyers for the works that Monet entrusted to him, showing some to Bruyas, who did not allow himself to be seduced, but also, with more success, to other friends and especially to Lejosne, who knew many art dealers. Better still, he himself made a major financial effort by buying from Monet his Femmes au jardin for the considerable sum of 2,500 francs, payable in monthly installments of 50 francs. Finally, in 1865, in a difficult moment for Monet, he will accommodate him in his studio in the rue Visconti.
The situation of being perpetually obliged never favored good relations, but Monet, for his part, felt that he was doing a great deal for Bazille, because he worked tenaciously to guide him in his progress as a painter. The two young men are practically the same age, but because of his greater seniority in the profession, Monet acts towards Bazille as an elder towards his younger brother. There is thus a deliberate influence, and in one direction only. In spite of Monet's constant example, it does not touch on the very essence of painting in Bazille's case, but it is for him a constant incentive to work and, as such, is not without effectiveness. Left alone in Honfleur in July 1864 after Bazille's departure, Monet tried to get him to come back, describing to him the creative passion that the incessant demands of the landscape exacerbated in him: "I'm going crazy, I want to do everything, my head is bursting. He urged Bazille to devote himself, as he did, totally to his art, and was concerned both quantitatively and qualitatively with what he was doing: "You have to think only of that. It is by dint of observation, of reflection that one finds. So let's pick and choose continuously. Are you making progress? Yes, I'm sure you are, but what I'm sure of is that you're not working hard enough and not in the right way". A month later, when Bazille was discharged from medicine, he wrote to him again, "You must get down to it thoroughly and seriously". Finally, during the following winter, he would take the trouble to come to Bazille's house every morning to get him out of bed and get him to work.
It is here that the contrast between the two young men appears to us in full light. Monet's exhortations are certainly not without effect; they force Bazille to progress, but it is clear that Bazille will never, like Monet, be inhabited by a single passion that would devour him entirely. Monet devoted himself totally to his art, accepting misery rather than submitting to public taste. Next to him, Bazille is not an amateur - the word would be excessive and unfair - but a dilettante. His dilettantism does not imply any lack of depth; it results from the multiplicity of his attractions and its effects are reinforced by a certain indolence. Monet knew how to choose, or his nature chose for him. Bazille, on the other hand, carried away by the very extent of his culture and his relations, lives in a world much more vast and varied than Monet's, in a world where, moreover, Monet cares little to penetrate. Bazille was only able or willing to choose halfway, and within the limits of his brief career, we will see him only intermittently throw himself wholeheartedly into painting. This is what his father reproached him for in a letter dated May 31, 1866: "You are abusing my kindness a little... if all these sacrifices had a good result; unfortunately, I don't see you having the sacred fire, and you are backing down in front of difficulties, instead of overcoming them with patience and energy". The terms of this letter are perfectly accurate; nevertheless, we would be overshadowing our picture if we failed to emphasize an important fact: Bazille must stop painting when it is no longer daylight, yet it is in the evening that, for the most part, his social activities absorb him.
Méric: a brand new freedom
We are now enlightened as to the threats that will weigh on his vocation, while, medicine dismissed without return, he savors in Meric the happiness of his brand new freedom. An originality, an authenticity that had never before been expressed to such an extent emanates from the painting he is then painting, The Pink Dress. It is that after long months spent in Paris, months darkened by the growing shadow of an abhorred examination, he finally plunges back into the landscape, into the garden, into the house where, since his birth, he has always stayed with his family for the summer vacations. All his memories are there, and much more, because, in Méric, it is himself that he recaptures and gathers at the end of a period where he had ceased to belong to himself. During his long walks in the countryside dried out by the sun, along the Lez river which flows lazily under the family estate, he breathed again everywhere the smells of his childhood. He spends long moments in the greenhouse, admiring the flowers that the gardener takes care of with love, then, returning to the house, he tastes the freshness that the vast rooms keep behind their closed shutters. At Méric, he found his parents, happy to see him again and to ask him about his life in Paris, his brother Marc whom he also loved deeply, his little cousins Pauline, Thérèse and Camille whose letters often asked for news, his old friends Victor Frat and Alphonse Tissié who never failed to visit him. Méric is for him the symbol of all affections, the place where, among all, he receives and gives, where he reconnects with his family and with his native land, where all the links that unite him to nature and to men converge. And it is precisely this that he expresses in The Pink Dress, depicting his cousin Thérèse des Hours seated on the low wall that surrounds the property with the village of Castelnau in the background. Attached, in this country, to both nature and beings, Bazille perceives them in their indissoluble association and paints them as forming the same whole. The masters of the 17th and 18th centuries had often tried to artificially introduce their characters into landscapes. But for Bazille, the landscape is not a pretext; the village of Castelnau is not a backdrop for him; it matters as much as Thérèse herself, and what matters even more is the relationship he establishes between them.
At the same time, here he is far removed from Monet and his advice, far removed also from the changing skies of Honfleur, where he was, however, two months ago. "You don't paint in the right way", Monet told him; and the right way, for Bazille, consists in capturing the elusive, in spying on all the tremors of light in order to fix it in its very instability, and in repeating the same landscape throughout the day in order to render all its atmospheric metamorphoses. But Bazille never practiced this serial painting of the same subject, because his aim and his research are the opposite of Monet's. In a letter of 1868, he wrote: "I would like to restore to each object its weight and volume, and not only paint the appearance of things". Light for Monet is a magician who conceals the forms by the enchantments it constantly casts on them. For Bazille, on the contrary, in love with truth, it has this stable and often violent brightness which reveals them. And this is how, living in the constant intimacy of those who give birth to impressionism before his eyes, he gives in only temporarily to its seductions and turns in the opposite direction. To the painting of the most fleeting element of things, he opposes that of their permanence. Impressionism grew up under the vaporous and moving skies of the North, but Bazille, whose roots are in the Languedoc, is a painter of the South. He will work in Aigues-Mortes; on the other hand, he will never return to Honfleur, which he had loved, but of a love without tomorrow. And it is to the other painters of the Midi, his predecessors or contemporaries, that he most closely looks like; it is by contemplating their canvases that he learned to discern what characterizes the landscapes of his native land.
Bazille: painter of the Midi? Painter of Paris?
But among the painters of the Midi who helped shape Bazille's vision, we must be careful not to omit Paul Guigou (1834-1871), whose work he must have discovered at the 1863 Salon. Like Bazille, Guigou painted in the open air, a rare occurrence in their time, and thus was in direct contact with nature. Both excel in rendering the sun-thirsty foliage, the implacable southern light that illuminates the rocky landscapes. They have, as Daulte says, the same ability to paint "the aridity of the garrigues, the violence of the stony ground, the limpidity of the sky" [Daulte, 1952, p. 102] and, he tells us again, "one finds in one as in the other the harsh and sober side of the Provençal race, the same kind of contracted passion, the same taste for order and construction" [Daulte, 1952, p. 102]. But if we except his Vendanges, Bazille does not have the earthy accents of Guigou; he does not express himself, as he did, through great landscapes because his concern is different and he is less interested in the landscape in itself than in its essential relationship with man.
It is thus in an original way that Bazille reveals himself in The Pink Dress as an authentic painter of the Midi; and both in the role he gives to light and in the way he treats color in its masses, it is not Impressionism that he announces, but rather Cézanne in his maturity.
In the very first days of November, he returned to Paris, where he found the studio he shared with Villa while staying at the Hotel du Berri; and on November 10, he wrote to his parents, "It's freezing cold, it's freezing every morning, so I don't get up as early as I should. If I were staying in my studio, this would not happen, I would be at work as soon as I got out of bed". But he will not work for long rue de Vaugirard. Although we do not know what happened, because letters are missing, we note that at the beginning of December he no longer had a studio and that Monet gave him shelter in his own: "I work every day at Monet's house on studies of natural size", he wrote; and, curiously, there was never again any mention of Villa in his correspondence. Another letter, dated December 30, shows him busy painting from the "live model", still in Monet's studio, who, he writes again, "takes the trouble to come and wake me up every morning". Bazille had thus embarked on the painting of figures, which he would confirm in March 1865: "I am quite happy with my work this winter, I have done especially the figure, which I needed very much". But his various statements remain enigmatic for us, as the series of his known "figures" only begins in the winter of 1865-1866 with the Jeune Fille au piano rejected at the 1866 Salon. It must therefore be assumed that during the winter of 1864-1865 he painted other pictures of which we know nothing and of which he did not bother to tell his parents, probably because they had only training value for him. But where does he work? The solution offered by Monet, on the rue Mazarine, could only be temporary, and Bazille hastened to find another. On the fifth floor of 6 rue de Furstenberg, he found a new studio that had the advantage of being accompanied by two rooms and a toilet, all for 500 francs a year.
Monet, a rare thing, was not penniless because he had reconciled with his father, and the two friends would rent the studio together, each paying half. Bazille alone would stay there, while continuing to take his meals at the Hotel du Berri. The contract was signed on December 20; but one cannot live in empty premises, so he went shopping. He bought bedding, work tables, dressing tables and night tables, as well as four chairs, an armchair and curtains, and asked his mother to send him sheets, blankets, bolsters, towels and bedspread... When everything is finally ready, he settles in: it is now early January 1865.
This studio is worth a look because it has a special value for Bazille. It would be an understatement to say that in this interior, which he had furnished himself, the young man felt truly at home for the first time, that he was happy to be able to spread out his materials there, to hang his paintings on the walls with those of Monet. The studio on the rue de Furstenberg seduced him for much more profound reasons, for it was located in the house that Delacroix lived in at the end of his life and was linked, in his mind, to a very great memory. He and Monet already knew the place they are now taking possession of, and Poulain tells us what they witnessed on a previous visit: "Two years before, from this studio where a friend was staying, they saw Delacroix at his easel. Through the window... they watched him. His hand and his arm always, rarely more, appeared to them. The two young men were struck by the fact that the model was constantly moving and not posing, contrary to the usual custom. During rests, the model sat; Delacroix drew him only in motion" [Poulain, 1932, pp. 47-48].
The vision was never repeated, since Delacroix died not many months later, on August 13, 1863, and for Bazille, who admired him deeply, it was all the more precious. To fully understand the value he attached to it, one must know that, ill and embittered, elected too late and reluctantly member of an Institute that did not like him, the old master had become for young artists the living symbol of the struggle against official art. "I admire Delacroix as much as anything", Bazille wrote in a letter of April 27, 1869; and a little later, having bought two of the painter's paintings for his cousin Louis Bazille and stored them in his studio, he again said, "Not only [do they] not bother me, but... [they] make me make progress by comparison with what I do".
An influence could not be more clearly recognized; still one must ask what it consists of. If we put side by side, for example, Bazille's Beach at Sainte-Adresse and La Mer à Dieppe that Delacroix painted in 1852, the similarities appear obvious, especially in the treatment of the waves. But Bazille was not a man to simply take over someone else's technique; he valued his independence and, in a May 1869 letter to Louis Bazille, he would make this clear: "I hope, if I ever do something, to have the merit of not copying anyone". This attitude, which applies to Delacroix as well as to all the others, seems to us to be fully highlighted by these few lines from Daulte: "However strong the influence of Delacroix on Bazille was, the latter never sought in the admiration of the master a rule or a simple process of execution. It was through his own research that Bazille tried to express his own personality. He was always afraid of being influenced in a way that would dominate his freedom. [Daulte, 1952, p. 94]. Let us not forget either that, for the young avant-garde painters, no matter how much they worship him, Delacroix, as Fosca says, "will always remain a romantic, a painter of historical 'great machines' and the representative of an outdated art" [Fosca, Renoir, Paris, 1961, reed. Somogy, 1985, p. 11]. No doubt we must conclude then that his influence on Bazille is less that of a painter than that of a man, an opponent, a fighter for ideas. Moreover, not bothering much about their differences, Bazille was also attracted by Courbet, whose realism was the antithesis of Delacroix's, by Manet, by the landscape painters; and in this period when the most diverse tendencies - including that of nascent impressionism - were running side by side, he approached each one in turn without ever really indulging any of them.
The fact remains that because of Delacroix's great shadow, his new studio speaks powerfully to his imagination; and one of his first steps will be to paint it, as if he wanted to give his family and friends an image of it, as if, above all, he wanted to preserve that image forever for himself. It is this, rather than its technique or size, that makes The Artist Studio on the rue de Furstenberg one of the most important works he executed in this period.
One detail of the painting catches our attention: the stove, which is reddened by a raging fire, tells us all about the harshness of that winter of 1865. Already, on the eve of his move, Bazille wrote: "The weather has been horribly cold all these days... The Seine is completely frozen... One could cross it on the ice if it had not thawed a little yesterday". So the great cold began early, and it continues since he mentions it again in a letter in February. So he happily huddled in his new studio, busy painting it and painting figures. An unknown ardor has seized him, which contrasts for a time with his usual indolence. "I see for a month that I had never worked seriously before", he writes again, "I have set about it in the right way". And after describing to his mother the studious use he makes of his days, he adds: "After dinner some friends come every evening to the workshop to play whist until eleven o'clock, each one brings the coffee in turn and we make it ourselves". Now, these pleasant evenings will soon include one more player: it is, it seems, around February 1865 that Bazille meets the one who will henceforth be the closest friend of his heart and intelligence, Edmond Maître.
Edmond Maître: a solid friendship
If we are to believe Daulte, to whom we owe a remarkable study of their relationship [Daulte, L'Oeil, No. 273, April 1978, pp. 36-43], they met at one of the dinners to which the famous Dr. Emile Blanche prayed the intellectual elite of Paris, every Sunday, in his house on the rue Berton; they were introduced to him, Bazille, by his cousin Lejosne, and Maître, by Fantin-Latour.
Between the two young men whom fate has thus just brought together, the similarity of origins and education is great; they come from similar social backgrounds. Born in Bordeaux in 1840, Maître belonged to the great bourgeoisie of his native city; like Bazille's, his father owned important vineyards, and like him again, he was the deputy mayor. Maître began his studies at the Lycée of his town, then felt drawn to life in the capital. He went to Paris in 1859 to prepare for the bar. However, literature, art and music fascinated him infinitely more than law and, in order to devote himself to them in complete independence, he decided to give up the hassles of a career and to look for a modest but not very constraining job. He found it in 1864 and became a simple clerk at the prefecture of the Seine: "This job", he then wrote to his father, "I chose it humble and sure, not tiring the intelligence and leaving leisure to cultivate in secret and far from the crowd the cherished studies which make the charm and as the essence of my soul" [Daulte, L'Oeil, n° 273, April 1978, p. 38].
In secret and away from the crowd. But Maître's nature has another side; he is both solitary and sociable, as we can be convinced by discovering the very curious portrait of himself that he gives us in his letters: "Almost always alone, reading books, reading scores; dreamy and taciturn usually, cheerful as not and even childish, when I am in a society that pleases me (a rare thing), the pleasure I can give is always in direct proportion to the one I take... Holding myself in reserve for my friends and for myself, tasting a secret pleasure in despising what makes the care of other men, I let the world go and disgorge the fools" [Daulte, L'Oeil, n° 273, April 1978, p. 39]. Or again: "I satisfy in solitude my taste for independence and my appetite for ideal things. Savage, because I am disdainful, my savagery is tamed when my disdain falls, and I have come to dine in town every day, like a man of the world" [Daulte, L'Oeil, n° 273, April 1978, p. 39].
Thus, by dint of carefully chosen readings and relationships, of reflection on himself and others, Maître, without ever producing anything, acquired a culture and a sureness of judgment that gradually made him a recognized authority and made him sought after by often famous men. We must mention here Jacques-Émile Blanche, who was at the height of his reputation when he met him. Evoking his memories, he describes Master as "this elite man who was too proud or too modest to sign anything, and limited himself to frequenting the best painters, musicians, poets, philosophers of his time, and who was consulted by them. To have an opinion, a praise of him, what would not have been given? This admirable mind had traversed all the fields of knowledge. He was content to be an amateur and a dilettante. [Blanche, 1919, pp. 35-36]. A dilettante, but, it is appropriate to add, a dilettante who cultivated his dilettantism and set it up as a system. Such appears to us Maître, voluptuous not of the senses but of the spirit, delicate epicurean, accomplished humanist.
Bazille and he had many affinities and seem to have bonded very quickly. Here again we must listen to Daulte from whom we have borrowed most of the preceding information: "From their first meeting, Bazille and Maître were attracted to each other. Very quickly, they discovered the same tastes, the same admirations, the same enthusiasms, the same repulsions. [Daulte, 1952, p. 39]. The two young people resemble each other by the abundance of their curiosities, and perhaps especially by their very dilettantism. But what seems to have brought them together most strongly and led them to devote the most time to each other is their common love of music. They were not only both music lovers, fervent admirers of Chabrier, Berlioz and above all of Wagner, they were also pianists. The rue de Furstenberg is not far from the rue Bonaparte where Maître lives; and if they take the habit of going to each other's houses in the evening, it is not only to play whist, but also to play the piano four hands. They continued to do so when Bazille changed address, as this letter written by Bazille in January 1868 testifies: "I go every day to Maître's house where we play music en masse. We now know by heart all the works of a composer of whom we knew almost nothing last year, Schumann. At the moment, we play pieces by modern German musicians, almost unknown in France". In addition to the hours they spend together at the piano, they also spend time together at major musical events. They were regulars at the Pasdeloup concerts and at those of the Conservatoire, for which Maître gave Bazille a subscription; and as they were also great opera lovers, they willingly went to the Théâtre des Italiens to attend those by Cimarosa and Mozart. But once again, Bazille and Maître were often at each other's homes and were often visited by their common friends, generally painters or writers. We will have a concrete testimony of this in 1870, in The Artist Studio on rue La Condamine, a painting by Bazille, who for his own portrait will have recourse to Manet's brush. Finally, the day would come when each of the two friends would want to introduce the other to his family; and so it was that in 1867 Maître would spend a week in Méric at Bazille's parents' house before welcoming him to his own in Bordeaux.
Maybe this friendship, at the time it was formed, would contribute somewhat to filling a void because, towards the end of March 1865, Bazille found himself alone in the studio on the rue de Furstenberg. It was then that Monet left for a long stay in Chailly with, in mind, the ambitious project of a vast composition bringing together in the open air several characters: this was to be the Lunch on the Grass, on which he would work until the fall. Urged by him to come and paint alongside him, Bazille also thought of leaving Paris: "In about twenty days", he wrote to his mother, "I will put myself on a diet at Fontainebleau, after which I hope to spend a month in Normandy by the sea. Instead, he went to Méric and, contrary to his habit, spent some time there in April. Was it for financial reasons that nothing happened as he had wished? One is tempted to think so because, with ups and downs, the period which opens will be marked for him by serious money embarrassments. Careless or unable to control his expenses, he accumulated debts and was then forced to call his parents for help. Back in Paris, he started two paintings commissioned by his uncle Pomier-Layrargues and, to make the preparatory studies, he would need to go to the forest of Fontainebleau. Monet, moreover, asked him to go there by letters that he did not have enough to post. But how could Bazille come, if he himself did not have the money to pay for his ticket? Bailed out by his family, he nevertheless joined Monet on May 8 for a stay of which we know nothing. But at the beginning of the autumn, still for the same reasons, we will see before him much more serious difficulties.
Return to Chailly
In July he was in Paris, where, having put the finishing touches with Blau to the Son of Don César, he was very busy painting the pictures intended for his uncle-two door tops-as well as a life-size portrait. He therefore turned a deaf ear to the pressing solicitations of Monet who, still in Chailly, was working on his Déjeuner sur l'herbe. The latter did not have the means to pay for models and, to complete his painting, he could not do without Bazille, who had agreed to come and pose for two of his figures. Monet's anxiety grew with each passing day and he sent him letters that were alternately indignant, pleading and desperate: "I resent your not writing to me, you seem to have put me completely aside. You promised to help me with my painting, so I hope you will keep your promise, and yet time passes and I don't see you coming. I beg you my dear friend, don't leave me in trouble, all my studies are going well, I only need men... My dear I do not think any more but of my painting, and if I knew to miss it I believe that I would become insane of it... I count on your good friendship of formerly so that you come to help me very quickly ". Having written this in vain, he complained again on August 16: "If you do not answer me by return of post as soon as you receive this letter, I will believe that you refuse to write to me and to do me a favor, I am in despair, I fear that you will make me miss my painting and that would be very bad of you after having promised to come and pose. Fortunately, Bazille finally finished the door tops that he had to start over in their entirety; and on the 18th he wrote to his mother, "Tomorrow I leave for Chailly where Monet is waiting for me like the Messiah."
He intended to stay there only four or five days and to come immediately afterwards to Meric, where he was anxious to be. But two setbacks will greatly delay this project. First, in Chailly, it rained, making any outdoor pose impossible and the month was almost over when the sun came out. Then an accident occurred: Monet was injured in the leg by children playing shuffleboard, and had to go to bed. This was the moment for Bazille to show that his medical studies had not been in vain; in Monet's room at the Auberge du Lion d'Or, he installed an ingenious device to treat his patient, and this obliged him to stay for a while. Lost days? Not by a long shot, for Bazille uses them to paint the scene, and this work he had not planned will be The Improvised Field Hospital, when the weather is good, he doesn't just pose and then watch Monet. He also works a lot for himself; and from this stay - or perhaps from the two stays he made there that year - he will essentially bring back the Forest of Fontainebleau, a Landscape at Chailly and probably also his first self-portrait, Frédéric Bazille at the Palette.
The date of his arrival in Méric is not known to us, but it must probably be placed quite early in September, and it is now that in Paris, where he is not, new problems arise that will cause Monet many worries. Bazille had, as usual, incurred debts, and the rent on the rue de Furstenberg had not been paid for a long time. The owner of the place gave notice to the new occupants and Monet, who was alone on the spot, had to cope as best he could with the situation. Thanks to his efforts, thanks to Mrs. Bazille, they get out of this bad situation. But there is also Mme Rolina, the owner of the Berri hotel where Bazille takes his meals; she is tired of receiving promissory bills without receiving the money, so much so that Monet now fears a seizure. One must read his letter of October 14 to measure Bazille's incredible insouciance. Monet did not mince his words and spoke first of Mrs Rolina who, he said, was furious: "You have until Tuesday to pay. I'll take care of writing to you for that, you might as well take the trouble to be a little more concerned about what happens here when you're not there. Then he returns to the question of the workshop, which has now been settled: "I have already written to you about the workshop, you knew how embarrassed I was going to be, you did nothing about it, you didn't even answer me. Finally, I am busy, since one should never count on you and the affair is arranged ". Everything leads us to believe that, returning to Paris while Bazille was already in Méric, Monet received a formal notice for both of them, that he hastened to inform his friend and that the latter, after having informed his mother, left them to manage without him!
At Meric, he begins a new painting, The Little Gardener, then he returns to Paris in November, we don't know exactly when, and immerses himself very quickly in work. He had decided to be in line to exhibit at the 1866 Salon, and to do so he wanted to paint a new work, which he described to his mother as follows: "It is a very simple subject that will attract little attention if it is received. A young girl is playing the piano and a young man is listening to her. By December, this painting had made enough progress to earn him compliments from Courbet, who came to Rue de Furstenberg to see the Déjeuner sur l'herbe. But by this time, the days of our two young men in their studio were numbered. They had indeed given a masked ball that had made too much noise; and their landlord, inexorable this time, had kicked them out by January 15. Bazille therefore had to look for a new home. He found it only in the center of town, 22 rue Godot-de-Mauroy, and for the high price of 800 francs a year, which made his father say, "You don't go there with a straight face."
Frédéric Bazille, for his part, welcomed the opportunity to distance himself from the Left Bank. "I'm happy to get away from my many acquaintances to work more quietly", he says. From such a sociable man, this remark is surprising; it can only be explained by the need for him to be ready for the next Salon. But is this the only reason why he is going to settle alone in his new studio? Nothing is less certain because, even if his relationship with Monet remained good in spite of recent tensions, he is far from regretting his constant presence at his side: "I confess that I am not angry to live a little alone", he wrote in February to his brother Marc, "life with two has many disadvantages, even when one gets along well". It is true that Gaston Bazille did not see things in the same way and his reaction also deserves to be quoted: "I regret for you your separation from Monet, it seems that he was a worker who often made you blush for your laziness and, when you will be alone, I fear that many mornings and even days will be spent in a dolce farniente that will little advance your paintings for the Exhibition". Severe judgment that his son will try to deny, so much he is stimulated by the next deadline. He liked his new home, whose only drawback, he said, was the extreme smallness of his room where he could hardly turn around. But the studio itself is pleasant and enjoys a magnificent light. So he painted there eagerly, and the Jeune Fille au piano was finished, not without difficulty, by the middle of March.
If Bazille chose to try his luck at the Salon, it was surely because he hoped he would now be able to face the public. And indeed, it is enough to compare the Landscape he has just painted in Chailly with the Trees, Study that he had executed there a year and a half earlier to appreciate the full extent of his progress: he now possesses an ability to render the vibrations of light that he still lacked during his first stay. In a completely different genre, moreover, The Pink Dress had revealed as early as the end of 1864 his mastery in the art of marrying the representation of the human being with that of nature. He had not, however, dared to show his work at the Salon in 1865. But Monet had dared and, for the first time, he was accepted. It may therefore be that his success encouraged Bazille to take the decisive step.
The Salon of 1866
To fully appreciate what the annual Salon represented in the life of painters during the Second Empire, one must know that there was then no other institution that allowed them to make themselves known and that art dealers almost never organized private exhibitions. Without the Salon, therefore, there was no possible career; to be admitted to it for the first time was to go from nothingness to being.
The jury that selected the works presented was essentially composed of supporters of official art, affluent and decorated or medal-winning painters. Naturally hostile to innovation and originality, where they smelled a perfume of social subversion, holding the subject as essential and the manner as secondary, they had a pronounced taste for great historical or mythological compositions and for neoclassicism. But in 1863 - the first Salon that Bazille visited - the jury was so severe that verbal and printed protests came from all sides and reached the Emperor. Before the Salon was opened to the public, Napoleon III came incognito and was shown some of the rejected works. Having found them as good as the others, he had a Salon des refusés organized in the Palais de l'industrie - where the official Salon was also held - which opened its doors on May 15. Then to further mark his disapproval of the jury, the Emperor, accompanied by the Empress, honored with his public visit this Salon, where attention was especially attracted by Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe. "This painting offends modesty", said Napoleon III, while Eugenie looked away. The public and the press noisily chorused. For having put in presence in a wood two gentlemen dressed and a lady who was not, Manet made scandal to such an extent that the experience of a Salon des refusés was never renewed. We will note, however, that if his detractors were legion, he was also supported by some faithful: the commander Lejosne gave a reception in his honor...
In the immediate term, because of Manet, the Salon des refusés was thus more harmful than useful for the young avant-garde painters. But it had a delayed positive effect: the disavowed jury no longer dared to be so restrictive in the future. Thus, in 1864, it granted a room to the artists it had rejected and, above all, admitted the previous year's rejects. Hated in 1863, Manet made his comeback with the Olympia at the 1865 Salon, which also welcomed the Morisot sisters, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro and Monet.
Even if, willingly or unwillingly, the jury was finally showing more flexibility, it is conceivable that the young painters could only approach it with very mixed feelings. They needed him to reveal their existence to the world and to sell their works, to make a career or simply to live; but at the same time they despised him as they despised the mass of the public for their same taste of the mediocre and the conformity. To submit their works to it was therefore a humiliating process for them. To be rejected could bring them a bitter satisfaction by confirming in their own eyes their merit; on the other hand, if they were admitted, the bad quality of the praise which was awarded to them came to temper their joy. But that was not all. To be accepted at the Salon was one thing; to be well placed there was another. The canvases covered the walls entirely from floor to ceiling; it was therefore necessary to win the good graces of the guards in charge of hanging them so that they would be favorably exhibited; moreover, they were so numerous and so tightly packed that, in order to be noticed, it was necessary, as Bazille put it, to paint "paintings that were a little large and that required very conscientious studies and consequently a lot of expense, without which it would take ten years to get people to talk about one's work, which is discouraging. To make oneself known: this meant to face the reactions of the public and the newspapers, to face perhaps their laughter and their sarcasm or, worse than all, their silence. We see that, if every artist's career necessarily passed through the Salon, its beginning was very much like a formidable obstacle course.
Such, then, was the test both contestable and contested that in this early 1866 Bazille imposed on himself, or that was imposed on him by the institutions and society in which he lived. He sees the date approaching with more fear than hope, so uncertain does the outcome seem to him. Like any candidate, he has the right to present two works. He therefore considers joining to the Jeune Fille au piano a study painted at Saint-Sauveur during a previous stay but which he does not consider "exhibitable" in its present state; and he delays the moment of completing or redoing it, because the Jeune Fille au piano absorbs him entirely. At the end of January, he wrote to his mother that he had been working on it from morning to night for a month, that there was an enormous amount to be done because the painting was so large, and that the two characters, especially the pianist, were giving him a great deal of trouble: "One of my friends posed for the young man half-spreading on a couch listening to the piano; it is almost finished. What is horribly difficult is the woman, there is a green satin dress that I rented, and a blond head that I am afraid of not doing as well as possible. The day seems long gone when Courbet complimented him on this work, then in its infancy. He has been so unhappy with it since that he has redone the whole thing from top to bottom; and now he feels that he will run out of time to paint his second picture before March 20, which is the deadline set by the jury for the submission of works. By early March, his fear had become certainty; he decided to replace Saint-Sauveur with a still life he had all ready, the Still Life with Fish.
We can hardly pass judgment on the Jeune Fille au piano, a long-lost work whose trace can be found under the Ruth and Booz at the Fabre Museum, this thanks to an X-ray campaign made on the occasion of the 2016-2017 exhibition. No judgment can be made about Bazille's colors and techniques. There is no doubt, however, that between it and the Still Life with Fish, for Bazille there is no common ground. He could, of course, submit only one painting to the jury; if he decides, however, to send the Poissons as well, it is because he attaches only minor importance to them and believes them to be inoffensive enough not to upset the seasoned academicians who will decide their fate. On the other hand, there is every reason to believe that the Jeune Fille au piano is a work he cares about, that he has put much more of himself into it, and that it reflects much more of his conception of art. Original, and therefore innovative, it seems to him that because of this very fact, it has every chance of being rejected; his choice of the Still Life with Fishes as his second canvas is therefore a gesture of caution in the throes in which he is plunged.
To convince oneself that such was his state of mind, one need only read the letter he sent to his parents a few days before the fatal deadline: "I have finished my painting. It was about time. It will be returned to the Palais de l'industrie the day after tomorrow. I have a terrible fear of being refused, so I will send a still life of fish at the same time, which will probably be received. The opinions on my painting are diametrically opposed, which gives me great pleasure. Some find it very bad, others very good; the latter is generally the judgment of painters. I would like the jury to find my work simply mediocre. Finally, if I am accepted, I will certainly be much discussed and noticed; what makes me believe it, it is that nobody judged me with moderation. For me, I confess it, I am rather happy with my painting ". Eliciting only extreme reactions, admired by Bazille's painter friends whose talent, even genius, posterity would recognize, the Jeune Fille au piano was necessarily an important work. This, Bazille knew, and in the passage we have just quoted, one small sentence provides us with proof: "I would like the jury to find my work simply mediocre". How can we not see that, if he expresses such a wish, it is because by disdaining it, the jury, he thinks, will give him reason to be proud of it?
It is on March 21 at 1 a.m. that the jury's decisions are to be made public; and in Bazille's letters immediately preceding that date we find further echoes of his "excruciating fear". "Make wishes that the institute will be favorable to me", he wrote to his mother on the 18th; and on the 20th he added, "I don't know anything about my paintings yet, but I am very much afraid of being refused, considering the quantity of people who are. I will be fixed tomorrow".
Tomorrow became today, and the verdict fell: the Jeune Fille au piano was rejected, the Still Live with Fish was accepted.
This result, in line with his expectations, undoubtedly disappoints Bazille. But he cannot, in spite of everything, fail to rejoice in his half-success. He presented himself for the first time at the Salon, and here he was admitted. Socially, now, the painter Bazille exists.