drapeau français english flag
logo catalogue Bazille
Frédéric Bazille

The Digital Catalogue Raisonné

by Michel Schulman
© Detroit Museum of Art, Detroit

Still Life with Fish

Huile sur toile
63,5 x 81,9 cm - 25 x 32 1/4 in.
Signé et daté en bas à droite : F. B. 1866
Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts, Etats-Unis - Inv.1988.9
Dernière mise à jour : 2023-12-22 18:37:47
Référence : MSb-22


Famille de l’artiste - André Bazille - Mme Rachou-Bazille - The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1988 (Founders Society Purchase-Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund).


Paris, Palais de l’Industrie, 1866, Salon de 1866, n° 97 - Paris, Grand Palais, 1910, Salon d'automne, n° 6 - Montpellier, Exposition internationale, 1927, Rétrospective Bazille, n° 6 - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1941, n° 16 - Paris, galerie Wildenstein, 1950, n° 23 - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1959, n° 13 - Pitman, Cat. exp. Montpellier, New York, 1992-1993, n° 12, repr. p. 93 - Paris, musée Marmottan Monet, 2003-2004, cat. 10, repr. p. 41 - Montpellier, Paris, Washington, 2016-2017, cat. 29, repr. p. 232 et p. 83 [Les références sont du catalogue en français].


Ixe, Journal de Montpellier, 9 juin 1866 - Sarlat, L'Avant-Scène, 21 juin 1866 - Poulain, Bazille et ses amis, 1932, n° 14,  pp. 64-65, 213 - Sarraute, Catalogue de l'œuvre de Frédéric Bazille, 1948, n° 17, p. 35 - Wildenstein, Arts, 9 juin 1950 - Rewald, Histoire de l'Impressionnisme, 1946, pp. 115, 121  et édition de 1961, p. 139 - Daulte, Bazille et son temps, 1952, n° 17, p. 173 (repr.) [Thèse sous la direction de Gaston Poulain] - Marandel, Cat. exp. The Art Institute of Chicago, 1978, n° 68, repr. p. 133 - Gazette des Beaux-Arts, mars 1989, repr. fig. 231, p. 42 - Marandel, Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Art, 1990, vol. 65, n° 4, pp. 4-11, repr. coul. en couverture - Daulte, Frédéric BazilleCatalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1992, n° 19, repr. coul. p. 42 et pp. 160-161 [Réédition de 1952 avec photos en couleur] - Pïtman, Cat. exp. Montpellier, 1992-1993, p. 93 - Bajou, Frédéric Bazille, 1993, p. 117 (repr.) - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, 1995, n° 22, repr. p. 137 - Pitman, Bazille : Purity, Pose and Painting in the 1860s, 1998, p. 68-70 - Hilaire, Jones, Perrin, Cat. exp. Montpellier, Paris, Washington, 2016-2017, cat. 29, repr. p. 232 et p. 83 [Les références sont du catalogue en français] - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné numérique, 2022, n° 22.

Having remained in Bazille's family for as long time, this Still Life with Fish was acquired by the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1988. It was submitted to the 1866 Salon with the Young WomanPlaying the Piano but was the only one accepted by the jury. Around March 15, Bazille wrote: "I have an excruciating fear of being refused, so I will send at the same time [as the Young Woman Playing the Piano] a still life of fish which will probably be received".

The Salon opened its doors on May 1. Bazille guided his friends there and was pleased with the effect his painting produced: "The Pagézys dragged me to the exhibition. I served as their cicerone. I showed them my painting, which has quite a good effect".

Nature morte à la carpe, Edouard Manet, 1864, The Art Institute of Chicago
Nature morte à la carpe, Edouard Manet, 1864, The Art Institute of Chicago
Two fishes, a carp and a pike, are arranged on a white towel, itself unfolded on a wooden chest. At the upper left, a wicker basket is filled with mussels. This work shows the influence of Manet, whose Nature morte à la carpe Bazille probably saw first exhibited at the Martinet Gallery or Cadart's in 1865. Marandel says that Bazille would have undertaken this kind of subject because he was aware of his limitations, especially in the field of landscapes where Monet excelled. But it must also be said that, for penniless artists, still lives were subjects that involved no financial commitment.

The critics took little notice of the Still Life with Fish but hadn't Bazille wanted a simple and common subject? And the reception was not enthusiastic. Charles de Sarlat only added some compliments. Certainly, he urged the author "to be wary of black tones", although they are used with accuracy: the black background, in fact, has nothing shocking and even if the basket of mussels is a little dark, it is not there to enforce pictorial order. Its function, secondary, is to add to the realism of the painting by filling a void which would have been prejudicial to it. But Sarlat also knew how to praise: "It is solidly painted... The carp is of a very great truth: it is so much iappetizing" [Sarlat, L'Avant-Scène, 21 June 1866, p. 3]. We are grateful to the critic for having noticed this painting among the many others. It is true that it is well painted. The pike, in the foreground, is gray; only the belly, the soft part of the fish, is illuminated by a white spot that brings out the material. This will make Wildenstein say that "the fish [is] still thrilling" [Wildenstein, Arts, No. 266, June 9, 1950, p. 8]. As for the carp, in the background, posed alongside the pike, it particularly catches the eye. It plays with light and shadow with its shiny scales in the center of a range of opulent blacks. But what strikes most is the red spot on the fish's head, a trickle of blood that evokes death.

In the Journal de Montpellier of June 9, 1866, J. Ixe, on the other hand, is rather unkind: "Bazille exhibits two "Fish," two: one, a carp with golden scales; the other a pike with silver skin... which look, not very fresh, like they have been waiting rather piteously. Two... but we can only give what we have, and let's not ask for more... the criticism is even more severe - and unjustified - when it questioned the color of the linen with the aspect "really dirty of earthy tone and as lit by the moon; however, nothing is shimmering and rich for the painting like the dirty objects in nature". And yet, the towel is precisely a most successful piece of composition. Falling almost carelessly to the right, it makes think of Cézanne's still lives. The folds are skillfully drawn, highlighted from time to time with a black line or a small white or pink spot, and the overall tone is of great distinction. This fabric produces the same impression as the shirt sleeve in Frédéric Bazille with a Palette. The painter, one feels, is here perfectly at ease and his technique has nothing to envy to Manet's. Finally, J. Ixe wonders what the box on which the fish rests is made of. "Is it made of leather, wood or stone, this corner of a painted cube? Must one have never seen a wooden box to ask such a question?

We will be grateful to the Detroit Institute of Arts for analyzing the painting with X-rays, which was uncommon before the 2016-2017 exhibition. We know that Bazille erased, reworked, or repainted his paintings on previously used canvases. This is the case here: the analysis reveal an earlier composition below with apples and pears, a composition located at the top of the painting. Bazille's correspondence is silent regarding this. It is possible to think that he painted this Still Life with Fish on another of his own works, but, as Marandel notes, Bazille might also have used another artist's canvas.