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Frédéric Bazille

The Digital Catalogue Raisonné

by Michel Schulman
© Musée Fabre, Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole/Photographie Frédéric Jaulmes

Little Italian Street Singer

Huile sur toile
131 x 98 cm - 51 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.
Signé en bas à droite : F Bazille
Montpellier, Musée Fabre, France - Inv. 2002.5.1
Dernière mise à jour : 2023-12-22 18:37:35
Référence : MSb-23


Famille de l'artiste - Marc Bazille, frère de l'artiste, Montpellier - Frédéric Bazille, neveu de l'artiste - Ses héritiers - Vente Paris, Drouot-Richelieu, 21 juin 2002, n° 11 - Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 2002.


Paris, Grand Palais, 1910, Salon d'automne,  n° 7 - Paris, musée du Louvre, Pavillon de Marsan, 1922, Le décor de la vie sous le Second Empire, n° 9 - Montpellier, Exposition internationale, 1927, Rétrospective Bazille, n° 7 - Paris, Association des étudiants protestants, 1935, n° 11 - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1941, n° 28 - Paris, galerie Charpentier, 1949, L'Enfance, n° 5 - Paris, galerie Wildenstein, 1950, n° 20 - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1959, n° 12 - Nice, galerie des Ponchettes, 1960, n° 102 - Vichy, galerie Napoléon III, 1961, La vie artistique sous le Second Empire, n° 4 - Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1978, n° 41, repr. p. 90 - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1984 [s.n.] - Rome, Complesso del Vittoriano, 2003, Rittrati e figure. Capolavori impressionisti, n° 43, pp. 178-179 (repr.) - Paris, musée Marmottan Monet, 2003-2004, cat. 11, repr. p. 39 - Tokyo, Ibaraki, Yamanashi, Osaka, Nagasaki, 2005-2006, Chefs-d'oeuvre du musée Fabre, n° 74 - Montpellier, Paris, Washington, 2016-2017, cat. 30, repr. p. 233 et p. 34 [Les références sont du catalogue en français].


Poulain, La Renaissance de l'Art français et des industries de luxe, 1927, p. 172 - Poulain, Bazille et ses amis, 1932, n° 32, pp. 136-139, 217 - Laprade, Beaux-Arts, 29 mars 1935, pp. 1, 8 - Colombier, Candide, 4 avril 1935 - Poulain, Cat. exp. Association des étudiants protestants, Paris, 1935, n° 11 - Schmidt, Le Semeur, juin 1935, pp. 496-498 - Poulain, Cat. exp. musée Fabre, Montpellier, 1941, n° 28 - Guérif, Frédéric Bazille : A la recherche d'une esthétique protestante, 1943, pl. 24 - Claparède, Les peintres du Languedoc, 1947, p. 237 - Sarraute, Catalogue de l'oeuvre de Frédéric Bazille, 1948, n° 16, pp. 33-34 - Sarraute, Cat. exp. Paris, galerie Wildenstein, 1950, n° 20 - Kunstler, L'Opéra, 28 juin 1950 - Daulte,  Bazille et son temps, 1952, n° 42 (repr.), pp. 129-130, 183 [Thèse sous la direction de Gaston Poulain] - Lapeyre, Plaisir de France, 1970, p. 4 - Marandel, Cat. exp. The Art institute of Chicago, 1978, n° 41, repr. p. 90 - Dejean, Le Roman d'un collectionneur : Alfred Bruyas, 1984, p. 2 - Daulte, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint, 1992, n° 47, pp. 125, 147 (repr.) [Réédition de 1952 avec photos en couleur] - Michel, Bazille, 1992, p. 248 - Bajou, Frédéric Bazille, 1993, p. 95 (repr.) - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné, 1995, n° 23, repr. p. 139 - Gazette de l'hôtel Drouot, 24 mai 2002, repr. p. 7 - Hilaire, Cat. exp. Tokyo, Ibaraki, Yamanashi, Osaka, Nagasaki, 2005-2006, n° 74, p. 181 - Hilaire, Guide du musée Fabre, 2006, n° 173, p. 188 - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné - Supplément 1, 2006, repr. p. 28 - Revue des musées de France/Revue du Louvre, octobre 2012, p. 16 - Hilaire, Cat. exp. musée Fabre, Montpellier, 20 ans d'acquisitions au musée Fabre, 2014, n° 170, pp. 103-104 - Hilaire, Jones, Perrin, Cat. exp. Montpellier, Paris, Washington, 2016-2017, cat. 30, repr. p. 233 et p. 34 [Les références sont du catalogue en français] - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné numérique, 2022, n° 23.

The Little Italian Street Singer is the most enigmatic of all Bazille's paintings. Lacking commentary and a preparatory drawing, nothing is known about its elaboration. Its dating has posed a problem and given rise to two quite different types of opinion. On one hand, Sarraute dates it to the end of 1865 or the beginning of 1866, and Frédéric Bazille also dates it to 1866 in the list he made of his own paintings and which his father copied; on the other hand, Daulte and Marandel maintain that it was executed in 1865. In fact, it is the date of 1866 that should be retained. It is naturally deduced from a letter that Mrs Gaston Bazille wrote to the painter on July 9, 1866, in which we read: "Victor told Ernest that your Fish is very good and also the painting of a little beggar girl". As for the other date, it results from the false interpretation of a letter sent by Bazille to his mother in February 1869: "The painting of the little Italian girl has been a great success with a mass of painters to whom I have recently shown it. Every day someone is brought to me; some prefer the Italian girl, others the naked man. The contradiction between the two letters is only apparent. In fact, the Italian woman that Bazille mentions in the second letter has nothing to do with the "little beggar girl".

She is none other than the young person, daughter of an Italian tenant farmer employed at Méric, who posed for the View of the Village, and the naked man he also mentions is simply the Fisherman with a Net, Bazille having executed both of these paintings precisely in 1868. There are thus two Italian women in Bazille's work, and the young girl living at Méric should not be confused with the child begging in Paris.

This large painting shows us, in the foreground, a little girl, warmly but strangely dressed, holding a violin in her left hand and a bow in the other. She does not play but raises a painful face towards us. She is holding her bow and her violin very badly. It is a little girl that "misery and hard life have aged prematurely" [Dejean, Catalogue of the Fabre Museum, summer 1978]. This face, however, is babyish. It is not yet marked by the tensions of adolescence and even less by indigence. It is the expression of a little girl that make this subject a miserable theme. "A little girl wrapped in an old greenish shawl, wearing a hat with celluloid roses, having only the cheeks and dimensions of a child" [Poulain, 1932, p. 137]. Hat and shawl are the clothing attributes of adults. This is what gives this child, enveloped  in her baggy clothes, an age that she does not have. Daulte says that "like these deformed dwarfs of the Spanish painting, she appears aged before her age" [Daulte, 1992, p. 125]. Sarraute will go even further and speak of "Italian dwarf".

Chanteuse de rue, Honoré Daumier, Collection particulière
Chanteuse de rue, Honoré Daumier, Collection particulière
Behind her, separated by a large building, "two symmetrical streets decrease, in a symphony of zinc color, crossroads with gangrenous houses, brutally sketched, like the sheet metal of the sky, and its cloud dung... Under a livid sky, dragging on the yellowish cobblestones, stroll fantastic characters, walking silhouettes to Daumier" [Poulain, 1932, p. 137]. Certainly, the little girl is painted in such a way as to attract all eyes; she arouses compassion. But the background of the painting is not neglected. It is even done with a strength rarely achieved by Bazille. As the people - soldiers, elegant women - who animate it, the neighborhood is not as popular as Poulain says in the a note. Nor is there any evidence that the houses are "gangrened. Poulain's impression is due to the technique employed by Bazille and his vigorous brushstrokes. As Xavier Dejean says, the Little Italian Street Singer  "opens up a questioning, creates unease, seeks new paths with a sovereign mastery in the contrasting brushstrokes, thrown against each other within the same troubling painting" [Dejean, Catalogue du musée Fabre, 1984]. This is what we must remember: this contrast between the background and the central character.

Misery was, in the literature of the time, a common subject. We find it in France in Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, Les Mystères de Paris by Eugène Sue and Sans Famille by Hector Malo, but also in England in Charles Dickens novels, for example.

In painting, street singers are relatively numerous; we find them in Velazquez, Goya, Delacroix and Manet. It is the latter who provides us with the closest example with his Chanteuse des rues of 1862 [Boston Museum of Fine Arts]. Other influences are still possible, such as Stevens' Le Mendiant.

At close inspection, the Little Italian Street Singer appears - unobtrusively - on the right wall of the A Studio on the rue Visconti painted the following year. As the exhibition catalogue's entry for the work explains, this is one of "Bazille's rare Parisian paintings" [p. 233].

As with other Bazille paintings, the Little Italian Street Singer was the subject of analysis by the Louvre Laboratory [C2RMF] on the occasion of this latest exhibition and published on Internet by Bruno Mottin.

Bruno Mottin specifies that the canvas is painted on an irregular white preparation identical to that of The Pink Dress and that the impastos are localized on the flowers and on the hat. And to conclude: they are "of a modernity worthy of a Manet".