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Frédéric Bazille

The Digital Catalogue Raisonné

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

Ruth and Booz

Huile sur toile
138 x 202 cm - 54 1/4 x 79 1/2 in.
Montpellier, Musée Fabre, France - Inv. 2004.13.1
Dernière mise à jour : 2022-03-25 09:09:19
Référence : MSb-66


Famille de l’artiste, Montpellier - Frédéric Bazille, neveu de l’artiste - Musée Fabre, Montpellier, 2004.


Paris, galerie Wildenstein, 1950, n° 58 - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1959, n° 40 - Chicago, The Art Institue of Chicago, 1978, n° 56, repr. p. 115 - Montpellier, musée Fabre, 1984, Bazille dans les collections particulières, [s.n.], repr. p. 2 - Paris, Grand-Palais, 1985-1986, La gloire de Victor Hugo,  n° 887, repr. p. 605 - Montpellier, New York, 1992-1993, fig. 72, repr. p. 127 - Paris, musée Marmottan Monet, 2003-2004, repr. p. 73 - Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, 2006, n° 92 - Minneapolis, Londres, 2015-2016, fig. 48, repr. p. 244 - Montpellier, Paris, Washington, 2016-2017, cat. 72, repr. p. 257 et p. 75 (radiographie) et p. 185 et 192, 201 (Détails) [Les références sont du catalogue en français].


Poulain, Bazille et ses amis, 1932, n° 8, pp. 53, 212 - Scheyer, printemps 1942, Art Quarterly - Guérif, A la recherche d'une esthétique protestante, 1943, p. 32 - Sarraute, Catalogue de l'oeuvre de Frédéric Bazille, 1948, n° 46, pp. 105-106 [Thèse de l'Ecole du Louvre non publiée] - Huisman, Arts, 9 juin 1950, n° 266, p. 8 - Daulte, Bazille et son temps, 1952, n° 57, p. 112, 190 [Thèse sous la direction de Gaston Poulain] - Allier, Lettres françaises, oct. 1959 - Courthion, Autour de l'impressionnisme, 1964, p. 26 - Champa, Studies in Early Impressionism, 1973, p. 90, fig. 128 - Marandel, Cat. exp. The Art Institute of Chicago, 1978, n° 56, repr. p.  114 - Dejean, Le roman d'un collectionneur : Alfred Bruyas, 1984, p. 2 - Daulte, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, 1992, n° 63, pp. 81-82, 182 (repr.) [Réédition de 1952 avec photos en couleur] - Michel, Bazille, 1992, p. 260 - Vuatone, Cat. exp. Montpellier, New York, 1992-1993, n° 32, p. 126 - Bajou, Frédéric Bazille, 1993, pp. 181-182 - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné, 1995, n° 66, repr. p. 221 - Pitman, Bazille: Purity, Pose and Painting of the 1860s, 1998, pp. 193-201, 204 -205 - Hilaire, Cat. exp. Lausanne, Fondation de l'Hermitage, 2006, n° 92, pp. 229-230 - Hilaire, Guide du musée Fabre, 2006, n° 178, p. 193 - Hilaire, Cat. exp. musée Fabre, 2010, Alxandre Cabanel, la tradition du beau, p. 202 - Hilaire, 20 ans d'acquisitions au musée Fabre, 2014, n° 173, pp. 106-107 - Noon, Cat. exp. Noon, Riopelle, Cat. exp. Minneapolis, Londres, 2015-2016, fig. 48, repr. p. 244 - Hilaire, Paris, Washington, 2016-2017, cat. 72, repr. p. 257  et p. 75 (radiographie) et p. 185 et 182, 201 (détails) [Les références sont du catalogue en français] - Schulman, Frédéric Bazille : Catalogue raisonné numérique, 2022, n° 66.

Many artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were inspired by the theme of Ruth and Booz. It is not surprising that Bazille made this biblical page the theme of his painting in which he expressed himself in a new and original way. Some, like Guérif and Courthion, see in it the reflection of his Protestant education. But it is clear, as we shall see, that here Bazille was inspired by the famous poem by Victor Hugo. It was in fact in 1859 that the latter published Booz asleep in La Légende des siècles:

So Booz in the night slept among his own,
Near the millstones that would have been taken for rubble

Ruth was dreaming and Boaz was sleeping.

In Bazille's painting, too, Booz is asleep, leaning on his left arm; Ruth, lying down, lifts herself slightly to look at the "golden sickle in the field of stars". On the left, in the background, four haystacks; on the right, a large cedar and some umbrella pines found in The Little Gardener. The blue sky that occupies the upper third of the painting harmonizes with the cool browns and greens of the sleeping earth. All the colors employed by Bazille contribute to the purity, the solemnity of the moment. The lines are peaceful as is this calm and serene night. Even the graphics are applied, the continuous strokes giving a defined and restful form to everything. There is no room for spontaneous interpretation; only Booz's drawing leaves some freedom to the imagination. There is a synthesizing quality here that Bazille did not use. The cedar and the millstones, for example, exist only in their mass, standing out against a moonlit sky. The landscape, in the background, is more lunar than earthly. It is emptied of all plant and animal life. And this fits well with the cold, monochromatic atmosphere that Bazille has chosen.

Sarraute is not tender about this work, which shows Bazille's interest in contemporary literature: "Ruth and Booz is unquestionably a failure, but the document is very interesting.... In fact, the arrangement is bad, the imagination is short. It is simple but it is not the vein of Bazille, naturally a painter of reality" [Sarraute, 1948, n° 45, p. 105]. What Sarraute seems to forget is that Bazille, in this aesthetic option, could hardly be attached to detail or load his painting with elements other than symbolic. The quality of the work lies precisely in its simplicity, in the purity of its forms. Indeed, Cabanel's Ruth et Booz (1868) is almost as gaunt as Bazille's. In Cabanel's, there is certainly a canvas tent and other elements of reality, but the sky and landscape retain their symbolic values. Bazille himself simplified his subject since, in the preparatory painting and some drawings, he had added a tripod and a sickle, which disappear in the final work.

Height preparatory drawings preceded the paintings. In them we can discern Bazille's trial and error, sometimes his clumsiness, other times his certainty. The study for Study for Ruth and Booz is not lacking in interest as it sets its project in a pencil frame and then expands its boundaries. Here again - as with other preparatory drawings - we do not know the evolution of the project in Bazille's mind and thus all interpretations remain possible.

Several pictorial connections illuminate Bazille's Ruth and Booz. First, we must mention the Repas des vendangeurs by Millet. It is known that the latter had called it Ruth and Booz, and then changed the title for the public. "But he did not intend to remove the reference to the Bible, which critics did not fail to mention; on the contrary, he wanted to emphasize the fact that the biblical subjects retained their meaning in the present and that rural life preserved the mores described by the ancient texts" [Jean-François Millet, Paris, Grand-Palais, 1975-1976, p. 95, n° 59]. The second and most often mentioned influence is that of Puvis de Chavannes' Le Sommeil (1867). This painting, too, is large in scale. The evocation is set in a "legendary past" [Le Sommeil, Puvis de Chavannes exhibition, Paris, Grand-Palais, 1976-1977, p. 88]. The scene painted by Puvis de Chavannes, however, is more detailed.

Gaston Poulain dates Ruth and Booz to 1865. Astonishing error since Bazille wrote to Edmond Maître on August 2, 1870: "I have finished about a large landscape... a study of a naked young man, and Ruth and Booz are halfway through." So there is no doubt about the dating of the painting.

On the eve of Bazille's sudden demise, Ruth and Booz once again emphasizes his open-mindedness. Passionate about music, this time he turns his attention to literature. Despite its biblical references, Ruth and Booz does not really seem to us to be intended as an expression of a religious message. Bazille, though very attached to his family and its values, never alludes in his letters to religious convictions. With Ruth and Booz, he shows himself to be far removed from the Impressionist concerns of Monet and Renoir.

Several details separate this work from the sketch of the Study for Ruth and Booz including the disappearance of the tripod - from the preparatory drawings -, the arrangement of the haystacks, the brightness of the moon, the twinkling of the stars in the sky and the position of Booz asleep. We invite the reader to read each entry of the drawings to follow our comments.

Although Ruth and Booz in the Fabre Museum is an atypical and major work by Bazille, which we note is unsigned, the small sketch preceding it, admittedly less applied, academic, and conventional, seduces us with the energy and vigor of its treatment. From the Fabre Museum version, we must recognize the determining influence of old masters such as Poussin and Chardin, without forgetting Puvis de Chavannes and the Provence painters.

X rays of the painting Jeune Fille au piano beneath
X rays of the painting Jeune Fille au piano beneath
More than a dozen of Bazille's works were X-rayed for the 2016-2017 exhibition in Montpellier, Paris and Washington. The X-rays of our Ruth and Booz now marks the Bazille story with the underlying discovery of the Young Girl Playing the Piano presented by Bazille at the 1866 Salon. It would be refused. We did not know what it became then and have been searching in vain for more than thirty years. Formidable and happy surprise to discover it under Ruth and Booz, which puts an end to our research and questions.

Related Works

Oeuvre en rapport
Esquisse pour Ruth et Booz - Huile sur bois - 20 x 32,5 cm - Collection particulière (MSb-65)
Oeuvre en rapport
Buste de Ruth - Pierre noire et fusain sur papier - 19,8 x 28,3 cm - Collection particulière (MSb-111)
Oeuvre en rapport
Tête, bras et buste de Ruth - Fusain sur papier - 60 x 47 cm - Collection particulière (MSb-112)
Oeuvre en rapport
Etude pour Ruth - Dessin au crayon et fusain sur papier - 29 x 36 cm - Collection particulière (MSb-113)
Oeuvre en rapport
Ruth allongée - Fusain et pastel sur papier - 21 x 39 cm - Collection particulière (MSb-114)
Oeuvre en rapport
Etude pour Booz endormi - Pastel noir, beige et sanguine sur papier vergé - 46,5 x 62 cm - Collection particulière (MSb-115)
Oeuvre en rapport
Booz endormi - Fusain et crayon sur papier - 47 x 60 cm - Collection particulière (MSb-116)
Oeuvre en rapport
Etude pour Ruth et Booz - Ruth et Booz - Fusain - Musée d'Orsay (MSb-260)
Oeuvre en rapport
Etude pour Booz endormi - Pastel et sanguine - 46,8 x 65,2 cm - Collection particulière (MSb-281)