If I ask you who your favorite Impressionist painter is, would you say: Frédéric Bazille? Would you more likely say Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne or Cassatt? My favorite Impressionist is Vincent van Gogh. So, as I was walking from the National Gallery of Art’s (NGA) West Building to its East Building, I was totally planning to skip its newest exhibit, Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism.
Then, I saw the huge exhibit banner, and I thought maybe I will take a little peek. In the very first gallery, this little girl stopped me in my tracks.
I immediately thought that this painting, done by Bazille at age 24, showed promise. I wondered: How did Bazille go from this painting to being an Impressionist? If Bazille is one of the founders of Impressionism, why has no one heard of him before?
These are great and valid questions! This exhibit definitely answers them.
What I did not expect is that this exhibit is also a Masterclass from Frederic Bazille on “How to be a Great Artist.”
Why do I say that? Look again at the little girl above. Remember, he painted her at age 24. Here is his family’s portrait, painted only two years later, at age 26.
Now look at what he painted the year he died, two years later, at age 28. Bazille’s 7 year artistic career was cut short by the Franco-Prussian war.
These three paintings were each created 2 years apart. You can see a clear progression in Bazille’s mastery.
NGA has done such a masterful job of organizing this exhibit! It isn’t just a retrospective of Bazille’s paintings. This is a must-see show, if you want to become a better artist, or if you are interested in the behind-the-scenes peek at how artists evolve. So, walk through the exhibit with me and let’s deconstruct how Frédéric Bazille became a Master in 7 short years.
Lesson One: Copy the Masters
Lesson Two: Paint Still Life
Bazille painted a lot of still life in his studio. He painted anything on hand from fish and fowl to soup bowl covers. Daily Art, anyone?
Lesson 3: Go Outside and Paint Some Landscapes
Bazille went on painting trips with Monet and other artist friends. At this point, Bazille struggled with seascapes. So, what did he do? He copied Monet’s painting! What a direct example of Steal Like An Artist!
Lesson 4: Work Closely With Other Artists
Bazille worked in six studios in his 7 year career. He shared these studios with Monet, Renoir, and Sisley. These artists often painted the same subjects and copied from each other. Another direct example of Steal Like An Artist!
Lesson 5: Innovate – Modern Figures in Sunlight
Now, it gets even more interesting. Bazille starts introducing contemporary figures in the landscape! We take this idea for granted now. When he did this, it was shocking. He was often rejected by the show all artists wanted to be in – the official Paris Salon. Do you see the light that Impressionists are famous for?
Lesson 6: Jump on a Trend and Make It Your Own
In 1860s, florals came back in fashion. Bazille embraced it and made it his own. By this point he was also painting modern nudes and landscapes in his own unique voice.
If you go see this exhibit, you will see Bazille’s movement towards Impressionism along with Monet, Sisley, and Renoir. If he had not tragically died at age 28, he would have been just as well known as the other founders of Impressionism.
This is the only American venue of this exhibit. Not only is it a masterclass from Bazille on how to be a great artist, it is also a masterclass from the NGA on how to create engaging exhibits.
Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism
April 9 – July 9, 2017
The National Gallery of Art
150 4th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Hours: Monday–Saturday: 10:00–5:00
Have you bumped into an unexpected masterclass lately? Tell me in your comments below.