Jules Bastien Lepage

Jules Bastien Lepageby
Armand Cabrera

Jules Bastien Lepage was born in the village of Damvillers, Meuse, France, on the 1st of November 1848. He spent most of his childhood there. Bastien quickly showed a facility for draftsmanship and was encouraged by his family to pursue a career as an artist.

Bastien first studied art at Verdun in 1867 and then in 1869 traveled to Paris. He was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-arts, working under Alexandre Cabanel. In 1874, Bastien exhibited “Portrait of my Grandfather,” and received a Third Class Medal. The next year, he received a Second Class Medal in the Prix De Rome Competition. In 1879, he received the Legion of Honor Cross for his painting of Sarah Bernhardt. He briefly spent time at the Art Colony in the village of Grez-sur-Loing. By 1883, Bastien led the Naturalist Movement and overwhelmed the art world. Tragically, Bastien Lepage died a year later at the young age of thirty-six from a virulent form of stomach cancer. He was at the pinnacle of his career.

From the beginning, Bastien received favorable reviews from art critics and a devout following from the younger painters in France. Their enthusiasm bordered on Religious fervor. Bastien was constantly covered in the local press and was a major influence on the outdoor movement that spread throughout Europe and America.

His naturalistic portrayals of peasants and rural life were seen as a fresh alternative to the academic paintings in the salons at the time. Unlike the Impressionists, Bastien did not completely abandon his technical facility for an alla prima approach. Instead, he created his paintings over a period of weeks in glass studios under natural light. His large paintings were a combination of almost photo-like realism and extensive areas of the canvas merely suggesting detail. The effect was unique and powerful.

During the late 1870’s, Bastien’s stature as a painter eclipsed even the Impressionists. It was not just his technique that garnered him praise from artists and critics alike; it was his philosophy about painting. Bastien believed in painting what the artist knows—letting nature’s truths guide their work. His paintings were an unromantic view of rural life depicted in a way in which people could relate.

Bastien’s early death served to raise his status to generations of younger artists who had been influenced by his truthful teaching and philosophy.


Beyond Impressionism the Naturalist Impulse
Gabriel P Weisberg
Abrams 1992

The good Simple Life Artist Colonies in Europe and America
Michael Jacobs
Phaidon 1985

Jules Bastien LepageNicolas Chaudun
Musée d’Orsay 2007

QuoteAn Artist who has no roots cannot be a proper artist. It is much better to paint the countryside in which one was brought up than to work in alien surroundings.
~Jules Bastien Lepage