Courage & Cowardice: The Impressionists at War, 1870 (Part 1 of 2)

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By September, 1870, Channel boats were lined up to ferry people to safety in England.

English: , Dutch-British painter

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who had been working in Paris over the summer but who lived in Brussels, boarded a Channel boat at the beginning of September 1870* with his two small daughters and his sister Artje.  In London, he rented a house and studio at 4 Camden Square that belonged to British artist Frederick Goodall (Goodall, who like Alma-Tadema was one of the dealer Ernest Gambart’s artists, was travelling in Egypt).  Alma-Tadema immediately arranged to give painting lessons to Laura Epps, now 18, whom he had met and fallen in love with on a trip to London in December 1869.  Laura, a doctor’s daughter with two sisters who also studied painting, modeled for In the temple (No 132, 1871).  The thirty-four-year-old Alma-Tadema proposed marriage, and though her father at first was opposed, he finally agreed as long as they would wait and get to know each other better first.

Portrait of the painter Claude Monet

Portrait of the painter Claude Monet, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the news of Napoleon’s surrender on September 2, 29-year-old socialist Claude Monet left for London to avoid the war – without his former model and new wife, Camille, and their infant son, Jean, both of whom joined him later.  They first lived at 11, Arundel Street, near Piccadilly Circus and then moved to 1, Bath Place, Kensington.

Paul Cézanne, 31, also dodged the draft.  He took his twenty-year-old model and mistress, Hortense Fiquet – whom he had met the previous year — nearly twenty miles north of Marseilles to Aix-en-Provence, where he had been raised.  When the authorities came after him, he and Hortense fled to L’Estaque, a remote fishing village closer to Marseilles.

Camille Pissarro, now 40, was a socialist willing to fight for his ideals but unwilling to fight for Napoleon III.  In September, he fled from Louveciennes (west of Paris) with his pregnant mistress, Julie Vellay, a vineyard grower’s daughter and his mother’s maid, and his two children, Jeanne (called Minette, age 5) and Lucien (age 7).  They took refuge at a friend’s farm in Brittany.  The baby died at birth on November 5, and Pissarro wanted his family to be safe.  Since he was born on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, which was owned by Denmark, he was legally Danish.  He had lived in Paris only since 1855.  He wrote to his mother in London, and she replied, “You are not French.  Don’t do anything rash.”  By Christmas, 1870, Pissarro took his family to England, where they joined his mother and family living south of London in Upper Norwood.

www.camille-pissarro.org, Self-Portrait,-1873

Camille Pissarro, Self-Portrait (www.camille-pissarro.org)

Renoir by Bazille

Renoir by Bazille, 1867 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 29, was offered a staff post with the 10th Chasseurs, a light cavalry unit, in October.  Born to a working-class family, Renoir became an accomplished cavalryman, an opportunity usually open only to the sons of aristocrats.  Renoir also gave painting lessons to the daughter of the captain.  He was a pacifist, and he was terrified of gunfire, but as it happened, he did not see any action.  He first was sent to Bordeaux in southwestern France, then to nearby Libourne, where he became so ill with dysentery that he nearly died.  He ended up convalescing with an uncle in Bordeaux and later at his parents’ house in Louveciennes.

Bazille, Frédéric - Self Portrait

Frédéric Bazille – Self Portrait (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frédéric Bazille joined the Third Regiment of the Zouaves, a light infantry regiment, in mid-August 1870.  By October, Bazille was in a village near Besançon in eastern France, and not having seen a single Prussian soldier yet, he was frustrated.  But on November 28, in the minor Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande near Orléans (about 80 miles southwest of Paris), when Bazille’s officer was injured, Bazille took command.  He led an assault on the Prussians – an unsuccessful one – and Bazille was struck twice during the retreat.  He died on the battlefield at age 28.  His father claimed his body from the snow and buried Bazille at Montpelier the following week.  Some of Bazille’s friends, such as Édouard Manet, did not learn of his death until February, 1871.

Alfred Sisley, a 31-year-old painter in Édouard Manet’s circle, lived near the avenue de Clichy in Paris, and his wealthy and cultivated parents lived in Bougival, west of Paris.  Sisley’s parents were English, but he was born in France and brought up in the capital.  He retained British citizenship though he had never mastered the English language.  Sisley lost everything he owned, and most of his paintings were looted or destroyed, when Prussian troops ransacked the family’s estate along with the town of Bougival.  By 1870, Sisley had been involved with Marie Louise Adélaïde Eugénie Lescouezec a 36-year-old artist’s model and florist from Brittany, for four years.  Sisley and she now had a three-year old son, Pierre, and an infant daughter, Jeanne.  Sisley traveled to London, where – like Monet and Pissarro — he met the art dealer Durand-Ruel and became one of his stable of artists.

Portrait of Alfred Sisley, painted by Pierre-A...

Portrait of Alfred Sisley, painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in 1868 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul Durand-Ruel, 39, also had fled Paris — with a hoard of paintings, many entrusted to him for safekeeping by various artists.  On December 10, 1870, he opened his first Annual Exhibition of the Society of French Artists at his new gallery at 168 New Bond Street.  Though there was no opportunity to exhibit or sell paintings in France during the war, the British would see the newest art from Paris.  It was mostly ignored – until British artists, trying to earn a living selling to the same pool of patrons, eventually became threatened by this different kind of siege.

 

Lawrence Alma-Tadema*, in my book, The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot © 2012, remains in Paris through Christmas, 1870 so that I can introduce him in the second chapter.

© 2013 Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

How much do you know about the Impressionists & War?  Take my quiz on goodreads.com!

The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.

Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color

Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library  

(295 pages; ISBN (ePub):  978-0-615-68267-9).  See http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009P5RYVE.

Exhibition Notes:

Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity                                                                          February 26 – May 27, 2013 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A revealing look at the role of fashion in the works of the Impressionists and their contemporaries. Some eighty major figure paintings, seen in concert with period costumes, accessories, fashion plates, photographs, and popular prints, will highlight the vital relationship between fashion and art during the pivotal years, from the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s, when Paris emerged as the style capital of the world.

 For more information, visit

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/impressionism-fashion-modernity

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