Frédéric Bazille: Impressionist Painter of Light, Air—and Bromance

THE DAILY PIC: In his National Gallery survey, Bazille comes off as a lesser Impressionist who explored the movement's camaraderie.

Frédéric Bazille

THE DAILY PIC (#1781): I can’t say I have fallen wildly in love with any single picture by the obscure Impressionist painter Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), now getting an important, rare survey at the National Gallery in Washington. But a number of Bazille’s paintings let us in on a crucial aspect of Impressionism that most of his colleagues left unstated: That it was a movement of guys, for guys, full of guy-ish display and dependant on guy-ish social connections. Bazille’s love of the Parisian art scene was clearly as much about the comrades he met there – Monet, Renoir and other future stars – as it was about any pictures that got painted in their shared studios.

This “homosociality” comes most clear in today’s Daily Pic, a painting called Summer Scene that Bazille completed not long before volunteering for the French military and then getting killed, at only 29. Where the other Impressionists concentrated on the water, trees and light of their outings together, Bazille seems to be reflecting on the social world they created in those settings. And given the physicality (ahem, ahem) of his figures and their interactions, it is clear that, even among (mostly) heterosexual men like Bazille and his friends, their encounters came charged with eros.

I can’t help wondering if Bazille joined the military in the hopes of finding the same kind of communion. Should we therefore start to reimagine Impressionism as a martial enterprise? (Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. F. Meynier de Salinelles)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.


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