JULES BASTIEN-LEPAGE (d: 1884), was a French naturalist painter born on this date in the village of Damvillers, Meuse, and spent his childhood there.
Bastien’s father grew grapes in a vineyard to support the family. His grandfather also lived in the village; his garden had fruit trees of apple, pear, and peach up against the high walls. Bastien took an early liking to drawing, and his parents fostered his creativity by buying prints of paintings for him to copy.
Bastien-Lepage’s first teacher was his father, himself an artist. His first formal training was at Verdun, and prompted by a love of art he went to Paris in 1867, where he was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux arts, working under Cabanel. He was awarded first place for drawing but spent most of his time working alone, only occasionally appearing in class. Nevertheless, he completed three years at the école. In a letter to his parents, he complained that the life model was a man in the pose of a medieval lutanist. After exhibiting in the Salons of 1870 and 1872 works which attracted no attention, in 1874 he made his mark with his Song of Spring, a study of rural life, representing a peasant girl sitting on a knoll looking down on a village. His Portrait of my Grandfather, exhibited in the same year, was not less remarkable for its artless simplicity and received a third-class medal.
Between 1880 and 1883 he traveled in Italy and enjoyed his voyage very much. The artist, long ailing, had tried in vain to re-establish his health in Algiers. He died in Paris in 1884, when planning a new series of rural subjects. His friend, Prince Bojidar Karageorgevitch, was with him at the end and wrote,
“At last he was unable to work any more; and he died on the 10th of December, 1884, breathing his last in my arms. At his grave’s head his mother and brother lovingly planted an apple-tree, which every spring showers down its wealth of pearly petals over the last resting-place of the great master whose loss we all mourn.
After his death, a special exhibition of more than 200 of his pictures was formed at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1889 some of his best work was shown at the Paris Exposition. Among his more important works, may also be mentioned the portrait of Mme J. Drouet (1883); Gambetta on his death-bed, and some landscapes; The Vintage (1880), and The Thames at London (1882). The Little Chimney-Sweep was never finished. An exhibition of his collected works was opened in March and April 1885. A museum is devoted to him at Montmedy. A statue of Bastien-Lepage by Rodin was erected in Damvillers. An obituary by Prince Bojidar Karageorgevitch, appeared in the Magazine of Art (Cassell) in 1890.