Monday, December 3, 2012

Random Inspiration: Émile Friant (1863-1932), Part 3

Émile Friant
L'Ébauche (1885)
oil on wood
55 X 45 cm

The financial backing Friant received from his town was unusual, but by no means unique.  Without municipal funding, there would have been many talented young men of modest means in rural France who would not have been able to advance in their artistic training.  This aid helped artists to travel to, and study in Paris, and included such well-known beneficiaries as Auguste Sellier, another resident of Nancy and the son of a gardener, Leon Bonnat, the son of a bookseller, Paul Baudry, the son of a shoemaker, Jean-Paul Laurens, the son of a cartwright, and Mathias Schiff and Jules Bastien-Lepage, both of whom were sons of peasant farmers.  But with this support came a certain expectation that the recipient would bring honor and distinction to his hometown through success in state-run art competitions, and it is with this caveat in mind that Friant would chose a Master with whom to study.

sketch for L'Enfant prodigue (1881)
oil on canvas
65 X 49 cm.

At the recommendation of Devilly, Friant sought entry into the atelier of Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889), one of the most honored academic painters the day, and the most sought-after instructor at the École des Beaux-Arts.⁵  Cabanel himself had won the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1845, and with his uncharacteristic flexibility as a tutor, and his ability to cater to the individual requirements of his students,⁶ he was the perfect choice to lead young artists in attaining similar accolades: in fact, eleven of his students would also go on to win the Prix de Rome.⁷  Upon seeing Friant's work, Cabanel immediately admitted the young man to his classroom.

Le Feuilleton : Madame Parisot lisant le journal (1888)
57.5 X 37.5 cm.

Portrait de Madame Paul (1888)
oil on canvas

Though the relationship between Cabanel and the young man from Nancy started off well, it quickly turned to disappointment for them both.⁸  Cabanel was dissatisfied with Friant's earlier training, including his fondness for Naturalism, and his use of the Delacroix palette.  Friant, in the meantime, felt he was being untrue to his own artistic inclinations, and saw Cabanel's atelier as nothing more than a hot greenhouse, and Cabanel as a deficient gardner, allowing most of his crop succumb to the caprices of nature, while tending only to his precious "cabbage"⁹ - i.e. those students Cabanel felt were most likely to win the Prix de Rome.  Although Cabanel would later favorably reassess Friant after seeing some of the youth's oil sketches for proposed historical pictures¹⁰, Friant could never find contentment in his studies at the school.  After a year of academic training, which Friant found monotonous and stifling, he quit the École des Beaux-Arts.

Un peu de repos (détail)

Un peu de reposoil on canvas
150 X 105 cm

Portrait de Madame Petitjean (1883)
oil on wood
35 X 26.5 cm

Portrait de Madame Constantin (1885)
oil on canvas
124 X 98 cm.

⁵ Milner, John, The Studios of Paris:  The Capital of Art in the Late Nineteenth Century, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1988), p. 25.
⁶ ibid., p. 18.
⁷ Claude, Henri, Friant, (Serge Domini Éditeur, Metz, 2003), p. 18.
⁸ Hammerton, p. 677.
⁹ Claude, pp. 18 & 22.
¹⁰ Hammerton, p. 677.

Émile Friant, Part 1
Émile Friant, Part 2


Susan Roux said...

I love old turn of the century art. This is lovely. Odd how the name is virtually unknown with the quality of his work.

Hermon said...

Thanks for your posts on Friant. Though I acknowledge his skill at rendering I've always found Friant's work indifferently composed, lacking in color and insensitive to the effects of light.
When compared to some other painters who predominantly worked with overcast outdoor light, such as Bastien-Lepage, Sargent and Zorn, paintings by Friant simply don't sing of the outdoor experience of light. As a result his figures end up looking as if made of wood. As a student in France I saw dozens of his paintings and came away impressed with his skill but underwhelmed with his aimless, overly photographic body of work.
Richard Schmid, however, comes to mind as someone today who makes plein-air figures look as if they are really under the veiled light of an overcast sky.
I'm glad though that Friant is getting more attention today.

Kevin Neal said...

I agree with your assessment as it pertains to the comparison of Friant to Bastien-Lepage. I noticed that Bastien-Lepage paintings were more often done in cloudy skies with areas veiled sunlight. This gave his work more vibrancy and depth. So it seems his composition and execution were maybe more deliberate if not more inspired than Friant. Proving skill doesn't always trump talent. But that's just one students opinion

Anthony Cramer said...

Great Friant pictures. I love his subtle colors and edge work. It's wonderful to see one's I haven't ever seen! Thank you!