Friday, April 11, 2014

40 Days of Paintings - Saison d'Octobre (Jules Bastien-Lepage)

Jules Bastien-Lepage was a French naturalistic painter, and many of his paintings portrayed genre scenes of rural life of workers on farms and in gardens.  He grew up living the rural life himself where his father worked a grape vineyard, so many of the scenes in his paintings are probably representative of the typical day's work that he would have been around growing up. 
Bastien-Lepage was in a league of artists within the realist movement of the 19th century that were known as naturalists.  In a sense, it means that these scenes were as real as it gets.  The people were natural-looking, the landscapes were natural-looking, and there were no regards to making anything appear idealized in any way.  There were also not necessarily any political or social statements being made.  They were simply scenes about life and nature.
The scene here in Saison d'Octobre is a simple genre scene of a potato harvest.  Pretty boring, huh?  But then there is the striking realism that keeps your eyes fixed on the picture.  The cloudy, overcast day diffuses the light, and yet it does not affect Bastien-Lepage's ability to skillfully depict an accurate representation of the figures.  The absence of a clear light source doesn't flatten the image at all, and somehow makes what should be natural, ugly colors of the landscape and the figures' clothing beautiful still. 
Yet, when we look up close, much of the landscape, and pretty much everything other than the face and hands of the main figure in the foreground is painted with the same loose, sketchy manner of brushwork that we would see in a typical Impressionist painting.  We see that there is more movement in the painting that what appears at first look.  It is yet another classic example of how a certain bit of abstraction brings the realism to life.  The potatoes are painted with a series of semi-circular strokes of color.  The tiny weeds and flowers are painted with short and quick dabs.  And one of the things I love are the figures in the distant background, which are painted with simple and quick gestural strokes.  It is amazing how intelligent a great painter is, and how well such painters know the behavior of the average eye.  A great painter knows that the eye is able to solve visual equations very quickly, and with even a short glimpse, it is able to recognize an object.  Bastien-Lepage exploits that beautifully in this painting.  He demonstrates just how intelligent he was as a painter, and how such small and abbreviated touches of paint can create tremendous effects.

Saison d'Octobre
oil on canvas

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