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Jules Bastien-Lepage was a French Naturalist painter, born in north-eastern France in a commune called Damvillers. Born on November 1, 1848, he was encouraged by his parents to draw at an early age, as they provided him with prints of paintings to sketch out. His father began teaching young Bastien-Lepage how to draw, and he would eventually leave to study art in Verdun.
It wasn’t long before Lepage was leaving for Paris, a city bubbling with the greatest European artists of the time. He was admitted to the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in 1867, where he studied at Alexandre Cabanel’s studio for three years. Although he was highly praised for his drawings, Lepage was known for studying alone and didn’t have perfect attendance in his classes. During this period, he exhibited paintings at the Paris Salon, but they did not attract the eye of the general public.
In 1870, the French artist was recruited to fight for his country in the Franco-Prussian war, where he was wounded in battle. It was after Lepage returned home and was in recovery that he painted his first critically acclaimed masterpieces. His paintings began to focus more on the simplicity of rural life, a subject he stuck to until the end of his career.
Le Foin, also known as Haymakers, marked Lepage’s success as a Naturalist painter, a style that was emerging from late Realism. Although he focused on portraying rural scenes, the artist also created breathtaking portraits of wealthy and influential patrons, like the Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt, concluded in 1879, a painting that won him the Legion of Honour Cross. During that same year, he also portrayed the Prince of Wales.
Throughout his short career, the French painter was influenced by some aesthetic factors of the Impressionist movement. But, in counterpart, his work also reflects the techniques of Realists, like Millet and Courbet. Lepage traveled throughout Europe during the height of his career, creating beautiful portraits, landscapes, and genre scenes along his trip.
In 1880, Lepage traveled through Italy for about three years but was struggling with his health. In an attempt to battle his sickness, the artist went to Algiers but ultimately returned to Paris, where he passed away.
Jules Bastien-Lepage died of cancer at only 36 years old, in December 1884. Although his career lasted for only ten years, Lepage consolidated his name as one of the most significant Naturalist artists of his time.