The Family Reunion: Frédéric Bazille

Frédéric Bazille: The Family Reunion
The Family Reunion, c. 1867, Musée d'Orsay

The Family Reunion is a large portrait painting by French Impressionist artist Frédéric Bazille in 1867 depicting a number of members of Bazille’s extended family.

Background

Bazille was born to a wealthy Protestant family in 1841 and began his artistic career in the atelier or studio of the Academic history painter Charles Gleyre.

He was in good company, as among the other apprentices were now-famous contemporaries Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and James McNeil Whistler. Despite Gleyre’s academicism, all of these painters would go on to revolutionize perception in and of art in the second half of the 19th century. Indeed, Bazille would later portray his artist friends Renoir, Sisley, and Manet in his Studio in Rue de la Condamine in a more Realist style of Impressionism reminiscent of Manet in particular.

Despite Bazille’s training with Gleyre, he developed a style free of artistic convention. In this perhaps he was inspired by Eugène Delacroix, the French Romantic painter whose earlier work had scandalized his Parisian audience. Bazille took to painting en plein air (outdoors) and his usual subject matter was that of figures in a landscape – both of which can be seen in the Family Reunion. The young Frédéric Bazille’s life was tragically cut short at the Battle of Braune-la-Rolande during the Franco-Prussian War at the age of 28.

Analysis of The Family Reunion

In The Family Reunion Bazille maintains his fascination with his subject matter, figures in a landscape. We have eleven figures arranged asymmetrically across the picture space in the shade of a chestnut tree. Beyond the parapet on which a girl sits a vista of bright blue sky and lush vegetation opens up.

These figures are Bazille’s family; from his parents seated in the mid-left foreground to his extended family of cousins. The figures’ are gesturally upright largely and stiff and all but Bazille’s father look out at the viewer and the artist. This device perhaps is a reference to the recent invention and developments in the field of photography in France.

The Family reunion is a large painting – measuring 1.52 m x 2.27 m and painted in oil on canvas. It was submitted – and accepted, to the Paris Salon of 1868, that same year Claude Monet’s Women in the Garden was rejected.

The composition or the arrangement of figures is off-center, i.e. asymmetrical. In this, there is the displacement of the convention of the Renaissance-style perspective which insisted upon a focal point at the center of a picture. In fact, here there are at least two focal points – from the left foreground Bazille’s mother looks at us in close proximity, and from her there is a diagonal journey for the viewer’s eye to the grouping of three in the right background via the central table grouping. This shows that there is no one figure of most importance and that Bazille accords importance to each member of his family.

In traditional art trees were often used as part of a repoussoir effect, pushing all beyond them into the distance. In this painting, Bazille uses the tree instead to pull the eye to stay in the foreground and to engage directly with the family. This has the effect of relating Bazille’s (who paints himself cropped on the extreme left of the picture) closeness to his own family while we as viewers make their acquaintance, if only in a formal way.

Frédéric Bazille’s The Family Reunion, or Réunion de famille in his native French, can be found in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, France.

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