Jules Bastien-Lepage was an Academic Realist painter whose life coincided with the Realist movement in France. The epitome of the avant-garde at this time was Gustave Courbet with his strict interpretation of Realism. Although Bastien-Lepage viewed himself as a Realist, the pictorial elements of his work aligned him much more soundly with the English Pre-Raphaelites than with the French Realists. I want to find out what the connection was between this development and the fact that Joan of Arc by Bastien-Lepage has dropped out of the canon in the past twenty years. For instance, the painting was present in the 8th edition of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages from 1986 but absent from the 9th edition, released in 1991. My argument is that because Jules Bastien-Lepage represented a by-gone era in his style, he did not fit the mold of the French Realist painter the way that Gustave Courbet did as celebrated in the work of T.J. Clark and Michael Fried. He was not avant-garde enough and so did not represent the wave of the future and the constructed lineage of modern art.
Joan of Arc of 1880 garnered mixed reviews when it was unveiled at the Paris Salon that year. While it was admired by the Academy, it was panned by avant-garde critics such as Émile Zola. Bastien-Lepage’s interpretation of Realism seems to have involved taking Joan’s visions seriously and depicting her angels St. Michael, St. Margaret and St. Catherine The interpretation of realism shown by Bastien-Lepage was different from that of Jean Francois Millet or Gustave Courbet. He depicted mainly workers and peasants with a close-up, almost awkward composition, reminiscent of the views of everyday life. Emile Zola took Courbet’s work as irrefutable proof that the present was worthy of being painted. Courbet, the man who remarked, “Show me an angel and I’ll paint one,” would not have chosen a subject like Joan of Arc. Bastien-Lepage’s decision to do so positions him as an artist who adhered to a more conservative style, eventually leading to a virtual end to the discourse about him.
Hannah Martin, ’11 Mount Vernon, IA
Majors: Art and Art History, French
Sponsor: Christina Penn-Goetsch and Christa Robbins