Picturing Woman: Paintings of Jules Breton

Many painters have taken their inspiration from the female form, but Jules Breton is unique. Trained in the European classical tradition, or “grand style” as he called it, he returned home to rural Brittany to produce his masterpieces. His subjects were not grand dames or famous historical scenes as was usual for the period and style, but peasants, country festivals and domestic life. Eschewing hunting scenes and manly exploits, he preferred quieter moments, most often depicting women. He did not paint with a sexualized gaze, but with an honest regard and a desire to hint at feminine interior life. Breton’s talent is such that he can do so without even showing us the woman’s face.

Breton, The Cliff, 1874

La Falaise (The Cliff), 1874

Keenly observant, Breton uses body language and landscape to create an incredible range of mood; resilience, dreaminess, practicality and nobility are all part of his repertoire. Breton’s women are active and relatable. Les Amies is a particularly wonderful example. We aren’t sure what the woman in the center is being persuaded to believe or do, but her discomfort is obvious–arms folded protectively across her gut, wariness in her face–and we are acutely aware of the physical pressure being exerted by her friends who feel the need to lean in and put a hand on her. I’m not sure if they are offering support or asserting dominance. What, if anything, are we to make of the village church lurking in the background? Is there a man involved? Breton makes you want to be there so that you can answer all of those questions. He also paints wonderful feet!

Breton, Les Amies

Les Amies(Friends), 1873

Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton was born on May 1, 1827 in the small village of Courrières, France, where his father managed land for a wealthy landowner. His mother died when he was four years old. Certainly his longing for her shaped the artist he would become and perhaps lay at the heart of his interest in rural femininity. Jules’ life changed when he met the Belgian painter Félix De Vigne. De Vigne saw potential and persuaded the Breton family to send the young man to Ghent to study with him at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium. Jules was fifteen years old when he left home for the big city in 1843. Studying with some of Europe’s finest academic painters, he would move to Antwerp in 1846 and Paris in 1847. He returned home to Courrières in 1854 and married Elodie de Vigne, the daughter of his former teacher and one of his favorite models, in 1858.

Breton, Calling in the Gleaners

Le Rappel des Ganeuses(Calling in the Gleaners), 1859

Jules Breton http://www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com

Les Bineuses(The Weeders), 1868

Breton, Evening in the Hamlet of Finistere

Soir dans le hameau de Finistère(Evening in the Hamlet of Finistère), 1887

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Jeunes Femmes allant à une Procession(Young Women Going to a Procession), 1890

Breton found great pleasure in painting real people and people found his art disarmingly real. This translated into a striking balance between artistic satisfaction and commercial success. His paintings were so popular that he frequently painted copies and had engravings made, all of which sold well. In 1880, Vincent van Gogh walked eighty-five miles to visit the important painter, only to get cold feet and turn around upon reaching the high wall around Breton’s property. By the time of his death in 1906, at the age of 79, Jules Breton was a famous international master, a member of the Institut de France and the Royal Academy of Art and a Commander of the Legion of Honor. He was also a published poet and writer.

Breton, Sur la Route en Hiver

Sur la Route en Hiver(On the Road in Winter), 1884

Breton, Fin du Travail, 1887

Fin du Travail(End of Work), 1884

Painters without experience often weaken the effect they wish to produce by a prodigality which multiplies uselessly the figures and accessories of a picture. It will not be long before they learn that, the greater the conciseness and simplicity with which a thought is interpreted, the more it gains in expressive force.

Breton, The Song of the Lark, 1884

Le Chant de l’Alouette(The Song of the Lark), 1884

Gaurdian of the Turkeys

Gardeuse de Dindons(The Guardian of the Turkeys), 1864

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Mère Nourrir son Bébé(Mother Nursing Her Baby), 1863

Breton, Last Flowers, 1890

Dernières Fleurs(Last Flowers), 1890

It is Breton’s conciseness and simplicity which imbue the rural woman’s mundane experience with value and honesty, even as his romantic light and the warmth and softness of his color elevate her to a level of nobility that approaches the sacred. This celebration of common humanity was extremely attractive at a time when kingdoms were being replaced by democracies and is still quite striking today. If we accept Marie Shear’s definition of feminism as “the radical notion that women are people,” Jules Breton can even be called a feminist painter. What a profound ally we can find in his great talent and meticulous attention!

 

 

 

 

Quote for Today: Waylon Lewis

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I would like to hold your hand as it holds this green leaf, yellowed, that fell early from its tree, this Autumn. And I would like to imagine that it feels your careful care, for your eyes are warmed by your heart, and I would let you sadly nestle into me as a bird folds into its nest, resigning itself to a storm. For my heart is as large as a city, and it glows with the fire that, with the right mischievous love, shall serve to inspire thousands upon thousands to inspire thousands upon thousands.
Waylon Lewis, Things I Would Like To Do With You

Public Domain image via Pixabay

Quote for Today: Emily Dickinson

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Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Emily Dickinson

 

Public Domain Image via PxHere

Quote for Today: Lynne Truss

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There is an old German fable about porcupines who need to huddle together for warmth, but are in danger of hurting each other with their spines. When they find the optimum distance to share each others’ warmth without putting each others’ eyes out, their state of contrived cooperation is called good manners. Well, those old German fabulists certainly knew a thing or two. When you acknowledge other people politely, the signal goes out, “I’m here. You’re there. I’m staying here. You’re staying there. Aren’t we both glad we sorted that out?” When people don’t acknowledge each other politely, the lesson from the porcupine fable is unmistakable. “Freeze or get stabbed, mate. It’s your choice.”
Lynne Truss, Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door
Image: African Crested Porcupine © Cliff with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Frances Hodgson Burnett

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“Listen to th’ wind wutherin’ round the house,” she said. “You could bare stand up on the moor if you was out on it tonight.”

Mary did not know what “wutherin’” meant until she listened, and then she understood. It must mean that hollow shuddering sort of roar which rushed round and round the house as if the giant no one could see were buffeting it and beating at the walls and windows to try to break in. But one knew he could not get in, and somehow it made one feel very safe and warm inside a room with a red coal fire.

―Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Image: Bodie Ghost Town Storm © photographers nature with CCLicense

Quote for Today: M.F.K. Fisher

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It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.

M.F.K. FisherThe Art of Eating

Quote for Today: Rob Sheffield

On the way we talked about the road sign Bridge Ices Before Road. I always wondered, If that’s a problem, why don’t they just build the bridge out of the same stuff they use to build the road? Drema explained that the bridge isn’t made out of different material than the road, but that the bridge ices quicker because it’s alone, hanging there without the land under it to keep it warm.

Rob Sheffield, Love Is a Mix Tape

Quote for Today: Haruki Murakami

© dfinnecy with CCLicense

© dfinnecy with CCLicense

If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals . . .

We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us– create who we are. It is we who created the system.

Haruki Murakami, Jerusalem Prize acceptance speech 

Look at the Beautiful Noise: Noise Photography and Jeff Ascough

We often feel we must choose between representation of the external and expression of the internal. Can’t we enjoy both?

© Don_Gato(LoFi Photography) with CCLicense

© Don_Gato(LoFi Photography) with CCLicense

With the advent of the digital camera ideas about image quality changed radically. Photographers became obsessed with clarity, and the presence of image grain, known to photographers as noise, became a contentious issue. A wide gulf opened up between museums and art photographers, who often turned away the work of digital artists for being too clean, and digital photographers and institutions that considered grainy images anathema, seeing them as mistakes or bad shots passed off as art. A good deal of great work on both sides was getting stigmatized, and that stigma remains in many circles.

© glindsay65 with CCLicense

© glindsay65 with CCLicense

Part of this may stem from the way noise itself changed. On film, especially in black and white or sepia tone, noise presents itself as fuzziness or grain. With digital, noise often presents itself as oddly colored pixels which look very alien and stand out mercilessly in the image. Digital artists came to prize clarity, the strength of their medium, while those who stuck to film prized personality, the strength of theirs. It would have been valid to ask what beauty was found in the weaknesses inherent in each medium. Instead, many photographers and critics threw words like “artsy”, “clean” and “noisy” around as if they were pejoratives and it looked as if society was turning its back on noisy photography. Then services like Instagram came out, redefining noise as romantic, vintage and trendy and letting us add it to our digital images.

Jeff Ascough is among the most famous wedding photographers in the world. He considers himself a “wedding documentarian”, meaning he likes to take unposed shots as they happen, without special lighting in order to capture the essence of the moment. The use of noise is prevalent in his work, both as an aid to reveal how the moment felt and as a natural product of foregoing intrusive lighting and positioning. At any rate, many of the images he produces have a weight and power that a perfectly clean photo would miss.

This interview with Jeff Ascough from fellow wedding documentarian Crash Taylor’s Blog is full of scrumptious images (not all are from weddings) and reveals a very interesting and intelligent artist. I love the smoking man from the wedding set, so delightfully whimsical. Please enjoy!