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 Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton  (1827 - 1906)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: peasant genre and figure painting

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Jules Breton
An example of work by Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Described as "one of the primary academic painters of the nineteenth century", Jules Breton painted romanticized subjects in a realist style, especially bucolic scenes of peasants working in fields.  For some years after his death, his paintings were used as examples of 'bad' painting by modernists, who derided his literal themes of "work, family, home and hearth", but after abstraction lost some of its dominance, his work came back into public favor.

Breton's subject matter was familiar to him from childhood.  He was born in a rural area in north western France and was raised in Courriéres by family members who had much respect for the farm land and first-hand familiarity with those who tended it.  His father was Marie-Louis Breton, who oversaw land for a wealthy landowner.

Breton first studied at at the College of St. Bertin near his native area, and then was overseen  by Felix de Vigne, an artist who was much impressed by the young man and persuaded the Bretons to let their son focus on art.  In 1843, Breton enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium where he continued to study with de Vigne.  Another influential teacher was Hendrik Van der Haert.  Breton also studied at Antwerp with Barton Gustaf Wappers and spent much time in museums copying the Old Masters.  In 1847, he went to Paris where he enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the atelier of Michel-Martin Drolling, a genre painter.

His early entries in the Salons of 1848, Misery and Despair, and 1850, Hunger, showed his interest in the plight of poor people.  Getting a positive response from people in Brussels and Ghent, led him to moving there, where he also met his wife, Elodie, who became one of his most frequent models.  He stayed four years, and then returned to Paris.

In 1853, his painting Return of the Reapers, became the first of his signature peasant scenes to be exhibited, and from that time, he stayed primarily with this theme, which is what he is known for among collectors and art historians.  The next year, 1854, he returned to his home town of Courriées and settled there, using local rural scenes for his paintings and ultimately making famous that part of the French countryside.  One of the first works he did there was The Gleaners, which launched his career because it brought him much positive public attention.  The painting showcased people who returned to the field after the harvest to take the 'leavings' with the hope of having enough left over to feed themselves and their family. 

From that time forward until his death in 1906, he was very popular and received much reinforcement including official state commissions during the Third Republic, ongoing exhibitions during the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, and winning medals at the Salon and prizes in other venues.  Many of his works were made into engravings, which publicized his name widely in other countries including the United States and England.  In America, the writer Willa Cather saw his painting The Song of the Lark at The Art Institute of Chicago, and inspired, wrote a novel with the same title about a girl with humble roots in Nebraska who became a famous opera star.  The book became a best seller.


Source:
http://www.artrenewal.org/asp/database/art.asp?aid=409

Biography from Schiller & Bodo European Paintings:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Jules Adolphe Breton was born on May 1, 1827 to a prominent family in the small village of Courrieres in the Artois region of northern France.  Although his mother died when Jules was only four, he grew up in a carefree and happy environment, with much of his time spent playing in the gardens and fields with the children of the village peasants, even though they were of an different social class.

At the age of ten, Breton was sent to school at a Catholic seminary, and three years later to the college of Douai, where he received a classical education. It was his first opportunity to study drawing and he acquired a love of poetry.  In the summer of 1843, he so impressed the Belgian artist, Felix de Vigne, with his portraits and sketches after nature that the artist invited Breton to study with him in his studio as well as at the Royal Academy in Ghent.  It was during this time that Breton honed his skill as a draughtsman.  These studies continued for three years and gave him a chance to become familiar with the Flemish Old Masters.  It was their simplicity and pure, unsullied sentiment that he tried to emulate in his first mature paintings.

In 1874 he went to Paris to complete his training under the tutelage of Michel-Martin Drolling at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  A few months later Breton's father became ill and died at Courrieres.  Breton left Paris to return home where family business interests were in bad enough shape to force the sale of the family furniture.  At this time Breton began to feel a kinship with the local peasantry whom he had always loved, but with whom he had never really shared a social position.  He began to paint subjects, which called attention to the plight of the poor and oppressed.  It was with one of these paintings, Want and Despair (Misere et Desespoir) that he made his debut at the Salon of 1849.

By 1852, he focused his attention on landscape painting in the environs of Paris.  However, an unimpressive showing at the Salon left him disheartened. The combination of discouragement and poor health caused Breton to return to Courrieres.  This move was a turning point in the evolution of the artist's work.
Leading a rustic life again awakened memories of a childhood spent playing in the fields and watching the peasants of the Artois going about their labors. These memories of an idyllic rural life with their impressions of light and air became the foundation of his work, the source upon which he would draw for the rest of his career.

Breton's first picture from this period was greatly admired at an exhibition in Brussels.  At about this same time, he became engaged to Elodie de Vigne, the daughter of his former tutor.  She posed frequently for him and was the model for the principal figure in The Gleaners, his first major composition of peasant life in Courrieres.  It was impressive enough, along with two other pictures, for the jury of the International Salon of 1855 to award him a third class medal.

Each year at the Salon his images of gleaners, harvesters and peasant women helped establish his reputation as the foremost painter of rural life.  Along with several first class medals and, in 1872,the Medal of Honor, he was named a Chevalier of the Legion d'honneur in 1861, and in 1867 an officer of that same order.  Crowning his achievements was his election to the Institut de France in 1886.  This was the same year in which his painting, The Communicants, sold at auction in New York for $45,000, the highest price paid for the work of a living artist except for paintings by Meissonier.  In his later years, he became a prominent writer of poetry, several autobiographies and critical works.

Throughout his career, which spanned nearly sixty years, Breton painted with an idealistic vision of the beauty and harmony of the peasant laborer working the land.  In tune with these thoughts, he lived a life of sober regularity - sure and balanced without serious conflict or great difficulty.  He was respected by his peers for his intelligence as well as artistic and literary ability and achievements.  His later years were spent balancing time between the busy energetic life of Paris and the tranquility and serenity of Courrieres, where he worked in a garden studio at the family brewery.  Breton died in Paris on July 4, 1906.

Biography from Anderson Galleries, Inc.:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Breton was born on May 1, 1827 to a prominent family in the small village of Courrières in the Artois region of northern France.  Although his mother died when Jules was only four, he grew up in a carefree and happy environment, with much of his time spent playing in the gardens and fields with the children of the village peasants.  It is believed such early experiences led to his artistic passion for the subject matter of rural peasant life.

At the age of ten, Breton was sent to school at a Catholic seminary, and three years later to the college of Douai, where he received a classical education.  It was his first opportunity to study drawing.  In the summer of 1843, he so impressed the Belgian artist, Felix de Vigne with his portraits and sketches after nature that the artist invited Breton to study with him in his studio as well as at the Royal Academy in Ghent.  It was during this time that Breton honed his skill as a draughtsman.

By 1852, he focused his attention on landscape painting in the environs of Paris. However, an unimpressive showing at the Salon left him disheartened.  The combination of discouragement and poor health caused Breton to return to Courrières.  This move was a turning point in the evolution of the artist’s work. Leading a rustic life again awakened memories of a childhood spent playing in the fields and watching the peasants of the Artois region going about their labors.  These memories of an idyllic rural life with their impressions of light and air became the foundation of his work and a source upon which he would draw for the rest of his career.

Each year at the Salon his images of gleaners, harvesters and peasant women helped establish his reputation as the foremost painter of rural life.  Along with several first class medals and, in 1872, the Medal of Honor, he was named a Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur in 1861, and in 1867 he was promoted to officer of the same order.  His election to the Institut de France in 1886 solidified his status as one of the most respected painters of his day.  This was the same year in which his painting, The Communicants, which sold at auction in New York for $45,000—the highest price paid for the work of a living artist with the exception of a painting by Meissonier.

Throughout his career, which spanned nearly sixty years, Breton painted with an idealistic vision of the beauty and harmony of the peasant laborer working the land. In tune with these thoughts, he lived a life of sober regularity - sure and balanced without serious conflict or great difficulty.  His later years were spent balancing time between the busy energetic life of Paris and the tranquility and serenity of Courrières, where he worked in a garden studio at the family brewery.

Breton died in Paris on July 4, 1906.

Museum Collections Include:
Chateau Museum, Dieppe; Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, NY; Hendrik Willem Mesdag National Museum, Hague; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha; Paine Art Center, Oshkosh; Musee d’Orsay, Paris; John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia; Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis; Toledo Museum of Art, OH; Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown; Musee du Louvre, Paris; Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY; Baltimore Museum of Art, MD; Walters Museum, Baltimore; Antwerp Museum of Art, Belgium; Arras Museum, Calais; Bagneres Museum of Art, France; Bologne Museum of Art, France; Calais Museum of Art, France; Lille Museum of Art, France; Anvers Museum of Art, France

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