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Paul de la Boulaye
(1849 - 1926)
Paul de la Boulaye was a 19th century French painter who painted genre scenes of peasants, religiously inspired works, still lifes, formal portraits and sumptuous depictions of exotic women with an air of Orientalisme. By an academically trained artist, his oeuvre and his artistic production were uniformly well painted and fit within the artistic conventions of his era, so to date, he has drawn little attention from researchers or scholars.
La Boulaye was not terribly prolific, so his works are relatively rare on the market. Because he did not break new artistic ground and his works are uncommon, La Boulaye has descended into artistic obscurity, known only to the few who have come to appreciate his richly painted tableaus.
Charles Antoine Georgette Paul Buisson La Boulaye was born in Bourg-en-Bresse on January 24, 1849. Bourg-en-Bresse is a beautiful commune in the French countryside southeast of Paris. It was once capital of the province of Brêsse, so the future painter grew up as a Burgien, in the shadow of the Jura Mountains. His father was Eugène Georgette du Buisson de La Boulaye (1810-1888), and his mother was Adrienne de Graindorge d'Orgeville de Mesnil-Duran (1811-1859).
His father came from the ranks of the newly minted nobility, for his paternal grandfather was the French political figure, Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Georgette du Buisson, le Vicomte de La Boulaye (1781-1856). Count de La Boulaye was knighted for his loyalty and his administration of the royal household during the "Restoration," when Louis XVIII and Charles X (1757-1836) and the flaccid Bourbon monarchy returned to power in the wake of Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo. The grandfather, who was loyal to the Bourbons, was a presence in young Paul's life because he had retired rather than serve Louis-Phillippe (1773-1850) and the House of Orleans, after they succeeded the Boubons to the French crown in 1830. La Boulaye's mother's family, like that of his maternal grandmother, was a military family.
Paul de La Boulaye displayed an aptitude and enthusiasm for drawing and painting from an early age, so when he was mature enough, his family sent him to Paris, then the center of the art world, for artistic training. At the age of twenty he entered the private atelier of the distinguished French portrait painter Leon Bonnat. Bonnat was considered one of the finest teachers in Paris, and he was one of the richest and most successful painters of his day.
What set Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat (1833-1922) apart from his contemporaries was the strength of his modeling, the great sculptural quality of his figures, which possessed such a degree of solidity that they seemed like they could reach out of the canvas. He was also highly influenced by Spanish painting, but in contrast to any of the other masters in Paris, Bonnat had not merely studied Spanish art from afar or visited there on vacation, but actually moved to Spain from his birthplace in Bayonne. He passed his love for Spanish Art to La Boulaye, for the works of the acerbic Francisco Goya (1746-1828) and especially for that paragon of unvarnished realism, Diego Velázquez (1599-1660).
Bonnat's father was a bookseller in Madrid, and it was in the Spanish capital where he developed his passion for drawing as a teenager and then began his studies with Jose de Madrazo (1781-1859) and his son, Frederico de Madrazo (1815-1894), at La Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the Spanish Royal Academy. He then studied with Léon Cogniet (1794-1880) and Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) in Paris and spent three years in Rome. Bonnat was an enthusiastic copyist of Old Master paintings, first in Madrid, then in Paris and finally in Rome, a practice that he passed on to his students, who also had access to his growing collection of Old Master paintings. Bonnat began teaching after he had built his reputation as a master of realistic portraiture.
Bonnat's atelier was an unruly fraternity full of noisy, smoking, spitting, and belching young men, which may have taken some getting used to for La Boulaye, who came from a privileged background. In the late spring and early fall, the atelier was hot and sticky with the sweat of the young men who crowded their easels around the models on the posing platform, but the rest of the time it was drafty and freezing, warmed only by a solitary, ancient coal stove and the perspiration of its denizens. However, for a student who really wanted to learn to paint, it was heaven, and each member of Bonnat's fraternity of young men was proud to be listed in the catalogs of the annual Paris Salon as a pupil or "Élève de Leon Bonnat."
Under Bonnat, La Boulaye would have learned to "model," drawing and painting dis-articulated heads, torsos, arms and legs, until he truly mastered artistic anatomy. While some of the Parisian masters could be casual about their teaching, Bonnat devoted a considerable amount of time to his students, who were welcomed into his home on Sundays for discussions and constructive criticism. While many ateliers spent virtually all of their time drawing, Bonnat emphasized painting equally. In the earliest account we have of La Boulaye's life, it was said that "he soon became one of the best students" in the atelier and that he possessed "great promise for the future." ?
Putting the finishing touch on his education, La Boylaye was also said to have studied with one of the Spanish Madrazos, most likely Raimundo Madrazo (1841-1920), who lived in Paris and had been a student of Cogient's with Bonnat. In Paris, an artist never graduated from an atelier, they simply worked on their craft until their paintings were good enough to be exhibited at the annual Salon, which the entire Parisian art world orbited around. Once they were able to see a major work, rather than a mere etude, a study, accepted, their career was launched. Paul La Boulaye made his Salon debut in 1873 with David, a painting of David and Goliath, which is apparently lost. In the critic Jules Claretie's 1876 guide to contemporary French artists, he compared La Boulaye's painting favorably to Lehoux's work of the same subject, admiring the painting's "vigor" and its "crackling and provocative air," but felt that the young painter still did not fully exploit the subject's inherent drama.
In the second half of the 19th century, scenes of peasants, painted in the unique costume of their region, whether Norman, Breton or Alsatian, became increasingly popular. The Salon of 1850, held during the brief, ill-fated Second Republic (1848-1851), was sometimes called "The Peasant Salon" and represented something of a democratization of artistic subjects. It was during the Second Republic that the national motto of Liberté, égalité, fraternité was born, and romanticized scenes of peasants seemed to represent some measure of égalité and certainly a dose of French fraternité, but as for the liberté, that was the province of the politicians.
After a coup brought Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1808-1873), Napoleon III, and his Second Empire, regionalist depictions of picturesque French peasants remained a staple of the annual Salon, along with the military paintings, genre scenes, grand "history" paintings, allegorical works, and the Orientalist paintings that remained the mainstays of popular art. And, it was in this direction of large works that emphasized regional character that La Boulaye's career would eventually go.
However, most of La Boulaye's early works in the Salon were religious scenes. His Martyre ou La Captive ("Martyr or Captive") was shown in 1874, then Mendiante ("Beggar") in 1877, along with a formal portrait. Then in 1878, La Boulaye's entry to the Paris Salon was l'Adoration des bergers ("The Adoration of the Shepards"), which depicted the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus, surrounded by shepherds. The large work, 180 x 240 cm (70" x 94"), appears to have been influenced by Michelangelo de Caravaggio (1571-1610), Jusepe Guiseppe de Ribera (1591-1652), and the artists of the Counter-Reformation, with its dramatic use of chiaroscuro.
In a sense, even the l'Adoration des bergers, is a work on a peasant theme, for the Virgin Mary is depicted in the most humble manner, barefoot, and the shepherds are clad in rags, which echoes the low-born models that Caravaggio used to such great controversy several hundred years before. In 1881, La Boulaye donated the painting to the church in Saint-Martin de Coligny, but its history does not end there. When many church properties were separated from the Catholic church by law, the artist reclaimed the painting in 1909, but later, his family apparently donated the painting back to the diocese, so it hangs in the church in Coligny once again.
As La Boulaye reached artistic maturity, it was peasant subjects, regional subjects that he focused on. His Au sermon, souvenir de la Bresse (1879), was a classic of this kind, an homage to his hometown and region. La Boulaye's 1880 Salon painting Marchandes de volailles en Bresse ("Merchant of Poultry in Bresse"), was another sympathetic treatment of a peasant from his hometown, who is wearing a costume that still would have been familiar to a man of La Boulaye's era.
His 1881 marriage to Constance Chabot (1857-1895), reinforced La Boulaye's artistic direction. His wife was from a respected Bourbonnais family, the daughter of the maire, the mayor of Toulon-sur-Allier, located in the center of the country, in the land that birthed the Bourbon dynasty. The Bourbons had very different customs from La Boulaye's own Brêsse, which like many regions in France, had its own distinctive costumes and chapeau.
As railroads crisscrossed France, and industrialization encouraged more and more peasants to move to the cities, where there were jobs for them in factories, regional differences began to gradually evaporate. The intermingling and intermarrying of French peasants from one part of the nation with another, along with the new department stores, catalogs and mass-market magazines, nationalized fashions, only accelerating this process. So, the artists hurried to document and romanticize the picturesque regional costumes that were commented on by Alexandre Dumas (1802-187) in his 1834 book, Impressions de voyage: Le Midi de la France ("Impressions of a Voyage to the Center of France") or in Abel Hugo's (1798-1865) 1834 volume France pittoresque ("Picturesque France").
Marriage soon provided La Boulaye with a family, but also in-laws and a new region to paint, which was the source of inspiration for some of his finest works, including La Mère Auberger ("Mother Auberger") and a baptismal scene Le Baptême de l'orphelin or Le baptême Bourbonnais ("The Baptism of the Orphan" or "The Bourbon Baptism"), which were both hung in the Salon of 1884, and now grace the Musée Anne de Beaujeu in Moulins, which was the capital of the Bourbon Duchy. In La Mère Auberger, he painted a distinguished older woman wearing the distinctive Bourbon chapeau à deux bonjours, ("The Hat of Two Hellos"), which looks the same, coming or going. This work, where the older sitter is seen in profile is somewhat reminiscent in pose and tone to Whistler's Mother.
In 1889, Le Boulaye returned to his home region for inspiration and exhibited the large (210 x 170mm) painting Au Sermon: souvenir de la Bresse, at the annual Salon. He was rewarded with a 3 Class Medal, which was quite an honor, because only a handful of medals of each class were awarded out of thousands of paintings that were juried into each Salon. This work was purchased by the French state for its museum of contemporary art in Luxembourg Gardens. 1889 was also the centennial of the start of the French Revolution, which was commemorated with another World's Fair, en Exposition Universelle, which always meant a large exhibition of French art from previous Salons and so La Boulaye's Les marchandes de volailles de Bresse was honored with a medal.
As he reached middle age, Le Boulaye exhibited his work less nationally and seemed to concentrate on formal portraits to a greater degree. He began to paint a series of Orientalist-tinged works, usually not classic Oritaliste scenes that were actually set in the Middle East, but simply exotic women in costumes. In Le Boulaye's best work, the models were carefully chosen for then exotic looks, and then posed against rich fabrics, with an interesting juxtaposition of texture and color. He also painted a number of works of modestly sized depictions of Joan of Arc and a series of large, beautifully crafted, rustic still lifes. Le Boulaye also painted nudes, which, while well crafted, tended to be overly sweet, perhaps saccharine to modern tastes.
Settled happily with his family in his wife's Bourbon region, he became a respected figure there, serving as president of the Bourbon Fine Arts Society.
Public Collections: Joan of Arc, R.W. Norton Art Gallery, Shreveport, Louisiana, Martyre ou La Captive (1874), la Ville de Bayonne,
Major Works: David (Salon de 1873), Martyre ou La Captive (Salon de 1874), Mendiante (Salon de 1877), Portrait de M.P. (Salon de 1877), Adoration des bergers (Salon de 1878), Etude (Salon de 1882), La Mère Auberger (1884), Le Baptême de l'orphelin (1884), Au Sermon: souvenir de a Bresse (Salon de 1889) Jeune Orientale Accoudée (1891) Elégante à la cape rose (1893) Sainte Jeanne d'Arc (1909) Femme à l'Epée (1909) Other works included L'Orientale, Le Chapeau Bourbonnais, Jeune fille nue.
Addresses: 77 Rue des Saints-Peres, Paris (1870), 69 Rue de Donai, Paris (1889)
Le Livre d'or du Salon de peinture et de sculpture: catalogue descriptive, George Lafenestre, Paris, Librarie des Bibliophiles, 1889
Annales Bourbonnaises, Recueil Menseul, Historique, Archéologique et Artistique, Roger de Quirielle set E. Delaigue, Moulins, Imprimerie Etienne Auclaire, 1889
Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs & Graveurs, E. Benezit, Paris, R. Roger et F, Chernoviz, Editeurs, 1911
Dictionnaire Véron, Salon de 1884, Théodore Véron, Organe de l'Instititut Universel des Sciences, des Lettres et des Arts, Section des Beaux Arts, Salon de 1884, Paris, Chez M. Bazin, 1884
Bulletin de la Société d'émulation et des Beaux-Arts du Bourbonnais: Bulletin-Revue, Premier Tomer, Moulins, Imprimerie Etienne Auclaire, 1893.
(Copyright, 2014-2015, Jeffrey Morseburg. Not to be reproduced without specific written permission and credit. Jeffrey Morseburg is an appraiser, archivist, researcher and writer who specializes in 19th and 20th century European and American Painting.)
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