Frédéric Bazille and the Birth of Impressionism

On view through July 9, 2017 in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, 6th and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC


A scion of a Protestant upper-middle-class family from Montpellier in southern France, Frédéric Bazille (1841–1870) seemed destined for a career in medicine. In 1862 he traveled to Paris, ostensibly to pursue his medical studies, though he also enrolled as a student in the studio of the painter Charles Gleyre. It was there that he met fellow artists Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley, even sharing studio space with both Monet and Renoir at times. He soon became part of a dynamic circle of avant-garde artists and writers that included Édouard Manet, Henri Fantin-Latour, Émile Zola, and Zacharie Astruc. Like his friends, Bazille created paintings inspired by contemporary life that challenged the aesthetic conventions of the day and helped to lay the groundwork of impressionism. Unfortunately, Bazille was killed in battle during the Franco-Prussian War, just prior to his 29th birthday, bringing his promising career to an abrupt and tragic end.

Because of the brevity of his career, the limited size of his extant body of work, and his absence from the impressionist exhibitions mounted after his death, Bazille remains a relatively unknown and underappreciated figure. This exhibition is the first major presentation of Bazille’s work in America in a quarter-century and brings together some 74 paintings (and two sketchbooks) from private and public collections in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Paintings by Bazille are exhibited alongside key works by the predecessors who inspired him—including Théodore Rousseau and Gustave Courbet—and by the contemporaries, such as Manet and Monet, with whom he was closely associated. Such juxtapositions underscore the extent to which Bazille actively engaged with the most significant pictorial issues of his era: the revival of the still-life form, realist landscapes, open-air figural painting, and the modern nude. Drawing inspiration from the vibrant cultural life of Paris, as well as the sun-drenched environs of his native Languedoc region to which he returned again and again, Bazille crafted a style of painting that was distinctly his own.

In preparation for the exhibition, an extensive campaign of restoration and technical study was carried out. With the help of the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France (C2RMF) and the laboratories at the National Gallery of Art and other American museums, nearly half of Bazille’s known works have been x-rayed, leading to the discovery of a dozen erstwhile compositions hidden beneath the current paint surface—most notably, Young Woman at the Piano, Bazille’s first submission to the Paris Salon, which until now had been presumed lost or destroyed. This research has shed new light on Bazille’s artistic practice and the true extent of his oeuvre.

To plan your visit, obtain an exhibition catalog, or explore the exhibition online, including a free audio tour and hour long video introduction by the curator of 19th-century of French paintings at the National Gallery of Art, Kimberly A. Jones, visit the museum’s website at



Frédéric Bazille
French, 1841-1870
Self-Portrait, 1865/66
Oil on canvas
108.9 x 71.1 cm (42 7/8 x 28 3/8 in.)
Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank H. Woods in memory of Mrs. Edward Harris Brewer
The Art Institute of Chicago

“Still Life with Heron” , 1867

“The Western Ramparts at Aigues-Mortes”, 1867

“The Family Gathering”, 1867-1868



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