Joseph Bail(1862 - 1921)
Joseph-Claude Bail was born during a period of intense disagreement in the Parisian art world. For several years the Salon juries had rejected many progressive artists works; printmaking was making a charge at establishing itself as a true art form; the Barbizon group of painters challenged the tradition of historical landscapes with their views of the modern countryside; and Realism was decades old and had brought forth such combative figures as Gustave Courbet. Yet not all artists can be said to belong this modern view of the nineteenth century. Numerous artists found prestige and public acclaim both at the Salons and with the public with works that relied on past styles and traditions influenced by the “Little Masters” from seventeenth century
Joseph Bail was born on
While other artists were changing the shape of art through modernist distortions of form, the Bails looked backward, creating a painting style that showed a devotion to the past and reflected the values of former times.
In a period of increasing modernity and industrialization, these paintings glorified the past ways of life in
Presumably beginning at a young age, Joseph’s initial artistic training began with his father who instilled in him a respect for the eighteenth-century French painters such as Jean-Siméon Chardin and the Dutch masters and encouraged him to view their works at the Louvre. (Weisberg, pg. 156) As all three members of the family, Jean-Antoine, Franck, and Joseph, were artists, the Bail family represents one of the few associations of family painters of the Realist tradition remaining during the latter half of the nineteenth century. They could often be found exhibiting alongside one another at the annual Salons, showing work which displayed similar qualities in subject matter. After beginning his training under his father, Bail began studying, presumably between 1879 and 1880, in the atelier of Jean-Léon Gérôme, an accomplished painter and teacher of the period. This was a short-lived period of tutelage as in 1882 he was no longer listed in Salon catalogues as Bail’s teacher, perhaps because Gérôme’s choice of subjects differed quite dramatically from those of his father and those that Bail would follow for the majority of his career.
Just after his sixteenth birthday, Bail debuted at the Salon of 1878, alongside both his father and brother, with Nature Morte (Still Life). The still life tradition in
While still lifes dominate Bail’s beginning work shown at the Salon, he expanded his early themes to also include scenes from the countryside, animals, and genre paintings, some influenced by their summer stays in Bois-le-Roi just outside of
He excels at creating in all of his painting a very lively bright light due to the radiant shine of some brilliant point or to the direct projection of the exterior daylight…it’s assuredly the expression of an original and rather harmonious art. His technique is very delicate and his coloring just right. The composition of his painting, always elegant, is skillfully treated.
His interiors often included a figure positioned near a window, illuminated by this strong sense of lighting. It was specifically his interior scenes that caught the attention of contemporary writers, as Bail's entry in the Dictionnaire Nationale des Contemporains (Vol. 5, Paris: Office Édition Générale: 1905, pg. 398), commented on his sensitive approach:
Mr. Joseph Bail painted canvases of the most diverse genres: All of his works are interesting; but those that one finds the most remarkable are his interior scenes, so admirably and so precisely lit, so harmoniously composed, where the shine of the copper and the transparency of the glass add notes of a perfect precision.
He also combined his modeling and placement of objects with his interest in human form and emotion in several of his works, depicting the daily activities of the household as completed by maids and cooks, many of whom were young children, thus continuing the tradition of Théodule Ribot. Bail became best known for these paintings of maids and cooks and with them “Bail continually mirrored the virtues of middle class home life and the traditions of an earlier time,” wrote Gabriel Weisberg (pg. 157). Instead of depicting these figures with solemn expressions that suggested the difficulty of their labor, they often exhibit light-hearted expressions bordering on the humoristic. Weisberg again notes that “Collected by the affluent, Bail’s domestics, like Bastien-Lepage’s urchins, implied a social condition without blatantly revealing the injustices that inflicted the poor. They remain personal and approachable icons to a social order that was to be radically altered by the further mechanization of the twentieth century.” (pg. 159)
Bail regularly submitted to the Salons and towards the end of his careers was “hors concours”, or exempt from having to submit his works for jury approval. He received awards in 1885 (Honorable Mention), 1886 (third-class medal), 1887 (second-class medal), 1889 Exposition Universelle (silver medal), 1900 Exposition Universelle (gold medal), and 1902 (medal of honor). He was also named Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1900, and was a member of the Société des Artistes Français. He died
Joseph Bail presents an oeuvre which was inspired by his father’s interest in earlier masters but also used the current trend in Realism, inspired by his earlier contemporaries such as Théodule Ribot and François Bonvin. His playful images of cooks and their young assistants, along with an interest in light effects, established Bail as an artist who not only looked to the past but who used the modern movement of Realism to execute paintings that showed modern-day preoccupations with daily life that was becoming more and more rare in late nineteenth century France.
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