Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton(1827 - 1906)
Breton was one of the most celebrated artists of his generation. He 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