French painter born at Montpellier 1841, died in action at Beaune-la-Rolande during the Franco-Prussian war, 1870. Bazille came of good Protestant, bourgeois stock. His father, a wine-grower on a large scale, became senator for the Hérault Department in 1879. His mother was Marguerite Vialars. The family was friendly with the famous connoisseur, Bruyas, who made him acquainted with modern painting, Courbet and Delacroix, at an early age. He took some drawing lessons from a modeller, Baussan. He was about the same age as Monet, Renoir and Sisley, whom he met shortly after his arrival in Paris, in 1862. He went there to study medicine and painting. He soon failed in medicine, which bored him, but applied himself with passion to his art studies. He enrolled as a pupil of the Swiss painter Gleyre (vide Atelier Gleyre) and met in his academy the three painters who were to become his friends. Very often they -- Monet in particular -- would appeal to his generosity, and as he was less impecunious than they, thanks to a modest allowance he received from home, he found it quite normal to come to their aid. With Monet and Renoir he often went to paint in the open. More than either of them Bazille liked to express himself in light colours and convey the limpidity of the atmosphere. Everyone recognized his merits. Thus Impressionism, which was to manifest itself some ten years later, was unconsciously being prepared. But Bazille, who had a share in its evolution and was one of its most enthusiastic and gifted exponents, and -- according to his friends -- one of its most devout supporters, was destined not to be there when the group made its first public appearance in 1874. War had come. Bazille had enlisted in the army and was killed in the battle of Beaune-la-Rolande.
Impressionism had lost at the very outset one of its finest artists. Later on, Bazille was forgotten. But time gives things their proper perspective, and now his qualities are being rediscovered. Bazille's work provided a link between Courbet, whose work he admired at Montpellier, and that of the Impressionists, whom he foreshadowed, and shows how the aesthetic revolutions of the nineteenth century formed a logical chain with classicism in a far more direct manner than was generally believed. If he had lived to become one of the great masters of the movement, perhaps the significance of his work would have seemed less exceptional. Dramatically limited to fewer than one hundred paintings, his work shows an astonishing mastery, and impresses one with its unity and firmness of style. His most significant canvas is Family Reunion, which seems like a summing-up of his work as a whole. All the seriousness and fervour of Bazille's character are expressed in it, and all his favourite themes are to be found there: flowers, placid portraits, landscapes with distant horizons, trees, and the peace and quiet of family intimacy. This untroubled, unaffected art is neither banal nor indifferent. It seeks to attain grandeur through tranquillity; and the immobility of his figures gives the composition an amazing density which never becomes overpowering. It is difficult to know what to prefer in this work: the brilliant colouring of the still life in the middle of the picture or the intensity of the portraits.