Un atelier aux Batignolles (A Studio at Les Batignolles)1870 by Henri Fantin-Latour

Batignolles is part of the 17th arondissement of the city of Paris. At the time of Fantin-Latour, this was a cultural hive of activity and served as a base for young painters such as Édouard Manet and many of his artist friends who, because of the locality, became known as Le groupe des Batignolles. This painting is a kind of “who’s who” of that group. It is more than just that. In some ways it is Henri Fantin-Latour paying homage to his friend Manet.

We are in the atelier of Édouard Manet and we see him sitting at his easel. He concentrates on the man sitting in the other chair, the subject of his painting, Zacharie Astruc. Astruc was a painter, poet, sculptor and art critic who had rallied to support the likes of Courbet and Manet and the Impressionist group of painters when they were constantly being criticized. Standing around and watching the artist at work are some of his friends. At the far left of the painting, seen standing directly behind Manet is the German painter Otto Schölderer. Next to him, wearing a hat, is Auguste Renoir. Further to the right of the painting and almost in the background, are Emile Zola, the writer who also championed the cause of the Impressionists in their struggle with the Salon and its condemnation of this new grouping of artists, Edmond Maître another supporter of the Impressionist painters and who was, at the time, a civil servant at the town hall. Almost hidden in the corner of the painting is Claude Monet. Standing tall and upright behind the chair with a full beard is the 26-year old, Frédéric Bazille, who two months after this painting was completed was killed in the Franco-Prussian War.

There is a formal air to this group portrait. The men are all dressed in somber dark suits and their expressions are serious and unsmiling. All these young artists had suffered at the hands of the art critics of the day. They and their paintings were accused of being frivolous and contrary to what the art establishment was used to. It is possibly for that reason that Henri Fantin-Latour decided to depict the gathering so formally and with an air of respectability. Could this desire to show how these young artists had not completely put the antique traditions of the Academics of the Salon behind them be the reason why the artist has included a statuette of Minerva on the table at the left of the painting? In my last blog regarding Monet and Camille Doncieux I mentioned that all things Japanese were the rage in Paris and France in the late 19th century. Look how Fantin-Latour has positioned a Japanese stoneware vase next top Minerva in the painting.

This work by Henri Fantin-Latour is almost a historical painting. It records for us a time in history when these characters were leaving their mark. Each one of them is posing for posterity. Zola once wrote about the struggle these artists had to endure and the way in which Édouard Manet tried to rally them when they became dispirited. He wrote:
“…Around the painter so disparaged by the public has grown up a common front of painters and writers who claim him as a master…”
Click to select the cover image for this artwork.
Imported from: hyperallergic.com
Media: oil on canvas