Summer Scene

7:00 AM

Jean Frederic Bazille, Summer Scene, 1869

Frederic Bazille, a short-lived, early impressionist painter, painted the Summer Scene in 1869, just a year before he was killed in Franco-Prussian War. A close friend of Claude Monet, Bazille was among the few forerunners of the Impressionist movement. However, unlike Monet, who devoted himself entirely to his art, Bazille never applied himself completely to a career as a painter. Perhaps due to the finical support from his father, art merely remained a hobby to him, never something to pursue relentlessly. Nevertheless his work, which centered around the emerging idea of “modern” then, represented the cutting edge of the yet-to-coin Impressionist movement.

The subject matter of the painting was familiar yet unusual at the time. Its familiarity lies in the popularity of the theme picnic, or Dejeuner sur I’Herbe, that was frequently depicted by contemporary artists. In fact, Bazille posed for Monet in one of his Le Dejeuner. However, Summer Scene reflects something more than just the idea of modern leisure and the interactive relationship of men and nature. The subject matter of a group of male bathers in a world where female nudes dominated the body discourse, was rare and little-recognized. The depiction of bathing scenes makes it guiltless and acceptable for the viewers to engage in a form of voyeurism without necessarily associating its nudity with sexual act. Robert Brettell says, “Bathers are nude because they have to be; they are merely engaged in a cleansing ritual.” Similarly, the borrowing of classic poses for his modern figures allows Bazille to access the subject of male nudes without violating the conventional bourgeois morality. The modern Saint Sebastian in the foreground, and the wrestling nudes in the background which recalls traditional Greek gymnasium, suggest viewers that this is a modern form of Arcadia, an idealistic life of brotherhood that resembles the ancient Greeks, not necessarily a depiction of homosocial (or sexual) discourse.

The painting was well received and accepted by the Salon of 1870. To me it presents something unique and inspiring comparing to his contemporaries. If Bazille weren’t killed in the following year, he might find his own direction and certainly add variety to the gallery of 19th century paintings.

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