Still journeys in the company of the painter François-Auguste Biard

37, 31, 8 only… From Danish paintings at the Petit Palais in Matisse at the Center Pompidou, many exhibitions will have lived only a few days of “meeting” with their public. Some, even, ready to receive amateurs, could not open their doors.

This is the case with the hanging that the Maison de Victor Hugo devotes to a relatively little-known artist, François-Auguste Biard (1799-1882), a traveling painter to whom confinement played a very bad turn …

Fortunately, a remote guided tour offers, through a selection of twenty works commented by the curator of the exhibition, Vincent Gille, to go virtually in the footsteps of this character with singular talent. It is completed by a cycle of podcasts designed in the ingenious form of an alphabet book and, for those who have been seduced by the experience, of a catalog, a preview of which can be found in the form of an online leaf.

As a preamble, we will learn that the link between Hugo and Biard is a matter of love and… of betrayal: in fact, the first maintained an affair with the second’s wife, Léonie d’Aunet. Another common point is the love of vast horizons, an enterprising temperament, the desire to embrace immensity.

From North to south

François-Auguste Biard was born in Lyon on June 29, 1799. There he followed a course in Fine Arts, then, at age 26, his first trip took him to THE land of painters, Italy. His fate then seems to be sealed: the young man then finds a position as a drawing teacher on board a boat that sails in the Mediterranean. He was just 30 years old when, eager to go much further, he set sail for Spitsbergen and Lapland.

The impressive northern landscapes made a strong impression on his adventurous spirit, as evidenced by large compositions performed in the studio on his return in the early 1840s. Classically, realistic, they are never stingy with lyricism, thanks to the symphony whites – pure, gray, bluish… – and the liveliness of shapes worked by the cold and the wind. On the sea, between the blocks of ice, fragile boats (sometimes attacked by polar bears!) Also tell the daily life of the peoples of the North to which Biard wants to testify to the French public, between a quest for accuracy and observation enhanced by picturesque. ” Their frightening truth », Fascinates the public.

A similar appetite for novelty led him to Brazil at the end of the 1850s. After a stay at the Emperor’s court and, doubtless weary of social life and a sedentary lifestyle which decidedly did not suit him, here is our artist on the way for more distant lands ” where the ax has never passed »: Manaus, the Rio Negro, the Rio Madeira. An ambitious two-year tour of which he will narrate the episodes with an amused and sincere pen in a story worthy of the best explorers – he falls ill in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, aggressive ants destroy his work … -, we discover in thread of the virtual exhibition.

The humor of a sharp observer

This amiable irony, born of a very keen sense of observation, François-Auguste Biard also likes to put down on the canvas. See this dreamy Indian, flowering branch in his mouth, foot casually immersed in the water, who lets himself be gently rocked on his canoe.

This humor will be worth some criticism to the painter as soon as he infuses it into less distant canvases, genre scenes all European pointing to the small weaknesses and boasting of his contemporaries … It is said that, in his studio, ” this charming man … endowed with a spicy chat », Surrounded himself with many friends, artists but also scientists, naval officers, writers and actors. Philosophical reflections, mathematical theories and puns of rifles flowed there in a joyful disorder, tells us one of the episodes of the podcast.

Against slavery

Having seen so many countries and rubbed shoulders with so many different civilizations, could not leave this man curious about the world and his fellows insensitive to the political and social passions of his time. Biard is not an activist but, on his return from Brazil, he entrusts his works with boldly reporting on the scandalous reality of the slave trade. Théophile Gautier but also Victor Schoelcher are interested in his work, the latter seeing ” one of the finest pleas against trafficking “. Like a consecration, the Republic will later order a Abolition of slavery in the French colonies in 1848, composition produced in 1849.


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