Après-Midi à Fréjus signed 'Lebasque' (lower right) oil on canvas 54 x 65cm (21 1/4 x 25 9/16in).
PROVENANCE Galerie Leymarie, Paris.
LITERATURE D. Bazetoux, Henri Lebasque, Catalogue raisonné, vol. I, Paris, 2008, p. 332, no. 1380 (illustrated).
The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Madame Christine Lenoir and Madame de la Ville Fromoit.
This work is also sold with a photo-certificate of authenticity from Madame Denise Bazetoux dated le 30 juin 1995.
Taking the verdant southern French landscape and an elegantly arranged group of figures as his subject, Henri Lebasque presents us with a typically Impressionist composition, bathed in light and composed of bold brushwork. Lebasque's characteristic air of tranquillity is omnipresent in Après-Midi à Fréjus. A typically intimate composition, this work is also an example of his lifelong focus on quiet scenes of family life.
Here, a group of girls sit on a hilltop overlooking a sunny valley to the mountains beyond. They avoid our gaze, focussing instead on individual tasks with an air of careful industry. The stillness of the composition is typical of Lebasque's oeuvre: 'There is a sense of calm infused in [his] paintings which celebrates the richness and fullness of life [in] his placid scenes of gardens and beaches, terraces and dinner tables' (L.A. Banner and P.M. Fairbanks, Lebasque 1865-1937, San Francisco, 1986, p. 12).
The present composition was painted at Fréjus, a coastal town on the French Riviera, south west of Le Cannet. Having seldom travelled in his early life, Lebasque first visited the region in 1906 at the invitation of his friend and fellow artist Henri Manguin, and after spending an increasing amount of time in the south, moved his family permanently to Le Cannet in 1924.
The artist is renowned for his fascination with the portrayal of women in landscapes, often depicting his wife and children, but as so often in his compositions, the faces of the girls in Après-Midi à Fréjus are blurred and anonymous. No individual features can be discerned, and their heads are lowered, further masking their faces. Along with an increasing tendency to idealise his figures, Lebasque adopted this technique more commonly after 1917, following his employment as an official war artist during the First World War. This omission of individual features paradoxically enables the viewer to identify more closely with the sitter.
In the present work, our eye is drawn quickly beyond the girls seated in the foreground to the sunlit valley and the mountain ridge beyond. Lebasque folds his figures into nature, creating a harmonious whole. His daughter Marthe, who often modelled for her father, explained that 'when people are included in a landscape they form part of the atmosphere and the surroundings that he sought before all else to recreate. The expression of the faces then has less importance' (quoted in op. cit., p. 113).
Formed of contrasting flat strokes of colour and arabesque outlines, Lebasque's style may have been partly influenced by his early work as a journeyman painter. Whilst an apprentice to Léon Bonnat in Paris, Lebasque was forced to supplement his small income by painting the religious statues in the church of Saint-Sulpice, applying paint in flat dabs of pure colour. This, according to Lisa A. Banner, 'contributed to the refinement of his style, encouraging a lyrical ornamental flatness and easy brush strokes... These aspects, and a characteristic sensitivity to light, began to shape Lebasque's personal style of painting' (op. cit., p. 14).
This technique, along with a sense of an all-over composition and a concentration on domestic subjects, may have also been influenced by Lebasque's friendship with his Nabi contemporaries. As a young artist in Paris he learned of Seurat's colour theories through Signac, whose stress on the use of complementary colours can be seen in Lebasque's delicate interplay of cool lilacs, mauves and blues against the warmer yellows and hints of orange in Après-Midi à Fréjus.
The influence of his Fauve acquaintances has also been read in Lebasque's deft use of colour, but his more subtle palette, intimate scenes and delicate observation of light allows the present work to stand as an example of Lebasque's own unique style.