The subject of the present work, Thérèse des Hours, was Bazille’s cousin and primary subject for many of his best known canvases, including La Robe rose and his most famous Réunion de famille, both also in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay (see figs. 1 & 2). The Bazille and des Hours families summered together at the Méric estate, a magnificent homestead in Castelnau-le-Lez near Montepellier. Méric was of central importance to both families, serving not only as their summer residence but also a source of income, given the thirty acres of vineyards encompassed within its sweeping grounds. As Gabriel Sarraute once wrote, “Méric for him would always be synonymous with the heavenly long vacations” (Gabriel Sarraute, Rétrospective Bazille, La Peinture de l’été languedocien” in Arts, June 9, 1950, p. 8). It was here that he painted many of his greatest contributions to the historical canon of Impressionism, with its gardens serving as the backdrop for many masterworks including Réunion de famille, which was painted there in the same summer as Thérèse lisant dans le parc de Méric.
As Paul Perrin writes in his essay for the current Bazille retrospective on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., “Fréderic Bazille, who was killed before reaching the age of twenty-nine, painted only just over sixty pictures in less than eight years. During his lifetime, he sold not a single one and exhibited only five at the Salon. His early demise prevented him from taking part in the flourishing of impressionism and sharing the success of his friends Monet and Renoir, and any attention his paintings, nearly all kept at his parents’ home in Montpellier, were getting was exclusively from his family and their visitors. Everything seemed to be conspiring to condemn the artist to the limbo of art history, and yet, a hundred and fifty years on, we find Bazille’s work in the world’s most famous museums, and being celebrated once more” (Paul Perrin, “Frédéric Bazille’s Fame has Only Just Begun” in Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870) and the Birth of Impressionism (exhibition catalogue), Musée Fabre, Montpellier, Musée d’Orsay, Paris & National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2016-17, p. 203).
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