Through it Bastien-Lepage was remaking genre painting. The diversions of a little cook or naughty schoolboy in the work of Pierre-Edouard Frère in the 1850s are brought to a much more serious conclusion in the present work. Where formerly Lepage’s country characters adopt frontal poses and are held in focus, this boy, unlike the barge boy and school-girl, is presented in situ, tempting the household cats with his frugal meal. And where formerly, such a moment would be captured on a small scale for the connoisseur’s cabinet, here the canvas is over a meter square. A poised cat, leather knee-pads, the "damper" from an iron stove, blackened hands, beautifully rendered, give more than circumstantial authenticity. They are part of the human chain that brings this character, these furnishings, in this moment, vividly alive. Naturalism, in short, achieves its fullest statement. We can almost say where precisely we are – for the chair in the background was a favorite of the artist’s grandfather (fig. 1).
André Theuriet reported that Bastien-Lepage was working on the canvas in March 1883, at the same time as he was sending his L’Amour au Village (Pushkin Museum, Moscow), an English-inspired theme, to the Salon. He declared that in this scene of rustic lovers he was hoping to express a "very English sentiment." It was not "sentimental" in our modern sense, so much as the feeling of the moment expressed objectively. In the same way with Le petit ramoneur, the coarse, maudlin amusements of Paul-Charles Chocarne-Moreau are rejected. Few around him could achieve this rigour, this linear precision, this depth of scrutiny that we find in Bastien-Lepage.
A watercolour version, presumably a study of the Ramoneur appeared in the studio sale but has since disappeared, and a fine engraving by the artist’s friend, Charles Baude, is known.
1 See for instance, Luce Abélès and Ségolène Le Men, Les Français peints par Eux-Mêmes, 1993 (exhibition catalogue, Musée d'Orsay, Paris).
2 For reference to Bastien-Lepage’s Little London Bootblack and London Flower Seller (sold in these rooms, May 7, 2015, lot 6), see Lobstein, 2007, no. 53, 55.
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