11/02/15 Aggiornato il:

Jules-Joseph Lefebvre | Academic painter




Winner of the coveted Prix de Rome in 1861, Lefebvre fulfilled his early promise both as a painter of meticulously executed portraits and nudes and as a teacher: during his long career, he earned three Salon medals, was appointed to the French Academy of Fine Arts, and attained the rank of Commander in the Legion of Honor.



A reviewer at the 1881 Paris Salon wrote the following about Jules-Joseph Lefèbvre: "It is sufficient to just mention his name in order to immediately evoke the memory and the image of the thousand adorable creatures of which he is the father.... Jules Lefèbvre, better than anyone else caresses, with a brush both delicate and sure, the undulating contour of the feminine form".


Like a typical academic artist, Lefèbvre started his career with the traditional subject matter of histories and other narratives. It would not be till later in his career that he would focus exclusively on the human figure in portraiture and especially the female nude, with great ability and success.
Lefèbvre was born on March 14th, 1836. Though his father was only a baker, he nonetheless encouraged his son to pursue painting, sending him to study in Paris in 1852. There, Lefèbvre became a pupil of Léon Cogniet and a year later started attending the École des Beaux Arts. His debut at the Paris Salon was in 1855. He then spent the next few years pursuing the coveted Prix de Rome (the main competition for young painters, which would win him five years of study in Rome and a reputation that would all but guarantee a successful career). In 1859 he came close, placing second. Two years later the history painting The Death of Priam would win him first place.


It would be during his stay in Rome that he would find his individual artistic niche. Able to study the great Italian masters, Lefèbvre was fascinated by the Mannerist painters, especially Andrea del Sarto. He copied his work avidly and demonstrated Andrea’s influence in his painting Boy Painting a Tragic Mask (1863). It was also during this time that his interest in the female nude began, painting his first in 1863. Among other works he did in Rome, he sent the narrative Roman Charity to the salon of 1864 and painted Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi in 1866. The latter narrative, however, was ill received by experts, arousing overwhelming criticism. That same year his parents and one of his sisters died. These negative events in both his personal and professional life sent him into severe depression.
He emerged from his depression and came back to Paris with a different approach to art and a change of interest in subject matter. He apparently became disenchanted with the traditional formulaic approach to painting, instead turning towards more precise rendering from life. In 1868 he exhibited a Reclining Nude at the Salon, which unlike his last significant work, won him much praise. Two years later, his allegory of Truth became his first great success. A beautiful young woman holds up a mirror (the conventional symbol of truth). This symbol, though, is at the very top of the painting, so, in order to get to it one’s eye has to caress the sensuous feminine curves over the length of the outstretched figure. Shortly after the success of this nude, he was made an officer in the Legion of Honor.
What followed in the decades to come were variations on Truth. His many beautiful nudes took the roles of Mary Magdalene (1876), Pandora (1877), Diana (1879), Psyche (1883), and Aurora among others. His nudes became so famous that his only rival was considered to be Bouguereau. Unlike Bouguereau’s figures though, Lefébvre used a greater variety of models, which can be seen in his work.

It is not surprising then that he exhibited seventy-two portraits at the Paris Salon from 1855-1898. Most, of course, are of women. Among those who sat for him include his daughter Yvonne, the Imperial Prince in 1874, and the novelist Alexandre Dumas (1869), who also seems to have admired his nudes, purchasing a Femme Nue in 1892.
In the 1870’s he became a teacher at the Academie Julien (an atelier that trained women artists as well as men over a decade before they were also permitted into L’École des Beaux Arts). There he is said to have insisted to his students on absolute precision in life drawing. There he became the most admired and sought after teacher of American ex-patriots, who came to Paris to study. Among his most famous American students, were Child Hassam, Frank Benson and Edmund Tarbell.

Following the success of Truth, his accolades kept accumulating. Having won increasingly significant acclaim at the Universal Expositions, he ended up winning the grand prize in 1889. In 1891, he was made a member of the Academie des Beaux Arts. And in 1898, he was promoted to Commander in the Legion of Honor.
What was admired then about Lefèbvre, and can be admired today is the idealized realism of his figures. His "thousand adorable creatures" are beautiful yet individualized.
Jules Lefèbvre died on February 24th 1911.

Teacher of: Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942), Louis Aston Knight (1873-1948), Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938), Louis Abel-Truchet (Louis Abel Truchet) (1857-1918), Marcel Andre Baschet (1862-1941), Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951), Jean Bonnier (1882-), Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau (1837-1922), Jean Cottenet, Kenyon Cox (1856-1919), Angele Delasalle (1856-), Edouard Edmond Doigneau (1865-), Frank Vincent Du Mond (1865-1951), Charles Jules Duvent (Charles Jules Duvent) (1867-1940), Edward Frederick Ertz (1862-1954), Rodolphe Fornerod (1877-), Joseph David Greenbaum (1864-1940), Childe Hassam (1859-1935), George Hitchcock (1850-1913), William Henry Hyde (1858-1943), Amedee Joullin (Amédée Joullin) (1862-1917), Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921), Frederick William MacMonnies (1863-1937), Gari Melchers (1860-1932), Willard Leroy Metcalf (1858-1925), Elizabeth Nourse (1860-1938), Marie Magdelei Real Del Sarte (-1928), Robert Reid (1862-1929), Guy Rose (1867-1925), Joseph Henry Sharp (Joseph Henry Sharp) (1859-1953), Elisabeth Sonrel (1874-), Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862-1938), Belmiro de Almeida (1858-1941), Thomas Benjamin Kennington (Thomas Benjamin Kennington) (1856-1916)
























LEFEBVRE, Pierre-François-Joseph - Duca di Danzica, maresciallo di Francia, nato a Ruffach (Alsazia) il 29 ottobre 1755, morto a Parigi il 14 settembre 1820. Dopo essere stato sergente delle guardie reali francesi, si trovò nel 1793 ai primi moti della Rivoluzione capitano nell'armata della Mosella. Alla fine di quello stesso anno era al comando d'una divisione d'avanguardia nell'armata del Reno e Mosella sotto Hoche. Seguì di poi in tutte le sue imprese il Jourdan, di cui fu uno dei più fidi luogotenenti, e si segnalò in particolar modo nella battaglia di Fleurs (1794) e di Altenkirchen (1796). Ferito alla battaglia di Stokach (1799), si trovò a Parigi il 18 brumaio e fu tra i fautori di Bonaparte. Compreso nella prima lista dei marescialli di Francia (1804), tenne nella battaglia di Jena il comando della guardia imperiale a piedi e pose poi l'assedio a Danzica, costringendola a capitolare con azione energica e abile, che Napoleone compensò dandogli il titolo di duca di Danzica e un cospicuo appannaggio. Nella guerra di Spagna fu a capo d'un corpo d'armata e nel 1809 cooperò, con i contingenti bavaresi, alle vittorie di Eckmühl e di Wagram. Come comandante della guardia imperiale seguì Napoleone nella campagna di Russia e poi fino all'ultimo nella campagna del 1814 in Francia. Nel 1800 era stato nominato senatore.
Soldato valoroso, più che geniale stratega (dotato però di un naturale colpo d'occhio sul campo) il maresciallo L., che era uomo di non elevata cultura, brillò per lealtà e non abbandonò mai una semplicità di modi e una rude franchezza di linguaggio che rivelavano le sue origini popolari, da lui, caso raro, confessate e ricordate. Quand'era ancora sergente aveva sposato la lavandaia del reggimento, che, nonostante le insistenze anche di Napoleone, non volle mai ripudiare. Le maniere di lei, conservatasi popolana anche nella prosperità, le valsero il soprannome di Madame Sans-gêne. /© Pompilio Schiarini Treccani, Enciclopedia Italiana