Jules Bastien-Lepage died tragically young, in 1884, when he was in his late thirties. He painted one masterpiece, Joan Listening To the Voices (above),
which now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
It's impossible to describe the effect of this large canvas, with its
complex and convincing illusion of space, which Joan seems about to step out of,
prompted forward by her visions. It's an example of a
photo-realistic technique enlisted in the service of mystical drama.
Bastien-Lepage groped about a bit in his short career, with stylized
works of grandiose ambition that seem clumsy and pretentious and
modest genre paintings that seem trite, but his über-photographic style
could occasionally produce miracles, like this extraordinary portrait of Sarah Bernhardt,
which has the quality of a bas-relief:
No other evocation of Bernhardt, in literature, art or photography,
brings us as close as Bastien-Lepage's portrait does to the charisma of
the great artist. Nadar's photographs of the young actress
humanize her, touch the heart — Bastien-Lepage's portrait records the
determined audacity of her genius. She seems powerful and
vulnerable at the same time, part of the alchemy of a star.
The American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens did a remarkable
bas-relief portrait of Bastien-Lepage in bronze, which makes a fine
pendant to Bastien-Lepage's portrait of Bernhardt — both have a
tactile grace that takes the breath away, both summon their subjects into
our immediate presence, obliterating time and mortality: