Eugene Fromentin (October 24, 1820 –
August 27, 1876) was a French painter and writer.
He was born in La Rochelle. After leaving school he studied for some
years under Louis Cabat, the landscape painter. Fromentin was one of
the earliest pictorial interpreters of Algeria, having been able,
while quite young, to visit the land and people that suggested the
subjects of most of his works, and to store his memory as well as
his portfolio with the picturesque and characteristic details of
North African life. In 1849 he obtained a medal of the second class.
In 1852, he paid a second visit to
Algeria, accompanying an archaeological mission, and then completed
that minute study of the scenery of the country and of the habits of
its people which enabled him to give to his after-work the realistic
accuracy that comes from intimate knowledge. In a certain sense his
works are contributions to ethnological science as much as they are
works of art.
He has also written The Old Masters of Belgium and Holland,
Dominique and A Summer in the Sahara. In The Old Masters of Belgium
and Holland he deals with the complexity of Rubens and Rembrandt's
paintings, style and the artists' emotions at the time of creating
their masterpieces. He is also one of the first "art critics" to
approach the subject of The Old Masters from a personal point of
view - being a painter himself. He also puts Rubens' work in a
social, political and economic context, as the Dutch School of
painting develops shortly after Holland won its independence in
1609. Meyer Schapiro has written an essay on Fromentin, "Eugene
Fromentin as Critic".
Fromentin, who maintained that "art is the expression of the
invisible by means of the visible", was much influenced in style by
Eugène Delacroix. His works are distinguished by striking
composition, great dexterity of handling and brilliancy of colour.
In them is given with great truth and refinement the unconscious
grandeur of barbarian and animal attitudes and gestures. His later
works, however, show signs of an exhausted vein and of an exhausted
spirit, accompanied or caused by physical enfeeblement.
But it must be observed that
Fromentin's paintings show only one side of a genius that was
perhaps even more felicitously expressed in literature, though with
less profusion. Dominique, first published in the Revue des deux
mondes in 1862, and dedicated to George Sand, is remarkable among
the fiction of the century for delicate and imaginative observation
and for emotional earnestness.
Fromentin's other literary works
are Visites artistiques (1852); Simples Pèlerinages (1856); Un été
dans le Sahara (1857); Une année dans le Sahel (1858); and Les
Maîtres d'autrefois (1876), the last an influential appreciation of
Early Netherlandish painting and the Northern Baroque to Rembrandt .
In 1876 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Academy. He died
suddenly at La Rochelle on August 27, 1876.
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