Julien Dupré, A Naturalist Painter

II. Building a Career

Dupré's generation came of age in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War when the Realism of the 1850s and 1860s was being enriched by trends converging from a variety of directions. Although there was occasionally fierce debate among individual artists, there was also a natural overlapping of diverse aesthetic perspectives during the Third Republic. The broad social context of the period was defined by increasing industrialization and internationalism as well as the often dramatic social consequences that followed.

One of the most significant changes of the time was the opening of trade between France and Japan in 1858. Western artists were introduced to aesthetic conventions that were based neither on the mathematical perspective systems of the Renaissance nor on classical and biblical cultural references. The impact of Japanese design principles was evident as early as 1863 when Édouard Manet and James McNeill Whistler made use of flattened spatial compositions in their controversial submissions to the Salon des refusés. Despite the critical and public rejection of Luncheon on the Grass and Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl, there was no doubt that Manet and Whistler posed serious questions about the conventions of western art in these canvases. A few years later, Whistler made his debt to Japanese art explicit in Princess from Land of Porcelain (1864-65) as did Manet in his Portrait of Zola (1868). Their admiration of Japanese art would be absorbed in turn by the slightly younger Realist painters gathering in Paris in the 1860s.

In the opening years of the Third Republic, those young artists would implement their plans for an independent exhibition that they had first proposed in 1867. Inspired by the autonomous actions of both Manet and Courbet in organizing solo exhibitions to coincide with the Exposition universelle in 1867, and informed by their own experiences of the erratic acceptance of their work by Salon juries, this group of young Realists opened their first independent show in 1874. Le Charivari's art critic Louis Leroy entitled his unfavorable review of the show "L'exposition des impressionistes", thus establishing the derogatory name by which the group would become known. Regardless of the initial public reception of their work, however, the Impressionists asserted the validity of independent exhibitions as an alternative to the annual Salons. They saw themselves as upholding the standards of the earlier Realists, both in depicting everyday life as their primary subject matter and in their willingness to experiment with new techniques, many of which were sparked by their exposure to Japanese art and design.

Less experimental, but perhaps more influential in the short term was the Realism of painters like Isidore Pils (1815-1875), Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), and Alexandre Antigna (1817-1878). These men established their careers during the Second Empire under Napoleon III, but they drew a distinction between overt political commentary and the expression of compassion for the victims of social injustice. Because their paintings were composed and executed in the established Salon style, they fostered an official acceptance of social justice images by the French government. As Gabriel P. Weisberg has noted, "Realist art did not necessarily imply radical politics, but it did imply social consciousness." The issues of poverty and inequity would continue to be represented throughout the Third Republic in the work of artists as diverse as Vincent van Gogh and Fernand Pelez.

For Julien Dupré, the most crucial inheritance from the earlier Realists was the development of a fresh approach to the painting of rural life, particularly the work of Jean-François Millet (1814-1875). There was a long tradition of depicting peasant life in Holland and Flanders dating back at least as far as the 1400s, but the tone was typically comic, often with a moral lesson attached. Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569) set the standard in sixteenth century Flanders and was promptly followed by the masters of the seventeenth century such as Adriaen Brouwer, Jan Steen, Gerard ter Borch and Pieter de Hooch. These artists specialized in domestic genre scenes that offered a glimpse of the daily life of the common people, whether sharing a meal at a humble table, tending cattle in the fields or cavorting at local festivals. Like the earlier examples, these paintings were frequently intended to provide social criticism of the mores of the time. Nineteenth-century Realism continued the tradition of social commentary, but generally eliminated the representation of rural workers as suitable subjects for derisive laughter. Courbet's painting The Stonebreakers (1849) illustrates this new approach. In this work, an elderly man and a youth are shown breaking up stones by a country roadside; both wear ragged clothing and neither of their faces is visible to the viewer. These anonymous figures are neither comic nor pitiable. Rather, they represent a clear reminder to the bourgeoisie that their comfortable lives—including their smoothly paved carriageways—depend on workers who toil under oppressive conditions for minimal pay.

fig. 6. Jean-François Millet, Gleaners, 1857. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

The work of Jean-Francois Millet (1814-1875) was equally controversial. His transformation of the image of the rural French peasant into an iconic figure deserving of respect found little acceptance during the Second Empire. At the 1857 Salon, The Gleaners provoked a contentious political discussion about the traditional practice of gleaning. (fig. 6)  Historically, rural communities were allowed to gather up the pieces of wheat left behind after harvesting the field. As grim as this might sound, it provided enough grain to be valuable to a poor family. For centuries, the practice was considered an act of charity approved by the church. As industrialized capitalism spread across France, however, landowners increasingly attempted to sell the right to glean rather than opening their fields to the local peasantry. Simon Kelly, curator of Millet and Modern Art From Van Gogh to Dalí, explains it in his essay "'This Artistic Fauve': Millet as Modern Artist". "With the context of this debate over the growing alienation of the gleaner within a capitalist economy, Millet represented three women with powerful curving and echoing forms that highlighted and ennobled their stoic labor. Conservatives saw a threatening message in Millet's sympathetic representation of these impoverished outsiders. The journalist Jean Rousseau thought the work incited revolution and that it recalled 'the pikes and scaffolds of 1783'." In contrast, republican art critics viewed the painting as an expression of the nobility of downtrodden workers in the face of demoralizing poverty. With relentless consistency, the 1859 Salon jury rejected Millet's entry Death and the Woodcutter, a painting inspired by one of La Fontaine's fables, on the grounds that the woodcutter was a potentially insurgent figure who might be understood as a threat to the established order.

His most infamous painting appeared at the 1863 Salon. Man with a Hoe was far more challenging than The Gleaners with its unapologetic depiction of a plain and weary man leaning awkwardly on his hoe as he rests from the unenviable task of trying to remove stones and weeds from his barely tillable plot of land. He looms against the horizon, a monumental figure of rural poverty and unending toil, commanding the viewer's respect, however grudgingly that might be given. Not surprisingly, the critical and public reaction was almost universally negative. Regardless of the unfavorable response, it had become evident by the end of 1863 that Millet's work was part of a larger movement toward an art that represented the lives of everyday people, irrespective of their social position, wealth, education, location or appearance. The painters whose work was most noticeable at Salon des refusés that year were similarly committed to portraying contemporary life, and although several stylistic vocabularies were employed to achieve that objective, the overarching principle signaled a rejection of subjects that did not relate to issues and concerns of modern life.

Millet would continue to develop his vision of rural labor, broadening it to include an increasing number of working farm women engaged in sheep-shearing, tending cattle, gleaning and harvesting the fields as well as teaching the next generation how to knit and spin. All of these themes and ideas would be absorbed and further elucidated by the young artists who first admired Millet's work in the late 1860s and early 1870s, including Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Léon-Auguste Lhermitte (1844-1925), and Julien Dupré.

figures bundling wheat

fig. 7. Julien Dupré, Les lieurs de gerbes (Binding Sheaves of Wheat), 1878. Musée de Tessé, Le Mans, France

One of Dupré’s most successful early paintings, Les lieurs de gerbes (Binding Sheaves of Wheat), reflects the influence of Millet on his work. (fig. 7, cat. W1006) Exhibited at the Salon of 1878, this large canvas demonstrated Dupré's ability to handle a complex, multi-figure composition in the accepted manner of the École des Beaux-Arts as well as his preference for the subject of rural laborers. So too the dimensions of the canvas—nearly seven feet wide—reference the large scale not only of Millet's Gleaners, but also of Courbet's monumental paintings from the early 1850s. In the foreground two men reach across the piles of newly harvested wheat as they bind it into sheaves. Their curved backs and outstretched arms echo the postures of the women in Millet's Gleaners as does the pose of the red-scarfed woman in the middle ground stooping over her bundle of wheat. The standing woman in the foreground is silhouetted against the horizon, a compositional strategy frequently employed in Millet's canvases. Dupré's Les lieurs des gerbes, however, was well received at the Salon. No one suggested that the woman's bright red scarf was a rural equivalent for the red Phrygian cap of liberty, nor did anyone imply that Dupré supported political insurgency. Even with conservative juries dominating the Salon selections in the mid-1870s, Realism had become acceptable and the subject of rural life was no longer perceived as a social or political threat.


Explorations in Style and Technique

fig. 8. Julien Dupré, A Wooded Landscape with a Woman by a Haystack, 1874. Private Collection

Dupré's initial interest in rural subjects was fostered by Desiré Laugée, his future father-in-law, on trips to Picardy with his friend Georges Laugée. The young artist undoubtedly joined the Laugée family painters in expeditions into the countryside where he observed the rhythms of provincial life as well as the various types of work that were involved in farming. Unlike Millet, Dupré was raised in a thoroughly urban environment; agricultural work and rural customs were new to him. The 1874 work entitled A Wooded Landscape with a Woman by a Haystack illustrates an early attempt at portraying a rural scene, perhaps in Picardy. (fig. 8, cat. L1001) One of the earliest signed and dated works by Dupré, this bucolic landscape shows a clear influence of the Impressionist painters whose first independent group exhibition had opened in April 1874, just a few months before he painted this July scene. The young painter would surely have seen the exhibit that not only challenged the aesthetic conventions of the Salon, but also raised questions about the role of the artist as a representative of the prevailing government and its policies. The small figure of the woman standing near a haystack is reminiscent of two compositions by Camille Pissarro that feature similarly small scale figures among a grove of trees—Les châtaigniers à Osny and Le Verger (#138 and #136 respectively in the original 1874 exhibition catalogue). The broken brushwork, bright color palette and fascination with the play of light also echo techniques favored by the Impressionists. Most important, Dupré and the Impressionists shared common roots in the Realism of the 1840s and 1850s with its emphasis on depicting contemporary life.

fig. 9. Julien Dupré, La moisson en Picardie (Harvest in Picardy), 1876. Jérémie Jouan Collection, Paris

Throughout his career Dupré's work strongly reflected his education in traditional academic art. The École des Beaux-Arts provided students with a solid foundation in drawing and painting, supported by the rigorous study of both classical and Renaissance culture, including classes in history and literature as well as the visual arts. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the École's curriculum was increasingly challenged as artists began to question the primacy of history painting and more importantly, the overwhelming dominance of the school's faculty members as arbiters of public taste, both in the classroom and as members of the annual Salon juries. In addition, the development of photography and the influx of Japanese art and design in the middle of the century tested the École's hegemony of European visual arts. Dupré's Salon debut in 1876 occurred at the height of this conflict when artists were increasingly hosting their own exhibitions and the independent art dealers of Paris began sponsoring significant exhibitions in their commercial galleries along the rue Laffitte in the 9th arrondissement. For a young artist this presented an exhilarating if chaotic, environment.

Dupré relied on the techniques he learned at the École des Beaux-Arts to develop his compositions, typically beginning with drawings, then moving on to a small oil sketch followed by the final canvas. Several of his oil sketches still exist and it is clear that this was an important medium in which he could work out the poses of his figures. (fig. 9, cat. W1078SIn the early years of his career, he adhered to this process quite faithfully. By the 1880s, however, he began to produce gridded drawings of a single figure, which indicates that he was using photographs of his models rather than sketching them posed in the studio. Returning from the Fields (ca. 1885) and an accompanying drawing illustrate this process. (fig. 10, cat. W1038; fig. 11, cat. W1038D.1The painting is a relatively straightforward image of a walking figure in a landscape, but the artist has carefully positioned the figure of the young woman on a gridded paper in order to transfer it precisely to his canvas.[1]

fig. 10. Returning from the Fields, ca. 1885. Private collection, image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York

fig. 11. Study for Returning from the Fields, ca. 1885. Private collection, image courtesy of Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York


Definitive evidence of Dupré’s use of photography was found in a collection of glass plate negatives that remains in Georges Laugeé’s family.[2]  Laugée himself appears to have been the primary photographer. The collection includes not only personal photographs of family members, but also a number of images that show models posed in the fields that correspond to both his own and Dupré’s paintings. There are photos of workers loading hay wagons, a woman milking a cow and men carrying hay as well as images of single models dressed in costumes that can be identified in the paintings.  The photograph of men loading a hay cart with a team of four horses (fig.12) serves as a foundational image for at least four of Dupré’s paintings, ranging from La récolte des foins (Hay Harvest, fig. 17, cat. W1017) in 1881 to the 1905 painting of The Haymakers (cat. W1071). Likewise, the photograph of a woman posed with her back to the viewer while milking a cow (fig. 13) is used repeatedly in many of Dupré’s paintings on the subject of milking cows, each iteration different from the others.

fig. 12. Georges Laugée, Loading a Hay Wagon, Photograph courtesy of Jérémie Jouan

fig. 13. Georges Laugée, Woman Milking, Photograph courtesy of Jérémie Jouan

The photograph of two men balancing a load of hay between them (fig. 14) is replicated in paintings such as Haying Time (cat. W1074) and The Hay Harvest (cat. W1063), but in different contexts; the figures may be a man and a woman, for example, and they are almost always shown as part of a larger, multi-figure composition. Although many of the glass negatives in the Laugée family collection cannot be reproduced as photographs today, it seems clear that both Georges Laugée and Julien Dupré utilized these images as visual reminders of the rural scenes that they depicted rather than as finished compositions. Photographs of single figures such as a man cutting hay or a bust-length portrait of a young woman in peasant clothing (figs. 15, 16) further indicate that Laugée's photos functioned as an image reference library in the artists' Paris studio. Dupré's willingness to embrace new technical strategies that would not have been acceptable at the École is one indication of his increasing openness to exploring new ideas, styles and techniques.

fig. 14. Georges Laugée, Men with barrow of Hay, Photograph courtesy of Jérémie Jouan

fig. 15. Georges Laugée, Man with a Scythe, Photograph courtesy of Jérémie Jouan

fig. 16. Georges Laugée, Woman in Peasant Dress, Photograph courtesy of Jérémie Jouan

Building on Success: The 1880s

fig. 17. Julien Dupré, La récolte des foins, (Harvesting Hay),1881. Chimei Culture Foundation, Taiwan

When Dupré received a third class medal at the 1880 Salon, he secured his position as a contributing member of the Paris arts community; and he was awarded the privilege of exhibiting his work at future Salons hors concours, without submitting his work to the jury. Knowing that his art would always be accepted not only signaled success as a painter, but also assured his prospects for financial security. In 1881, he further solidified his reputation by winning a second class medal for La récolte des foins, (Harvesting Hay), a painting that effectively sums up the Dupré’s work at the time. (fig. 17, cat. W1017)

Like his Salon debut painting, it is a very large (4' 5" x 7' 6") multi-figure composition showcasing rural laborers harvesting hay. There have been changes since 1876, however. The figures are smaller in scale, dwarfed by the massive hay wagon at the center of the canvas. Five yoked horses wait patiently for the harvester to pitch one last rake of hay onto the massive pile before they start the journey to the farmstead. On the other side of the slightly tilted wagon a single woman holds the left rear wheel steady with a staff. In the distance cattle graze beside haystacks while thunder clouds gather overhead. Rather than presenting workers going about their daily labor in the fields, as in Les Lieurs de gerbes, this image offers the possibility of a narrative: will the thunderclouds suddenly burst into an autumnal storm, or worse, will the wagon tip over with the weight of the hay, harming the woman trying to maintain its equilibrium. The tension involved in pitching that last sheaf of hay onto the cart before the storm breaks also reveals Dupré's more intimate knowledge of agricultural labor at this point in his development.

In Pasture - Julien Dupre

fig. 18. Julien Dupré, Au pâturage (In the pasture), 1882. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

In the Pasture (also known as "The Milk Maid") - Julien Dupre

fig. 19. Julien Dupré, Au pâturage (In the pasture), 1883. University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington, Kentucky

The 1880s were a decade of experimentation for Dupré. He simultaneously expanded his subject matter and investigated new techniques and compositional strategies. Much of this effort is associated with painting trips he made to Normandy beginning in 1881-82. Two canvases in particular offer an opportunity to observe the artist's gradual shift to a more painterly technique. Both versions of Au pâturage (In the pasture) deal with the same subject and almost, but not quite, the same composition. The subject was described by Joseph Uzanne in Figures Contemporaines, tirées de l'Album Mariani:

His painting, Au Pâturage, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1882, depicts a large peasant woman pulling with all her might on a rope that a cow with a superb coat is dragging in spite of all of her efforts, is now in Saint Louis. This work, popularized by the engraving, was noticed by the critics because of the line. Not since the steers of Constant Troyon or the superb flocks of Charles Jacque, has a work depicted to such a degree the luxuriant force of the animals and their calm and natural beauty.[3] (fig. 18)

In these images, Dupré again includes a narrative element that invites speculation from the viewer. Has the cow pulled loose from the tether or is it simply resisting being leashed in the first place; and will the cowherd succeed in directing her charge to the desired goal? By encouraging the audience to propose their own interpretation of what's happening on the canvas, Dupré succeeds in engaging them in the painting itself. And for urban art lovers, the unfamiliarity of the scene may well have made it even more appealing.

fig. 20. Julien Dupré, Le ballon (The Balloon), 1886. Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery, Reading, PA

A closer look at the paintings discloses changes in Dupré's formal methodology. The 1882 painting (fig. 18, cat. T1014) is very much in the style of his previous works, focused on "line" as Uzanne noted in the Album Mariani biography. In contrast, the 1883 canvas (fig. 19, cat. T1015) shows looser brushwork and the use of a palette knife. Equally important is a shift in the spatial organization of the landscape. In the earlier work, the background hillside seems relatively close to the pasture and the stream. In the later painting the artist has opened up a long scenic vista of smokey blue hills and another distant pasture where a herd of cows graze. By shifting to a slightly different perspective, Dupré suggests not just a single farmstead, but the presence of neighboring farms as well, thus adding another potential element to the narrative. Likewise, the much admired “superb coat” of the 1882 cow gives way to a more realistic—and substantially muddier—treatment in the later painting.[4]

The grandest of these narrative paintings is Le ballon (The Balloon), Dupré’s entry for the 1886 Salon. (fig. 20, cat. R1011) The very large canvas (8’ x 6’) introduces a group of farmworkers pausing from their labors to watch a hot air balloon drifting across the sky. Although the figures all turn away from the viewer, the audience instinctively looks up along with them. The automatic response of looking up immediately involves the viewer in the unfolding story of the balloon’s progression above the landscape, and because the figures are nearly life-size, the sense of being part of the scene is quite convincing. With considerable sophistication Dupré demonstrates his understanding of human nature and his delight in sharing the unexpected joys of daily life.


An International Artist

By the end of the decade, Dupré had established an international reputation, beginning with his relationship with M. Knoedler & Co. in New York and Arthur Tooth & Sons Galleries in London in 1879. In 1881 Blakeslee Galleries of New York also began purchasing Dupré’s work and soon became the painter’s primary gallery in the United States where his paintings were very popular with American art collectors. Given his success in the US, it is no surprise that Dupré’s first international exposition was the 1887 Interstate Industrial Exposition in Chicago. This annual event was originally intended to spotlight the recovery of Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871; W. W. Boyington’s newly designed building contained space for over 300 exhibitors in addition to a 2400 square foot gallery for the fine art exhibition. Although originally focused on American artists, the exhibitions quickly became more international under the curatorial direction of Sara Hallowell, whose official title of “secretary” belied her key role in educating art patrons and guiding the development of significant art collections in the city.[5] The 1887 art exhibit contained over 100 paintings from the collection of George Seney (1826-1893), then president of the Metropolitan Bank of New York and the new owner of Dupré’s 1886 Salon painting, Le ballon. All together, there were 483 works of art on display, representing the US as well as France, England, Holland, Italy and Germany. The older generation of painters associated with Barbizon were represented by Jean-François Millet, Charles-François Daubigny, Camille Corot, and Théodore Rousseau, all of them deceased by 1887. The younger generation included Rosa Bonheur, Jules Breton, Jean-Charles Cazin, P.A.J. Dagnan-Bouveret, Alfred Stevens and James Tissot.[6] And of course Julien Dupré, whose entry was Cattle at Pasture, owned by M. Knoedler & Co.[7] Unfortunately, the title does not provide any clue about which painting of “cattle at pasture” this might have been.

The next American exhibition to include Dupré’s work was in Minneapolis in 1890. It too hosted both industrial and artistic sections, and like the Chicago Exposition of 1887, the size and scope of the works on view was remarkable. William M. Regan, General Manager of the Exposition, was pleased to report that on hearing “of a rare collection of paintings at Aix-la-Chapelle, Germany, I hastened there to investigate.”[8] Within three weeks, he had successfully negotiated the loan of a collection of old master paintings—including works by Antony Van Dyke, Peter Paul Rubens and Titian—to be sent to Minnesota for the exhibition. In seeking out contemporary art Regan persuaded Hendrik and Sientje Mesdag from The Hague to part with over thirty of their own paintings and he also obtained a selection of French, British and American paintings.[9] Dupré was represented by two canvases, Milking Time and Returning from the Market.

Back in Chicago three years later, Dupré’s work was on display at the ground-breaking World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. One of the largest and most spectacular of the world fairs of the nineteenth century, it was designed by a consortium of Chicago and New York architectural firms in the Beaux-Arts style taught at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It was here that the Ferris Wheel was introduced as well as a multitude of other inventions such as alternating electrical current, the zipper, moving walkways and Cracker Jack.[10] Dupré’s contribution, a painting of a milkmaid near the Durdent River in Normandy, was part of a vast exhibition held at the Palace of Fine Arts. It was listed as #442, Valley of the Durdent.[11] Many of these international expositions were overwhelming in scale and scope, offering artists in every media a prestigious credential, but perhaps not quite as much opportunity in terms of sales.

French contemporary art was again well represented in the fall of 1898 when Dupré’s work was on display at two international expositions in the midwestern US, one in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and one in Omaha, Nebraska. Fortunately, the art journal, Brush and Pencil, reported on the Milwaukee Industrial Exposition and included a photographic illustration of Dupré’s painting, Milking Time. Author James William Pattison had quite a lot to say in his review. He began by setting up an argument about the relative merits of “ideality” and “roughness” in a comparison of paintings by William Bouguereau and Dupré. Pattison concedes that “Bouguereau can paint” and cites his technical skill as the most important aspect of his work.

It is “slick” of course, and the flesh is only ideal flesh, but it charms a host of people who love to see paint smooth. If you do not like this, pray look at something else. There is rugged food in No. 39, by Julien Dupré. It is a picture of dimensions, the cow in it not small; and what a black in that nearest one! The cattle are grouped in a shadowed foreground, and beyond them sweeps a streak of sunshine, athwart the plain, real sunlight too. It is cool in color and boldly, freshly brushed, a good example and a delightful picture. Too rough, is it? Then turn around and look at the other Bouguereau—something to please every one here. Possibly this one is a shade less important than the larger canvas mentioned. [He is referring to another Bouguereau painting in the exhibit] But this little girl, in white waist, silver blue petticoat and bare legs, hanging over the wall is very charming to the people who are looking at it, and surely the people have rights. Suppose I do like the Dupré better?[12]

fig. 21. Fine Arts Building at the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition, Omaha, Nebraska 1898. Photograph courtesy of Omaha Public Library and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The exhibition was curated by Henry Reinhardt of Roebel & Reinhardt, who had galleries in Chicago, New York and Paris, thus facilitating the process of selecting and obtaining art for the Milwaukee Industrial Exposition. There was probably also a project office in Milwaukee to coordinate the logistical arrangements for the exhibit.

Further west, the city of Omaha, Nebraska hosted the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition the same year. The Fine Arts Building was designed in the Beaux-Arts style that characterized the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago five years earlier. (fig. 21) Although smaller than the Chicago exposition, the Trans-Mississippi fair was no less international, as evidenced by the extraordinary art exhibition with works from throughout Europe as well as the US.

Dupré’s contribution included two paintings, The Herder and In the Pasture, which were loaned by the St. Louis Museum of Art.[13] (fig. 18) The work was well received by the Omaha press. Ethel Evans, a reporter for the Omaha Daily Bee, discussed In the Pasture at length.

He [Dupré] is content in depicting a peasant woman watching her cows drink from the tub full of water, with sheep browsing nearby—a commentary on the quiet peaceful life of the country woman. Or he represents her at her busy hour—The Milking Time—a picture exhibited here several years ago, and which most of us remember with pleasure. In No. 144 [n the Pasture] he shows what a master he is of the anatomy of the cow. The picture depicts a conflict between the cow, in her efforts for freedom and her mistress' will. The peasant woman has just driven in the tether-stick with the maul, which always lies in the pasture for that purpose; she is about to leave the cow to graze there, when in its longing to join some cattle in the middle distance, it breaks the tether. She grasps the broken rope and with the full weight of her body braced backward she pulls in one direction, while the cow strides on. This is not a drawing-room animal like the sleek creature of William Howe—No. 267—it is shaggy and dirty, strong and natural. It is difficult matter enough to paint the figure of a woman in such violent action, but as a cow will not pose, it is necessary that the painter should be a master of the anatomy to represent so forcibly its movement. The whole composition is interesting. In the distance a cottage with smoking chimney nestles among the trees; in the middle distance some cattle are comfortably lying in the pasture, through which flows a little stream. In the foreground the peasant in her wooden shoes struggles with the cow. While the picture is not vibrating with the light which many painters make the first object and many critics demand as the first requisite of a good picture, it is atmospheric, the drawing is masterly, incomparably firm and the general impression quite of the first order. Others may have greater ingenuity and subtlety and have carried qualities of execution much further, but Dupré observes the character, both human and animal, with an unfailing truthfulness and shows quiet good taste in the arrangement of his simple subjects.[14]

This commentary is quite similar to that of James William Pattison in his review of Dupré’s work at the Milwaukee Industrial Exposition. Both reporters demonstrate an awareness of contemporary debates within the French art world, and both find praiseworthy qualities in Dupré’s work based on his adherence to a naturalist aesthetic that is neither “slick” nor overly avant-garde. Most of all, they express an appreciation for his choice of subject matter showing the daily life of ordinary people.

In 1904 the city of St. Louis hosted the last of the grand world fairs in the US before the onset of World War I. The ostensible purpose was to celebrate the centenary of the Louisiana Purchase and the beginning of the expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who headed west on the Missouri River in the spring of 1804. In reality, it was an extravaganza on a monumental scale.[15] Architect Cass Gilbert was commissioned to design the Fine Art Palace at the top of an imposing hill in Forest Park.[16] Like the Beaux-Arts architecture of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the style of the St. Louis fair was grandiose, extraordinarily ornate—and very popular. Halsey Ives, who had organized the art exhibition at the Chicago fair, was asked to take on the leadership of the Department of Art for St. Louis a decade later. As the first director of the St. Louis Art Museum, which opened in 1881, Ives was well suited to the task.[17] He also seems to have admired Dupré’s work, having purchased Faneux chargeant une brouette (Haymakers loading a wheelbarrow, cat. W1013) in 1882 for his personal collection.[18]

Dupré had three paintings on display at the St. Louis fair, unlike the majority of other artists who had only two works in the exhibition. The catalogue entry noted that he received a silver medal at the 1889 Exposition universelle in Paris and that he had become a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1892. The works included The Return of the Herd, Evening, and Near a Pool.[19] The painting titled Evening may well have been the artist’s Salon entry for 1902, entitled A la fin du jour (At the end of the day); and Return of the Herd is probably the painting of the same title in French, Retour du troupeau, completed in 1903.[20] The presence of Dupré’s work at so many of these international expositions in the US speaks not only of his popularity with American art patrons but also of the confidence that his dealers had in his work. Blakeslee Galleries in New York handled a great number of his paintings, but he was also represented by Knoedler & Co. and Boussod, Valadon & Co., both of whom had galleries in Paris and New York.


European Developments

The French international expositions in 1889 and 1900 were particularly important for the arts. The 1889 Exposition marked not only the centenary of the French Revolution, but also signaled the nation’s return to a position of democratic leadership in the wake of the destruction caused by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the fall of the Second Empire. With the Eiffel Tower as its signature element, the fair was intended to be a declaration of industrial prowess, financial stability and cultural sophistication. The Palais des Beaux-arts, designed by Joseph Bouvard, stood immediately to the north of the Tower while the Palais des arts libéraux occupied the same position to the south; these prime locations adjacent to the centerpiece of the entire Exposition articulated the importance of the fine arts and the liberal arts in France’s vision of itself.[21]

The large Palais des Beaux-arts included exhibitions from across the globe, with 1,632 paintings from France alone. Dupré had seven paintings in the galleries, five of them from museums in New York, St. Louis, Glasgow and Paris, plus his Salon painting from 1888, L’heure de la traite, (Milking Time, cat. T1023) and one other painting, La Fenaison (The Hay Harvest).[22] He was awarded a silver medal at the Exposition, an honor that recognized his body of work and affirmed his importance as a cultural leader. Two years later, in 1892, he would become a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.

The decade of the 1890s opened with much praise for Dupré’s Salon entry, La vâche blanche (The White Cow, fig. 22, cat. T1146) and what appears to be the first published notice of his overall oeuvre. It appeared in a British journal, The Magazine of Art, in 1891. Author M. H. Spielmann opens with a statement confirming Dupré’s role in France:

Julien Dupré is one of the most rising artists of the French school. He is individual in his work, accurate as an observer, earnest as a painter, healthy in his instincts, and intensely artistic in his impressions and in his translation of them. Adding to this a subtle sense of tone and colour, a natural feeling, so to speak, for chiaroscuro, and facility for composition, he is always one of the attractions in every Salon exhibition. Yet he is still a comparatively young man.[23]

fig. 22. Julien Dupré, La vâche blanche (The White Cow), 1890. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Courtesy Art Resources

The decade of the 1890s opened with much praise for Dupré’s Salon entry, La vâche blanche (The White Cow) and what appears to be the first published notice of his overall oeuvre (fig. 22, cat. T1146) It appeared in a British journal, The Magazine of Art, in 1891. Author M. H. Spielmann opens with a statement confirming Dupré’s role in France:

This is followed by a discussion of La vâche blanche as an exemplar of the painter’s merits.  “The cow—taking a patient and intelligent interest in the operation of milking—is superbly drawn, and her expression admirably rendered. The light and shade, the balance of the composition, and the rendering and disposition of the figures combine in this picture to produce a canvas which pleases the spectator the more he examines it.”[24] What makes this commentary especially noteworthy is that the author, who was the editor of The Magazine of Art and a leading art critic in London, was a respected champion of open debate by proponents of many different aesthetic perspectives.[25]

fig. 23. Julien Dupré, Voiture de foin avec deux chevaux, 1895. National Gallery Prague

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Dupré expanded his scope within Europe as well as continuing to be an active contributor to the American and British art market; he also maintained a regular teaching practice at the Académie Montparnasse.[26] Throughout his career, Dupré regularly submitted paintings to the Paris Salon as well as the annual salon in Saint-Quentin near his wife’s family home. In the 1890s, however, his work begins to appear in salons and special exhibitions in central Europe. The first occurrence was the international exhibition held in Munich in 1890 where Dupré received a gold medal for his painting, Hay Harvest.[27] Why he decided to exhibit in Munich is a matter of conjecture. He may have been persuaded by a colleague who had contacts in that city, or perhaps one of his dealers suggested it would be a good opportunity to expand his market. The city of Munich was unusual among German-speaking communities in its commitment to hosting international exhibitions every ten years. The goal was not only to refresh the local arts community by inviting foreign artists to participate, but also to focus attention on the cultural environment in the city itself. For Parisians this undoubtedly seemed like an opportunity to generate enthusiasm for contemporary art in Europe, but for the artists of Munich, it was a rationale that only fostered discontent. The comparison between the environment that they worked in and that of the foreign artists only highlighted how restrictive their city had become.[28] Just two years later, the first of the Secessionist groups would emerge in Munich.

Dupré found a more congenial environment in 1895 when his work was shown in the annual exhibition of Bohemian artists in Prague. How he became involved with this group remains unknown, but his painting, Voiture de foin avec deux chevaux, was featured with a full-page photographic reproduction in the exhibition catalogue.[29] (fig. 23, cat. W1081) As it happened, the painting was so well received that it was purchased immediately by what is today the National Gallery of Prague.




[1]  For a comprehensive discussion of how late nineteenth century artists used photography as an aide-mémoire, see Gabriel P. Weisberg, Against the Modern, Dagnan-Bouveret and the Transformation of the Academic Tradition (New York: Dahesh Museum of Art, 2002).

[2] The author is deeply grateful to Jérémie Jouan who generously shared the photographs taken by Georges Laugée.

[3] Joseph Uzanne, Figures Contemporaines, tirées de l'Album Mariani, vol. VI (Paris: Librairie Floury,1901) n.p. The Album Mariani was a publication initiated by Angelo Mariani (1838-1914), a chemist who invented “coca” wine, that is, wine that has coca leaf extract added to it. His original intention was to ask contemporary celebrities to endorse his wine in exchange for a brief biography and portrait etching. Shortly after its appearance in 1894, the Album became a coveted status symbol, a “who’s who” of French luminaries. The publication lasted until 1925 and eventually included more than 1000 illustrated celebrity biographies in fourteen volumes. For Dupré’s entry, see also: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k2060260/f88.image [“Son tableau, Au pâturage, qui fut exposé au salon de 1882, et qui représente une grosse paysanne, tirant de toutes ses forces sur la corde, mais qu’entraîne, malgré ses efforts, une vache au superbe pelage, est à Saint-Louis. Cette oeuvre, popularisée depuis part la gravure, se signala aux critiques par l’éclat de ses tons, l’empâtement éclatant des couleurs, la beauté du dessin. Oeuvre depuis les magnifiques boeufs de Constant Troyon et les superbes troupeaux de Charles Jacque, aucune ouvre n’avait traduit à ce point la luxuriante force des animaux, leur beauté tranquille et naturelle.”]

[4] A special thank you is due the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington for the 2016 exhibition One + One, which explored the works of artists who repeated specific motifs and techniques in their work, including these two pieces by Dupré.

[5] See Kirsten Jensen, The American Salon: The Art Gallery at the Chicago Interstate Industrial exposition, 1873-1890 (Ph.D. thesis submitted to The City University of New York, 2007). Jensen’s groundbreaking research demonstrated the importance of Sara Hallowell in establishing the foundation for the rich collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art at the Art Institute of Chicago. See also, Carolyn Kinder Carr, Sara Tyson Hallowell, Pioneer Curator and Art Advisor in the Gilded Age, (New York: Penguin Random House, 2019).

[6] Catalogue of the Paintings Exhibited by the Inter-State Industrial Exposition of Chicago (Chicago: Rand, McNally & Co, 1887).

[7] Ibid., 27.

[8]  “Our Art Department”, Minneapolis Industrial Exposition, (Minneapolis: Tribune Job Printing Company, 1890) 29.

[9] The Art Amateur, Vol. 23, No. 6 (November 1890): 130.

[10] There is a wealth of literature on the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. For an overview of the fair, see Chaim M. Rosenberg, America at the Fair, Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008). For a more in-depth look at the history of the fair’s design and construction—intertwined with the history of an early serial killer—see Eric Larson, Devil in the White City (New York: Vintage Books, 2004).

[11] World's Columbian Exposition Chicago, Illinois, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893: Official catalogue. Part X. Department K. Fine arts (Chicago: W. B. Conkey, 1893) 112.

[12] James William Pattison, “Pictures at the Milwaukee Industrial Exposition: September 10 to October 15, 1898”, Brush and Pencil, Vol. 3, No. 3 (December 1898):137-139, 141-145, 147.

[13] Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition Official Catalogue of Fine Arts Exhibit, Illustrated (Omaha, Nebraska: Klopp & Bartlett Co., 1898) 63.  See also the comprehensive website organized by the Omaha Public Library and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln at: https://trans-mississippi.unl.edu

[14] Ethel Evans, “Art at the Exposition”, Omaha Daily Bee, 19 June 1898. See also http://trans-mississippi.unl.edu/texts/view/transmiss.news.odb.18980724.html

[15] For an overview of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, see the Missouri History Museum’s comprehensive online exhibition at: https://mohistory.org/legacy-exhibits/fair/Overview/index.html

[16] The Fine Art Palace is now the home of the St. Louis Art Museum. There have been several additions to the building over the intervening decades, but Cass Gilbert’s original museum remains the heart of the exhibition spaces. See https://www.slam.org/

[17] Halsey Ives was also a founder of the Art Department and the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis as well as a member of the city council in the 1890s. His influence was extensive, both locally and internationally.

[18] Julien Dupré account book. Sales for 1882, entry no. 51. Rehs Galleries, New York.

[19] Official Catalogue of Exhibitors, Universal Exposition, St. Louis, 1904. Department B, Art, (St. Louis, Missouri: The Official Catalogue Company, Inc., 1904) 140.

[20] Julien Dupré account book. Sales for 1902, entry no. 449, A la fin du jour, Tableau Salon 1902. Sales for 1903, entry no. 476, Retour du troupeau. Rehs Galleries, New York. No entries can be reliably identified with the third painting at Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

[21] The Palais des arts libéraux included musical instruments, photography, medicine and educational exhibits. For an overview of the fair, see Brown University Library Center for Digital Scholarship at: https://library.brown.edu/cds/paris/worldfairs.html#de1889.

[22] Catalogue Général Officiel, Exposition universelle Internationale de 1889, Tome premier, Groupe 1. Oeuvres d’art, Classée 1 à 5 (Lille: Imprimerie L. Daniel, 1889) 21.

[23] Marion Henry Spielmann, “The White Cow”, The Magazine of Art, vol. 14, 1891. 415.

[24] Ibid.

[25] For more background on Spielmann’s role in British art journalism, see Julie F. Codell, “Marion Harry Spielmann and the Role of the Press in the Professionalization of Artists”, Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Spring, 1989), 7–15.

[26] Most of Dupré’s students seems to have been from the United States and other parts of Europe. They include Ida von Schulzenheim of Stockholm, Edwin D. Connell of Brooklyn, NY, George W. Chambers of St. Louis, MO, Alice Blair Ring of Massachusetts, Lydia P. Hess Lowry of Chicago, and Matilda Browne of Connecticut.

[27] Dupré’s painting is listed as Bei der Heuernte, #314 in gallery 33. llustrirter Katalog der zweiten Münchener Jahresausstellung von Kunstwerken aller Nationen im konigl. Glaspalaste, 1890. (München: Franz Manfstaengl Kunsterverlag A. G., 1890) 10.

[28] Robert Jensen, Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Siècle Europe (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1994)163-167.

[29] Illustrovany Seznam Výroční Výstavy Krasounmé Jednoty pro Ĉechy v Praze (V Praze: Nákladem Krasoumné Jednoty, 1895) 53. Dupré’s painting was #539. The title used in the exhibition and Prague National Gallery was In the Fields.