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Émile Friant BiographyFrench Realist artist
born 1863 - died 1932
Student of: Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889)
In the late nineteenth century Nancy emerged from beneath the shadow of Paris to establish itself as the second artistic center of France.
One of the Nancéienne artists was Émile Friant, who began his artistic career at an extremely young age and rose to prominence with his version of naturalism which later manifested into a latent realism. It was noted that Friant “appears to have the sincerity at least as much as the ability to be a major artist, and we have confidence that Émile Friant will remain faithful to art in a time when wealthy manufacturers have invaded the temple, giving young people the fatal example of rapid fortunes and superficial studies…” (quoted in L’École de Nancy : Peinture et Art Nouveau, ex. cat., Paris : Éditions de la Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1999, pg. 130) his public acceptance would reach impressive levels, but despite consistent acclaim, sought new methods of representation and various uses of media while promoting Émile Friant painting outside the Salon system.
|Unfortunately, Madame Parisot hoped that he would pursue a career as a chemist, such as her late husband, and enrolled him in the school at Nancy where he learned Latin. But, his artistic faculties were already recognized and Émile Friant enrolled in the École de dessin et de peinture de Nancy, becoming the favorite student of the director Louis-Théodore Devilly, an accomplished artist who studied under Eugene Delacroix. Devilly was sure to orient each student towards his individual goal, which was, for Friant, to concentrate purely on painting. Under Devilly’s tutelage, Émile Friant painted studies of still life, landscapes, and afterward portraits which he sold for thirty francs apiece. Doing poorly at his lessons outside of art class, Friant convinced his father to allow him to focus on his artwork while attending special individual lessons for his schooling. In just a short period of time, Émile Friant would begin exhibiting at the local Salon.|
He was just fifteen years of age when he first exhibited at the Salon des Amis des
Arts in Nancy and was referred to as “le
petit Friant,” or the “little Friant”. That
the organization permitted the entrance of a
fifteen year old, exhibiting alongside
established artists, attests to his immense
talent. This exhibit created a demand for
Émile Friant painting and he had continued success for
the next year, until the city of Nancy
granted him a scholarship which allowed him
to relocate to Paris. He was sixteen and a
half years of age, leaving his home and
embarking on a journey alone. In the autumn
of 1879, he settled in an apartment on the
rue Notre Dame des Champs and entered the
Alexandre Cabanel, a
well-established academic painter.
During his first year in Paris, Émile Friant met up with three other artists, Aimé Morot, Victor Prouvé, and Jules Bastien-Lepage, also from the Lorraine region. The artists formed a strong friendship and Morot, the older and more well-established artist of the group, encouraged he to end his academic training and complete first two Émile Friant paintings, Intérieur d’Atelier (Interior of the Studio), and L’Enfant Prodigue (The Prodigal Son), which would later be accepted into the 1882 Salon. Despite having met other Alsatians in Paris, the young artist grew tired of the monotonous discipline of Cabanel’s atelier and returned to Nancy.
In 1885 Émile Friant exhibited a second Intérieur d’Atelier (Interior of the Studio) which earned him a second medal and also placed him hors concours, or exempt from having to submit Émile Friant paintings for approval by the Salon jury. This came after he exhibited in just four prior Salons. At the age of 22, it was an amazing accomplishment for a young artist from Nancy.
|Upon returning to Paris he exhibited at the Salon of 1888 Réunion des Canotiers de la Meurthe (Reunion of the Meurthe Boating Party). This work had actually been completed prior to his journeys to Holland and Tunisia and explains why, after such an impressive voyage as Tunisia, Émile Friant did not submit paintings inspired by this journey. The Canotiers “announced his mastery of genre painting on a large scale…This was the good life as prized by the Third Republic…when Canotiers was painted it upheld the standards of a prosperous bourgeois clientele.” (McIntosh, DeCourcy E., ‘Emile Friant: a forgotten realist of the gilded age’, The Magazine Antiques, April 1997, v151 n4, pg. 585) While he did not receive any awards for this work, it was very popular and encouraged him to begin another large-scale painting, La Toussaint (All Saint’s Day), which was awarded the grand prize at the Salon of 1889. Later that year he was also named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur and exhibited ten paintings at the Exposition Universelle, for which Émile Friant received a gold medal and another scholarship that he used to travel to Spain, Holland and Algiers. Following these accolades he “knew all the forms of glory from the citations in all of the journals” (Alexandre, Arsène, Émile Friant: Sa Vie et son Oeuvre, Paris: Braun, 1930, pg. 15).||
In addition to his collaboration with American patron and dealers, in 1895 Friant completed several panels which decorated the Hôtel de Ville in Nancy and also exhibited several drawings at the Exposition de la Société des Aquarellistes at Nancy.
Significantly, Émile Friant maintained a staunchly academic manner of creativity as applied to portraits at a time when this type of painting came under attack from the abstract modernists. Throughout the following years Friant continually exhibited at several Salons and exhibitions including the Salon Nationale in Paris and the Salon of Nancy. In 1906 he was named professor of drawing of the École Nationale des Beaux Art where he continued to teach younger artists the importance of substantial academic method linked to drawing. Émile Friant died in 1932.
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