• France, Private Collection
Raised in a cultivated Nantaise family to join the Navy, the young Paul Chabas abandoned his studies for an artistic career, a vocation he discovered while sketching extensively on the family properrty situated along the shores of the Erdre. At the age of 15, Paul joined his brother Maurice at the Julian Academy, where he evolved under the direction of William Bouguereau and Tony Robert Fleury, and benefited from Emile Menard’s and Jules Adler’s influence. Starting in 1886, Chabas exhibited in the Salon. Far from his brother’s Symbolist and spiritual sensitivity, he first gained recognition as a society portraitist. He distinguished himself in the Salon of 1895 with At Alphonse Lemerre’s in the Villa d’Avray, a group portrait commissioned by the Parnassian publisher who was depicted surrounded by his authors: Leconte de Lisle, François Coppée, José-Maria de Hérédia, Alphonse Daudet, and Sully Prudhomme.
In 1899, Chabas carried the Grand Prize for his picture Joyful Frolics, which was crowned the following year with a gold medal in the World’s Fair. In it, the artist depicted very young women frolicking in the water at the Lake of Annecy. These refreshingly natural bathers proved successful. Henceforth, Paul Chabas exhibited
″almost every year […] a new variation on joie de vivre, the charm of adolescence, the beauty of light, the tender harmony of young bodies bathing in a lively atmosphere of reflections […] Was the shiver which runs through these young nudes triggered by cold or by modesty? Chabas found new charming gestures and his almost universal success with so many happy scenes is easily understood.″
Chabas was an excellent draughtsman whose sure hand reflected a classical education in search of ideal beauty. As sensitive to the gracefulness of the body as he was to the depiction of the landscape in which it was placed, the artist often worked outside and brought his young models to pose in Nature, which contributed to the spontaneous character of his works.
Our Study of a Female Bust is a detail of the Young Girl Bathing for which a small closely cropped preparatory version is known (Bather, oil on panel, 13,5 x 10 cm. Ader Nordmann Sale, June 8th, 2013, lot 169) as well as a more finished one. Here, Chabas concentrates on this modest gesture which is constant in his work: the young woman crosses her hands over her chest, while holding onto a cloth which partially covers her. A bracelet around her wrist emphasizes her juvenile finesse. The light oil of the study loosely models the flesh in dark brown with white highlights on an untreated canvas left in reserve.
General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Jean VALMY-BAYSSE, Paul Chabas : sa vie, son œuvre, Paris, F. Juven, 1910.