France, Private Collection.
“My nature urged me to express mainly the profound life of men and things, rather than to give the eye a grand colorful feast,” wrote Jules Adler at the end of his life. “As soon as I left the studio, I was attracted by displays of passionate, active, and sometimes painful life. A great portion of my career, thus was spent in describing the anonymous human crowds of the high road and the suburbs.” The description, “painter of the humble” is often used perhaps too hastily to summarize Adler’s oeuvre: the quality of his work was not limited to humanistic or political convictions; fishermen, workers, artists, members of his family, and bantering couples in Paris were as much facets of work which sought to r“ecreate this interior life, this moving reflection of souls which transpierces masks and poses,” to use the words of his biographer Barbedette.
Son of modest textile merchants, Jules Adler at a very early age demonstrated a passion for drawing. This young mischievous and exuberant man left his native Franche-Comté at the age of 17 to enter the School of Decorative Arts in Paris. Not much later, he entered the Julian Academy where he studied in Bouguereau’s and Tony Robert-Fleury’s studio. The latter encouraged him in his work. In 1884, Alder was admitted to the School of Fine Arts which he only attended periodically.
At the Julian Academy, the basic bonds of Jules Adler’s artistic life were established. He frequented Paul Chabas, Ker Xavier Roussel, and Edouard Vuillard. In this climate of productive emulation, studio work was completed with study trips with his companions. Thus, in 1887, Adler went to Crozant in the Creuse, an artistic center made famous by Armand Guillaumin. The painter Eugene Alluaud recounts this trip in his writings: “I went to Crozant for the first time in 1887 with the painters Jules Adler and Clement Brun, who were students with me at the Julian Academy in Bougereau’s and Robert Fleury’s studio.” Perhaps it was on the occasion of one of these trips that Adler produced this portrait of his buddy Clement Hyacinthe Brun (1868-1920), a painter from Provence who studied for a time at the Julian Academy after having been trained at the School of Fine Arts in Avignon and before entering the Papal City where he founded the “Group of Thirteen.”
In the colored heat of a summer day, Clement Brun has set his easel right in the midst of a field. In the background, the only indication of setting are a few trees and the corner of a house. Short shadows situate the scene at mid day. Clothed in a striped jersey covered by a light suit, a straw hat on his head, Brun paints a wide rectangular canvas while holding his palette in his left hand. The young man’s face, bent over his work, isn’t detailed: physiognomic resemblance is of no interest to the artist here. The completely horizontal canvas leads one to suppose that Brun came to paint from Nature, even has Adler undoubtedly had. However, they ended up facing each other and including the other in their range of vision: Adler depicts Brun who seems also to be doing a portrait of Adler. A game of mirrors settles in between the artist and his painter sitter, even to the point of including the spectator who seems to be “posing” for Brun.
Adler chose a luminous chromatic range, composed of almond green and ochre nuances, in superimposed tints punctuated by blue sky, which are brightened only by a few touches of red on his friend’s hat, palette, and shoes. The open brushwork in full impasto shows that this is a work on site which is not bothered by details, and instead emphasizes free poetic expression.
Another portrait of a companion from the Academy by Adler is known: the bust length Portrait of the American Painter Louis Paul Dessar (1867-1952) (1888, oil on canvas, 17 11⁄16 x 15 in. Bremens Sale, Lyon, December 9th, 2008, lot 11). These works have the freshness of a youthful work, but also the beauty of an already developed talent which allies a sure hand with the sensitivity of a great painter.
General Bibliography (unpublished oeuvre)
Jules Adler (1865 – 1952), exhibition catalogue, Remiremont, Charles de Bruyères Museum, 1979.
Lucien BARBEDETTE, “Le peintre Jules Adler,” Besançon, Séquania, 1938.