“The earth is the earth as a peasant sees it, the world is the world as a duchess sees it, and anyway a duchess would be nothing if the earth was not there as the peasant sees it.” - Gertrude Stein
Julien Dupré (1851-1910) was a French realist painter in the academic tradition. He was born in Paris on March 18, 1851 to Jean Dupré (a jeweller) and Pauline Bouillié and began his adult life working in a lace shop in anticipation of entering his family's jewellery business. The war of 1870 and the siege of Paris forced the closure of the shop and Julien began taking evening courses at the École des Arts Décoratifs and it was through these classes that he gained admission to the École des Beaux-Arts.
At l' École he studied with Isidore Pils (1813-1875) and Henri Lehmann (1814-1882). In the mid-1870s he traveled to Picardy and became a student of the rural genre painter Désiré François Laugée (1823-1896), whose daughter Marie Eléonore Françoise he would marry in 1876; the year he exhibited his first painting at the Paris Salon. Throughout his career Dupré championed the life of the peasant and continued painting scenes in the areas of Normandy and Brittany until his death on April 16, 1910.
Till now, very little has been compiled about the life of this important Realist artist who was described in an article in the Magazine of Art (1891) as: “...one of the most rising artists of the French School.” Dupré exhibited works at every Salon exhibition from 1876 until his death in 1910 and earned critical acclaim for his depictions of peasant life. He was awarded medals at several Salon Exhibitions and received a Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle in 1889 for his pictorial representations of the life of the farm worker.
Dupré was very successful during his lifetime both in Europe and the United States. Wealthy American patrons travelled to Paris to acquire his works, which became part of the great collections of the 19th century. Many of these collections, in turn, would become the cornerstones of great American museums. His painting 'Au pâturage' (exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882) is now in the collection of the Washington University Gallery of Art, St. Louis, Mo. and 'Milking Time', a monumental work, is in the collection of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Other important works by the artist can be found in the collections of the St. Louis Art Museum; Worcester Art Museum; Joslyn Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and The Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery to name a few.
Dupré's art is typical of the academic tradition, his realism well suited to the genre paintings he executed. His paintings exhibit excellent technique, well-controlled drawing with handling of colour and space, his composition always well-considered and pleasing to the eye. The realist technique and his depiction of the life of the French peasants is well suited to his style, especially given the rather glamourised treatment he gives his milkmaids and farmworkers. When one compares Dupré's peasants with those of Van Gogh, one can immediately see which of the two is more “real”. Nevertheless, Dupré's popularity was assured by his almost Arcadian bucolic visions and the beauty of his models, which idealised farm life and prettified it the way that rich patrons wanted it, so that they were suitable for hanging in their parlours. After all, Marie Antoinette's shenanigans in Versailles did involve dressing up as a milkmaid cavorting in fields with manicured lawns and frolicking with well bathed and coiffured cows!