During the 1840’s a most important movement began in French art. A number of painters began settling in the tiny village of Barbizon and dedicated their art to portrayals of nature and rustic life. Given that the mainstream of traditional French art was still mired in the genres of classical and historical paintings this was indeed a revolutionary step. Barbizon artists gained their inspiration from both the great landscape art of such British artists as Constable and Turner.
Charles Emile Jacque was born in 1813 in Paris. At age seventeen he worked as a cartographer’s apprentice, but this hardly satiated his passion for drawing and creating. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Jacque was not exposed to an education at Ecole de Beaux Artes. In 1840, he received true artistic training at the atelier Suisse, an informal studio that was home to realist painters like Gustave Courbet. Because Jacque lacked a formal education, he served as his own inspiration, allowing him to develop a unique style and method. While this served him well in distinguishing his work, his lack of extensive training prohibited him from immediately establishing his career. It also may have originally steered him more towards the graphic arts, which were less expensive, but also less prestigious in the fine art world.
Jacque was a primary, original and influential member of the “Men of the 1830.” His strong, realistic yet sensitive depiction of shepherds and their flocks form one of the most cohesive and important bodies of work produced by the movement. His artistic career was also slightly delayed due to military service; as Jacque was from a middle class family, he was forced to enlist and served for seven years. While he continued to sketch throughout this time, Jacque would not be able to truly focus on his art until he returned from service. At this time, he sketched caricatures and create graphic prints about his military service for Parisan journals.
Jacque would submit his work to the Salon starting in 1844 and receive three third-class medals between 1850-1864. Jacque returned to Paris in 1840 with a successful career in graphic arts. Although well known as an engraver, from 1845 Jacque turned more and more to painting. It was at about this period that he discovered Barbizon and its surroundings. Enchanted, he settled there in 1849 with his friend Millet. Painting almost exclusively in the environs of Fontainebleau, Jacque made increasing numbers of animal studies at local farms, and became known for his bucolic subjects, such as henhouses, pigsties and flocks of sheep in pasture.
Despite refining his style, many Charles Emile Jacque paintings continued to be rejected by the Salon. In lieu of the constant disapproval of the Salon jury Jacque organized other rejected artists and formed
the Association of Free Painters.
The decade of the 1850s proved to be a busy period for Jacque, as his success brought him recognition and acceptance. Jacque was finally honored with the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur in 1867 and was also elected to the jury for the 1867 Exposition Universelle. He exhibited a painting, Pastorale (Pastoral), at the Exposition and received another third class medal. He was also on the jury for the 1867 Grand Prix de Rome. With these accolades, his work began to sell better, and after 1870 he began to earn a good deal of money. He had sacrificed his etchings to his paintings, which began to sell at incredible prices. During the last twenty years of his life he earned two hundred thousand francs per year, an admirable sum for a self-trained artist working primarily in the graphic arts.
Jacque’s last Salon exhibition was 1894 where he showed Interieur d Écurie (Interior of a Stable), one of the most iconic Charles Emile Jacque paintings. He died on May 7, 1894 in Paris.
Several aspects of Charles Jacques’s life and career set him apart from his contemporaries and even his colleagues working at Barbizon. He began his ascension in the art world with little artistic training; successfully transitioned from an illustrator/caricaturist into a position of a respected artist of the “high” arts; was a firm believer in the importance of gaining an intimate knowledge of his subject matter, well beyond simple observation; and most importantly, established himself most prominently not only as a painter, but also an etcher—contributing to the return of the graphic arts as an important medium of artistic expression. Each of these aspects of Jacques’s career contributes to a further understanding of his placement and importance in nineteenth century art.
See authentic Charles Emile Jacque paintings for yourself at Galerie Michael.
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