Besnard, Albert

Besnard, Albert (1849-1934)

To view all works by Albert Besnard displayed on our website as either present or past stock click here: – Albert Besnard Pictures
At times he was a Symbolist, admired by such a principal Symbolist writer and poet as Stéphane Mallarmé, cited by Phillipe Jullian as an influence upon the painting of Klimt, and the creator, in a symbolist manner, of large scale commissions such as the mural for the chemistry amphitheatre in the Sorbonne and the magnificent ceiling of the Salon des Sciences in the Hotel de Ville, as well as Symbolist paintings and etchings. Nevertheless, Besnard was not a man to be restrained within the classification of any one school. He was close to the Impressionists as well, because of his own interest and ability in the representations of colour and light. He was also a painter of portraits, of genre scenes, and referred to by some as an academic artist . Throughout Besnard maintained his own course and did so with success his increasingly substantial companion. There were many honours in his lifetime, beginning with the Grand Prix de Rome (1874) for ‘La morte de Timophane, tyran de Corinthe’.

Besnard was born 1849 in Paris to artist parents. His formal training was with Brémont and the École des Beaux-Arts (Paris) under Cabanel. He travelled; after spending four years at the Villa Medici in Rome (where he met a young French sculptress, his wife-to-be), he was in London from1879 to 1881. Later he would journey to Spain, Algeria and India, all of these impressing upon his sensibility. During the London stay he was friendly with Alphonse Legros a master of print making whose tutelage in the medium had a great bearing on his own later skills as an etcher, (his friend, the Swede Anders Zorn was another considerable influence in this area of his work).  Etching indeed became one of his principal forms of expression, many of those made around the Fin de Siècle 1900 being of a particularly Symbolist nature (eg. Le mystère 1900; also around 1900 a commissioned set of 26 etchings on the theme of death; and La Muse Accoudée 1884).The latter is part of our stock and can be viewed on this website La Muse Accoudée. Another etching that can be viewed here is La Lecture Sous la Lampe La Lecture Sous la Lampe. This is a later work and is of a somewhat different nature. In this there is a fascinating play of darkness and light, something of great interest to Besnard, but also there is a Carrière like sense of mystery, the figures just emerging from the darkness of the background and displaying the use of the artist’s imagination that dates back to his more Symbolist period.

Another of Besnard’s friends was Edmond Aman-Jean. (To view on this website Edmond Aman-Jean.) The two share a similar postion in that they both have an affinity to the impressionists with their use of bright and strong colour and interest in light, but both are also artists of the imagination with subject matter taking them well outside the realism of impressionism and into the evocative experiences of Symbolist art. It was Besnard who taught Aman-Jean the techniques of etching.

Though well represented in public collections, it is perhaps Besnard’s very independance, a stylistic freedom that prevented him from being easily categorized, that has left him less in the general public eye in modern times. In his own life time he was the recipient of many high official honours. He helped to found the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux Arts in 1890, and with Aman-Jean the Salons des Tuileries in 1923. From 1922 he was Director of the École des Beaux Arts.