What a marvelous artist this Théodule Ribot (1823-1891) is! Lost in the days of Impressionism, he painted as in the 17th centurye century. After a first exhibition at the museums of Courbevoie and Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine) two years ago, the Musée des Augustins de Toulouse, associated with those of Marseille and Caen, brings to light this autodidact as brilliant as he has been forgotten. through fifty of his works including fine foreign loans, confronted with paintings by his contemporaries or by masters he admired.
His first still lifes stripped on a dark background evoke the bodegones a Zurbaran or a Velázquez. Ribot paints rough jugs, fried eggs, kidneys or a Sheep skull… “If you think I am doing still life for the simple pleasure of portraying a prime rib, an apple, a fish, you are wrong. What I see most precious in it is the infinite variety that the diversity of materials provides me ”, underlines the one who first worked as a copyist at the Louvre on behalf of a gallery owner. To preciosity, he prefers the rich triviality of reality, sublimated by chiaroscuro. Its quinces are scabbed and pitted by worms, its drooling oysters and its fish die on the table as on the altar of a sacrifice.
Models from the people
This verism seduced the painter François Bonvin, who exhibited it in 1859 in his studio with Antoine Vollon, Henri Fantin-Latour, James Abbott McNeill Whistler whose monochrome harmonies Ribot retained. As proof, his black and white portraits of cooks that he finally succeeded, in 1861, at the age of 38, to present at the Salon. Gastronomy was booming in Paris at the time. And these pictures, greeted by Théophile Gautier, gained a certain success to the point that the artist soon made a specialty of them. However, if he sometimes gives in to the genre scene, as in The Chef’s Day, he seems more attracted to solitary figures, such as Mitron melancholy or this Cook accountant (right page), all absorbed in the calculation of its recipe.
Does Ribot recognize himself among these craftsmen who are pulling the devil by the tail? He, who had charge of the family very early on, worked by the light of skylights in an attic-workshop, which was burnt down in 1870 by the Prussians. So we count a lot of money in his paintings, like this Flute weighing his coins, dark predecessor of Fife by Manet. His models come from the people: street musicians, knitters focused on their work, Little Milkmaid Where Charbonniere. Does the latter respond to criticism that accuses Ribot of having “The rage of the dark” and sign “His paintings by emptying a bag of charcoal” ?
“To Théodule Ribot, independent artist”
The portraits of those close to him, focused on the light spot on the face and hands, pay a vibrant tribute to Rembrandt. Here is young Louise, reading with her mother, in the tranquility of the home. Then the same, at 27, became a painter, emerging from the night like a moving apparition. Ribot also tries his hand at ambitious paintings on religious themes like this Saint Sebastian martyr (1865), inspired by the canvases of Jusepe de Ribera. This work, emptied of all color, where even the martyr’s blood has faded, earned the artist his first purchase by the State. Iberian art is in fashion in Paris, since Louis Philippe opened his Spanish Gallery, rich in 400 paintings, at the Louvre. But Ribot, by his power contained in an austere palette, remains one of the most singular interpreters in this second half of the 19th century.e century, which pawns at the dawn of modernity.
In 1884, when he was very ill, his friends organized a banquet for him. The guest list testifies to the aura acquired from his peers. Rodin, Puvis de Chavannes, Boudin, Monet came, alongside the faithful Bonvin or Fantin-Latour. The medal, engraved with an inscription, which they award to their friend, sums up his entire journey: “To Théodule Ribot, independent artist”.