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Eugène Fromentin: The Pictorial Interpreter of African Life

By Bida Alexandre (1823-1895) - Paris, musée Gustave Moreau, Public Domain, Link

Capturing the picturesque and characteristic details of North African life in blue slate-colored Algerian pictures, with their remarkable greyish tints, and expressing the secrets of the art of painting, the French Romantic painter and writer, Eugène Fromentin, is celebrated as one of the earliest pictorial interpreters of Algeria, and a great writer whose descriptions of paintings are the last word in the art of writing.

One of the cleverest modern harmonists of Academic Classicism, Fromentin was born on October 24, 1820, at La Rochelle, France. Son of a distinguished physician and art connoisseur, Fromentin began his studies in law. But his literary and artistic inclination dragged him towards art and after leaving school he studied for some years under Louis Cabat, the landscape painter.

In 1846, Fromentin traveled to Algeria and this short journey became the milestone of his artistic career. In 1848 and 1852, he again visited that country, to garner material for his work. In 1847, he exhibited at the Salon with the “Gorges de la Chiffa” and in 1850 he sent in eleven paintings, and was awarded a second-class medal. The other notable events in his life were a voyage to Egypt, in the autumn of 1869, and a short stay of some weeks in Holland in 1875, where he obtained matter for his writing.

Influenced successively by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Eugène Delacroix, Fromentin abandoned his early stiffness in design and execution and developed into a brilliant colorist. Works such as “Fauconnier arabe” and “Chasse au héron” clearly show his debt to Delacroix.   

Fromentin's paintings show only one side of a talent that was perhaps even more felicitously expressed in literature. “Dominique”, first published in the “Revue des Deux Monde’s” in 1862 and dedicated to George Sand, is remarkable among fiction of the century for imaginative observation. His other literary works are “Visites artistiques ou Simples Pélerinages” (1852-56); “Un Été dans le Sahara” (1857); “Une Année dans le Sahel” (1858); and “Les Maîtres d'autrefois” (1876).

Fromentin was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1859, and officer in 1869. In 1876 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Academy. At 55, Fromentin died suddenly at La Rochelle on August 27, 1876.




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