'His name indissolubly linked to the phrase 'plein air' Bastien-Lepage is usually held culpable for the work of any late Victorian artist who took an easel out of doors or picked up a square brush. His few works on display in Britain are therefore worth noting.' (phryne)
The artist first came to the attention of the public and critics with a painting of his grandfather that was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1874. He had tremendous influence on the Newlyners and their genre paintings of fishermen and their life-style, much more so than on the mainly landscape and marine artists of the St Ives Group. 'Bastien Lepage was their [Newlyn] most powerful influence and it is surprising to note, how strongly they considered his importance, when with hindsight we do not regard him as such a significant figure. George CLAUSEN is probably thought of as the chief exponent of this kind of painting in this country, but some may feel that Stanhope FORBES and Newlyn were more worthy disciples.'
The so-called 'square brush' technique employed by a number of the Newlyn painters at the beginning of this period concentrated description upon tone and value; outlines were blurred, the effect and purpose was to suggest a kind of atmospheric envelope. This brushwork tended to disappear as the Newlyn School emerged.' [Brewster]
The year 1879 was of great importance in his life as in that year he exhibited The Potato Gatherers to enormous acclaim, making him the 'king of the Paris Salon'. He visited London - for the first time abroad - and upon his return to France was inducted into the Legion of Honour, receiving its decoration. Immediately he set to work on his next great work, Jeanne d'Arc.
The credo to which he worked, and to which the Newlyn colony paid homage (especially in its early years), was 'truth to nature'. "There is only one to be admired" said Bastien Lepage, "that is Nature. There is only one art and that is to reproduce Nature." [quoted in Cartwright] Lepage died at the age of 36 from tuberculosis, never having come to Cornwall but having made a visit to London where, though not speaking a word of English, he spent his last day there making a drawing of the Prince of Wales. Though he never married, his close friend, who was with him when he died, was the famed diarist, Marie Bashkirtseff.