1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Besnard, Paul Albert

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7406761922 Encyclopædia Britannica — Besnard, Paul AlbertWilliam George Constable

BESNARD, PAUL ALBERT (1849-       ), French painter, was born in Paris in 1849 and studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, winning the Prix de Rome in 1874. Until about 1880 he followed the academic tradition, but then broke away completely, and devoted himself to the study of colour and light as conceived by the impressionists. The naturalism of this group never appealed to his imagination, but he applied their technical method adapted to meet more complicated problems of light, such as a union of twilight and artificial light to ideological and decorative works on a darge scale towards which his residence in Rome had strongly inclined him. Such are his decorations at the Sorbonne, the École de Pharmacie, the Salle des Sciences at the Hôtel de Ville, the mairie of the first arrondissement, the Théâtre Français, the Petit Palais, and the chapel of Berck hospital, for which he painted twelve “Stations of the Cross.” A large panel, “Peace by Arbitration,” was completed seven days before the outbreak of war in 1914. A great virtuoso, he has handled with equal facility water-colour, pastel, oil-painting and etching. Partly under the influence of Gainsborough and Reynolds, whom he studied during a three-years stay in England, he has applied his methods to a brilliant series of portraits, especially of women. Notable among these are the “Portrait de Théâtre” (Mme. Rejane), and “Mme. Roger Jourdain.” Recent work includes “Cardinal Mercier” (1917) and “The King and Queen of Belgium” (1919). His analysis and treatment of light is well seen in “La Femme qui se chauffe” in the Luxembourg, Paris, one of a large group of nude studies of which a recent example is “Une Nymphe au bord de la mer”; and in the work produced during and after a visit to India in 1911. His landscape work is represented by “L'ile heureuse,” and “Un Ruisseau dans la Montagne” (1920). A symbolist in his decorative work, Besnard's frank delight in the external world and his “chic” luminous technique bring him close to the 18th-century French painters. A foundation member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890, in 1913 he became a member of the Institute and commander of the Legion of Honour. He has succeeded Carolus Duran as director of the French Academy in Rome.

See also C. Mauclair, Paul Albert Besnard (1914); G. Mourey, Albert Besnard (1916).

(W. G. C.)