Jean Charles Cazin was born at Samer (Pas-de-Calais) on May 25, 1841, although he moved with his family to Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1846. After completing his baccalaureat in Lille, in 1862 or 1863 he moved to Paris, where he exhibited at the Salon des Refusés of 1863. He studied in Paris at the École Gratuite de Dessin under Paul-Émile Lecoq de Boisbaudran (1838-1912), from whom he learned to paint mainly from memory as a means of heightening artistic perceptions. (1) Cazin taught drawing at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris between 1863 and 1866 and was curator of the Musée des Beaux-Arts and head of the École de Dessin in Tours in 1868. He had paintings accepted by the Salon in 1865 and 1866. He visited England between 1871 and 1874, where he was strongly influenced by the pre-Raphaelite movement, and Italy between 1874 and 1875, after which he experimented with religious, mythological, and historical paintings. In 1875, Cazin returned to France and settled in the small coastal village of Equihen near Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he became interested mainly in landscape painting, an interest that was broadened with further visits to Italy and the Netherlands between 1884 and 1888. Cazin received a first-class medal at the Salon of 1880, was inducted into the Légion d'Honneur in 1882, and was awarded a gold medal in 1899 and the grand prize in 1900 at the Exposition Universelle, Paris. Although his earliest paintings were done in the French Realist tradition, his later compositions, which were mostly landscapes, demonstrated an interest in French Impressionism and a commitment to recording the changing effects of light and atmosphere. In 1890, Cazin helped revitalize the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, an organization of artists that was an alternative to the government-controlled Academy, and he became its vice-president. During that year Harper's New Monthly Magazine published an article, devoting eight pages to Cazin and his art, in which the author described one of his landscapes:
This picture, like all M. Cazin’s landscapes, is remarkable for the distinction of its tone, the absolute verity of the light, the quality of atmosphere and ambience. In the exquisite study of the phenomena of light and shade, and more especially in the endeavor to render diffused light, M. Cazin is peculiarly modern. (2)
In 1893 Cazin traveled to America where he exhibited nearly 180 paintings at the American Art Galleries in New York City. (3) He died at Le Lavandou (Var) in 1901.
A harvested wheat field occupies much of the lower half of this painting; pyramidal stacks of the wheat chaff are seen at the far right. Two birds scavenge in the harvested field. Bushes and other vegetation grow behind the field, possibly in a shallow ravine or stream bed, behind which is a path or road and an expanse of tree-dotted landscape that meets the horizon. Possibly a glimpse of marshland or sea is seen in the distance on the left. The landscape takes up a little more than half the composition, the remainder of which is a slightly cloudy sky.
Cazin painted harvested fields and haystacks a number of times, beginning in the 1870s. (4) Since few of Cazin’s paintings are dated and because he occasionally painted scenes from memory, it is difficult to establish a chronology for these works or even to identify the locales. The painting that is closest in composition to the Dumbarton Oaks watercolor is Cazin’s The Potato Diggers, (5) where a potato field and three gatherers replace the watercolor’s harvested field but which has similar haystacks at the right in a similar arrangement to those of the watercolor. The background of The Potato Diggers, however, depicts farm buildings and trees that mostly block the vista to the horizon line.
(1) Cazin has not been the subject of a detailed catalogue raisonné. See the following by Gabriel P. Weisberg: “Jean-Charles Cazin: Memory Painting and Observation in The Boatyard,” Cleveland Museum of Art Bulletin (January, 1981), 2-16; “Jean-Charles Cazin,” in The Macmillan Dictionary of Art (London, 1996), vol. 6, 122-123; and “Jean-Charles, Michel, & Marie Cazin,” in Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon (Leipzig, 1997), vol. 17, 417-18.
(2) Theodore Child, “Some Modern French Painters,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine vol. 80, no. 480 (May, 1890), 826.
(3) American Art Galleries, New York, “Works of J.-Ch. Cazin,” 1893. See Gabriel P. Weisberg, “Jean-Charles Cazin’s reception in America,” Apollo vol. 149, no. 444 (February, 1999), 35-40.
(4) An early version is Harvesters in a Field, Musée du Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins, RF 23260 (charcoal on paper).
(5) Signed lower right, oil on canvas, 36 x 57 cm. Sold Christie’s, New York, May 25, 1995, lot 261.
Purchased from V.G. Fischer Art Co., Washington, D.C., by Mildred Barnes, 2/4/1903.
Collection of Mildred Barnes, New York, New York, 2/4/1903-4/14/1908.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 4/14/1908-1/17/1969.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.