Sebastien Bourdon found inspiration for his works from the paintings of his contemporaries like Nicolas Poussin and Claude Gellee. He was such a skilled painter of landscape pastiches after the said masters, although he was born in France, he spent most of his prime years in Rome where he worked for Bamboccianti and Pieter van Laer.
His association with Laer, Jan Miel and Bamboccianti exposed him to several art works that eventually inspired him to paint The Lime Kiln, his masterpiece. It is also believed that the genre paintings of Louis Le Nain also inspired him to produce exceptional art décor, and his achievements in Paris helped him establish the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648.
Overall, Sebastien Bourdon was known for his low-life images, genre scenes and etchings. Some examples of his important works include The Finding of Moses, Landscape with Peasant and his Herd, Le Camp de Bohemiens, and some portraits of Countess Ebba Sparre.
Sebastien Bourdon was born around 1616 in a town near Montpellier. He was the son of a stained glass painter named Marin Bourdon. The young Sebastien grew up to a Protestant family so he was quite religious which presumably influenced him to do secular commissions and to choose Christian devotion as his subject matter.
At the age seven, Sebastien was sent to Paris by his family. He stayed with his uncle and had sought refuge there due to the turmoil that the Thirty Years’ War had been causing in his birth town. Montpellier was predominantly protestant and so the town suffered from the reformation advances of King Louis XIII, as he tried to separate the town from the rest of France.
In Paris, around mid-1620’s, Sebastien entered the studio of Barthelemy as an apprentice. He stayed under the said master’s mentorship for seven years before he left the city for Bordeaux. At some point, Sebastien was recruited by the army to join them however he was released shortly after a senior officer realized the contributions the artist could make for the country if he were to stay working as a painter.
Upon his release from the supposed military deployment, he went to Rome to advance his skills and knowledge of the arts. He reached the city by 1623 and stayed there until 1637. Within this decade, he would have met the Netherlandish artist, Bamboccianti. He also befriended a couple of popular genre painters such as Jan Miel and Pieter van Laer.
The genre paintings of the said artists served as his inspiration for producing The Lime Kiln, yet his pastiches surpassed the quality of the original ones. The low-life images of his paintings were executed in such a manner that it would demonstrate poetry and elegance. His composition looked firm and detailed coupled with a balanced treatment of shade and light.
Additionally, he also made pastiches of the works of Benedetto Castiglione, Andrea Sacchi and Claude Lorrain. His ability to imitate high-quality paintings by the old masters was commendable that the pastiches could pass off as the original version.
While en route to Paris in 1637, he dropped by at Venice first. He took the opportunity to study Venetian paintings there and then proceeded onto Paris. His return meant to fulfill some important commissioned works. He began producing small-scale creations, most of which depicted ordinary persons such as card players and gypsies. He probably painted some of the scenes that he has seen while on the road.
By 1641, he was settled down in Louvre. This became possible because he was granted free lodging in the town by the King. While in Louvre, he made sure to have a productive time by executing historical paintings based on the Biblical stories. Art critics believe that his style at the time shared resemblance with that of Castiglione.
In 1643, Sebastien Bourdon became a part of the goldsmith’s guild. His membership with the guild opened some doors of opportunity, such as the commission by Parisian guild in which he’d paint an altarpiece, The Crucifixion of St. Peter for Notre Dame Cathedral. This commission was part of the guild’s Mays series. Apparently, this rigorous work required a lot of effort from Sebastien, especially when he tried to execute angled diagonals.
It is believed that by the 1640’s, Sebastien would have taken lessons by Nicolas Poussin, under which he learned of French classicism. It was a timely event for the emerging artist as Poussin’s classicism was becoming a formidable artistic movement in the country during the mid-17th century. In 1648, alongside his 12 contemporaries, they founded the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture.
In 1652, France was in turmoil yet again because of massive political unrest. Sebastien Bourdon had no choice but to seek refuge in Sweden, and fortunately for him, he was invited by Queen Christina to be her court artist. Bourdon was the first appointed painter in Stockholm. This royal acknowledgement obviously dictated the direction of his career, and it’s nowhere but up.
While in Stockholm, he decorated the funerary décor of King Gustavus Adolphus’ mausoleum. He also painted powerful portraits of the Queen thrice, one of which is an equestrian image that is now located in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. He found new love interest in portraiture because his commissions by the Queen had been followed by a portrait commission for Countess Ebba Sparre.
In 1654, his tenure under the Queen ended too soon because his patron decided to step down. Nevertheless his career stint in Sweded had made a significant impact on his style and technique. He developed an interest in depicting relaxed and formal disposition of his portrait-characters. This style is very reminiscent to the classic portrait tradition of French painters.
Sebastien Bourdon returned to Paris by 1654. He was well-received by his contemporaries, suggesting that they were too fond of him probably because of his leadership. In fact, he was eventually appointed as Recteur (President) of the royal academy he co-founded.
By 1657, he completed one of his last works, The Fall of Simon Magus. This work served as a high altarpiece for a cathedral in Montpellier. This was followed by The Seven Acts of Mercy, which is obviously a series of paintings.
For the last two decades of his life, he dedicated it to professing his art in the academy and painting landscapes. Although he never became as popular as Poussin at the time his works remained one-of-a-kind for its sophistry. One prime example of such pedantry is his decorative works on the gallery of Hotel de Brentovilliers in 1663, but is now destroyed.
Sebastien Bourdied died on 1671, at the age of 55. He left one unfinished work which was a royal commission for which he’d decorate the ceiling of the King’s bedroom in the Tuileries Palace.