Eugene Carriere was one of the prominent French artists at the end of 19th century. He was best known for using brown and sepia monochrome palette and somewhat distorted forms. Similar to Claude Monet and Emile Bernard, Carriere was also an art theorist who was able to put his own philosophies into practice successfully. Thus, his works most commonly depict symbols that express human virtues, daily routine, and personality.
One of his main biographers, Hence Morice, revealed that Carriere’s aphorism to live by was “we must consent to life”, which was the base of his philosophy. The said aphorism means that people must cultivate sympathy for each other, seek to expand their social circles, accept all sacrifices and the burdens that may come with it, and share genuine bonds with other human beings. Perhaps, he had one of the most idealistic goals for his generation and decided to put these things into visual representations. In his own words, “let us restore to that beautiful sentimentality… all its high and happy significance….”
Eugene Carriere’s works are characterized by its enshrouded, shadowy mood and atmosphere. It would seem to suggest the passing of time and his spontaneity when painting. Nevertheless, this made him a very unique artist that his influence was picked up by Pablo Picasso. It is worth mentioning that he was also a lithographer so his monochrome painting style might stem from the nature of his other line of interest. Few examples of his most famous oil paintings are as follows:
Eugene Anatole Carriere was born on January 16, 1849 in Gourmay-sur-Marne, France. In 1851, his family moved to Strasbourg and attended the local academy to receive his primary education. He was a very competitive student that he received several prizes on a regular basis. By 1860’s, he began working as a lithographer for Auguste Munch, after which he left Strasbourg for Saint-Quentin.
Arriving at Saint-Quentin in 1869, he was employed by local lithographer, Moureau Sees, to be an assistant. This was also when he was introduced to portraiture and so he did not have any second thought on bringing out his potential in oil painting. He joined the La Tour School around the same period. In 1869, he got the chance to go to Louvre and see the paintings by Rubens. The Old Masters of French Art might have inspired him to advance his formal art training by entering the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1869.
At the Parisian art school, he was mentored by Cabanel, but he was not able to jumpstart his independent career because of the onset of the Franco-Prussian War during the 1870’s. He had also failed to return to Strasbourg to retreat there because the Germans had besieged him already. He was enlisted to join the military base of Neuf-Brisach only to be held as a prisoner. He was then transferred to Dresden for imprisonment, but it could be taken as a blessing in disguise because he was able to visit some museums there.
When the war was over in 1871, Carriere returned to Strasbourg to find solace. He spent a year there, after which he moved to Paris to continue his studies at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. This time, he was sponsored by the Department of Seine-et-Oise through a scholarship grant.
In 1872, he found an opportunity to enter the studio of Jules Cheret. During this period he produced a series of paintings that depict his wife such as The Young Mother (1879). Two years before he completed the said painting, he married Marries Sophie Desmousseaux, a daughter of a local tanner. As competitive as he was, he joined the Royal Academy’s Prix de Rome art competition in his hope to win a scholarship that would take him to the Eternal city.
However, Carriere must have other plans in mind come 1877 for he went to London instead. He moved to London with his wife and was hired by Marcus Ward & Co as an artist-designer. Around this period his first daughter, Elise, was born. He was able to establish quite a reputable career in the English land, in fact, he exhibited Le Premier Voile at the salon in 1878.
In 1881, his son Eugene Leon Carriere was born but died after four years unfortunately. Leon was his inspiration for painting The Sick Child and his daughter for the First Communion. In 1887, he executed a portrait of Louis Henri Devillez, a notable sculptor, hence Carriere was highly applauded for producing such a magnificent portrait.
Throughout the 1880’s, Carriere and his wife bore children namely Marguerite (1882), Nelly (1886), Jean Rene (1887), Lucie and Arsene both were born on 1889. To be able to provide for his family he traveled to Belgium and Holland to work for Devillez and see the works of Rembrandt. His short career stint with Devillez was so successful that it cemented his reputation in the industry.
But beyond this, it was his tremendous workmanship and clear structural drawing that brought him there. His brush strokes looked like came out of caresses with a goal to express the tensions of the human muscle and skin over bone. This is also why the figures in his paintings looked assertive and dominant. He would typically enshroud the figure with a brown atmosphere like a mist covering the body and face, giving a quite an apparition effect.
In 1889, he was sent by the state to represent at the Exposition Universelle. He submitted a prototype of Georges Clemenceau’s Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. But after one year of working for the Salon des Artistes Francais he left it for the Societe Nationale des Beaux-arts. His association with the said arts society opened an opportunity for him to hold a one-man exhibition. This art show made him very productive and in one of his shows, he included a portrait of Gauguin.
At some point in 1891, he attended the farewell banquet of Gauguin as the artist leaves for Tahiti. The Musee du Luxembourg bought his A Maternitee and La Famille painting in 1892-93. In Maternitee, Carriere was unarguably symbolic as he tried to depict the sacramental nature of women for the continuous legacy of the human race. Even in his Edmond de Goncourt portrait, the figure was painted with remarkable and sensuous flow of human emotion through the facial expressions. Carriere’s middle years had been spent on painting portraits of notable men of society such as symbolists Charles Morice when he visited Brittany.
In 1894, the French painter started designing lithographs for L’Estampe Originale. This project exposed him to writing that in 1895 he wrote the foreword for the exhibition of Art Nouveau painters held at the Galerie Bing, after which he joined a number of art shows in Geneve, Brussels and London. Among his many travels, his frequented mostly to Pau from 1895 to 1902.
In 1898, Devillez invited Carriere to go with him to Spain. This provided him regular stream of income and the financial capability to establish his own studio, Academie Carriere, Cours du Vieux-Colombier. The academy was a host to a number of younger artists who became famous in their later years. Few examples of these students include Derain, Matisse, and Puy. He had also taught at the Academie de la Palette, and was considered as a major art instructor.
At the turn of the new century, Carriere exhibited at the Bernheim-Jeune, rue Laffitee. In 1901 he received a commission by the state to produce a Christ on the Cross painting, which revealed his interest in taking religious narratives as a subject. Aside from painting he also made time for writing art theories and criticisms. He was even a notable lecture-speaker at the Museum of Natural History, for which he spoke about Man the Visionary and Reality.
The early 20th century was like the golden years of Carriere’s career but this was put to test when he contracted throat cancer in 1902. He underwent an operation for it and one year later, he somehow recovered and traveled to Italy. In 1903, he was appointed as President of the Salon d’Automne, a newly founded arts group. His appointment was witnessed and attended by 500 guests held on December of that year.
In 1905, Carriere had to undergo another operation for his throat cancer. He would have still painted portraits though as he lived and breathe fine arts. Unfortunately, one year later, he succumbed to cancer and died at the age of 57. His remaining works had been sold to different museums and exhibited at Salon d’Automne and Salon de la Societe Nationale. According to art historians, most of his Carriere’s works were bought by Musee d’Orsay at Paris and Belgrade’s National Museum of Serbia.
Additionally, in 1907, his Alma Mater Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts commemorated his life and achievements.