Before his early death in battle during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, Frédéric Bazille was close to Renoir and Monet, particularly admiring their open-air paintings. During a summer holiday in the family home at Méric, near Montpellier, he worked on this motif in a fairly large painting showing ten of his close family gathered on the terrace, and adding himself at the far left of the painting.
The strong contrasts show Bazille's liking for the light of the South of France. The group is in the shade of a large tree, which accentuates the bright colours of the landscape and the sky. The light filtered by the foliage enhances the pale clothes, contrasting with the dark note of the jackets, a shawl or an apron.
Unlike Monet's large canvas Women in the Garden, which Bazille had recently bought, each figure is also a portrait and almost all are looking towards the spectator as if at a camera. As a result, although it is a group portrait of family life, the postures are rather stiff. The execution seems restrained and Bazille reworked the canvas extensively during the winter and returned to it again a year later after it was shown in the Salon, replacing little dogs with a contrived still life.
These hesitations and compromises probably explain why his painting was accepted by the Salon in 1868 while Monet's more daring compositions were refused. Bazille was surprised by this, modestly writing that the jury had accepted him "I don't know how, probably by mistake."
Oil on canvas
H. 152; W. 230 cm
©RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski