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"The knight of the chisel, pen and brush"

- Berthe Morisot, about Zacharie Astruc

Etienne Carjat (1828-1907), Photography of Zacharie Astruc (1837-1905 ) sculptor, painter, poet and art critic. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Manet, Monet, Fantin-Latour, Bazille, Berthe Morisot… Pivotal figures in the artistic production of more than one half-century. They revolutionized a basically ambivalent century, resulting in the conquest of a title of pioneers in modern art. They were conferred such a historical reach and authority in art history that countless exhibitions and monographies were dedicated to them since the early stages of 20th century. They crossed the sacred threshold of the Pantheon of modernity as prophets of creation, arousing admiration and enthusiasm by the mere evocation of their name. . In a nutshell, they were granted an aesthetic passport preventing them from plunging into the lapse of memory. Nevertheless there remains one name remaining in the shades of Impressionism, neglected in the discussions and artistic debates to date. His name? Zacharie Astruc. He was however as an artist the staunch disciple, companion, collaborator who passionately took part in their fights to give rise to an original art whose repercussion, although more discrete for him, may not be undervalued.


At a time when the different Schools of painting were struggling against the accepted academic painting for recognition, soon emerged a dissenting movement on the fringes of the official Salon in Paris, the Salon des Refusés (exhibition of rejects). Indeed, Emperor Napoléon III decided that the works of art which were refused should be displayed in another part of the Palace of Industry so as to make it possible to see the works not approved by the jury. This single event will be soon considered the standard bearer of a pictorial freedom regarded nowadays as classic. From that moment onwards Zacharie Astruc would stand as an unfailing support of this new aesthetics.

Astruc will take part in all the artistic battles of the time. In 1859 he created with his friends Valéry Vernier and Arthur Louvet, respectively writer and poet, a literary and artistic review, “the Gazette of half-serious people” while collaborating with reviews of various political edges, such as the Artist, the Standard or the Nain Jaune. But it is resolutely in 1863 with his art review the Salon, talk, critics and news of the day that he will establish himself as a witness and crucial actor of the artistic sphere with as frontispiece an etching by Carolus-Duran with whom he would enjoy a strong and rich friendship around their shared interest for Italian and Spanish baroque painting.

Carolus-Duran (1837-1917), Portrait of Zacharie Astruc, 1861, oil on canvas,

63 x 55 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

This genuine and passionate commitment provided him with significant supports, notably that of the french writer and critic George Sand who wrote an introduction to his opuscule entitled « Les 14 stations du Salon suivi d’une récit douloureux », praising « a new and enthusiast form » combining « literary prominency and proficiency in critic » with « a work full of sentiment and poetry » whose striking quality dwells on « a myriad of colors, shapes and composition twirling round in his style and conspicuous in his conversation ». This says it all, following which Sand concludes : « We have here the feeling of a fortunate abundancy with a talent, to endow the love of beauty is an utmost alacrity »

It is thus a key role Astruc is attributed when grouping together the Impressionists between 1859 and 1869, notably thanks to his introduction to the Edouard Manet’s exhibition catalogue in 1867, showcasing two masterpieces such as The Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia.

We also owe to Zacharie Astruc the manifesto consecrating Manet as artistic leader of the independent : « Depuis 1861, M. Manet expose ou tente d’exposer, writes Astruc. Cette année, il s’est décidé à montrer directement au public l’ensemble de ses travaux. A ses débuts au Salon, M. Manet obtenait une mention, mais il s’est vu trop souvent écarté par le jury (…). Montrer est la question vitale, le sine qua non pour l’artiste (…) Montrer, c’est trouver des amis et des alliés pour la lutte. »

To celebrate the Salon des Refusés, he brought out a daily paper for its duration, in which he lauded the participating artists, describing Manet as « one of the greatest artistic characters of this time. »

Astruc thus proved himself the linchpin of both a literary and artistic circle which will turn out to be decisive, playing the part of a subtle conveyor within the framework of this symbolic revolution endowed with critical poetry. Indeed, Astruc wrote a Sonnet for Manet’s Olympia being generally credited with titling Manet's painting Olympia since an excerpt from a sonnet which was included in the catalogue entry with the piece when it was exhibited at the 1865 Salon.

« Quand, lasse de songer, Olympia s’éveille

Le printemps entre au bras du doux messager noir ;

C’est l’esclave, à la nuit amoureuse pareille,

Qui vient fleurir le jour délicieux à voir

L’auguste jeune fille en qui la flamme veille … »


Born in Angers, France, in 1833, Astruc, besides being a successful author, was sculptor and painter. As a young boy, he left his native city to seek his fortune in the French metropolis to devote himself, at the same time, with great zeal to the study of art. He was commissioned in 1874 to make a reproduction of the famous statue of St. Francis of Assisi, which had been jealously guarded from the envious eyes of all artists in a shrine of a monastery in Toledo. He was thus enabled to carry out of Spain the first sculpturally exact and faithful copy of Alonzo Cano's masterpiece. It was exhibited in 1875 at the Exposition des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and the numerous copies taken from that exquisite model have made it a familiar subject with all lovers of art., notably the french writer and novelist Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly.

Moreover, Astruc was a member of the Society of French Artists, and had been for many years a faithful and prolific contributor to the Salon of the Champs Elysées, where his works have always called forth favorable comment. His talents are as varied as they are excellent, and he wields a brush as readily as a chisel. Particularly noteworthy among his paintings are his large panels in water-color, of which a series of six was purchased by the state and placed in the museum of St. Etienne. As a sculptor his reputation is even greater, and won him a prominent place among the best modern French artists. Rewarded at the Salons of 1882, 1884, 1885, 1886, as well as at the Universal Exposition of 1889, he is now "hors de concours." In 1890 he was decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor.

The principal art works of Astruc are: "Mars et Venus," plaster group, 1886; "Hamlet," 1887; "Le Roi Midas," statue in bronze, 1888; "Portrait de M. le Comte Fabre de l'Aude," bust in bronze, 1888; "Perce-neige," statue in plaster, 1889; "Portraits Masques," 1889; "Le Repas de Prométhée," plaster statue, 1891; "Le Moine: L'Extase dans le Sommeil," marble statue, 1893 (bought by the government); "Barbey d'Aurevilly," bust in bronze; "L'Enfant Marchand de Masques—now in the gardens of the Luxembourg; "Le Saint-François d'Assises," statue—copy of the original of Alonzo Cano described above; "Manet," bust in bronze; "L'Aurore," bronze relief, now at the Ecole de Saint Cyr; "Le Sâr Peladan," salon of 1899; decorative figures for the exposition at Nice, etc.

Astruc is, moreover, a litterateur of no mean reputation. Besides his early venture as editor of the "Quart d'Heure," he has written: "L'Histoire Funèbre de Faubert"; "Les Onze Lamentations d'Eliacin"; "Le Récit Douloureux"; "Les Quatorze Stations du Salon de 1859," a collection of art criticisms published in one volume, with a preface by George Sand. He has also contributed, as an art critic, to "Le Pays," "L'Etendard," "L'Echo des Beaux-Arts," "Le Peuple Souverain," etc. He is the author of several novels, short stories, and plays, among which may be mentioned: "BugMug,"a short story which appeared in the pages of the "Opinion Nationale"; "Sœur Marie Jésus," a novel published in the "Revue Germanique"; and "L'Arme de Femme," a comedy published in the "Revue Internationale." In 1863, in collaboration with the great writers of the day, Astruc founded "Le Salon," a journal devoted exclusively to art, and which appeared daily during the annual exposition. It lasted only for a short time. In 1870 he founded in Madrid another art journal, "L'Espagne Nouvelle," and wrote several sketches for different contemporary reviews, descriptive of his sojourn in Spain. Astruc was the author of a novel entitled "Romancero de l'Escurial," which he wrote in Spanish, and which was published in Paris by Charpentier in 1884, followed by its sequel, "Le Généralité." He is also the author of a volume of Spanish poems, "Les Alhambra."

Zacharie Astruc, Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly (1808-1889), half-body bust in bronze, 1875,

H. 0.82 ; W. 0.62 ; P. 0.35 m, Musée de Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte

Astruc, who did much to promote Spanish art in France, encouraged Manet's trip to Spain in 1865. He was responsible for introducing Manet to Claude Monet in 1866. In 1866 Manet painted Astruc's portrait (Ksthalle, Bremen). Manet also included Astruc in his Music Lesson (1870; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA). In turn Astruc sculpted a head of Manet in 1881. Astruc also figures prominently in Henri Fantin-Latour's L'Atelier aux Batignolles (1870; Musée d'Orsay, Paris), where he is shown seated, having his portrait painted by Manet. We will focus and this crucial work in Astruc’s life in the last part of our study.

Astruc probably first met Whistler at the Café Molière in Paris in October 1858 when Whistler showed him his French Set of etchings. Whistler etched Astruc's portrait in 1859, Z. Astruc, Editor of 'L'Artiste' 036. He was editor of the journal L'Artiste that encouraged original printmaking.

Like Whistler, Astruc was fascinated by the art and culture of Japan. In 1865 he composed his first Japanese-inspired play, L'Ile de la demoiselle, and in 1866 in L'Etendard he began to write critically on the current Japoniste vogue. He showed his watercolour The Chinese Gifts (private collection, New York) at the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874.

From 1870 Astruc turned his attention increasingly to painting in watercolour and to sculpture. He exhibited regularly at the Salons. He was awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1898 and received a bronze medal for sculpture at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. A collection of his letters, sketchbooks, articles and notebooks is held in the Louvre.

Zacharie Astruc, Le Marchand de Masques, Bronze statue on cast iron, H. 170 ; W.74 ; P. 80 cm

Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Zacharie Astruc, Saint François d’Assise, after Alonsa Cano, 1872, Maison Christofle

Zacharie Astruc, Le Moine ou l’Extase dans le sommeil (The Monk or Ecstasy in the Sleep),

marble statue, 1893

It is within the framework of his exploration of a « fin de siècle » mysticism that in 1890 Astruc met Joséphin Peladan, known as Sâr Peladan, art critic, writer, and occultist, whose acquaintance he made thanks to Barbey. He made his bust in addition of which he carried out two other portraits of the “Constable of the Letters”: in 1870 a medallion in low-relief exhibited at the Palace of the Champs-Elysées and in 1876 a plaster bust. It is also a third bronze bust of Barbey d' Aurevilly which Astruc will present at the Rosicrucians’ Salon, gallery George Petit in Paris, as well as a high-relief.


Henri Fantin-Latour, Un Atelier aux Batignolles (A workshop at the Batignolles), 1870,

oil on canvas, 204 m x 274 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The art establishment militated against the rise of the group of artists Zacharie Astruc was part of of, whose work offered an alternative to traditional ideas about style and subject matter and challenged the thinking of those empowered to distinguish between « good » and « bad » art. When contemplating Astruc’s genuinely baroque and committed work, he emerges as one of the most familiar figures of the whole impressionist circle.

Indeed, in the group portrayed in Fantin Latour’s Un Atelier aux Batignolles (A workshop at the Batignolles) appear the key figures of the Parisian art world of the 1860’s. Aside from the riveting attention paid to Monet, who turns away from his easel for a moment of introspection, we find the silhouette portrait of Zacharie Astruc, the only other figure to be seated. This detail is all the more significant of the emphasis placed on Astruc since the latter is here recognised as the vigorous defender of Manet’s painting, and therefore, is given a position of honor by Fantin-Latour.

Moreover, he had been captured in other works during this period, including a painting by Edouard Manet (1866) in which he is shown seated next to a group of Japanese illustrated books lying scattered on a tabletop. Therefore, Astruc is here not only depicted as a supporter of the Impressionist movement for all things, but significantly seen as a defender of a large range of young artists, several of whom are found within Fantin Latour’s painted atelier either in a portrait likeness or through a still-life object which also signifies their presence within the hallowed sanctum of the studio. Astruc here prevails in the assembly, among creative persons (Schölderer, Renoir, Zola, Edmond Maître, Bazille, and Monet) he associates with one another under the auspices of Minerva whose statuette can be seen on the left, reminiscent of Rubens’ use of the Pseudo-Seneca in his Four Philosophers, painted more than two centuries earlier.

But it is resolutely the Astruc-Manet couple who occupies the foreground: they are the genesis of the phalange of the future impressionist school.

Edouard Manet, Portrait of Zacharie Astruc, oil on canvas, 116 x 90 cm, Kunsthalle, Bremen, Germany

Furthermore, Astruc was commissioned by Manet for a bust, exhibited at the Salon in Paris in 1878 then intended for his tomb in Paris, Passy cemetery, like a telltale token of their everlasting friendship.

Zacharie Astruc, Buste d’Edouard Manet, 1878, Cimetière de Passy, Paris

Artist of many talents, multifaceted critic and creator, sculptor and even composer, Astruc may be identified as a prominent and benevolent attentive figure looking after the Impressionist cultural legacy.


- La Promenade du Critique Influent, Bouillon Jean-Paul, Dubreuil-Blondin Nicole, Ehrard Antoinette, Naubert-Riser Constance, Paris Hazan 1990.

- Zacharie Astruc (1883-1907), Célébrité revendiquée par l’Aude et le Maine-et-Loire, Georges Galfano

- A fleur de peau, le moulage sur marbre au XIXe siècle, Edouart Papet, Paris, Musée d’Orsay, 29/11/01 – 27/01/02, RMN Paris 2001.

- Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l’Ecole française au dix-neuvième siècle, Stanislas Lami, Paris, 1914-21, T. I 1914

- Portail des Collections des Musées de France, Base Joconde.

- Journal de Julie Manet, Journal 1893-1899, Librairie C. Klimcksieck

- Occult Symbolism in France, Joséphin Péladan and the Salons de la Rose-Croix, R. Pincus-Witton, New-York, Londres 1976

- La Sculpture du XIXeme dans l’Eure (1820-1914), Musée Municipal de Bernay

- Vélasquez en sculpture, la sculpture au XIXeme, Mélanges pour Anne Pingeot, Papet Edouard, Paris, Editions Nicolas Chaudun, 2008.

- Les Bronzes du XIXeme, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs, P. Kjellbertg, les Editions de l’Amateur, Paris IX° 1978

- Manet – Zola – Cézanne, Das Porträt des modernen literaten, Katharina Schmidt, Basel, Kustmuseum, 06/02/99 – 21/06 /99

- Magasin littéraire, Volume 10,Partie 1, ‪Typogr. S. Leliaert, A. Siffer et cie., 1893

- Correspondances impressionnistes: Du côté des peintres, ‪Pascal Bonafoux‪, Editions Dianes de Selliers

- Zacharie Astruc: Critic, Artist and Japoniste (1883-1907), Sharon Flescher, Garland Publishing, Incorporated, 1977.

- J. Barbey d'Aurevilly: Impressions et souvenirs, Charles Buet,Ligaran,2015

- Histoire d'Édouard Manet et de son œuvre, Théodore Duret, 2014, Editions Vizimuz

- Chefs-d'oeuvre du musée des beaux-arts d'Angers: du XIVe au XXIe siècle, Angers (France). Musée des beaux-arts

Antiquités Rodriguez Décoration

Artistic Direction : Roxane Rodriguez

Coordinatrice : Déborah Lalaudière

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