Charles-Émile Jacque (1813 - 1894)


 In 1849, fleeing a devastating cholera epidemic in Paris, Charles Émile Jacque (1813-1894) and his family traveled to the scenic French town of Barbizon with his friend and fellow artist Jean-François Millet (1814-1875).  The men’s ensuing interest in nature and the depiction of rural life led to a significant shift in subject matter and style, and a growing camaraderie with several members of the newly formed “School of 1830,” or Barbizon School.[i]  “Jacque and I have settled to stay at Barbizon for some time,” wrote Millet to the art dealer and critic Alfred Sensier (1815-1877) in June of that year, “and have accordingly, each of us, taken rooms.  The prices are excessively low compared to those in Paris; and as it is easy to get down to town if necessary, and the country is superbly beautiful, we hope to work more quietly here, and perhaps do better things.  In fact, we intend to spend some time here.”[ii]  The pictures that Jacque produced during and after this “quiet” yet profoundly influential time - among the most popular of his day - have recently experienced a resurgence of interest among scholars and collectors, both for the art historical traditions they preserve and the remarkable originality of their vision.


Jacque’s artistic training, informal and sporadic as it was, began at 17, when he was apprenticed to a map engraver in Paris.  He then served seven years in the French army, an experience that inspired a series of drawings and engravings.  In 1838, Jacque traveled to London to work on literary and historical woodcarvings for a variety of books and journals.  His return to Paris in 1840 saw the continued pursuit of a career in the graphic arts, as both an illustrator and a caricaturist. His contributions to such satirical publications as Le Charivari were among many contemporary illustrated vignettes featuring medical and political institutions and personages that were censured by the government.  By the mid-1840s, Jacque had turned from these controversial ventures to the production of original etchings inspired by Rembrandt and the Dutch masters, and to picturesque depictions of rural life, intended for the Salon.[iii]  One of the earliest artists to revive the art of etching, and credited with several significant technical innovations in the medium, Jacque would make his name in this field long before his career as a painter began.  By 1848, he had completed nearly 350 etchings and, by the time of his death in 1894, over 500.[iv]


Jacque’s etchings from this period are significant for reasons beyond technical and aesthetic merits alone.  They confirm, through their subject matter and chronology, Jacque’s critical role in the Realist movement and his profound influence on Millet - rather than, as art history has long had it, the other way around.[v]  (Indeed, Jacque seems to have influenced Millet in many aspects of his early life: the choice of Barbizon as their sanctuary in 1849, for example, had come entirely at Jacque’s behest.)[vi]  “In [Jacque’s] first works,” an astute writer for The Portfolio of 1875 had penned, “he showed an inclination to a rather affected sort of elegance, and the more robust and truly rustic character of his later works has often been attributed to the influence of Millet.  There have been, however, protests against this opinion, and, as appears to us, not without good reason.  ‘It would seem’ says M. Guiffrey, in the preface to the excellent catalogue that he has made of Charles Jacque’s engravings, ‘it would seem, to hear a great number of critics, and M. Charles Blanc himself, as if it were the influence, or simply the example, of M. Millet which had decided M. Jacque to give back to peasants the rustic, rural look natural to those who work in the fields.  M. Millet had not yet dreamt of painting the country and its inhabitants when M. Jacque had already corrected his first tendency to affected elegance in rustic scenes.  Several plates of 1844, and a good many woodcuts, bear witness to this change of manner, which became visible long before M. Millet had produced his first real peasants.  This artist, who about 1848, was painting bathers and little nude figures, very much appreciated by old picture-buyers, afterwards carried to its utmost limits the system already adopted by M. Jacque, and his extreme, not to say excessive, boldness, made him pass for the inventor of a theory which he has developed à outrance.’ ”[vii] Decades later, in 1922, Loys Delteil attempted to again redress the disturbing perpetuation of this myth: “It has been tried, more than once,” he observed, “to compare Millet with Jacque, or Jacque with Millet . . . Jules Claretie refers to it in these lines in his preface to the Sale of the Atelier of Jacque (November, 1897).  ‘There are many controvertible points in the study, in other respects very careful, of Charles Blanc, as for example the page where the critic believes it necessary to defend Jacque from having the appearance of being an imitator of Millet.  All students of the history of art know that Jacque preceded Millet in the painting of rural scenes, peasants, animals and rustic work.  It is not too much to say that the penetrating and vivid intelligence of Jacque has influenced the spirit of Millet, his neighbor at Barbizon.’ ”[viii]


Jacque made his debut at the Salon of 1844 with an etched reproduction of a landscape painting by Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867).[ix]  Inspired, perhaps, by the evocative works of this Barbizon master, or simply by his inveterate love of innovation, Jacque’s first foray into painting would also take place in this year.  (He would not exhibit his paintings, however, for some time.)  In 1845, Jacque exhibited a portrait after Rembrandt, earning both the attention of the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) and two government commissions, the first in 1846, and the second, a realist painting, in 1848 (Les Boeufs à l’abreuvoir [Angers, Musée de Beaux Arts]).  Buoyed by the State’s recognition, Jacque submitted the first of his commissioned works to the 1847 Salon; its rejection would become the catalyst for the artist’s increasingly unsteady relationship with that conservative venue, and the strengthening of his affiliation with the avant-garde. (Despite his displeasure with the Salon, and his frequent absences from its galleries,[x] Jacque would eventually earn a string of second- and third-class medals for his etchings and paintings between 1850 and 1864.  Higher accolades would prove elusive until 1889, when he earned a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle.)


In 1858, nearly a decade after his transformative move to the countryside, Jacque published Le Poulailler, a treatise on his experiences as a poultry breeder in Barbizon.  The book was the natural culmination of Jacque’s interests over the course of the last ten years: In addition to publishing his etchings of rustic scenes and village life in Le Magasin Pittoresque and L’Illustration, and his study of rural “types” in the spirit of Jean-François Raffaelli (1850-1924) and other Realist luminaries currently represented in the Gallery 19c inventory, he submitted several scientific articles to agricultural journals such as Le Journal d’Agriculture Pratique.  His interest in chickens and other domesticated animals and unparalleled knowledge of their anatomy and habits was solidified by frequent excursions to Le Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and by his first-hand experiences with local farming practices in Barbizon.[xi]  Not content to merely observe and analyze the life around him, or romanticize its ways, Jacque took it upon himself to develop real estate in the region, sell his chickens’ eggs as part of an entrepreneurial business venture, and cultivate asparagus; he also reputedly painted his plein air subjects while accompanied by a small flock of tame sheep, which served as his most instructive and devoted models.[xii]


Though many Barbizon artists included animals in their pictures, notably Constant Troyon (1810-1865), whose bucolic works have often been compared to Jacque’s own, none could match the expressiveness that Jacque gave them, or invest them with as much complex significance.[xiii]  Indeed, in addition to evoking the eighteenth-century traditions of the animalier, Jacque’s animal paintings – many of them life-size, as if to underscore their import – also reveal contemporary developments in French agriculture, politics, and science, compelling historians to regard them as journalistic evidence and pointed efforts at salvage ethnography, as well as fine art (see, for example, Le Printemps of 1859, currently in the Gallery 19c inventory).[xiv]  These qualities confirm Jacque’s position not merely at the center of the Barbizon School, but of nineteenth-century French Realism as well, and today recast him in the art historical literature as a progressive and influential activist at the forefront of a revolution in art.[xv]


The enormous success of Jacque’s works across Europe and, increasingly, Britain and America, did not result in financial gain until 1867, when the artist turned more consistently to painting and to dealers for exposure rather than the Salon.  In that year, Jacque was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur and was elected to the juries for the Exposition Universelle and the Grand Prix de Rome.  Writing in 1895 of this period, one critic noted that, “Jacque has not exhibited since 1870, chiefly because his pictures are usually sold before leaving the easel . . .”[xvi] The prominent American collector Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924) purchased her first painting, a pastoral scene by Jacque, in 1873, and Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) became another notable admirer and patron of Jacque’s work at this time.  In 1881, Jacque took up watercolor, a vocation that led to an increasingly loose painterly style.  Jacque’s final submission to the Salon, Intérieur d’Écurie (Interior of a Stable), was a work as characteristic in its pastoral subject matter as his first, and was exhibited in 1894.


This biography was written by Emily M. Weeks, Ph.D.

[i] The term “Barbizon School” was not coined until 1890.  Comprised of artists who lived in the region between 1830 and 1880, this informal group included Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), Narcisse Virgilio Díaz de la Peña (1807-1876), Constant Troyon (1810-1865), Jules Dupré (1811-1889), Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), François Louis Français (1814-1897), Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), and Jacque.  Though outlived by Français by a few years, Jacque was widely considered the last surviving member of the “School of 1830.” 

            The popularity of this picturesque region among French artists may be gauged by the increasing volume of Barbizon landscapes exhibited at the annual Salon: the number rose from 19 in 1833 to 77 in 1880.

[ii] Millet to Alfred Sensier, June 28, 1849, quoted in The Barbizon Painters, being the Story of the Men of Thirty, Arthur Hoeber (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1909), p. 277. Though not in fact far from Paris, in the eyes of contemporaries Barbizon and the nearby forest of Fontainebleau “might well have been hundreds of miles away, so complete was the solitude, so absolute the change,” (Hoeber, p. 23).  This sense of an escape into nature appealed to a French public weary of modern urban life and anxious about the consequences of industrialization; indeed, in his own pursuit of a quieter and more “authentic” existence, Jacque purchased several plots of land surrounding his Barbizon home in order to protect his privacy.

[iii] Of the latter, one critic proclaimed, “If the word pittoresque did not exist in the French language, one would have to invent it for the works of Charles Jacque . . .,” (René Ménard, “Charles Jacque,” The Portfolio 6 [January 1875], p. 130). 

            In addition to the 17th century, Jacque also looked to John Constable (1776-1837), Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), and other contemporary British artists for inspiration.

[iv] Jacque was also an early and influential member of the Société des Aquafortistes, established with his support in 1862.

The linearity and tightness of Jacque’s early paintings, as well as the emphasis given to outline, suggest their graphic roots.  So too, Jacque’s inclination to repeat and recycle compositions may have been indebted to the practice of printmaking, as well as to the popularity of his subject matter.  Interestingly, many of the Barbizon painters were practicing etchers as well (Cf. Corot, Millet, and Daubigny); this makes the group’s later investigations into impressionistic techniques – an interest shared by Jacque – all the more remarkable.

[v] Gabriel Weisberg has identified Jacque as a key figure in the development of the radical nineteenth-century Realist movement, and his works as encompassing “all aspects of nineteenth-century realism” in their treatment of mundane themes in the context of rustic genre (“Charles Jacque and Rustic Life,” Arts Magazine 56.4 [December 1981], pp. 91). 

[vi] Hoeber, pp. 28, 276-7.

[vii] Ménard, pp. 130-1.

[viii] The Print Connoisseur 2.4 (June 1922), p. 314 [emphasis mine].  To further his case, Delteil listed some of the subjects of Jacque’s earliest works, created well before Millet had taken up the rural theme: “. . . 1845-6: le Troupeau de cochons, les Enfants trainant un chariot, le Puits dans le cour d’une Ferme, les Laboureurs, le Cavalier, various Chaumieres, then the celebrated Truffiere; in 1847 to 1850, le Troupeau de porcs sortant d’un bois, l’orcher surveillant son troupeau, le Soir, les Vaches a l’abreuvoir, le Troupeau de porcs fuyant, several Forges . . .” (p. 316).  Delteil also recounts an amusing anecdote, in which Millet had signed Jacque’s name to one of his own works: “The desire for comparison may very possibly have started from the fact that Millet in a jocular mood signed the name of Jacque to one of his own first essays.  ‘The signature of Charles Jacque,’ writes Alfred Lebrun, in la Vie et l’Oeuvre de J. F. Millet, ‘was placed as a pleasantry and not to assure the sale of the print which was made one night on the corner of a table at Auguste Delatre’s.’  This was in 1849.” (p. 314).  For an additional, eloquent pronouncement of Jacque’s influence over Millet, see Frank L. Emanuel, “The Etchings of Charles Jacque,” The Studio 34 (1905), p. 218.  Here Emanuel concludes, “To Jacque, therefore, might well be accorded some of the excess of lustre shed upon Millet in his rôle of innovator.”

[ix] Jacque’s early works were also included in exhibitions in Bordeaux, Lyon, Pau, Châlon-sur-Saône, Munich, London, and Budapest. 

[x] Perhaps due to his disenchantment with academic conservatism, Jacque’s Salon appearances would become sporadic after 1847, and would cease altogether between 1870 and 1888.

[xi] Writing in The Studio in 1905, Frank L. Emanuel clearly sensed Jacque’s intimate knowledge: “Jacque gets the whole air of the country into his plates – nay, more than air, the very sounds,” (p. 221).

[xii] “[Jacques] is remembered in the annals of Barbizon as going about with many canvases, generally accompanied by a small flock of tame sheep that followed him wherever he went, serving as his models,” (Hoeber, pp. 282-3). 

Jacque’s broad interests extended to manufactured goods and handicrafts as well: in the 1870s, he became involved with the production and radical redesign of Renaissance and Gothic furniture at a factory in Le Croisic.

[xiii] As one contemporary critic observed, “Troyon has been the most powerful animal painter of our time; but Jacque will remain the most spirituel,” (quoted in Charles Jacque,

Robert J. Wickenden [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1914], p. 20).  Jacque’s and Troyon’s predilection for sheep painting was not unique to France: in 1891, a detailed article was published on the work of the English-born American artist A. F. Tait (1819-1905) on the subject (“Talks with Artists: Mr. A. F. Tait on the Painting of Sheep,” The Art Amateur: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Art in the Household 25.2 [July 1891], p. 31).

[xiv] Despite Jacque’s first-hand studies, however, and his participation in all aspects of farm life, many of his highly detailed subjects must be recognized as experiential, rather than strictly documentary, in content and intent (Cf. again Le Printemps of 1859, currently in the Gallery 19c inventory).

[xv] For many Realist and Barbizon painters, it was the motif of the peasant, rural farm worker, or the bucolic land they tilled that provided the ideal outlet for their personal or political sentiments, rather than the animals that inhabited them. The epic scale of many of their “modest” subjects – produced at a time when classical and historical subjects still dominated French painting and were regarded as uniquely deserving of “Salon-like” proportions – was part of the revolutionary nature of these Schools, as was the depth and sobriety of the messages they sent.  It was part of Jacque’s own revolution to adapt and introduce these concepts to the art of the animalier

Perhaps in recognition of the power and appeal of this new class of images, the Second Empire government eventually utilized regional and Barbizon landscapes for their own political ends, as tools to evoke a sense of national pride.

[xvi] W. A. Cooper, “Private Picture Galleries in the United States III,” Godey’s Magazine (January 1895), p. 3.  In that same year, René Ménard went on to lament that, “. . . artists know but little of his works because they are painted on commission, and never remain in his studio after their completion, but go straight to their purchasers,” (p. 132).  By February 1895, a few months after his final submission to the Salon, it was observed that the demand for Jacque’s works had become so great that forgeries were rampant, and works purported to be by the artist were often not entirely by his hand (“My Note Book” by Montague Marks, The Art Amateur: A Monthly Journal Devoted to Art in the Household 32.3 [February 1895], p. 76).  Two of Jacque’s three sons, Emile (1848-1912) and Fréderic (1859-1931) became painters and engravers of rural subjects, and may have aided Jacque in the completion of these works; the French landscape painter Louis Rémy Matifas (1847-1896) is also known to have collaborated with Jacque in the early 1880s.