(Paris 1813 - Douarnenez 1875)
Studies of a Woman Holding a Bowl
363 x 265 mm. (14 1/4 x 10 3/8 in.)
Pils made numerous drawings, watercolours and oil sketches in preparation for each of his paintings, and particularly for individual figures within a composition. The importance of this particular commission is reflected in the number of preparatory studies for Soldiers Distributing Bread and Soup to the Poor that are known. Indeed, the posthumous sale of the contents of the artist’s studio in 1876 included several studies for the picture, including three compositional drawings, nine studies of the soldiers, and thirteen drawings of people in the crowd.
Weisberg has noted that ‘Even in the preliminary drawings Pils had a firm idea of how all the figures would be placed in the final painting. He reconstructed the scene with models, whom he either posed in his studio or on the street in order to capture the accuracy that a realist theme demanded…Once he had satisfactorily determined the placement of a figure in an overall scheme, Pils rendered the subtle nuances of facial expressions…[The] studies for Soldiers Distributing Bread to the Poordemonstrate how the artist enlarged the role of drawings in his creative process. Preliminary sketches first helped him conceptualize his compositional scheme, while more developed drawings were used to position key figures and crystallize their attitudes…The existence of these various types of drawings with their different purposes in the evolution of his final image proves that Pils followed a specific method as he constructed his realism. Many of his drawings function as part of a large series and bring his realism extremely close to the academic tradition.’
The present sheet is a study for the mother and child at the centre of the composition of Soldiers Distributing Bread and Soup to the Poor. A smaller preliminary sketch in red chalk for the same figure, although not holding a bowl, is in a private American collection.
Pils often found his models in the poorest quartiers of Paris. As he wrote, it was ‘in the streets...among the people that one could find types and models; and in this way historic painting could become true and human’.
Pils was also interested in scenes from modern history, exemplified by his famous painting of Rouget de Lisle Singing the 'Marseillaise', exhibited to popular acclaim at the Salon of 1849. Pils also executed a number of paintings for Parisian churches - notably the decoration of the chapel of Saint André in the church of Saint Eustache, painted between 1849 and 1852 and still in situ - and took part in the mural decoration of the Opéra. In 1864 he was appointed a Professor at the École des Beaux-Arts, and made several watercolours of life in Paris during the Prussian siege of the city in 1871.
Pils made numerous drawings, watercolours and oil sketches in preparation for each of his paintings, and particularly for individual figures within the composition. He made his first watercolours of military subjects in the early 1850s, when he began to make studies of soldiers encamped at Vincennes, near Paris.