Posts Tagged ‘Jules Breton’


I have always had a passion for the beautiful. If the man in me is often a pessimist, the artist, on the contrary, is pre-eminently an optimist.

—Jules Breton (1827-1906)

Just a short one today. I’ve used the quote above from artist Jules Breton once before here but it was with another of his paintings. The piece above of his, Le Soir (The Evening), is in the permanent collection of our local art museum, the Arnot Art Museum. It was an important painting for me, really one of the first real pieces of art with which I interacted as a kid.

In junior high school, I would sometimes ride home after school with my father. The junior high I attended was just down the street from the Sheriff’s Department where he worked and the museum was just one block over from that. So, between the end of the school day and my dad’s shift, I had an hour or two to explore a little, trying to stay out of trouble as best I could. Not always successful on that front but I won’t go into that part of the story right now.

Most days I found myself at the Steele Memorial Library which was at that time housed in a beautiful old Carnegie-endowed building. It had such warmth and was a great place to spend several hours at a time searching the stacks. Some days, however, I found myself at the Arnot Art Museum which was not yet expanded. It’s collection wasn’t large but it was quite good, with plenty of classic European paintings from well known artists of the mid and late 19th century. It was the type of work that a wealthy collector of that time would acquire on his yearly sojourn to the continent.

This piece from Jules Breton then dominated the front parlor of the museum, as it still does today. I knew nothing of art then, had only been in one museum at that point. Well, two if you count the Baseball Hall of Fame. But even with that lack of knowledge, this painting spoke volumes to me. The glow of that sun going down behind that far horizon. The tired laborers getting ready to head home from a long day in the fields. The gorgeous blend of colors that made up that sky. 

And the sense of space. It was simple and elegant. Quiet but forceful.

It was the first painting that spoke to me, the first that offered me possibilities beyond my own meager knowledge and limited opportunities. It made me think. And feel.

It remains an important piece for me. So, to see the words of Breton and whole-heartedly agree with them as an artist feels almost like coming full circle back to this painting and the small spark it kindled in me as a kid. It took a while for the spark to grow but it was always there after that.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Maybe too much.

Have a good day. 

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I have always had a passion for the beautiful. If the man in me is often a pessimist, the artist, on the contrary, is pre-eminently an optimist.

Jules Breton


A bit of hope for today. I have to agree with Breton: even on those darker days when I feel my most cynical, I find hope in doing my work. Or in considering that far horizon in Breton’s painting.

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Jules Breton "Le Soir"My first real exposure to genuine art came when I was a kid in the early 70’s, going to school at Ernie Davis Junior High on Elmira’s east side.  My father worked at the Sheriff’s Department which was just several blocks away so after school I would walk down there to ride home with him.  It beat the school bus ride which could be a real drag because I was the first kid picked up in the morning and one of the last dropped off at night, an hour or so each way.

So after school I would head downtown where I often ended up at the Newberry’s store that had an old pinball machine tucked away in the corner of it’s basement, hidden among the knick knacks and housewares.  Great machine.  Only a dime a play.  Spent too much time there.  More often though I ended up at the old Steele Memorial Library, a beautiful old Carnegie endowed structure that was like a treasure chest.  I spent hundreds of hours there, reading and exploring the stacks behind the reception desk that you entered by climbing a tight cast iron stairway.  What a great atmosphere.

But the other place downtown that caught my attention was the Arnot Art Museum.  It was located in an old mansion and was free to the public at the time.  They had ( and have) a wonderful permanent collection of paintings, a real surprise for a small city like Elmira, and I was mesmerized by the group in the main parlor.  The piece that caught me was the Jules Breton painting above, Le Soir.  It glowed on the wall there and the beauty of the surface and the sense of place and time were palpable.  For a 14 year old, it was heady stuff and often I would head into the Arnot to just spend a few minutes with the Breton and some of my other favorites there.  The Brueghel.  The Millet.  There was a great sense of calmness there and to this very day whenever I enter that place I am taken back to those days as a shaggy haired kid dragging my denim gym bag through the doors to see that Breton painting.

Below are a couple of other Bretons, not at my Arnot Museum…Breton song of the larkJules Breton the weeders

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