I can’t believe it’s been four months since I last posted! Over these past months, I vacationed in France (ooh la la), got a new job (more on that in a later post!), have stayed busy with said job and have had the honor of being a bridesmaid in two incredibly beautiful and special weddings.
Amid all of this happiness and excitement, I’ve also been thinking about grief a lot lately. My cousin Isabel passed away at the beginning of October, seven months after turning 18. In the month since her death, I’ve struggled to accept that she is truly gone, and the magnitude of what that means for my family.
Isabel and I bonded over our love of art, and shortly before her death, she spent some time in France, home to both her father’s family and a family portrait housed in the Musée d’Orsay. Frédéric Bazille’s Family Reunion of 1867 shows his extended family gathered together on the terrace of the family home in Méric, in the south of France. Everyone turns their attention towards someone standing right where we seem to be, bringing us, viewer into the private space of the subjects. The most vivid turner in this group is the woman seated in the middle, turned around almost completely, and wearing a light blue polka dot dress. Her name is Thérèse de Hours, and she was a first cousin of Bazille and great-great-grandmother of my cousin Isabel (through her father, and father’s mother’s side).
Seated around Thérèse are other members of her and Frédéric’s family, including the artist himself, who is barely visible on the far left of the painting, standing somewhat behind his uncle Eugène (Thérèse’s dad). Obviously the familial significance for my cousin’s family is important to me, but even before realizing the history, I was drawn to the almost photographic nature of the picture. The painting is no doubt a group portrait, but instead of lining the figures up like royalty, they are positioned informally across the terrace; standing and sitting in an almost casual manner.
The way in which Bazille brings the viewer into the scene and the subjects react to our presence gives the impression of a photograph being taken – we have become active characters in the scene, the portrait taker. This portrait was painted on the tail end of the “golden age” of French photography – the carte-devisite and stereograph crazes of the 50s and 60s introduced the camera as modern, unique tool and an ambitious medium in the art world.
Over the last month, I’ve experienced a grief different than anything I’ve felt before. While death is sad in every situation, Isabel’s premature and sudden death didn’t give me time to adequately say goodbye, and that has been hard to bear. Baking and photography have long been therapeutic for me, and being able to bake a French-inspired recipe in honor of my sweet cousin helped. Healing will be a long process, and for now, for me, sugar is helping 🙂
Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker
Featured art: Frédéric Bazille, Family Reunion, 1867, oil on canvas
Trip to Paris on the horizon? Lucky, lucky you – there will be a special exhibit on Bazille at Musée d’Orsay: November 15 – March 5, 2017.