‘I believe in the healing power of the arts, and whenever anyone can bring art into anyone’s life, it’s a special thing.’ Austin Nichols
There’s no deny – we live in the material world. While auctioneers, art dealers and art collectors worldwide are busy with searching for most valuable artworks that are available for sale (Art Business is indeed a growing and exciting business sector) – unfortunately, there isn’t much said about the spiritual, healing, empowering and inspiring value of art.
Jules Breton, ‘Studies for Gleneuse’, Paris Salon, 1989, Private Colletion, sold by Rehs Galleries
As a matter of fact there are artworks that have the power of saving life. And these are not just ‘empty words’– I can actually prove this statement by coming up with a certain example.
Recently, while surfing online and looking for latest news about one of my favorite American actor I came across something quite interesting that I’ve never read before. The title of the article that I’ve found online looked quite promising – ‘This Is The Painting That Saved Bill Murray’s Life’.
Bill Murray, Scene from ‘Lost In Translation’, move by Sophie Copolla, 2003
Usually I don’t judge the book by its cover or post by its title – but this time I knew for sure that the story going to be an amazing and unforgettable read.
What I stroke me at first was that the information that the first serious audition on stage of the young, ambitious and very talented Bill Murray, simply did not go well. If we now assume that the life of every human being consists of ‘ups and downs’ – the article described the very moment in time when the future ‘Lost In Translation’ star faced his first serious ‘breakdown’.
The fact that Murray did not ‘make it’ during an important audition caused suicidal thoughts in his head. According to Huffington post article – the actor headed toward Lake Michigan thinking, “If I’m going to die, I might as well go over toward the lake and float a bit.” Before he reached the water, however, he arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Julets Breton, ‘Song Of The Larks’, 1884, The Art Institute Of Chicago
This is where the young artist saw “The Song of the Lark,” a painting that truly moved him and made him re-think the desperate decision he just made.
Jules Breton, ‘Song Of The Larks’, Detail, 1884, The Art Institute Of Chicago
The ‘extremely meaningful’ painting that might have saved Bill Murrays life– was created by Jules Breton, the 19th-century French realist painter who by many art critics is described as ‘Great visual poet of idyllic rural existence’. As was the case with works by Bouguereau and Gérôme, Breton’s paintings were very popular and avidly collected by Americans. Very often, due to the high demand, Breton had to copy many of his artworks.
‘Song Of The Larks’ depicts a young peasant woman working in a field at sunrise. The title of the painting could be also interpreted as the painters indication to the figure of Joanna d’Arc – the heroin, saint and personification of female strength, persistence, sacrifice and holy spirit.
Murray, during a conference in London, where he promoted ‘The Monuments Men’ explained‘ how the painting gave him new hope. He said: “I thought, ‘Well there’s a girl who doesn’t have a whole lot of prospects, but the sun’s coming up anyway and she’s got another chance at it.’ So I think that gave me some sort of feeling that I too am a person and I get another chance every day the sun comes up.”
Truly inspired by the authentic story of my favorite actor I decided to study Bretons paintings and choose one, that would become my own ‘motivator’ – the piece of art that will give me strength to ‘go on’ in difficult times.
Jules Breton, ‘Returning from the fields’, 1871, Walters Art Museum – Baltimore
Jules Breton, ‘The end of working day’, 1886-1887, The Brooklyn Museum
Jules Breton, ‘Women going to procession’, 1890, Private Collection
Jules Breton, ‘The Weeders’,1860, The Metopolitan Museum Of Art
Jules Breton, ‘Woman Alseep On Hay’, 1866, Private Collection
After a while I finally made my choice – it was Calling in the Gleaners, painting from 1876 where Jules Breton represented an ordinary scene of peasant life in Courrières, his native village in Artois. The painter has not shown there the gleaners at work, as Jean-François Millet had done two years before, but leaving the fields. What did he choose to capture that particular moment, in the late afternoon? We can attribute this to the fact that he wanted the onlookers to pay attention to ‘the moment of glory’, that could be enjoyed by those who are able to wait, are continuously persistent, and do their work restlessly, with dignity, with their head up high – as if they were not peasants, but royal guards.
Jules Breton, ‘The Recall Of Gleaners’, 1859, Musée d’Orsay (France – Paris)
What I find exceptionally moving in that Breton’s masterpiece are the emotions written on the working women faces. Their life is full of purpose. They set a goal in the early morning hours and they work hard towards achieving it. What is more, the women’s faces seem to already envision their reward, the well-deserved evening meal, their night rest and sleep. The artwork ‘speaks to me’ because of the beautiful composition, the harmonic colors – but most importantly – because of the fact that the artist paid this way a tribute to a very hard work of labors, that as everything in life, finally comes to an end. Through idealizing and glorifying ‘simple work’ Breton made the world pay attention to the ‘ordinary life of ordinary people’ that deserve admiration and respect.
Jules Breton, ‘The Recall Of Gleaners’, Detail, 1859, Musée d’Orsay (France – Paris)
‘Calling the Gleaners’ was initially exhibited at the Château de Saint Cloud, it was given by the Emperor to the Musée du Luxembourg in 1862, known at the time as the Musée des Artistes Vivants. Today it could be admired at Musée d’Orsay.
When I was reading about Breton – there was one, thrilling information regarding the artist other talents. Namely, I’ve found out that the French painter was not only a visual artist but also an inspired poet and a role model for other great artists of his time. For instance, Vincent Van Gogh mentioned the surname Breton 7 times in his Letters to his brother Theo. There is one letter that 22 years old Dutch painter wrote and where he recalled the meeting with family Breton, his poetry and art:
Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Paris, 31 May 1875
Thanks for the letter I received this morning. Yesterday I saw the Corot exhibition. In it was the picture, “The Garden of Olives”; I am glad he painted that. To the right, a group of olive trees, dark against the glimmering blue sky; in the background, hills covered with shrubs and a few large ivy-grown trees over which the evening star shines.
Some time ago I saw Jules Breton with his wife and two daughters. His figure reminded me of J. Maris, but he had dark hair. As soon as there is an opportunity I will send you a book of his, Les Champs et la Mer, which contains all his poems. He has a beautiful painting at the Salon, “St. John’s Eve.” Peasant girls dancing on a summer evening around a St. John’s fire; in the background, the village with a church and the moon over it.
Dansez, dansez, oh jeunes filles,
En chantant vos chansons d’amour,
Demain pour courir aux faucilles,
Vous sortiez au petit jour.
There are now three artworks of his at the Luxembourg: “A Procession among the Cornfields,” “Women Gleaning” and “Alone.” À Dieu.
Vincent van Gogh,Self Portrait With Dark Felt Hat, 1886, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
If we look closer at entire collection of Bretons work – we would notice one common pattern. Namely – that in striving for excellence, it is essential to have the sincere love for everything that you do in life. The love for art of French Realist and his need to transmit the idyllic vision of rural existence are unquestionable. And this is what we should learn from.
Is it work on the field, is it writing speeches for the politicians, is it selling cars, building houses or creating an artwork– if you do your work it with dedication, commitment and ‘affection’ for your very own ‘subject matter’ that you ‘portray’ – this is when you give ‘the real service’ to the world.
Jules Breton, ‘The Gleaner, 1884, Private Collection
If Jules Breton was still alive, I am sure he would be pleased to hear that his paintings still inspire, as he created art so powerful and truly moving – that it has the ability to save peoples live.
To people like myself, Bil Murray or to many of you who read this post now – there is no need to explain that there were, there are and there always will be artworks that speak straight to the heart – telling you things the American poet , Eileen Miles wrote beautifully about:
‘I hope you like your work, I hope there is poetry and mystery in your life – not even poems, but patterns. I hope you can see them. Often, these patterns, wake you up, and you will know, that you are alive, again and again’
Jules Adolphe Breton, Self Portrait, 1883, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums