Marie François Firmin-Girard (French, 1921)

Timeline

1838
Born in Poncin (Ain)
1921
Died in Montluçon (Allier)
Firmin-Girard entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at the tender age of 16 before continuing his studies at Gleyre’s atelier. He made his debut at the Paris Salon at the age of 21 where his choice of exhibits showed him to be a talented young man, however as yet to find a defining style. He had the distinction of having three paintings accepted, but they were unusually diverse: a genre scene; a historical work; and that perennial religious subject, a Saint Sebastian. Two years later, at the Salon of 1861, his classical painting, La Mort de Priamus, won the second Prix de Rome.
Following this success two years later his first major contemporary genre scene, Après le bal, was awarded a third class medal. In many ways an ambitious young artist like Firmin-Girard might have been disappointed not to receive a higher grade of medal, but the picture was purchased by Princesse Mathilde, probably the single most influential collector in Paris at the time. By that one purchase his success was assured in fashionable French society. The commissions flooded in and from his studio in the Boulevard Clichy he produced a wide variety of subjects: portraits, landscapes and still lifes but most of all his elegant scenes from contemporary life. His paintings remained popular until well into this century, for though his subjects were those of academic art of the second half of the 19th century, his bright, clear palette shows an affinity with the Impressionists. Meanwhile his distinctively short, almost stippled brush strokes produce surface textures quite unlike the smooth glossy surfaces of the diehard academics. Firmin-Girard’s popularity in America is typified by his inclusion in a book on American artists in Paris by Barbara Weinberg, where he is adopted as the epitome of the French academic style.