François Bocion was one of the first Vaud-born artists to choose to return to work in the canton after studying in Paris, where, like many others, he dreamed of an illustrious career as a history painter. His art is rooted in direct observation of nature, very unlike the tormented Romantic vision typical of the previous generation. His concern to capture daily events in the modern world as he saw it made him an outstanding chronicler of his age. This composition shows a stagecoach, several horse-drawn coaches, and a steam boat, all reflecting the increasing mobility of nineteenth-century society. The scene is bustling with activity, with locals hard at work and the new breed of tourists busy making the most of their leisure time. The travellers have just arrived by boat and are catching the stagecoach to the centre of Lausanne.
1874 marked the death of Charles Gleyre, Bocion’s teacher in Paris, and the first impressionist exhibition, held in the same city. Bocion has often been compared to the impressionists for his practice of painting outdoors from life and his talent for capturing variations in atmosphere, but he is also a master of carefully staged scenes characteristic of the painting practiced in the studio. This painting is one such example, with the light cleverly planned to place the middle ground on the left in shadow.
Bocion’s interest in realist depictions of modern life is also reminiscent of Gustave Courbet, who was in exile in La Tour-de-Peilz from July 1873. Bocion and Courbet both loved painting Lake Geneva at all times of day. It is not known whether the two men ever painted together from life, but they may well have known each other: when Courbet died in 1877, Bocion was asked to draw up the inventory of his studio.
Béatrice Aubert-Lecoultre, Carinne Bertola et alii, François Bocion. Au seuil de l’impressionnisme, exh. cat. Vevey, Musée Jenisch, Milan, 5 Continents Éditions, 2006.
Dominique Radrizzani (ed.), François Bocion, Du Léman à Venise, exh. cat. Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, Lausanne, La Bibliothèques des Arts, 1990.