Portrait d’enfant. Valentin en train de peindre, grandeur nature (Portrait of a Child. Valentin painting, life size), 1883
As a young man, Auguste Baud was influenced by his friendship with the artistically and intellectually inclined Bovy family of Geneva, who introduced him to the socialist ideals of Charles Fourier. His life grew even more entwined with theirs in 1868, when he married Zoé Bovy, known for her paintings on enamel, and added her surname to his own. The couple had two sons, Daniel – later a celebrated writer – and Valentin, who became an artist in turn, taking the name André Valentin. In 1882, the Baud-Bovy family moved to Paris.
Though Baud-Bovy was later best known for his landscapes, he started out as a portraitist. His light-filled figures in thick impasto shimmer with a myriad of colours, standing out against a dark background, taking centre stage. He used his own sons as models from babyhood in drawings and paintings for his family circle. However, this life-size portrait of Valentin at the age of eight in 1883 was destined for the Paris Salon. The boy is shown painting, heralding his own later career. Perched on an armchair, palette in hand, he is laying paint on the lower edge of the canvas. Scattered on the floor lie a half-open box of brushes, a palette knife, and a paint-stained rag.
Auguste Baud-Bovy was a man of paradoxes, who fought for the Paris Commune while taking a keen interest in aristocracy. In 1873, he completed a self-portrait in the late-sixteenth-century garb of the days of Henri IV (now in a private collection). Here, Valentin’s aristocratic outfit, with its collared, red-trimmed gown, white smock, silk stockings, and patent leather shoes, foreshadows the international success of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Valentina Anker, Auguste Baud-Bovy (1848-1899), Berne, éditions Benteli, 1991.