Rodolphe Bresdin: An Incorrigible Bohemian

This is the only English language monograph of the artist whose work is amongst the most oneiric, inventive and imaginative in the history of modernism, and whose life story is even stranger and more compelling than those of Van Gogh and Gaugin.

His Life

Penniless throughout his life, born and bred in the countryside of Brittany, homeless in Paris after a family row, uneasy with the witty slang of and affectations of the Paris boheme – where none the less, he had friends and admirers, such as Baudelaire and Victor Hugo – he hiked over 400 miles to Toulouse, then Bordeaux. At fifty, he took his wife and six children, including a baby, to a disastrous, poverty stricken three year stay in Canada. They were rescued by Hugo and the Bohemians, prior to, however, a marital breakup and Bresdin’s death in a garret room.

His Work

The Comedy of Death
The Good Samaritan

His two most famous works are: ‘The Comedy of Death’ and ‘The Good Samaritan’, often mentioned in histories of the symbolist movement or of c19th French art. The ‘comedy’ was often thought of as pure fantasy, but was, in fact, a reference to the cholera outbreak in Toulouse – the artist himself caught the disease and produced a series of skeletal images. The Samaritan was a topical update of the parable, with the freedom fighter, Abd el-Kader as the Good Samaritan. The full title is: ‘The Good Samaritan or Abd el-Kader Rescuing a Christian’. Bresdin produced many other arresting works including a series of prints of the Holy Family, French interiors, strange towns and houses and some extraordinary depictions of nature.

The Rest on the Flight to Egypt (c1871)
Flemish Interior (1857-61)
My Dream (1883)
Tree Branches (c1880)
The Clearing in the Forest (c1880)

One can see how the last three images were so far ahead of their time the they were simply puzzling to his audience. In 1883 a surreal print such as ‘My Dream’ would not have resonated with viewers who would not understand such an apparently incoherent image with no clear narrative. The final two images are almost abstract, so long before abstraction was heard of.

The book is a reassessment of Bresdin’s work and his contribution to the development of modernism. It is an attempt to gain for the artist the recognition he richly deserves.