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Frédéric Bazille, Black woman with peonies, 1870

Bazille was born in Montpellier, but moved to Paris in 1862 to study medicine. At the same time he took up painting, and befriended the young Impressionist painters, Sisley, Monet and Renoir. Pissarro, who also met him around this time, considered him to be, 'the most gifted of all of us'.

Bazille became associated with the so-called 'Batignolles school' of painters, named after the arrondissement of Paris where this varied, non-doctrinal, group of young artists most frequently gathered. Although he never experimented with the broken paint handling of the Impressionists, he chose, like them, to draw his subjects from modern life; as he wrote to his brother, Marc, in 1865, 'I have chosen our modern era, because it is what I understand best, and it that is most alive for the living.' During the Franco-Prussian war, Bazille enlisted as a volunteer in the French infantry in the summer of 1870, but was killed at a battle near Orléans, a few months later.

This composition relates closely to a painting of the same title in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier. It is likely to have been painted in the first months of 1870, at which time Bazille had engaged une négresse superbe ('a superb black woman') as a model for this and two other paintings that he was working on.

The status of this watercolour is uncertain. Close similarities in colouring and composition suggest that it might be a highly worked-up preparatory sketch for the painting, although it could also be an independent composition, for which Bazille used the more fluid medium of watercolour for a freer, more expressive, approach.

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