1849 - 1906
Eugène Carrière took courses at a local art school in Strasbourg from 1862 and at the age of 15 was apprenticed as a lithographer. In 1869, Carrière moved to Paris to study under Cabanel. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870 intervened and he completed his formal education only in 1876. In retrospect, he believed his artistic development was influenced less by these academic studies, which he considered ‘sterile’ to the extent that they were ‘cut off from Nature’, than by his exposure to the works of Rubens, Turner, Rembrandt and Franz Hals. Carrière failed to secure a Prix de Rome in 1876 but made a successful debut at that year’s Paris Salon and went on to make his mark in 1879 with Young Mother. After that his work attracted the attention of art critics as disparate in outlook as Roger Marx, Gustave Geffroy, Jean Dolent, Charles Morice and Albert Aurier, who all acknowledged this up-and-coming ‘painter of motherhood’.Carrière was soon moving in artistic and literary circles that included Edmond de Goncourt, Alphonse Daudet, Paul Verlaine (whose portrait he later painted), Gabriel Séailles (Carrière’s subsequent biographer), the Chausson family, Paul Gauguin, Puvis de Chavannes, Auguste Rodin and others. Carrière was by all accounts an outgoing person, a humanist committed to socio-political ideals (as his lithographs for the Rights of Man in 1871 and his poster for Dawn clearly attest), and a Dreyfus loyalist at the instigation of his friend Georges Clemenceau. Carrière lobbied indefatigably for popularisation of the arts (culminating in his Teaching Art Through Life of 1900) and gave full expression to that goal in his Théâtre de Belleville of 1895 (now in the Rodin Museum) which he dedicated to the ‘People of Paris’.By 1889, Carrière had secured ‘official’ recognition as an artist. Major public commissions came his way, starting with decorations for the Hôtel de Ville in Paris (1889) and continuing with similar commissions for the Sorbonne (1898) and the 12th Arrondissement town hall (1897). In the 1890s, when arguably at his most prolific as a lithographer, he joined forces with Rodin, Puvis de Chavannes and Bracquemont to found the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He also launched a ‘free’ academy between 1898 and 1903 that numbered among its pupils the future Fauvists Henri Matisse and André Derain and which paved the way for the Salon d’Automne, an institution fostered by Carrière and which appointed him as its first president.
Eugène Carrière evolved from an early intimate realism into the dynamic and vibrant monochrome style of his mature years. He shared the concerns of the Symbolists but opted to develop a pictorial language that eschewed decadent elitism and the purely decorative lines of Art Nouveau.In terms of technique, Carrière worked with a sure and fluid touch, using shades of brown and red to render expressive detail. Carrière had his detractors, among them Edgar Degas, but there were others – including Auguste Rodin (see Carrière’s 1900 lithograph of Rodin at Work) and the ‘genre’ sculptor Médardo Rosso – who shared his aesthetic and were his loyal apologists. At times, Carrière’s bold technique verges on abstraction in the sense that his preoccupation is with the archetype rather than with the individual. His entire body of work – oils, charcoal, lithographs – is characterised by this commitment to exploring underlying unity and universality rather than superficial diversity.
Carrière exhibited his work on a regular basis at the Salon de la Société des Artistes Français and subsequently at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. He also participated in the Libre Esthétique exhibition in Brussels and in Sezession exhibitions in Vienna, Munich and Dresden. His work featured at the Exposition Universelle on several occasions and at the Salon d’Automne. He exhibited solo from 1891. In 1904, a banquet in his honour was organised by Bourdelle and Elie Faure and presided over by Rodin.After his death, Carrière was represented at numerous group exhibitions, including ‘Men of Worth’: Henri Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon and their Contemporaries ( ‘Hommes De Valeur’ : Henri Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon En Tijdgenoten), held in 2002 at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, and at The Origins of Abstraction (1800-1914) ( Aux origines de l’abstraction (1840-1914)), an exhibition mounted in 2003 at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
The Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Strasbourg organised a retrospective in 1996-1997; the exhibition catalogue pinpoints Carrière’s contribution to the artistic and intellectual life in his day. The Musée de St-Cloud mounted an exhibition of his work within the framework of the Carrière Foundation’s Oulmont Bequest.