Félix Ziem's father was a Croat who settled in Bourgogne in 1814, and his mother was from the same region. He studied at the École d'Architecture et des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, which had been founded and was run by the painter Anatole Devosge, a pupil of David. He received a second prize in drawing and architecture in 1839. In 1841, after a long journey on foot, he settled in Nice, where he began to receive commissions from the city's bourgeoisie. From 1842, he travelled in Italy, visiting Rome, before discovering Venice, which became his second home. Between 1845 to 1892 he visited Venice regularly, often for several months in the year; he worked from his boat, which served as his studio as well as his living quarters.
He travelled extensively: to Constantinople, to Greece and in Russia from 1844, then to Belgium and Holland (1850); England (1852); Egypt (1854). In 1855, he went down the Danube by boat. In 1856, he was in Turkey and the eastern part of the Mediterranean. He visited Algiers in 1858, and in Holland again in 1860. He often went to Barbizon, living out of a caravan in order to better paint and eventually bought a house in Charles Jacque. He befriended all of the celebrated artists of his time. When he grew tired of Barbizon and spent his time between his four houses in Venice, Martigues, Nice and in Paris, rue Lepic. During the course of his career, he painted several thousand canvases the proceeds of, which enabled him to help young artists, and set up numerous charity works, including an asylum for the blind.
He combined his travelling with the Parisian life. He exhibited regularly at the Salon from 1849. Around 1865, Durand-Ruel became one of his main dealers. At his death, he bequeathed a part of his studio (studies and drawings) to the city of Paris. It is in this collection, housed at the Musée du Petit Palais, that one is best able to appreciate Ziem's technique and talent.
Ziem was a complete painter, at ease in portraits, still-lifes, flower painting and genre scenes, of both history and contemporary subjects. Nevertheless, he is most known for his landscapes. His body of work includes numerous watercolours. In his drawings, and especially in his travel journals, while showing his taste by his selection and composition of subjects, he left a precious testament of his times. After Guardi and Canaletto, he affirmed a new vision of Venice, not of the city's celebrated sites such as the Doges' Palace, but rather a systematic study of its changing light over the hours and through the seasons. Beyond Venice and the landscapes of the French regions he visited, he brought back numerous sketches from his travels across Europe, all the way to Russia, Constantinople and the Bosphorus. These included oriental scenes, caravans in profile against the desert, women draped in startling veils on village terraces, and sunsets. His studio in Martigues was transformed into a Moorish structure, complete with a cupola and minaret.
Ziem featured in collective, thematic exhibitions, including: Going with the Flow: The Provencal School (Au fil de l'eau. École Provençale), Musée des Tapisseries, Aix-en-Provence (2000); Marseilles and the Mediterranean: Félix Ziem and his Contemporaries (Marseille et le bassin méditerranéen. Félix Ziem et ses contemporains), Château Borély, Marseilles (2002); Painters from the Other Shore. Algiers 1830-1930 (Les Peintres de l'autre rive. Alger 1830-1930), an exhibition organised during 'Djazaïr a Year of Algeria in France', Musée de la Castre, Cannes (2003); Luminous Algeria, Through the Eyes of Seascape Painters (1830-1960) (Lumineuse Algérie, sous le regard des peintres de marines (1830-1960)), Musée National de la Marine, Toulon (2003). Solo exhibitions and retrospectives incude: Musée de l'Annonciade, St-Tropez (1980); Musée des Beaux-Arts, Beaune (1994); Across a Century: Félix Ziem, 1821-1911 (La Traversée d'un siècle: Félix Ziem, 1821-1911), Musée Ziem, Martigues; 2002, Musée Louis Vouland, Avignon (2001).
Ziem received numerous awards: a 3rd class medal (1851), 1st class medals (1852 and 1855) and was made Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (1857), Officier (1878) and Commandeur (1908). A large part of his work is in the Musée Ziem in Martigues.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Aix-en-Provence (Mus. Granet): Venice: the Bucentaur from the Doges' Palace (oil on canvas, sketch)
Ajaccio: View of Constantinople; View of Venice
Amsterdam: Moorish Rowers; Venice
Avignon: View of Constantinople
Berlin: View of Venice
Bordeaux: The Banks of the Amstel
Chantilly: The Sweet Waters of Asia
Digne-les-Bains: Venice in the Moonlight; Venice, the Great Canal; Venice, Morning
Dijon (MBA): View of Venice; View of Dijon; View of a Park (1849, drawing); View of Dijon with a Laborer in the Foreground (c. 1840, drawing); Dijon, vue des Perrières (c. 1842, oil on canvas)
London (Wallace Collection): Venice: the Bacino di San Marco with Fishing Boats (c. 1865, oil on canvas)
Martigues (Mus. Ziem): Venice, St. Mark's Square (1850-1860)
Montreal (Learmont): View of Venice
Moscow: In Venice; View of Venice
Mulhouse: View of Holland
Nantes: Venice: Morning Effect; Venice, Riva degli Schiavoni; Constantinople
Nice: Venice, Entry to the Grand Canal
Paris (Louvre): Tallship; Palazzo Ducale; The Giudecca; Landing at the Palazzo Ducale; The Grand Canal; Boat in Venice; A Caique; Seascape; Two Views of Venice (Formerly at the Musée du Luxembourg)
Paris (Mus. de la Marine): Reception of the Italian Squadron in Toulon
Paris (Mus. du Petit Palais): Still-life with Lobster; The Sweet Waters of Asia; The Port of Marseilles at Sunset; Constantinople, Caique and Sultan; Lake of Vaccarès; The Stream, Environs of Clermont-Ferrand; Peonies; Constantinople, the Turkish Kiosk; Still-life with Watermelons; Wild Horse in Camargue; The Surrounds of Venice: Fusine; Caravan on the Road to Mecca; Market at Fez; Retour de Fantasia; Return of the Fishermen in Martigues; St Sophia with the Rising Sun; Venise and the Campanile in the Moonlight; Still-life with Pomegranates; The Mouth of the Bosphorus; Gunshot; Barbizon, Evening; Venice; The Elephant; In Front of Martigues; Antwerp; Autumn; The Harem; The Duck; Female Nude from Behind; Woman from Trastevere; Nudes (two studies); The Chariot; The Red Dress; The Turkeys (a panel of six studies); The Guilds of the Drapers (after Rembrandt); Study of a Woman, Head of a Man, a Drum (after Rembrandt); Fire; Sunset; Bend in a River; The Duomo in Milan; Near Algiers; Portrait of a Young Girl; Dusk Effect; Sunset; Still-life with Pumpkin; The Thatched House; The Pond; The Three Cypresses; Entry to a Forest; Portrait; The Arc de Triomphe of the Étoile; Riverbank; Dusk; Bas-Meudon; Dogana in Venice; St. Petersburg; Old Houses (panel of four studies); Corner of a Forest; Tobolsk; Flowers; Venice; St. Mark's Square in 1863 - The Avenue of the Champs-Élysées; The Doges' Palace; Venice: S. Maria della Salute; The Exit of the French Garden in Venice; The Old Gate; Venice at Sunset; Party at the British Embassy in Paris; Florence; The Seine; Billancourt in the Sunset; Parasol Pines in the Surrounds of Naples; The Grotto of Posillipo; The Champs-Élysées; Sunset; The Frigate; The Wave; In Naples; The Waterfall; Sunset; Surrounds of Barbizon; The Breeze; The Client; The Fishing Sloops; The Sweet Waters of Asia; The Oaks; Sunset; The Forest; The Storm; St-Ouen; Ibis; The Road; The Mill; The Rest of the Sultan; Fantasia in Constantinople; Venice, the French Garden at Dusk; The Harem; The Fontainebleau Forest; Under the Bridge of Sighs; The Carnival in Venice; Daudet' s Mill; Khartoum, Sunset; The Giudecca at Dusk; The Doges' Palace; The French Garden in Venice in the Moonlight; Venice; Flood in Venice; The Mill on the Hill; Parasol Pine of the Bosphorus; The Mill; The Procession of St George in Venice; The Caique; The Offering to the Madonna; Venice at Sunrise; The Quai St Jean in Marseilles; The Rhône Between Arles and Avignon; The Martyrdom of St Mark (after Veronese); The Nightwatch (after Rembrandt)
Rheims: Marseilles, the Old Port; View of Italy; Thatched House
Rouen: Stamboul; Trinquetaille; The Surrounds of The Hague; Dusk
Toulouse: Venetian Scene
Valenciennes: View of Venice; View of the Orient; Evening Effect, the Riva degli Schiavoni