The Little Chimney Sweep (Le Petit Ramoneur, Damvillers), by Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), 1883. Oil on canvas, H. 102; W. 116 cm. Private Collection (sold at Sotheby's 2017). Source: Crastre, Plate VII, following p.58. François Crastre tells us that even when the artist was weak and his condition was hopeless, he continued to paint (71), and that this was painted in the year before his death. Crastre's caption reads: "This attractive picture, full of charm and vigour, belongs to the closing years of the artist's life, at the time when he was enjoying the flood tide of his talent. How much force and truth there is in this picture of the little chimney-sweep, and what graceful nimbleness in the movements of the cats that he is watching at play" (following p.58).

Kenneth McConkey compiled a very useful catalogue entry for the Sotheby's sale, pointing out that Bastien-Lepage "visited England regularly around 1880," and that the work is part of a series of views with a special appeal to English taste, and reflecting on the social realities of the time. But McConkey sees the composition here as a little different:

Where formerly Lepage’s country characters adopt frontal poses and are held in focus, this boy, unlike the barge boy [in Nothing Doing (Pas Mèche) and school-girl, is presented in situ, tempting the household cats with his frugal meal. And where formerly, such a moment would be captured on a small scale for the connoisseur’s cabinet, here the canvas is over a meter square. A poised cat, leather knee-pads, the "damper" from an iron stove, blackened hands, beautifully rendered, give more than circumstantial authenticity. They are part of the human chain that brings this character, these furnishings, in this moment, vividly alive. Naturalism, in short, achieves its fullest statement. We can almost say where precisely we are – for the chair in the background was a favorite of the artist’s grandfather.

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Crastre, François. Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884). Frederick A. Stokes, 1914. Internet Archive. Contributed by University of California Libraries. Web. 12 March 2020.

McConkey, Keith. Catalogue Note. Jules Bastien-Lepage: Le Petit Ramoneur (Damvillers). Sotheby's. Web. 12 March 2020.

Created 12 March 2020