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The Forgotten ones: Adolphe-Félix Cals

In the series of forgotten painters from the first exhibition of the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs in 1874, this fifth article evokes Adolphe-Félix Cals (1810-1880). The latter will present 6 paintings at the invitation of Claude Monet.

Pre-Impressionist painter with sensitive landscapes, remarkable portraitist, Adolphe-Félix Cals was a real precursor, assuming to choose realistic subjects, 15 years before Gustave Courbet or Jean-François Millet.

Adolphe-Félix Cals. Une allée à Honfleur. 1877. Collection privée. The Athaneum
Adolphe-Félix Cals. Une allée à Honfleur. 1877. Collection privée. The Athaneum

Coming from a modest working-class background, Adolphe-Félix Cals began to study engraving before entering the Beaux-Arts in 1828. He exhibited sporadically at the Official Salon between 1835 and 1865, and he was present at the Salon des Refusés of 1863.

Adolphe-Félix Cals. Falaises près de Dieppe. 1862. The Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge
Adolphe-Félix Cals. Falaises près de Dieppe. 1862. The Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge

His first subjects are ordinary people, vagabonds, destitutes, which will make his contemporary Léon Cogniet say: "With such subjects, you will starve all your life!".

He then turns to landscapes, somewhat abandoning a realistic style to give birth to forms of color and not of drawing, which prefigures the impressionist approach and brings him closer to Eugène Boudin.

Léon Auguste Ottin. Déchargement sur les quais de la Seine. 1886. Collection particulière
Adolphe-Félix Cals. Le lever. 1857. Collection privée

Adolphe-Félix Cals participated in the Impressionist exhibitions of 1874, 1876, 1877, and 1879. Having spent most of his life in poverty, Adolphe-Félix Cals always refused to make any concessions. He wrote: "I don't want to concern myself with what may or may not please the public, which, moreover, is such a changing herd that one risks making a big mistake by running after it".

Claude Monet. Les déchargeurs de charbon. 1875.© Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt
Adolphe-Félix Cals. Le pêcheur. 1874. Musée Eugène-Boudin de Honfleur © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Jean-Pierre Lagiewski.

This painting is one of those presented at the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. The diagonal organization that frees the space from the sky and the cliff, the large, vigorous and precise strokes, the quality of the fisherman's inscription in an environment that drains the eye, the great mastery of light, make it a real masterpiece.

Adolphe Félix-Cals died in 1880 in Honfleur, having never ceased to paint on the motif of landscapes, some of which are the pure expression of this impressionism that he widely announced and rubbed shoulders with.


In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...



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