(b. 1827, Courrières, d. 1906, Paris)


French painter and writer. After the death of his mother he was brought up in the village of Courrières by his father, grandmother and uncle. The last instilled in him respect for tradition and a commitment to the philosophical ideas of the 18th century. Breton's father, as supervisor of the lands of the Duc de Duras, encouraged him to develop a deep knowledge of and affection for his native region and its heritage, which remained central to his art.

His artistic gifts being manifest at an early age, he was sent in 1843 to Ghent, to study under the historical painter Félix de Vigne (1806-1863), and in 1846 to Baron Wappers at Antwerp. Finally he worked in Paris under Michel-Martin Drolling (1786-1851). His first efforts were in historical subjects, but he soon discovered that he was not born to be a historical painter, and he returned to the memories of nature and of the country which were impressed on him in early youth. In 1853 he exhibited the Return of the Harvesters at the Paris Salon, and the Little Gleaner at Brussels. Thenceforward he was essentially a painter of rustic life, especially in the province of Artois, which he quitted only three times for short excursions: in 1864 to Provence, and in 1865 and 1873 to Brittany, whence he derived some of his happiest studies of religious scenes. His numerous subjects may be divided generally into four classes: labour, rest, rural festivals and religious festivals.

Breton was elected to the Institut in 1886. In 1889 he was made commander of the Legion of Honour, and in 1899 foreign member of the Royal Academy of London. He also wrote several books.

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