Felix Ziem was born in 1821 in Baeaune, Burgundy, where he trained at the local art school. He then moved to Dijon to attend the School of Architecture and Fine Arts, where he remained until the end of the 1930s.
An indefatigable artist with little inclination to follow the academic discipline, he decided to move to Marseilles to join his brother and to start working in the field of architecture. He designed the Roquefavour Aqueduct and then opened a painting school near the Vieux Port in Marseille, at the request of the Duke of Orleans, who took him under his wing.
Landscape painting: between Venice and France
At the beginning of the 1940s, Felix Ziem made his first visit to Italy. He first visited Rome and then Venice, which became his main source of inspiration. From then on, his soul as a painter remained inextricably linked to that of a traveller: over the course of the decade, he visited the length and breadth of Italy, as well as the south of France and the Orient.
In 1949, he settled in Paris, a city that he used more as a base for his continuous stays near the forest of Fontainebleau, where he met the representatives of the Barbizon School. In particular, he became close to Millet and Rousseau, sharing a conception of landscape based on the observation and sensation of reality, through variations in light and atmosphere and the ecstatic narration of the changing seasons.
The peintre de Venise
Realism, expressed in a lyrical and personal vein, became the hallmark of Felix Ziem, who made his debut at the Paris Salon in 1849, where he exhibited regularly until 1868, returning twenty years later in 1888. The inspiration for his landscape production came not only from Venice, his favourite city to which he went several times a year, but also from his travels in the East, between Constantinople and North Africa.
However, he is mainly remembered for being the peintre de Venise for excellence in the second half of the 19th century, so called even by Lord Byron. His ardent affection for the lagoon city surely stems from the perfect conjunction he managed to find there between architecture and the water element, which gave him ‘feelings of enchantment and love’. His quick, brilliant brushstrokes accompany him in his most famous paintings of a Venice teeming with life and light.
Beloved by many French critics, one of whom was Théophile Gautier, he was praised for his broad, atmospheric manner, the rosy hues of Venetian sunsets and the golden reflections in the lagoon, accentuated even more by his use of watercolour. Iridescent views taken from the water line make his images broad, vaporous and luminous, in a happy union of Lorrainian reminiscences, Venetian vedutism, vaporous Turneresque atmospheres and realism.