Michael Zavros on Basile Lemeunier

Part of a series of new perspectives on portraiture commissioned for Archie Plus

Basile Lemeunier

Portrait of Édouard Detaille

1891
oil on canvas
Purchased with funds provided by the Stumm Bequest and the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 2014

In many respects, I make my paintings in the same way as the painters of the past. I spend weeks and even months by myself in the studio perfecting a single image. It’s a slow art in fast times.

Still, I’m envious of Édouard Detaille, captured in this exquisite painting by his student and friend Basile Lemeunier. The handsome, besuited artist stands inspecting his colossal masterpiece atop an impressive stepladder, palette in hand and cigarette freshly lit. His whole studio is a warm whisky colour and I rather fancy the same drink is close by.

It’s dark in the studio. It looks like evening and lamplight to me. But I don’t think Detaille needs to get home to his family. I think the maid will leave some dinner for him. There’s no school pick-up, or kids’ sport on the weekend. There are no distracting texts, calls or tweets. He’s not worried about 10 000 steps or the pandemic news he’s hearing about 24/7. And he’s not uploading progress shots of this impressive battle scene on his artist Instagram account and watching the likes roll in.

Detaille has almost finished his painting. It has taken months and it’s looking great. At 43, he’s at the height of his powers and he knows it. There’s plenty of call for good painters. The threat of photography replacing any part of his God-given talents is decades away. He can afford to stop and admire his handiwork.

Michael Zavros is best known as an artist, but would prefer to be known as an equestrian

View this work and more as part of the Gallery’s collection online