Joseph Bail (French, 18621921)
A Letter From his Father
Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 29 in.
Signed lower left: Bail Joseph

A Letter from His Father is from Bail’s popular series of images depicting cooks and their young assistants at work or at play. Here, the young cook assistant standing near a window reads a letter from his father while taking a break from polishing copperware. An illustration of a naval battle with the text: “Bombardement et prise d’Alger” (The bombardment and capturing of Algiers) hangs on the wall behind him. Although Bail worked at a time when avant-garde artists were exploring new subject matter and styles, he embraced a Realist tradition that recalls the 18th-century French painter Jean-Siméon Chardin and Dutch masters — especially in their tranquil atmosphere and luminous quality. In particular, Bail reveled in depicting the reflection of light bouncing off of copper surfaces, which he felt brought a sense of life to his kitchen scenes. As he noted in 1906: “It does one good to look at it! There is something living and human about beaten copper, as though it was impressed with the personality of the workman through whose hands it passes.”