Cals, Adolphe-Félix

almost finished

Adolphe-Félix Cals (1810-1880)

an important member of the impressionist art-movement



Was Adolphe-Félix Cals an Impressionist?

Sure is that Cals was dedicated to the ‘impressionist’ expositions. Until his death in 1880 he joined them 4x and exhibited 42 works. This is much more than Cézanne, who is extensively mentioned in books on Impressionism, while Cals isn’t. Probably he was high regarded by his fellow artists because they posthumously showed works of him at the 6th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1881. Moffett doesn’t mention him as co-founder of the ‘Société Anonyme…’ . Still in 1900 Alexandre Arsène claims Cals had a supportive role within the ‘impressionist’ groupe and Cals was present and the liquidation meeting (R1,p336;aR2;iR23). There is not much known about the relationships with the other Impressionists. There were (probably) contacts with Boudin, Colin, Monet, Rouart and Vignon. And also with related artists as Corot, Jongkind and Manet. I am not acquainted with portraits made of Cals by others, nor of portraits made by Cals of other painters. This makes him an important member of the impressionist art-movement. I hope there will be made more study of this important member of the impressionist art-movement and I hope in the future Cals will get spacious attention in books and exhibitions on Impressionism.
When we look at his painting style Cals is less an Impressionist. Cals uses many browns, greys and dark greens. He is called a ‘grey Impressionist’, which is a contradiction in termini, because one of the main characteristics of the impressionist painting style are the bright colours. He introduced the short, regular and transparant strokes of paint, wich rendered the vibrations of the air and created a sense of space and freedom and therefor is seen as the true inventor of Impressionism (R177,p61). But mostly he doesn’t use small juxtaposed brushstrokes, but more often rough and broad ones. In line with the impressionist paintingstyle is his use of vague contours. The rendering of the (lamp and sun) light is important for Cals, but mostly there is not much effort in rendering the effects of time of day, season and weather conditions. In some of his works we can discern blue, green and even purple shadows, but mostly his shadows are quite grey. Maybe cleaning of his paintings and better photography can reveal more about his use of shadwos. Just a few works have specific indications of place. Still-lives are contradicted to ‘rendering the ever changing moment’, which is an important aspect of the impressionist painting style. But when we look at the still-live of Cals made in 1873 (see below), the back-ground is quite colourful, the used colours slightly unnatural and he uses small visible brushstroke that makes the picture bright. So maybe we can call this painting one of the first impressionist still-lives.


Adolphe-Félix Cals exhibited almost constantly at the Salon from 1835-70:

Cals is called a pupil of Léon Cogniet (iR1). Cals debuted at the Salon of 1835 with 3 works (iR1;iR5;R177,p61). From 1835-1870 Cals only did not exhibit in 1849, 1852 and 1863. In 1863 he exhibited at the Salon-des-Refusés. This is more than ‘irregularly’ as some sources mention (R88;R3;R9). The same sources mention he exhibited without much succes. Often his works were badly hung and he was ignored by the public and the art-critics (R177,p62). Still in 1846 Cals exhibited 11 works (iR1) and was critically acclaimed with ‘peasant woman and child’, which was influenced by Millet (iR3;aR1). 1870 was the last time that Cals joined the Salon (iR1;iR5;iR65). It is unclear if Cals submitted and subsequently was rejected for the Salon of 1872 and 73 and if this motivated him to join the independent expositions of the ‘impressionists’. Anyway he did not exhibit at the Salon-des-Refusés in 1873 (iR1).
Of the 83 works Cals exhibited were about 69 figure paintings, at least 6 drawings and 11 studies (8 of them exhibited from 1839-42). See link for an impression of his pictures exhibited. See link for an account.


Cals joined the ‘impressionist’ expositions in 1874 + 76 + 77 + 79 + 81:

At the 1st ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1874 Cals showed 7 works, including 1 work hc.
Some sources mention Cals was invited by Monet (R88;R3;iR3). Wildenstein omits to mention any connection between Monet and Cals (R22). But according to Arsène Alexandre Cals played a certain role in the formation of Impressionism the decade before 1874 (R1,p336;aR2;iR23). Emile Cardon (1874/04/29) states the Cals and others can’t be considered as followers of the new school (R87,p263).
At the 2nd ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1876 Cals showed 11 works, including 3 drawings.
At the 3rd ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1877 Cals showed 10 works.
Léon de Lora (=Louis de Fourcaud; 1877/04/10) reviewed Cals ‘soon will be sorry he strayed into the Impressionist crossroads’ (R2,p212;R90I,p163).
At the 4th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1879 Cals showed 14 works, including 5 drawings.
In the year of his death Cals didn’t join the 5th ‘impressionist exposition in 1880.
At the 6th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1881 works of Cals were exhibited posthumously and outside the catalogue (according to one source). I assume there were at least 4 works exhibited. It is unclear who organized the exhibition of his works. Was it Rouart? In the posthumous  auction of his collection in 1912 there were 10 works of Cals (R45).  Schurr and Cabane (R9) and Walther (R3) omit to mention this posthumous exhibition. Spiess wrongly mentions Calls joined almost all expositions (R16). Also other sources are not very accurate (aR1).
Of the 42 works Cals exhibited from 1874-79 (I leave out the 1881 exhibition), there were 26 figure paintings and 16 landscapes. Most of these landscapes were made in Honfleur, namely at the farm of Saint-Siméon. In a lettre (1879/10/06) Cals firmly defends the ‘liberty’ and the ‘vigor’ of the independent artists (R1,p314).
See link for his pictures exhibited. See link for an account.


Adolphe-Félix Cals as an artist:

Cals, aged 12 years, learned engraving in 1822 with Jean-Louis Anselin, a friend of the family (iR3;R88;R3;R9;R87;R9;R177,p61). He followed drawing, engraving and art lessons with Pons and later Bosq from 1823-6 (R3;R88;R16;iR3). 1828 onwards Cals joined the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and studied with Léon Cogniet (R3;R88;R9;R16;iR24;iR65;iR3;iR1;R87;R9;R177,p61). Cals choose a more realist style, which made Cogniet say: ‘You are making just as bad works as Corot’. (R16;iR5). Cals painted melancholic landscapes using strong dark-light effects (R3). Cals painted en-plein-air (R3,p199;R9). Cals painted several portraits of poor people, fisherman and labourers (R3;R88). Cals made several interieurs (R16). In his paintings Cals foremost tried to render the light (R9), especially the clair-obscur. He is called ‘petit Rembrandt français’ (aR2;iR23;R177,p62). He diversified the colours, long before the impressionists did so (R88). He introduced the short, regular and transparant strokes of paint, wich rendered the vibrations of the air and created a sense of space and freedom and therefor is seen as the true inventor of Impressionism (R177,p61). He uses vague contours (R177,p62). Monneret calls him a pre-impressionist and a link between the Realists and the Impressionists (R88;R177,p61). Count Doria classified Cals (and Jongkind) to ‘grey impressionism’ (R177,p60). He was a realist genre painter (R3,p136). Far before Courbet and Millet, Cals already rendered realist themes (R88). He was part of the ‘École de Saint-Siméon’ / Honfleur (R88;R177,p33). He wanted to make ‘true art’ (R87,p233). According to Castagnary his art was ‘meditative and reflective’ (R87,p233;R90I,p16).  His brushstroke was quite loose, swirling and plainly visible (R3,p199;aR1). Cals made many small, quiet and warm paintings (R3,p198). Cals was influenced by Corot, Boudin, Monet and Jongkind (iR24;iR5;aR1) and also by Millet and Daubigny (R87,p233); he also painted together with Daubigny (R177,p61). Cals also was part of the groupe around art-dealer Père Martin called ‘Cercle Mogador’ (his gallery was on the Rue Mogador), which also included pre-impressionists as Corot, Daubigny, Jongkind, Millet Rousseau and Troyon (R177,p24+27+111+211). Like many others Cals often painted at the farm Saint-Siméon in Honfleur. They were also called the ‘Barbizon of Normandy’ (R1,p110R116I,p316). Cals was very enthusiastic about the ‘impressionist’ group; being one of the older artists he encouraged the younger members (aR1). He wrote (1879/10/06)  ‘there is a vigor (with the ‘impressionists’) that I do not find in those who are considred the heads of the modern French school’ (R1,p314). The friendship of Cals supported Jongkind several times (R177,p61). Wildenstein omits to mention contacts between Cals and Monet (R22). Vignon is called a friend of Cals (iR69) and sometimes worked with him (R88).
In his art he didn’t want to compromise to the taste of the public; he lived his life in poverty (R88;R177,p61). Cals had one pupil: Jean de Provisy-Lalabbe (iR69). Arsène Alexandre was his biographer (R177,p61+211;aR2).


Adolphe-Félix Cals, a short biography:

  • 1810/10/17: Adolphe-Félix Cals was born in Paris (iR24;iR3;R9;R3;R16;iR1)
  • His father (and mother) were common (and poor) labourers (R16;R3;iR3;R9;R88)
  • around 1828: learns to know future wife Ermance de Provisy at the studio of Léon Cogniet (R88;iR5).
  • 1835-77: Cals lives at at least 16 different addresses, mostly in Paris (iR1;R2).
  • 1839-40: Cals painted in le Berry in the Auvergne (R9;R3); see map (iR10). Monneret mentions he painted in Berry in 1839, which also can be Berry-Bouy, which lies about 230km south of Paris or Berry-au-Bac, which lies about 160km north-east of Paris (iR9). And in 1840 he would paint in the Auvergne , which lies central in France around Clermont-Ferrand (R88).
  • 1840-44 (?): married Ermance de Provisy, who came from a aristocratic family (iR5); note: Monneret suggests that Cals married her shortly after 1828 (R88). She had temperamental character which gradually slipped into madness; this would poison the existence of Cals (R88).The marriage was very unfortunate and Cals left his wife and their daughter and started wandering in Paris; this gave him financial problems (iR5;R177,p62).
  • 1848: acquaintance with art-dealer Pierre-Firmin (Père) Martin, who would sell his works (R88;iR5;R3), who would become a friend (R88); Cals would portray him and his wife (iR3)
  • 1853: Marie, the only child of Cals is born. She had a fragile health.
  • 1856/04/04: public sale of 67 works of Cals (iR65)
  • 1858: Père Martin introduced Cals to Comte Armand Doria, who will become his benefactor (iR69;iR5;R9;R3;aR1;R87;R88). One source mentions this was in 1859 (iR65). In 1859 + 61 + 70 + 74 + 79 Cals gave Père Martin as correspondence address (iR1).
  • 1858-70: Cals stays regularly at château d’Orrouy, the estate of Count Doria, near Compiègne, about 73km north of Paris (R9;R88;iR65;iR5;aR1;iR10;T177,p29). Hear he would paint in nearby Crépy-en-Valois, Valois de Gérard de Nerval, la Forêt de Compiègne and at the banks of the Oise (R88). One source mentions Cals travelled between Paris and Orrouy between 1859-68 (iR65). In his visits he is also joined by Colin, Corot and Manet (aR1). Lépine had the same protection of Count Doria (iR69). One source mentions Cals lived at the château d’Arrouy (R3). Between 1864 – 69 Cals lived at 3 different addresses in Paris. In 1859 and 1861 he rendered the address of Père Martin as correspondance address. (iR1; see account). So maybe in the first years Cals actually lived with Count Doria and later on he travelled between his addresses in Paris and Orrouy. 
  • Cals was a close friend of Jongkind (iR5)
  • 1860/04/07: Père Martin, Count Doria and Cals organised an auction sale at Hôtel Drouot to raise money to get Jongkind back from Holland to Paris (R177,p29+208/9).
  • 1860/61: Cals travelled to Holland to get his friend Jongkind back to Paris (R88;R177,p29+211-213;iR69;iR5;R1,p69); meets Josef Israels (R88).
  • 1862: Cals helped Monet who had become ill in Algers (aR1)
  • 1864: paints in Saint-Valéry-en-Caux, about 80km north of Le Havre at the Normandy coast (R88;R3;iR10)
  • 1868: let his daughter be placed in a mental hospital in Saint-Maurice (Val-de-Marne) (iR5) or in Charenton (iR23), both just east of Paris (iR10). Monneret writes that Cals was separated from his wife and daughter from 1868 till 1871; it is unclear who suffered from severe psychique troubles, but he mentions that his daughter was in better health in 1873; still he earlier mentioned the mental problems of his wife (R88).
  • 1869: paints in Elbeuf-en-Bray (R88;R3), 120km north-west of Paris (iR10).
  • 1871 onwards: Cals divides his time between Paris and Honfleur (Normandie)(R16;iR65;iR3;aR1). Honfleur lies just south of Le Havre (iR10).
  • 1872: his wife dies (R88)
  • Cals has contacts with Jongkind, Boudin, Monet and other artists in Ferme Saint-Siméon in Honfleur(iR3;R16;R88;R1,p110); a place he often paints (aR1;see pictures).
  • 1873: buys a house in Honfleur and will live there with his daughter (iR5;R3;R88;R87); had he inhereted money from his deceased whife who came from an aristocratic family? Mostly Cals stayed in Honfleur and sometimes in his appartement in the Boulevard Rochechouart in Paris (R88).
  • 1874/12/10: Cals is present at the liquidation meeting of the ‘Société Anonyme…‘ (R1,p336).
  • 1876/01/26: public sale of 75 works of Cals (iR65).
  • 1878/03/21: public sale of 69 works of Cals (iR65).
  • 1880/10/03: Adolphe-Félix Cals died in Honfleur (iR24;iR3;R9;R3)
  • 1881/02/16-17: posthumous auction sale in Paris (iR65).
  • 1894: exhibition of works of Cals at Gallery Berne Bellecour (iR65)
  • 1899/05/04: posthumous auction sale of Count Doria, including a large number of paintings by Cals (iR65).
  • 1900: at the World’s Fair there were 3 works of Cals exhibited: 75. Enfant endormi (à Mme Esnault-Pelterie); 76. Le dejeuner (à M. Henri Rouart); 77. Grand’ Mère et petit-fils (à M. le comte Doria)  (iR107)
  • 1900: Arsène Alexandre writes a biography of Cals (R177,p211;aR2)
  • 1912: posthumous auction sale of Henri Rouart, including 10 works of Cals (iR45).



In many books and websites about Impressionism Cals is not mentioned at all (R4;R5;R6;R8;R10;R14;R15;R17;R18;R19;R21;R22;R86;R94;R95;R102). Books that mention Cals render only a single picture: Moffett (2x;R2,p21+41); Walther (3x;R3,p124/5); Schurr & Cabanne (1x;R9,p147), Spiess (1x;R16,p19), Bergeret-Gourbin (3x;R51,p61+91+125), Adhémar (3x;R87,p233/4), Berson (12x;R90II,p21+48+86+126), Bodt (8x;R177,p36+61-63+94/5+175). Some sources render a short monograph: Walther (2013=R3,p652+136+198/9), Schurr & Cabanne (2008=R9,p147), Spiess (1992=R16,p19), Adhémar (1974=R87,p233), Monneret (1978-81=R88I,p95-97), Bodt (2017=R177,p61/2). Rewald just mentions Cals 7x (R1), mostly just summing him up as one of the partakers of the ‘impressionist’ expositions. Other sources are Pissarro&Durand-Ruel (R116I,p316), the Salon database (iR1), Wikipedia (iR3-5), RKD (iR24), Marques (iR65) and Bénézit (iR69). Bergeret-Gourbin seems to be an authority on Cals, Boudin and other painters of Honfleur (R195;R214;R51); I didn’t have opportunity jet to read her works. For other general references (=R) see. For other references to internet sites (=iR) see. For other additional references (=aR) see below. See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.
Further reading:
Jannesson, Victor: Le peintre A.-F. Cals (1810-18880) et son élève J.-A.-E. Bataille (1828-1911). M. Bourges, 1913 (iR4).
Delestre, François + Georges Pillement: A.-F. Cals. Exhibition catalogue. Paris, 1975 (iR4;R2,p486).
Bergeret-Gourbin, Anne-Marie: Adolphe-Félix Cals, 1810-1880. Exhibition catalogue Musée Eugène Boudin. Honfleur, 1990 (iR4).
Arsène Alexandre (ed.): A.-F. Cals ou le bonheur de peindre. Paris, Georges Petit, 1900 (aR2)
Bénézit (Vol.3,p137/8,1999=R76;1976,Vol.2,p467/8=R75;1939TomeI,R240), Busse (1977,p195=R77), Witt Library (1978,p.48=R78), Thieme-Becker (Vol.5,1911,p361=R79), Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon (1997,Vol.15,p618/9=R81) (iR24).

Additional references (=aR):

  1. vanished French Impressionists, 5 (article on = iR35)
  2.élix Cals Arsène Alexandre (ed.): A.-F. Cals ou le bonheur de peindre. Paris, Georges Petit, 1900 (R152=iR19;iR5;aR1). Auction sale in 1901 (iR65).
  3. (a slideshow with many works by Cals in an irregular order and without information on the works; information about Cals in Spanish(?))
  4. artnet (artnet renders 310 auction items of Cals = iR13)
  5.élix Cals (overview of works and documents related to Cals; =iR40)
  6. collection (catalogue of Count Doria; =iR40=R221)