Cals, Adolphe-Félix

under construction

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 more than Cézanne. Probably he was high regarded by his fellow artists because they posthumously showed works of him at the 5th ‘impressionist’ exposition in 1881. This makes him an important member of the impressionist art-movement.
Moffett doesn’t mention him as co-founder of the ‘Société Anonyme…’ . Still in 1xxx Alexandre Arsène claims Cals had a supportive role within the ‘impressionist’ groupe and Cals was present and the liquidation meeting (R1,p336). There is not much known about the relationships with the other Impressionists. There were (probably) contacts with Boudin, Colin, Monet 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.
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 to his painting style Cals is less an Impressionist. Cals uses many browns, greys and dark greens. His brushstroke is quite loose, but he almost doesn’t use small juxtaposed brushstrokes. 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. 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.

Cals, 18xx, le passage du gué, 82×102, A2014/06/14 (iR17;iR13;iR10)

Cals, 1873, Nature morte à la raie, 38×62, MB Honfleur (R51,p61)


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). 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 (R3;R9). The same sources mention he exhibited without much succes. 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.

S1846-298, Bonne femme d’Auvergne. Uncertain: Cals, 1846, Peasant Woman and Child, 46×38, BM Barnard Castle (iR2;iR35)

SdR1863-61, Le ménage du sabotier. Maybe: Cals, 18xx, La famille du sabotier, 60×74, A2017/03/23 (iR11)

S1866-306, Le soir, effect de lampe. Now: Cals, 1866, Self-portrait, 82×66, MNVT Versailles (iR99;iR23;iR10;iR96)

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 (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 (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.
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 3 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.

1874-38, Vieux Pêcheur. Now: Cals, 1873, Vieux Pêcheur (detail), 115×89, private (HW)

1877-11, Femmes effilant de l’étoupe. Now: Cals, 1877, Katoenarbeidsters (cotton workers, Honfleur; detail), 51×62, Orsay (R16,p19)

1877-7, 1876-9, Honfleur Saint-Siméon, Grande Cour (detail), xx, MBA Caen (HW)


Adolphe-Félix Cals as an artist:

Cals first learned engraving in 1822 with Jean-Louis Anselin, a friend of the family (iR3;R3;R9). He followed drawing, engraving and art lessons with Pons and later Bosq from 1823-6 (R3;R16;iR3). 1828 onwards Cals joined the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and studied with Léon Cogniet (R3;R9;R16;iR24;iR65;iR3;iR1). 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). Cals painted several portraits of poor people, fisherman and labourers (R3). Cals made several interieurs (R16). In his paintings Cals foremost tried to render the light, especially the clair-obscur. He is called ‘petit Rembrandt français’. (aR2;iR23). 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). Cals was very enthusiastic about the ‘impressionist’ group; being one of the older artists he encouraged the younger members (aR1). Wildenstein omits to mention contacts between Cals and Monet (R22). Vignon is called a friend of Cals (iR69).
Cals had some pupils: Jean de Provisy-Lalabbe (iR69), xx.

Cals, 18xx, the basket weaver, 37×27, A2008/01/08 (iR11)

Cals, 1853, La Rupture (portrait de jeune fille à la lettre, 41×33, A2013/06/28 (iR10;iR64;iR13)

Cals, 1867, Karl Josef Kuwasseg, (Mrs Bowes’ Drawing Master), 36×27, BM Barnard Castle, (iR2;iR6)


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)
  • around 1828: learns to know future wife Ermance de Provisy at the studio of Léon Cogniet (iR5).
  • 1835-77: Cals lives at at least 16 different addresses, mostly in Paris (iR1;R2).
  • 1839-40: Cals painted in le Berry (Auvergne) (R9;R3); see map (iR10).
  • 1840-44 (?): married Ermance de Provisy, who came from a aristocratic family (iR5). The marriage was very unfortunate and Cals left his wife and their daughter and started wandering in Paris (iR5).
  • 1848: acquaintance with art-dealer Pierre-Firmin (Père) Martin, who would sell his works (iR5;R3) and Cals would portray him and his wife (iR3)
  • 1853: Marie, the only child of Cals is born. She had a fragile health.

18xx, Portrait de son père assoupi, dr, 14×12, Axx (iR10) Doria coll

18xx, autoportrait, drawing, 24×20, A2013/04/12 (iR11)

18xx, Portrait de Marie (née 1853), fille de l`artiste, 49×42, MNM Dijon (iR10;iR23)

Cals, 1851, Self-portrait, 47×39, Orsay (iR6;iR23;iR10) Maybe: 1874-hc
  • 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). One source mentions this was in 1859 (iR65). In 1859 + 61 + 70 + 74 + 79 Cals gave Père Martin as correspondence address (iR1).
  • 1858-69: Cals stays regularly at château d’Orrouy, the estate of Count Doria, about 73km north of Paris (R9;iR65;iR5;aR1;iR10). 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: Cals travelled to Holland to get his friend Jongkind back to Paris (iR69;iR5;R1,p69)
  • 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 (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).
  • 1869: paints in Elbeuf-en-Bray (R3), 120km north-west of Paris (iR10).

Cals, 1859, Card game at ‘le père Martin’, 50×61, xx (iR11)

Cals, 1858, Portrait presume de Francois Doria, 41×33, xx (iR12;iR10)

Cals, 1864, La rue de la Vielle Halle à St. Valery en Caux, 22×28, A1999/03/20 (iR13)
  • 1871 onwards: Cals divides his time between Paris and Honfleur (Normandie)(R16;iR65;iR3;aR1). Honfleur lies just south of Le Havre (iR10).
  • Cals has contacts with Jongkind, Boudin, Monet and other artists in Ferme Saint-Siméon in Honfleur(iR3;R16); a place he often paints (aR1).
  • 1873: buys a house in Honfleur and will live there with his daughter (iR5;R3)
  • 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)
  • 1912: posthumous auction sale of Henri Rouart, including 10 works of Cals (iR45).

Cals, 18xx, Le Matin au village , 30×40, MNM Dijon (iRx;iR23)

Cals, 18xx, Pavillon D’Angle des anciennes fortifications, Montmartre, 13×20, Axxxx1215 (iR85;iR44;iR10)



In many books and websites about Impressionism Cals is not or hardly mentioned. Spiess only refers to him as a forerunner (R16,p19). Books that mention Cals render only a single picture. My main sources are Moffett (1986, R2), Walther (2013, R3,p652), Schurr & Cabanne (2008, R9,p147), Dayez (1974, R87), the Salon database (iR1), Wikipedia (iR3-5), RKD (iR24), Marques (iR65) and Bénézit (iR69). 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).
Bénézit (Vol.3,p137/8,1999=R76;1976,Vol.2,p467/8=R75), 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. Arsène, Alexandre (ed.): A.-F. Cals ou le bonheur de peindre. Paris, Georges Petit, 1900 (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)