Adolphe-Félix Cals French, 1810-1880


Initially trained as an engraver, Adolphe-Félix Cals was a French portrait, genre and landscape painter. Though inspired by the work of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) and Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891), Cals painted in more subdued, less fawn-coloured tones, more closely aligned with the Impressionists, without adopting their associated bold purple-violet tones. For this reason, along with his use of loose brushwork and rendering of vague contours, Cals has been dubbed ‘pre-Impressionist’. As a plein-air painter, he is recognised for depicting melancholic landscapes, rendering the effects of the clair-obscur.


Having exhibited almost constantly at the Salon – between the years 1835 and 1870 – by 1846 Cals was critically acclaimed despite receiving no formal award. Having met the art dealer ‘le Pére Martin’ (Pierre-Firmin Martin 1817-1891), who financed other painters such as Corot and Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Cals was steadily supported. 


From 1874 onwards, the artist joined the Impressionist expositions. By utilising short, regular and transparent strokes of paint – later loosely swelling and swirling in great billows – Cals’ work articulates the vibration of air, or atmosphere, and thus expresses a sense of space and freedom. This technique became freer as his style evolved accordingly and it antedated the similar brushwork of Impressionism. The artist also painted portraits of poverty-stricken members of society: fishermen, laborers and peasants. Though influenced by Millet, he too had grown up within a poor family of manual laborers, which perhaps accounted for his choice of sitters.


Settling in Honfleur in 1873, Cals would frequent the ‘Saint-Simeon Farm’, an inn made famous as the meeting place for artists and writers, such as Claude Monet (1840-1926), Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), Jongkind and Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867). Here he remained until his death in 1880.


Adolphe-Félix Cals’ work is included in numerous global collections, such as, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota.