Abram-Louis Buvelot Born: 1814 (Switzerland)- Died: 1888 (Australia)
Landscape painter, was born on 3 March 1814 at Morges, Vaud, Switzerland, the second son of François-Simeon (d.1848), a minor public official, and Jeanne-Louise-Marguerite, née Heizer (d.1856). Abram-Louis had one brother, Eugene-Jean-Louis-Henri (1820?-1852), who became a printer and lithographer. The Buvelot family had been citizens of Morges since 1677 where they had arrived as Protestant refugees from Condé-en-Barrois. In November 1830 Abram-Louis left Morges, probably to attend the drawing school, established in Lausanne in 1821, of which Marc-Louis Arlaud, a pupil of Louis David (1748-1825), was director and sole instructor. He is believed to have left Switzerland in 1834 and to have spent some months in Paris before going in 1835 to Bahia, Brazil, where his uncle François Buvelot (b.1777) had a coffee plantation in Leopoldina in 1825-42.
In October 1840 Abram-Louis went to Rio de Janeiro, registering his profession as ‘artist’. In December 1840 the Rio Academy of Fine Arts held its third public exhibition; Buvelot contributed two landscape paintings which were highly commended. He contributed a small number of landscapes to the academy’s exhibitions each year, except in 1842, 1845 and 1851, until his return to Europe in 1852. After the exhibition of 1842 he was awarded a gold medal, and after the 1846 exhibition he was created a knight of the Order of the Rose.
In 1842 Buvelot and the French history-painter, Auguste Moreau, produced a series of twelve lithographed views of Rio. Six more views were added in 1844 and the set, published in Rio by Heaton & Rensberg, was issued as Rio de Janeiro Pitoresco; Buvelot designed the landscapes and Moreau the figures. About 1845 Buvelot established a photographer’s studio with the Frenchman, Prat (d.1852), and made daguerreotype portraits. In 1849-51 they were employed by Dom Pedro II to photograph improvements by the emperor on his estate at Petropolis. Buvelot made at least one daguerreotype portrait of the emperor. For their services Buvelot and Prat were created ‘Furnishers of the Imperial House’ and entitled to use the imperial arms.
In November 1843 Buvelot married Marie-Félicité, née Lalouette, born in Paris on 16 May 1816, daughter of Nicolas-Joseph and Appaline-Rosalie, née Piquet. Early in 1852 the Buvelot family returned to Switzerland. From July 1852 until December 1853 they lived at Vevey, Vaud, where Buvelot tried without success to establish himself as a portrait photographer. In 1853-54 he showed a few landscape paintings at public art exhibitions in Lausanne. In December 1853 Buvelot, with Marie-Félicité and their daughter, moved to Lausanne where he again tried unsuccessfully to practise as a photographer. In December 1854 he went, without wife and daughter, to Calcutta with the Austrian artist, Ferdinand Krumholtz, whom he had known in Rio. The two hoped to make money in Calcutta as painters and photographers but by August 1855 Buvelot was back in Switzerland to take up the appointment of drawing-master at a new experimental industrial school at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Neuchâtel. There he remained with his wife and daughter until September 1864. In 1855-64 he contributed landscapes to the exhibitions organized by the Neuchâtel Société des Amis des Arts; in 1856 he showed a landscape painting at the Berne general exhibition. In 1864 he served on the committee which succeeded in establishing a Fine Arts Museum at La Chaux-de-Fonds.
In September 1864 Buvelot left his family in La Chaux-de-Fonds and two months later sailed for Victoria from Liverpool accompanied by Caroline-Julie Beguin, who had been a fellow teacher at La Chaux-de-Fonds. The date of Marie-Félicité’s death is not known. Their only daughter Jeanne-Louise-Sophie, born in Rio on 24 February 1843, had become an engraver of watch cases and in April 1862 married Fritz-Ulysse Vuille at La Chaux-de-Fonds; the last male Vuille, also Fritz-Ulysse, Buvelot’s great-grandson, is thought to have died about 1929. On arriving in Melbourne in February 1865 Buvelot bought a photographer’s studio at 92 Bourke Street East and took portraits for a year. In 1866 he moved to 88 La Trobe Street East and resumed his painting while Caroline-Julie gave French lessons to help Buvelot to establish himself as an artist in Melbourne. In 1873 he and Caroline-Julie moved to a cottage in George Street, Fitzroy. Buvelot contributed landscapes to various international, intercolonial and Victorian exhibitions from 1866 until 1882. His work was always well received and by 1869 his reputation in Melbourne as the colony’s leading landscape artist was established. He served on the committee of the Victorian Academy of Arts in 1870-74 and also exhibited with this group.
In 1869 Buvelot taught landscape-drawing at the Artisans’ School of Design in the old Trades Hall, Carlton. In 1868 he had applied for the instructorship without fees in art classes at the National Gallery of Victoria, but despite letters from the students requesting his appointment the position with salary was finally given in 1870 to Eugen von Guerard. Buvelot took a small number of private pupils, including the architect, J. J. Clark, and the landscape painters, Charles Bennett and H. J. Johnstone. Buvelot made extensive sketching tours in Victoria, favouring the Western District, the Port Phillip area and Macedon; he may also have visited South Australia and Tasmania. In 1884, afflicted with failing eyesight and crippled hands, he gave up painting altogether. He died on 30 May 1888 and was buried in the Kew cemetery, where a memorial was erected by public subscription. In 1894 the Grosvenor gallery of the National Gallery of Victoria was renamed the Buvelot gallery in his honour. Madame Buvelot continued to live in Fitzroy until her death in May 1902.
Buvelot was equally skilled in oils and water-colour. With one known exception, an inept portrait of 1860, he painted only landscapes. In the earliest known published review of Buvelot’s work (Rio, 1844) the critic commended the ‘truthful’ effects of light, the topographic and atmospheric realism, and the attractiveness of the pictures. These characteristics persist throughout Buvelot’s art. His work is frequently likened to that of the French Barbizon school although no direct contact between Buvelot and these artists or their work is certain. Nevertheless most of the landscape painters who worked at Neuchâtel in 1850-1900 had been in direct contact, in and around Paris, with the French painters of the paysage intime and this resulted in a flourishing little school of ‘open air realist’ artists centred in Neuchâtel when Buvelot was working and exhibiting there. The landscapes by these artists depict small-scale pastoral scenes in the immediate locality and reveal an interest in tone and the blond light of forenoon and afternoon. Buvelot brought to Australia and developed this western Swiss variant of the art of Barbizon. In his work he avoided literary or romantic subjects and, like his neuchâtelois contemporaries, found his artistic theme in ‘light and tone’ and the simple poetry of quiet corners. Max Meldrumconsidered that it was through Buvelot’s unfailing assessment of ‘tone’ that the Swiss artist came closer than any other painter who had depicted the Australian scene to an ‘objectively truthful’ rendering of the appearance of his subject. Examples of Buvelot’s paintings are in western Switzerland, Brazil, California, and throughout Australia in both public and private collections.