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Born in Paris in 1823, Paul Constant Soyer was one of the leading representatives of the important, but now largely forgotten, Ecouen colony of artists. Although trained, as so many nineteenth-century painters were, by the illustrious Léon Cogniet at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, it was perhaps his mother that had the greatest impact on his artistic development. Marie-Pauline Soyer (née Landon de Saint-Yves) was the daughter of the highly respected Charles Paul Landon, former curator of the Louvre Museum, and a highly respected engraver in her own right. While Soyer originally began his career painting religious and historical subjects for the Salons, in 1856 his mother convinced him to move with her to the fledgling artist colony at Ecouen, on the outskirts of Paris. Founded by Pierre-Douard Fere, the Ecouen school would perpetuate the genre scene tradition through Realism and early Impressionism, focusing on the humour and reality of daily peasant life. Though often left out of the history books, for their sentimental interiors were a far cry from the contemporary works of the early Impressionists, the Colony attracted the attention of many important artists at the time. Praised by Winslow Homer in the US and Ruskin in England, Ecouen would attract its most famous daughter in in Mary Cassatt, who travelled there from the States. As an established figure in the group, Soyer would open his house twice a week for Ecouen’s students to come study with him, and thus Cassatt would become his pupil. Multiple records remain of the artist mentioning Soyer in her letters home, mentioning for example how she sought his advice for her 1869 Salon entry. Soyer himself is best known for his genre scenes and portraits. He would exhibit at the Salon from 1847 to 1901, during which his art remained popular even as the art world underwent its seismic stylistic revolutions, receiving medals in 1870 and 1882. Throughout the period he would remain one of the leading defenders of traditional genre paintings as he perfected the subject. Soyer’s work remains sought after by connoisseurs to this day and is found in private and public collections including the Musée d’Orsay. While he and the rest of the Ecouen School have been largely forgotten, they would leave an indelible mark in the subject matter of both Realism and Impressionism, and Soyer himself remains important for his instrumental role in the career of Cassatt.


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