Léon Jean Basile Perrault was born in Poitiers, France on June 20, 1832. Like many painters born of humble families, Perrault succeeded in catching the attention of the critics when he won a local drawing competition as a young man. Perrault moved to Paris where he was welcomed into the home and atelier of François Edouard Picot to begin his formal art training. Perrault would continue his studies at the Académie des Beaux-Arts and gained further experience working in William Bouguereau's studio and at the Académie Julian. His initial years of academic studies and training under of Bouguereau would profoundly influence Perrault and feed an interest in allegorical and religious subject matter. He would debut in the Paris Salon of 1860 with Vieillard et les Trois Jeunes Hommes, inspired by a fable in La Fontaine.
Perrault first began to exhibit his symbolic genre paintings of peasant children at the Salon of 1864. Perrault's sensitive and honest portrayals of children and working peasants, no doubt drawn from his own personal struggle with poverty, was applauded by the critics. He would continue to exhibit his popular symbolic genre paintings at the Salons in Paris where he garnered wide praise.
In 1868, Léon Basile Perrault would be invited to exhibit Give for My Little Chapel at the Boston Athenaeum and in 1873, he was appointed to represent France as diplome d'honneur to Vienna, Philadelphia and London. In 1887, he accepted Frances's highest honor and was inducted as a member of the Légion d'honneur. This prestigious honor was followed by a bronze metal in the 1889 Exposition Universelle and Silver medal at the 1900 Exposition Universelle.
Maternal love was a popular theme among nineteenth century genre painters but especially amongst the French painters, many of whose early formal training had focused on religious subject matter intent on sensitive portrayals of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps one of the most well- know allegory paintings of the time that embodied the principles of goodness and selflessness was William Bouguereau's large scale canvas entitled Charity of 1878. In the present work, the composition owes its structure to a popular compositional device favored by Renaissance painters like Raphael whereby the figures are loosely encased in an invisible triangle. The close proximity of the mother and her two children offer a heightened intimacy to the scene. The reclining baby with blond ringlets positioned on the mother's lap is the same featured in other paintings by the artist, most notably Jeune mère et enfant endormi of 1897. In addition, Perrault's use of a warm palette of deep red featured in the mother's dress lends weight and a tactile quality to the composition.
(fig. 1) William Bouguereau, Charity, 1878, Private Collection.