Jehan (or Jean)-Georges Vibert began his artistic career as an engraver in the workshop of his maternal grandfather, Jean-Pierre-Marie Jazet. In April 1857 he enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts, where he remained for six years and studied painting under Félix-Joseph Barrias (1822-1907) and François-Édouard Picot (1786-1868). Vibert's early works are indebted to the subjects and style of Picot. After his debut at the 1863 Salon, Vibert won a medal at the 1864 Salon for Narcissus Transformed into a Flower (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux), despite the scandal caused by the nudity depicted.1 Another mythological picture, Daphne and Chloe (Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va.), was harshly criticized at the 1866 Salon; one reviewer counseled the artist "to return to the study of nature, take on a live model."2 Meanwhile, the genre painting Entrance of the Toreros (private collection) he had submitted to the same Salon enjoyed a positive response. Vibert realized that he would achieve greater financial and popular success with smaller genre canvases than with larger mythological and historical paintings. Possessed of a cynical wit and great technical ability, he produced numerous anecdotal pictures that satirized the Catholic Church. Never completely abandoning his aspirations to the "higher" genres, he showed an ambitious allegorical painting, the monumental Apotheosis of Adolphe Thiers (Musée d'Orsay, Paris), at the 1878 Salon, but it, too, elicited extremely negative responses, though it was bought by the state. Also interested in the technique of watercolor, Vibert was a founding member of the Society of French Watercolorists in 1878 and served as its first president. He invented a number of products for painters, including special varnishes, brushes, and a red paint, which he named "Vibert Red"3 and used for his many images of cardinals. Vibert was intensely involved in the theater and wrote several satirical plays in the style of Molière, whom he greatly admired. He married one of the leading actresses of the Comédie Française, Maria Lloyd, but they divorced in 1887. He wrote frequently on art matters, and at the time of his death in 1902 he was compiling an autobiography, illustrated with reproductions of his paintings.
1. Zafran 1992, 14 (repr.).
2. Edmond About, cited and translated in Eric Zafran, French Salon Paintings from Southern Collections (Atlanta, 1982), 164.
3. This name may be a reference to his paternal grandfather, Jean-Pierre Vibert, who retired from the army to dedicate himself to gardening and horticulture, creating many new species of flowers, including a red rose (the Georges Vibert) named after his grandson.