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In the following year he exhibited Her First Communion, picturing a young and pretty country girl, stiff and self-conscious under her white veil. This work was the product of keen observation, and is deliberately stilted and traditional in its style of execution, recalling in some measure the French primitive school. Bastien-Lepage evidently had in mind the portraits by François Cluet: his little communicant is infinitely artificial in her spotless finery, yet infinitely alive under the thin surface wash of colour which recalls the Elizabeth of Austria, wife of Charles IX, as painted by the greatest of the French primitives.
None but a son could have rendered with such emotion the humid tenderness of those eyes and the maternal caress of those lips. It is a powerful work, which enrolls Bastien-Lepage in the foremost rank of portrait painters. At last, unable to bear it longer, he resigned from the postal service and enrolled his name at the Beaux-Arts. At this time, when he entered the studio of Cabanel, he was but little more than nineteen years of age. Cabanel, to be sure, was not the painter of his choice, but Bastien-Lepage was not for that reason any the less appreciative of a system of instruction which was dominated by a worship of line-work.
The silvery tones of the whites, the warm grays of the draped gown lead up to the freshness of the delicate, rose-like flesh tints, beneath the crown of close curled locks that seem at once massive and weightless. The artist's hand was sure of itself; it neither groped nor hesitated. The execution is such that the drawing of the gown and the lines of the face seem to have been traced by an engraver's tool. In this case, however, definiteness has not resulted in stiffness. The sharp design has not imprisoned unwilling forms; it leaves them free to move as they please within the limits of their contours which are its domain.