Parisian artist Jehan-Georges Vibert (1840-1902) was born in Paris in 1840; his father was the engraver and publisher Théodore Vibert, and his grandfather was an influential rosarian. He began his career studying first under his maternal grandfather, Jean-Pierre-Marie Jazet, who was a celebrated engraver. Soon, however, he realized that his true calling was painting, and thus the young Vibert enlisted in the studio of artist F. J. Barrias.
At 16, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. At the onset of the conflict, he joined the military as a member of the “sharpshooters.” Vibert was wounded at Malmaison and was awarded the medal of the Légion d’Honnourfor his valiant efforts during the conflict.
After the war, Vibert returned to his passion - painting. He became a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon, and he earned praise for his works that extended far beyond Europe. He was particularly popular amongst wealthy Americans such as John Jacob Astor and William Vanderbilt, both of whom commissioned works by the painter.
Though he began his career as talented painters of conventional genre scenes, later in life Vibert turned to a new subject: Catholic clergyman. Aware of the public's disappointment with the lack of openness in the church, Vibert and a handful of his contemporaries began to paint the clergy in settings similar to genre paintings. The message was simple: although clerics deserved both respect and prestige, they nevertheless fell victim to very human foibles.
These works offered a humorous look at the human traits of those otherwise revered figures. The painters' aim was not to offend or belittle the clergy or its supporters, but to offer a light-hearted look at the daily trials with which anyone might become preoccupied. Though these clergyman are devoted to the Catholic church, they are not themselves divine; they share the same human qualities as everyone.
Vibert was unquestionably the leading painter of the field, renowned for his intricate renderings and attention to color. He dedicated a great deal of attention to intense textures and shades to create a painting that engaged both on the comedic and the artistic level. This attention to detail carried over to his props as well. He held a collection of over 50 ecclesiastical robes, from which he studied the color and texture of the fabrics to stay true to actual clerical garb.
Resulting from this in-depth study was the vivid reds with which Vibert painted his cardinals' robes.. Buidling up such rich, deep hues required layer upon layer of oil paint, each of which has to dry completely before the next was added. The resulting hue, which took days to achieve, was so unique to him that it became known as “Vibert's Red.”
During his extensive career, the artist proved to be somewhat of a “renaissance man,” excelling in the fields of watercolor, writing, and acting. He co-founded and became president of the Sociéte des Aquarellistes Français (Society of French Watercolors), and in 1891, he wrote the book La Science de la Peinture (The Science of Painting). Vibert also found time to write numerous essays for the American publication The Century Magazine, as well as several notable plays.