Jehan Georges Vibert (French 1840 – 1902), “Smoking Cardinal”
He was born in Paris. He began his artistic training at a young age under the instruction of his maternal grandfather, engraver Jean-Pierre-Marie Jazet. Vibert was more interested in painting than engraving and entered the studio of Félix-Joseph Barrias and eventually the École des Beaux-Arts when he was sixteen. He remained at the École for six years under the instruction of historic painter François-Edouard Picot.
Vibert debuted at the Salon of 1863 with La Sieste (The Siesta) and Repentir (Repentance).
During the Franco-Prussian War, Vibert became a sharpshooter and was wounded at the battle of Malmaison in October 1870. He was awarded the Légion d’Honneur and became a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in recognition of his sacrifice. He became an Officer of the Légion d’Honneur in 1882.
Vibert submitted work to the Salon until 1899. The popularity of his works spread, notably in America, and fetched high prices including commissions from John Jacob Astor IV and William Vanderbilt. A large collection of works by Vibert was amassed by the heiress May Louise Maytag on behalf of then bishop of Miami Coleman Carroll, who greatly fancied them. This large cache was then donated to the Florida seminary St. John Vianney College in Miami. At this location the extremely impressive collection has had a somewhat checkered conservation history, as well as exhibition history due to the discomfiture of later bishops with the seeming anti-clericalism of the paintings (lighthearted debaucheries, etc.).
Looking at his satiric work of the clergy in a broader historical context, one can detect that they are “representative of the liberties emmanating from Enlightenment thinking that led to the world and culture shifting events of the American and French Revolutions. To spoof the clergy,” as ARC Board Chairman, Fred Ross, explains “would have been to risk your life or imprisonment a century earlier, or even currently in Rome where Papal power was still at great strength.”
“Thus Vibert was part of the growing democratization of Europe in which the artists and writers of the time were exposing the fraud and pomposity of big government and a hypocritical clergy that talked about walking in the shoes of the fisherman, and giving for god all worldly goods, while they themselves lived in the height of oppulance and luxury in great mansions with servants waiting on their every whim.”