Camille Bombois was one of Paris’ best known primitive painters. He lived with his wife and their canary in a cozily cluttered little house on the Rue Emile-Desvaux. Bombois painted steadily far into the night, by the light of a big electric lamp.
Born in Venrarey-les-Laumes, Côte-d’Or, Bombois’ early life was utterly different than one would imagine an artist having. All the more remarkable that he achieved such great distinction among Frances’ important painters. His childhood was spent on the canals of his birthplace on a barge owned by his father. His schooling was exceeding brief and when he was twelve years old he was sent to work as a farmhand.
The first indication of any interest in drawing or painting developed when he was sixteen. He began to draw scenes from his life as a shepherd and a worker in the fields.
Along with this new found absorption in drawing, Bombois loved wrestling. A strong, muscular boy, he soon became the regional wrestling champion. Frequently traveling circuses came to his region of France and he was always ready to pit his skill against that of the circus athletes. One day he left with one of these circuses and discovered a whole new world of professional wrestlers, female equestrians, and the whole personnel of the circus shows. This was an introduction to a totally different way of life and also furnished him with exciting new themes for his drawings and paintings. While with the circus he heard many fabulous reports of Paris. He deserted the circus, setting off on foot for the capital.
In order to devote the necessary time to his work, he found a night job in a printing plant, working there for seven years, snatching only a few hours sleep, and in his free time he succeeded in developing and elaborating a technique and approach to painting completely his own.
This strenuous but rewarding life was interrupted by World War I and four years in the trenches. In 1922 having resumed his avid pursuit of painting he decided he was ready to have his first show and put his best canvas on a chair in the street, with a few small ones on the ground around it. Buyers and admirers came forward. When the dealers brought Bombois’ work in off the curb and started selling it against velvet-draped gallery walls, he decided he was ready to set up as a full-time studio and at last Bombois was able to devote himself entirely to painting.
In the years following, he grew continually in stature and recognition. The essence of the work of this unique artist is well stated in the publication: The Museum of Modern Art, Masters of Popular Painting–Modern Primitives of Europe and America. Bombois’ history explains his work. It is obviously the work of a powerful man. The forcefulness of his vision is athletic, and so is his masterful fashion of transferring it to canvas without hesitation or weakness. He disdains to make things easier for himself through the use of lighting effects. He sets his composition in the middle of a brilliant light which emphasizes the volume of the masses and the perfection of details. This is the secret to his lyricism. His purpose in using such lighting is to achieve a strictly accurate portrayal of the people and things he knows.