Monthly Archives: January 2013

Eluding “Terrible Monsieur Degas”: Gustave Caillebotte’s Retro-Style Vision for the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition of 1882.

By John P. Walsh

The Third Impressionist Exhibition held in April 1877 is known as “Caillebotte’s Exhibition.” It is the highlight of the eight Impressionist exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886. While scholars agree that the Third Impressionist Exhibition was in every sense “glorious,” the show’s first euphoria was short lived.  Two weeks after the show closed, as hopes for picture sales was high, there was a Constitutional crisis in the French government. It resulted in the consolidation of Republican power against Royalists which led to a severe national economic recession. The Impressionist group, conceived and carefully built to a unity by Gustave Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as artists jostled to survive in a receding financial tide.

Gustave Caillebotte’s efforts for a fourth Impressionist exhibition in 1878 were stymied. The next exhibitions would be under Degas’s rule. In 1879 Degas would exclude Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Alfred Sisley and, in 1880, Claude Monet. The irony of the politics that created these developments was not lost on Caillebotte.  For the April 1877 Third Impressionist Exhibition Caillebotte built the group’s brand largely on  “broken brush” impressionists. For the next three impressionist shows in 1879, 1880 and 1881, he worked with Edgar Degas and an artistic coterie that effectively excluded them. Before the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881, Caillebotte cited a managerial difference on an advertising issue and departed the Degas-led organization.

Caillebotte’s retirement from arts organization was a short one. The 32-year-old Caillebotte led the offensive for a then-retro-style vision for the next impressionist exhibition in 1882. With his emerging partner — Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) — Caillebotte promoted his vision tirelessly. But the art market that was changing in the last decade had taken a financial toll on the 51-year-old art dealer. Durand-Ruel had to re-tool his business plan to focus not on large-scale group shows but small shows of individual artists. Overall the French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—which Durand-Ruel believed was an attempt by his critics to discredit him as an art dealer—the well-stocked Impressionist art dealer reluctantly agreed to go forward with Caillebotte’s exhibition plan for 1882 which the artist-art show organizer had crafted to likely realize a small profit.

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P.A.-Renoir, A Luncheon at Bougival, 1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

The main hook was to re-integrate the up-to-now excluded “broken brush” or “strict” impressionists including Renoir and Claude Monet. Caillebotte’s first move was to secure the popular Renoir for the upcoming March 1882 show. Renoir sent 24 new works, including his iconic large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival). Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt stayed away from this Seventh Impressionist exhibition though Paul Gauguin was represented. Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, the seventh show hailed a triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. Camille Pissarro displayed several paintings of peasant girls. His tiny pseudo-pointillist brushstrokes now and then overlaid with dabs of thicker paint, built up an uneven surface that integrated the figure and background and worked to visually mimic the textures of the sitter’s wool clothing. The artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, was off experimenting in the south of France. Cézanne would not be seen again in a Paris art show until 1895 when a huge body of his work was featured in an exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery.

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Caillebotte, Rising Road (Chemin Montant). 1881.

Caillebotte sent 17 works to the show. The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue) painted in 1880, was joined by Rising Road (Chemin Montant) painted in 1881. This latter work’s path hardly rises—a feature that contributed to the canvas’s mystery. The question was asked whether it was a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics in 1876 when they saw it in The Floor Scrapers.  Rising Road is painted with a free handling of colors in the loose brushwork style of Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte made. One critic poked fun at the painting’s mysterious pair as viewers wondered with him who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” ? Their identities and location are uncertain though speculation put Caillebotte in the painting with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier. Rising Road (Chemin Montant) had only two owners since 1881 and sold in 2003 for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) at Christie’s in New York City,

Gustave Caillebotte, Balcon (Balcony), 1880, oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 24 in. (68 x 61 cm). Private Collection, Paris. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Paul Gauguin, A la Fenêtre, nature morte (At the Window, Still Life),1881, oil on canvas, 7.5 x 10.625 in (19 x 27 cm), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Jean-Baptiste-Armand Guillaumin, Paysage (fin octobre) (Landscape, End of October), c, 1876, oil on canvas, 17 7/8 x 48 1/8 in. (180 x 123 cm), Nasjonalgallereit, Oslo. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Claude Monet, Soleil couchant, sur la Seine, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine, Winter Effect), 1880, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 59 7/8 (100 x 152 cm), Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Camille Pissarro, Jeune paysanne prenant son café, (Young Peasant Woman Drinking Her Coffee), 1881, oil on canvas, 65.3 × 54.8 cm (25 11/16 × 21 9/16 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago.
The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jongleuses au Cirque Fernando, (Jugglers/acrobats at the Cirque Fernando), 1879, oil on canvas, 131.2 × 99.2 cm (51 ½ × 39 1/16 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Alfred Sisley, Saint-Mammès, temps gris (Saint-Mammès, Cloudy Weather), c. 1880, oil on canvas, 21 5/8 x 29 1/8 in. (54.8 x 74 cm), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

SOURCES: Charles S. Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4181485

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

A Bridge Too Far: Gustave Caillebotte and the Fourth (1879), Fifth (1880) and Sixth (1881) Impressionist Exhibitions.

Featured Image: Édouard Dantan, Un Coin du Salon en 1880 (A Corner of the Salon in 1880), 1880, oil on canvas, 97.2 x 130.2 cm (38.2 x 51.2 in.). Private collection.

By John P. Walsh

In the five years between the “balanced and coherent” Third Impressionist Exhibition that took place in April 1877 and the exhibition of Gustave Caillebotte’s The Bezique Game in the penultimate Seventh Impressionist exhibition in March 1882, many significant changes had occurred in the art world. Two major developments were especially impactful for the band of independent and ever-varying avant-garde artists known as the “impressionists.”

The first major development is that, after 1877, the group had fallen apart.

The third impressionist exhibition in 1877 organized by Caillebotte and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) proved the concrete benefit of a professional arts organization and marketing. Caillebotte attempted another follow-up impressionist exhibition for the very next year in 1878 and failed to get it off the ground. It wasn’t for lack of trying. In 1877 Caillebotte could measure success by eighteen modern art artists under a new brand name, 230 works, and attendance numbers that exceeded previous shows by almost four fold. Sales of pictures were up. But in less than one year, the enterprise had devolved into nothing tangible for lack of collective coherence and cooperation among the artists themselves.

Seeds of destruction for the klatch of budding avant-garde artists had begun to sprout during the 1877 show. Caillebotte’s genius in that show was to ignore the right problems. He adeptly avoided a train wreck of antagonistic and divergent creative forces by keeping them literally physically apart.  There were two major factions — one was the classically-trained Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and his realist urban figure drawing and the other was the nonacademic Claude Monet (1840-1926) and his innovative broken brush landscapes. For the duration of the Third Impressionist exhibition, all of Degas’s 25 beach and ballet works hung in a room of their own. 

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 EDGAR DEGAS (1834 – 1917).

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CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926).

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 CAILLEBOTTE (1848-1894).

If “rule one” in business is that you do not argue with success, the caveat in the case of the impressionist shows is unless you are “the terrible Monsieur Degas.” Degas’s dispute with Caillebotte’s show was not entirely of Degas’ making– but  Degas’s disputatious character was his own. The ensuing political battle between Degas and Monet after 1877 affected every impressionist show until they ended in 1886. The catalyst for their dispute and division was their different understandings of what was the second major development to affect modern artists.

Despite leaders of the Salon after 1863 still being anti-democratic monarchists, aristocrats and religious sympathizers, the trend by the late 1870’s was towards an increasingly liberalized Salon. The government divested itself of the Salon completely in 1881, but it was preceded in 1878 by allowing “broken brush” Impressionists like Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) to appear in a still government-run “Exhibition of Living Artists.”

A Corner of the Salon in 1880, Édouard Joseph Dantan (French, 1848 – 1897), 1880, private collection.

Whatever its drawbacks, the Salon remained the biggest show in Paris. While the Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 attracted an exciting 15,000 visitors in its one month run—the Salon attracted 23,000 visitors per day. Although the Salon displayed around twenty-three times more art than the Impressionist show, it attracted fifty times more visitors. Opportunities for sales and new clients at one of these nineteenth-century warehouse events was immense. By 1878 the artwork of innovative Impressionists was finally allowed to hang side by side with what had been for hundreds of years the domain of the Paris art world’s institutional elite.

In terms of any future Impressionist show, Degas came up with an ingeniously small-minded idea that he couched in an aire of principled nobility. Despite the opening to the Salon to young avant-garde artists such as many of the impressionists were– Monet and Renoir were in their late 30’s, Degas in his mid 40’s — the older and more financially established artist insisted that every impressionist must choose between exhibiting in the Salon or with the Impressionists. Degas ultimatum was perfectly crafted to pressure Renoir and Monet (and Cézanne and Sisley) to break ranks so to improve their fortunes or simply survive in a rapidly changing art market. Degas’s wedge, in the short run, prevailed– the “broken brush” impressionists by 1880 were purged from the Impressionist exhibitions by their own decision to exhibit in the Salon.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919).
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919).
Paul Cézanne (French 1839-1906) and Camille Pissarro (French, 1830-1903).
Paul Cézanne (French 1839-1906) and Camille Pissarro (French, 1830-1903).
Alfred Sisley (British, born France, 1839-1899).
Alfred Sisley (British, born France, 1839-1899).

This situation to varying degrees doomed the next three Impressionist shows — of 1879, 1880, and 1881 — towards the leadership of Degas. These three exhibitions featured Degas and his favorite artists. Yet it was in Degas-led impressionist shows that attendees had their first in-depth look at artists such as Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Of the Impressionists’ founding members in 1874 only Pissarro and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) chose to stay loyal to the independent art group for all its shows. Caillebotte too—who from the beginning delivered his talent and resources to the independents—continued to organize and exhibit with them in 1879 and 1880. In the 1881 show, Caillebotte withdrew from participation after breaking with Degas ostensibly over an advertising issue. As quickly as the turn into a new decade, a brand new set of opportunities for Impressionist exhibitions was percolating as Caillebotte painted The Bezique Game in 1880 in this shifting artistic environment.

The Bezique Game (“Partie de bésigue”), 1880, private collection.

Gustave Caillebotte, The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue), 1880, private collection.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 –1926) in later years.
Mary Cassatt (American, 1844 –1926) in later years.
Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883).
Édouard Manet (French, 1832-1883).
Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895) in 1875.
Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895) in 1875.

The game of Bezique is a 64-card game for two players and curiously French. In the game two singles players sit across the net to compete to 1000 points. The rest are score keepers or observers. As the game carries on, card “tricks” pile up on the table. Viewing this contemporary subject of a popular game depicted by Caillebotte, some art critics called the painting a “legible and tightly ordered” image of a long-held pictorial tradition of card playing. Yet idiomatic clichés related to card playing such as “playing one’s cards right” or “holding one’s cards close to the chest” may be read into this painting. It is one of the canvasses painted by these artists during this time that relate to the Impressionist group’s recent and ongoing exhibition experiences. Nineteenth-century art critics usually grouped Caillebotte with Degas as an artist and not among the “strict impressionists” of Monet and Renoir. Several critics wondered aloud in newspaper print why Caillebotte even had dealings with those daubers now ensconced at the Salon with Édouard Manet.

Edgar Degas, Chevaux de course (Jockeys before the Race), 1869-1872, oil, essence, pastel on paper, 107 x 73 cm, 42 1/8 x 28 3/4 in., The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Gustave Caillebotte, The Skiffs, 1877, oil on canvas, 88.9 x 116.2 cm (35 x 45 3/4 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

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Mary Cassatt, Femme dans une loge (Woman in a Loge), 1879, oil on canvas, 80.3 x 58.4 cm (31 5/8 x 23 in.), Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Edgar Degas, Miss Lola, au Cirque Fernando, 1879, oil on canvas, 117 x 77.5 cm ( 46 x 30 1/2 in.), National Gallery, London. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Claude Monet, Jardin à Sainte-Adresse (Garden at Sainte-Adresse), 1867, oil on canvas, 38 5/8 x 51 1/8 in. (98.1 X 129.9 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Jean-Louis Forain, Café Interior, c.1879, gouache on paper, 12 7/8 x 10 in. (32.8 x 25.5 cm). The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Federico Zandomeneghi, Portrait of M. Diego Martelli, 1879, oil of canvas, 28 3/8 x 36 1/4 in. (72 x 92 cm), Galleria D’Arte Moderna, Florence. The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition-1879.

Sources: Charles Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; Ross King, The Judgment of Paris: The Decade that Gave Us Impressionism, 2006; John Milner, The Studios of Paris, 1990; Alfred Werner, Degas Pastels, 1998.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

John P. Walsh

Gustave Caillebotte’s Dinner Invitation Leads to the Exquisite Third Impressionist Exhibition of 1877.

Featured Image: Rue Halévy, sixth floor view (Rue Halévy, vue d’un sixième étage), 1878, Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), private collection.

Richard R. Brettell, chair in Art and Aesthetics at the University of Texas at Dallas, states plainly that in January or February 1877 a soirée of seven male artists constituted what was “arguably the most important dinner party of painters held in the nineteenth century.” The reason for this social occasion was all business– that is, to ponder and discuss the future of French modern art. It was hosted in the well-appointed Paris apartment of fellow artist Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) on Rue Miromesnil in the Faubourg St Honoré in Paris.

For much of the 1980’s Richard R. Brettell was Searle Curator of European Painting at The Art Institute of Chicago.

The clubby dinner idea and its invitation to artists ranging in age from under 30 years old (Caillebotte) to almost 50 (Camille Pissarro) was also the initiative of those two protagonists as evidenced in a surviving letter from Caillebotte to Pissarro.  In the letter, the haute bourgeois Caillebotte invites the sometime socialist and anarchist Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) to this smart gathering and shares with Pissarro the advance guest list.

Five of the greatest avant-garde painters of their generation joined Caillebotte and Pissarro on the next Monday night. By name they were: Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), and Édouard Manet (1832-1883), “the dean” of modern artists. If Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) was not in self-imposed exile in Switzerland for being unwilling to pay a heavy indemnity to the French Government— and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was not creating misunderstood masterpieces even by avant-garde standards—the tally in Caillebotte’s suite of rooms would still fit Richard Brettell’s description. 

Caillebotte’s aim was direct– he wanted to facilitate frank and fruitful discussion among these art practitioners so to set a strategy and agenda for the future of French modern painting that included plans for a third exhibition of their so-called “new painting.” A likely agenda item was effective marketing for this would be the first exhibition that these modern artists advertised as “Impressionist.” It was an ambiguous moniker in terms of both descriptive iconography and critical valuation.

It would be Caillebotte who selected the venue for the April 1877 show—a five-room luxury apartment in the heart of Baron Haussmann’s newly-constructed Paris. The capital’s boulevards became a symbol of French wealth, modernity, and prestige. Caillebotte’s organizational methods worked. History judges the third exhibition to have been “the most balanced and coherent” of the eight exhibitions held over a dozen years. Gustave Caillebotte contrived, solicited and arranged for what he wanted to see as a “democratic” exhibition of 230 works representing 18 artists. In its 30-day run, the exhibition attracted the successful amount of 500 art-show attendees each day. 

PARIS STREET; A RAINY DAY (“Rue de Paris, Temps de pluie”), 1877, Gustave Caillebotte, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Caillebotte sent six of his paintings to the show including his iconic Paris Street: A Rainy Day that hangs in The Art Institute of Chicago and until January 20, 2013 is at the Musée d’Orsay. Brettell thinks it is fair to say that Caillebotte had just one notable set back during this third exhibition affair—the young art show producer and artist was unable to convince Édouard Manet to “desert the Salon and join forces with the Impressionists” to exhibit with them.

Gustave Caillebotte , Le Pont De L’Europe, 1876, oil on canvas, 125 x 181 cm, Petit Palais/Musée d’art moderne, Geneva, Switzerland.

Gustave Caillebotte, Portraits à la campagne, 1876. oil on canvas, 95 × 111 cm (37.4 × 43.7 in.), Musée Baron Gérard, Bayeux.

Source: The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, 1986, Charles S. Moffet,

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

Gustave Caillebotte and the Second Impressionist Exhibition of 1876.

Gustave Caillebotte, Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers), 1875, oil on canvas, 102 x 146.5 cm (40.2 × 57.7 in.). At his death in 1894, Caillebotte bestowed the painting to the Musée du Luxembourg where it was accepted. In 1929, it was transferred to the Musée du Louvre. It was relocated again in 1947 when it was moved to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume. In 1986 it was brought to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

By John P. Walsh

The first Impressionist exhibition was held in Paris in 1874. Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) who had in 1875 divided a more than two million franc inheritance with his priest-brother Alfred and sibling Martial was not of the Impressionists’ rank for that watershed show.

Henri Rouart (1833-1912) was of the same high social circle as his neighbor Caillebotte and one of the two signatures on the formal invitation to Caillebotte inviting him to exhibit in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. The other signatory was Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Caillebotte accepted and sent eight paintings including his famous The Floor Scrapers (Les raboteurs de parquet) that today hangs in the Museé D’Orsay.

The Impressionists were not purists to their collective cause and to varying degrees many of them if reluctantly exhibited in the Government’s annual exhibition known as the Salon. Despite its attempts at modernism, the Salon remained a conservative venue and while The Floor Scrapers of 1875 was exhibited in the Impressionist show in 1876 it had been rejected by the Salon in the previous year. In addition to its subject matter and artificially enhanced perspective, The Floor Scrapers was called “vulgar” and “leftist” by critics because the painting commutes the nude—a traditional academic subject—into the Impressionist specialty of a modern life subject.

The floor scrapers in the painting are not removing old wax as might be first suspected. Their efforts show them working in a new building where they are preparing the wood by inducing its buckling with water and scraping it smooth.

Gustave Caillebotte, Raboteurs de parquets (The Floor Scrapers), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm (31.5 × 39.375 in.).

Gustave Caillebotte, Jeune homme jouant du piano (Young man Playing the Piano), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 166 cm (31.5 x 45.625 in.). Private collection.

Gustave Caillebotte, Déjeuner (Lunch), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 166 cm (31.5 x 45.625 in.). Private collection.

Sources: Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, 1995, Anne Distel, editor.
The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, 1986, Charles S. Moffett.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic  or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.