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.
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.
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,
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