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 was “arguably the most important dinner party of painters held in the nineteenth century.” The reason for this social occasion was business: to discuss the future of French modern art. It was hosted in the well-appointed Paris apartment on Rue Miromesnil in the Faubourg St Honoré of Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894).

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 invitation to artists ranging in age from near 50 (Camille Pissarro) to under 30 years old (Caillebotte himself) was the invention of these youngest and oldest protagonists – as evidenced by a surviving letter from Caillebotte to Pissarro.  In the letter, haute bourgeoisie Caillebotte invites anarchist Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) to this intimate and smart gathering and shares with Pissarro the advance guest list.

The five greatest avant-garde painters of their generation joined Caillebotte and Pissarro the very next Monday night – Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), and “the dean” of modern artists, Édouard Manet (1832-1883). If Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) wasn’t in self-imposed exile in Switzerland for being unwilling to pay a heavy indemnity to the French Government – or Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) wasn’t creating misunderstood masterpieces (even by late-1870s avant-garde standards), the tally in Caillebotte’s suite of rooms above tony 8th arrondissement Paris still fits Brettell’s bill perfectly.

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

It was Caillebotte who selected the venue for the April 1877 show—a five-room luxury apartment in the heart of the new Baron Haussmann-built capital. Paris’s boulevards became a symbol of French wealth, style, and prestige. Caillebotte’s organizational methods worked. The third exhibition is considered “the most balanced and coherent” of the eight exhibitions held over a dozen years. Caillebotte contrived, solicited and arranged for what he wanted to see as a “democratic” exhibition of 230 works that represented 18 artists and attracted around fifteen thousand visitors in its thirty-day run.

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.”

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

©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.

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