Category Archives: ART HISTORY.

ART REVIEW: Van Gogh’s Bedrooms, The Art Institute of Chicago, February 14 to May 10, 2016.

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Van Gogh’s Bedrooms at The Art Institute of Chicago, February 14 to May 10, 2016. This is the exhibition’s penultimate gallery featuring the three versions of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom.” Left to right: from the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris (1889), The Art Institute of Chicago (1889), and the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (1888). The three masterworks are gathered together in North America for the first time.

By John P. Walsh. May 6, 2016.

I saw the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago (February 14-May 10, 2016) on the last Friday afternoon before the show closed. The museum that day was drawing a large crowd and it was challenging to navigate through the multi-room art show in a mass of frequently immobile art lovers. Exactly for what cause some stationary patrons might be transfixed could only be speculated upon but often no art was present. No one I think comes to art shows to be caught in a logjam of people yet that recurrent phenomenon in Van Gogh’s Bedrooms soon became one of its unpleasant features. The expansive exhibition space—striking for its illogical reasoning to display three relatively small masterpieces—proved impractical, or at least a two-edged sword, in terms of containing its throngs.

Those three featured paintings are this show’s raison d’être and prove a marvelous highlight after reaching them by way of a dozen or so high-ceiling galleries. Once arrived to the show’s penultimate room, my eyes settled on the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam’s version as the most intriguing of the three superficially identical works. The other two versions are from the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

When 35-year-old Van Gogh painted his The Bedroom series starting in October 1888, the Dutchman had been an artist only a short while: about 7 years. This had followed a variety of other occupations, although Van Gogh began his professional life as an art dealer.  By late 1888—less than two years before his death by self-inflicted gunshot in Auvers-sur-Oise in July 1890—Van Gogh had traveled long and far from his beginnings in North Brabant. He arrived into Paris in 1885 to paint and join his brother Theo who was an avant-garde art dealer in the Rue Montmartre. Looking to sell more of his artwork, he began painting in the bright Impressionist style for which Van Gogh is probably most famous today.  By February 1888 Van Gogh relocated to Arles in the South of France on account of his health and to possibly start an art colony.  Still quite poor and alone, this roughly 15-month period in Arles proved to be prolific for the artist’s production when Van Gogh completed 200 paintings, and over 100 drawings and watercolors. Many of Van Gogh’s most famous works were created in this fecund period—for example, his portraits of Eugène Boch (Musée d’Orsay), Postman Joseph Roulin and Augustine Roulin (both Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)  and Madame Ginoux (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) among several others; sunflowers and irises such as Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (National Gallery, London), Still Life: Vase with Fourteen Sunflowers (Neue Pinakothek, Munich) and Irises (Getty Museum, Los Angeles); 15 canvases of cypresses; and his iconic Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin in the Harvard Art Museums.

None of these contextual artworks were in the Chicago show but demonstrate the range and depth of Van Gogh’s artistic vision in the same time period that The Bedrooms—which shared his body of work’s intoxication with color and decorative strategieswere painted. Despite its title—Van Gogh’s Bedrooms—this show is not content to let their presence in Chicago suffice. Instead, much of the other parts of this massive show were from the Art Institute’s permanent collection of mostly Barbizon and Impressionist artwork.  Perhaps if they had been left on whatever museum walls from which they had come, these fine artworks might have maintained an even greater impact for themselves and this show’s ultimate purpose than crowding them onto walls into this special exhibition space.  That said, the condensed interpretive curatorial exercise of parts of the permanent collection in this show could prove interesting for visitors who are not willing or able to visit other parts of the museum. In a show that took on the formula of a typical Regenstein Hall blockbuster, its propensity for Impressionist rehash (“delve” was the museum’s word) had a boring art textbook’s sensibility. Recognizing that the show dipped into the museum storehouse to retrieve the life-size maquette of the Yellow House from AIC’s vastly superior exhibition Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South in 2001, produced a dispiriting effect on at least one viewer who recognized it. But so far I am quibbling: this AIC exhibition brings together the powerful canon of all three versions of Van Gogh’s The Bedroom for the first time in North America which is very special and undoubtedly sufficient to any museum goer’s time and interest. I don’t believe, however, that their full artistic power was best served by being able to see these objects intensely advertised in the media markets and then only hung at the show’s virtual end following a cacophony of mostly extraneous art historical resources however severely earnestly presented. Instead, a surfeit of front-loaded artistic riches labors to obscure these significant Van Goghs that finally appear in the second to last gallery, all of which are jam-packed with art, people, various filmic explorations, somewhat bloviating wall texts, whole house reconstructions, etc.

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Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam,  October 1888. 72.4 x 91.3 cm.

CHGO Vincent van Gogh. The Bedroom, 1889. The Art Institute of Chicago, Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.exh_vangogh_bedroom_main_480

Chicago, 1889. 72.4 x 91.3 cm. The version Van Gogh first painted in the asylum at St. Rémy.

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Paris, 1889. 57.5 x 74 cm. Destitute bachelor Van Gogh gave this version to his mother and sister.

It is certainly obvious that Van Gogh’s Bedrooms possibly could have benefited by not pulling out all the stops (“in-depth study”) but to focus on the three colorful masterpieces uniquely gathered in their essential power. If one wants to read blow by blow explanations of virtually every curatorial application in the show, one might turn to other reviews cited in “Further Reading” below. The equitably in-depth appreciation of this trio of Van Gogh worksand minus the Disney World trappingsmight be advanced using timed tickets (as done for Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South) and within a pared down and simpler exhibition scope. The way things are constructed by the show’s curator Gloria Groom, Chair of European Painting and Sculpture at The Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition transmits encyclopedic knowledge while largely missing a tangible evocation of bachelor Van Gogh’s humble petit boulevard persona who produced in Arles in 1888 and in Saint-Rémy in 1889 these bold canvases of his simple bedroom and even gifting one of the versions (the one now in Paris) to his aged mother and sister to reassure them in his destitution. For Van Gogh the motif of his private and hard-featured bedroom in Arles continued his bold self-expression in a tightly woven and complex painting composed in broad outlines using a many-hued post-impressionistic palette in thick impasto. Despite Van Gogh’s reputation as madhe mutilated his ear in this bedroom in December 1888he soon carried on painting two more versions of The Bedroom (the last one slightly reduced) with the apparent added intention to express to his family and friends that the artist was as stable and restful as his artistic subject.

What should an exhibition advertised as Van Gogh’s Three Bedrooms wish to have its spectators looking for and come away with? By the time a visitor reaches Van Gogh’s three paintings after plowing through the aforesaid gauntlet of people and well-known Chicago art resources, the exhibition almost runs the danger of displaying these highly-prized artworks not as denouement but incidental. These Van Gogh paintings are hardly allowed to speak freely for themselves. Of course they have a fascinating history but to what degree should these particular artworks’ written history be simultaneous to their exhibition? Thinking of the viewer, does the display of three paintings of an artist’s bedroom (albeit Vincent Van Gogh’s) that when placed side by side measures the whole of about ten feet across merit thousands of cubic feet of mostly academic groundwork before a viewer can even see them? To what degree are artistic exhibition and their intellectual exposition necessarily complementary since many museum art shows follow this tactic?

The final gallery after the display of the three bedrooms continued Van Gogh’s Bedrooms’ devotion to comprehensive information and theatricalityalthough a side-by-side blow-up of the bedrooms’ diverging painterly details was perhaps the most useful techie display so to appreciate the artist’s handling of the individual paintings. Yet it begged a question: could this orientation to detail, to seeing the painting, somehow serve as the exhibition’s primary or sole introduction, such as in a film theatre? This last gallery then led directly to the ubiquitous and depressing gift shop hosting the galleries’ same multitude disporting themselves basically as they did there. Hearing its timbre I wondered if a unique opportunity to view together the three Van Gogh bedroom paintings“the first time in North America”had under- or overplayed its hand. Had Van Gogh’s Bedrooms rightly oriented and imparted to its viewers an intimate and perhaps personally revealing look into these three sensitive treasures of Van Gogh’s oeuvre as its elemental objectiveor had Van Gogh merely omitted to paint into the scene a proverbial kitchen sink?

FURTHER READING:

http://www.artnews.com/2016/03/14/domestic-dreams-van-goghs-bedrooms-at-the-art-institute-of-chicago-offers-a-rich-look-at-three-masterworks/

http://chicago.suntimes.com/entertainment/art-institute-explores-van-goghs-bedroom-and-a-sense-of-home/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/van-goghs-bedrooms-review-1455750210

http://chirontolife.com/2016/review-of-a-view-van-goghs-bedrooms/

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/museums/ct-ent-0204-van-gogh-bedrooms-art-institute-20160210-story.html

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2016/03/blockbuster-art-shows

©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.

Brief reflections during ADVENT 2015.

Featured Image is Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Model for Altarpiece in St. Peter’s, Italy, Rome, 1625,  oil on canvas 16 x 24 1/4 in. (40.64 x 61.6 cm). The Ciechanowiecki Collection, Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

By John P. Walsh

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015 – November 29, 2015.

I finished watching “Field of Dreams” last night, a film I had never seen before. Starring Kevin Costner, it is a good film about, one could say, the intersection of reality and fantasy on the American landscape—or simply the intersection of what are different realities. As Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears voices to build a baseball field on his low-income Iowa farm, he is promised that “If you build it, he will come.” In this case, the “he” is Kinsella’s own deceased father John who had played baseball as a young man, got old too quickly, and then died right after he and a teenage Ray had a falling out over the 1919 Chicago “Black” Sox team. A late-1980’s Ray, now married with a family, still thinks about his relationship with his father that was cut short and the film asks whether it may be possible for John Kinsella to meet a grown-up Ray on his “field of dreams.” Ray never doubts his voices but is never sure what they mean except when he tries to connect the dots by traveling at times across long distances of place and season to meet strangers for whom the answers most matter. Ray’s efforts lead to surprising, mysterious and ultimately fulfilling encounters for those who come to play on his field of dreams—or are there simply to watch.

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Pontormo (1494-1557), Visitation (detail), c. 1529, oil on panel, 20.2 x 15.6 cm,  Church of San Francesco e Michele, Carmignano, Italy.

THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015 – December 6, 2015.

Bede Griffiths (1906-1993), a Catholic English monk known as Swami Dayananda (bliss of compassion) dedicated his life’s work to the Christian Ashram Movement and its role in the development of dialogue between Christianity and Hinduism. Swami Dayananda said in an interview: “I feel that in the Christian view, which I share, the body is of very great importance. There is a tendency in certain forms of Hinduism, certainly, to think that the purpose of spiritual exercises is to get beyond the body. But in my understanding, the human being is body, soul, spirit, and it is an integrated whole. Body and soul – the body is dependent upon and integrated with soul, and body and soul are dependent upon and integrated in spirit. The body is part of the wholeness of the human being. And that’s why incarnation is very important. God enters the psycho-physical realm and assumes it and doesn’t discard it. And at the resurrection the body is not discarded, it is assumed into the life with the soul and the spirit. I think the place of the body is a significant part of the Christian contribution. It is the total human being which is to enter into the life of the spirit.”

SOURCE: Marvin Barrett, “The Silent Guide,” Parabola, v.xi, no. 1.

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Our Lady of the Pillar, 1508, Chartres Cathedral. In her right hand she holds a pear.

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Odilon Redon (1840-1916), Mystical Conversation, c. 1896. Oil on canvas, 65 x 46 cm, The Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, Japan.

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015 – December 13, 2015.

There is a drive in today’s society to be singular, intimate, and well known in a society that is, paradoxically, vast and impersonal, as well as incredibly common and conventional. Seeking to be “authentic” in the public domain, at the same time we are insecure about the people we meet there. We don’t know our next door neighbor but presume intimacy with the wider world. To be intimate and authentic in a vast and alien society―and one needs to peruse the internet for five minutes for its revelations ― is the modern age’s new growth industry. Yet there remain less flashy moments of behavior regarding the private self in the public space. Such is, for instance, the thriving language of love—the raised eyebrow; dropped glove; the rush to light her cigarette. Each small and well-timed gesture and inflection of voice raises the romantic ante without loss of boundaries between a private self and the public space. These silent cues are found in many venues, although absconded by the tactical importance of self-image (interchangeable, often) striving for immediate intimacy—a glimpse of the inner self, the cult of personality—in the public square. Fashion changes clothes with the seasons in a modern-age attempt to convey private personality (“taste”) in the public arena. For this increasingly popular social model, it is important to take the world by storm—and each and every time so that the costumed yet exposed private self does not disintegrate before public scrutiny or is destroyed by it.

Clothing  provides a rich metaphor for the dilemma of the private self in the public space. It serves those seeking to make hyperbole of their private personality and fluctuating nature thereof as well as those seeking to downplay and even hide it. In a world of omnipresent security cameras and airport pat downs, a traditional notion of clothing to exclude public encroachment on the private  and (trustingly) sacred self appears to be increasingly gone with the wind. At Christmas the use of clothes in a sacred context is important. In the Gospel of Luke the angel tells the shepherds: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

In the Bible a major teaching tradition is that when one discovers the Divine Presence—for God makes every attempt to self-disclose—the moment of recognition is like putting on a new garment that is tailored to the individual’s exact measurements. The Divine garment endows a person with a specific sense of dignity and private self-awareness―a sacred and highly personal investiture that turns the modern notion of the private-as-public self upside down. The rule of clothes extends to John the Baptist—a figure who is important in both Christianity as saint and prophet and in Islam as a prophet. John is described as coming out of the wilderness wearing “a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3). When God “dresses” humanity in the divine image something is expected of them in ways other than the modern idea of a new image or appeal. It is an inner and private change which takes on a significantly different meaning than one more public role.

SOURCES: Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man, W.W. Norton, 1976; Joseph Wolf, “Divine Clothing,” Parabola, v.xix, no. 3.

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Odilon Redon (France, 1840-1916), Night, 1910-11, Distemper on canvas, 200 x 650 cm. Abbaye de Fontfroide.

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Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), Adoration of the Magi, 1636-1639Prado.

 

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Gentile da Fabriano (c. 1370-1427), Adoration of the Magi (detail), 1423, tempura on panel, 283 x 300 cm, Uffizi, Florence.

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(after) Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516) Nativity (The Birth of Christ). c.1568-1600. oil on panel. 66 × 43 cm (26 × 16.9 in). Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany. 

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Parmigianino (1503-1540), Holy Family with the Infant Baptist, c. 1535-39, tempura on canvas, 65 5/8 x 52 in. (159 x 132 cm), Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples.

THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2015 – December 20, 2015. 

While being homeless as an adult is a harsh test, to be homeless as a child is worse. Society’s sincere striving to make it scarce or nonexistent is painfully incomplete. In this year’s presidential campaigns so far we hear rhetoric from candidates of both major parties about the safety and security of the American people and mostly in regard to burgeoning terrorists that threaten bodily harm. But each night including tonight over 15 million American children go to bed hungry. This is according to Feeding America. Where is the matching public outcry for their bodily safety and security? Hunger is defined as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food as well as an exhausted condition caused by want of food.” Proper nutrition is vital to the growth and development of children who are the future of the country. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, today there are 74 million children in the United States which is an all-time high. Yet 20% of these children are food-insecure and go to bed hungry at night. In a land of plenty, where more than 2 in 3 adult Americans are considered to be overweight or obese, extremes of food injustice are not confined to Christmastime but each day of the year.

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Parmigianino (Italy, Parma, 1503-1540), Madonna and Child, c. 1524-25, oil on panel, 23 1/4/ x 13 3/8 in. (59 x 34 cm). Galleria Doria, Rome.

Merry Christmas!

SOURCES: http://www.feedingamerica.org/…/child-hunger-fact-sheet.htm…;
http://www.aecf.org/…/the-changing-child-population-of-the…/;
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/…/overweight-obesity-statistics.as…
http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/defining.html;
Definition of hunger – Oxford English Dictionary, 1971.

©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.

 

“Picasso and Chicago”: The Show Is Over But Its Best Parts Are Still On Display. (It’s Called The Art Institute of Chicago’s Permanent Collection).

Featured Image: Minotaur and Wounded Horse, April 17, 1935; detail; pen and brush and black inks, graphite, and colored crayons, with smudging, over incising, on cream laid paper; signed recto, lower right, in graphite: “Picasso” (underlined); inscribed upper right, in graphite: “Boisgeloup–17 Avril XXXV; The Art Institute of Chicago.

By John P. Walsh

How Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and the centenary of the landmark 1913 Armory Show are linked for Picasso and Chicago is tenuous. Bragging rights on Picasso by others have always come to the Catalan artist from the beginning. Media talk in 2013 revolves around American collector “firsts” associated with Picasso. Which institution collected Picasso first? – The Art Institute of Chicago in 1923. Which institution collected Picasso most? – the Chicago Renaissance Society by 1930. Which institution first mounted a Picasso retrospective? – The Wadsworth Atheneum in 1934. If attention is what Pablo craves, there are no worries.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Artist and Model,” Cannes, July 24, 1933, detail, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper, Gray Collection trust.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Artist and Model,” Cannes, July 24, 1933, detail, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper, Gray Collection trust.

There are several good things about Picasso and Chicago although it doesn’t always revolve around his art. It is satisfying to know that Chicago possesses the resources to showcase a chronological and comprehensive Picasso show within its own collections. In these tight economic times there is kudos owed to a major museum that recognizes its and others’ extant holdings. This chronological exhibition of Chicago’s Picasso collection—and it includes works from The Art Institute, The Arts Club of Chicago and The Renaissance Society—is front loaded providing immediate pleasures. To be greeted nearly at the door by The Old Guitarist painted by Picasso in 1903/04—a revered painting in the Art Institute—and to be edified by its blue presence is worth the exhibition’s price of admission although there was no special exhibition fee.

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The Old Guitarist, late 1903–early 1904, oil on panel, 48 3/8 x 32 1/2 in. 
signed, l.r.: “Picasso.” The Art Institute of Chicago.

Does this front-loaded show spell superficiality and the lack of depth? The answer is: yes and no. For any next Picasso show curators in Chicago should find no problem whittling away a lot of what is shown for Picasso and Chicago. Yet it is precisely this downsizing opportunity that points to the show’s possible shortcoming.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Beggar with Crutch,” Barcelona 1904, pen, brown ink and colored crayon on paper, detail, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973),

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Crazy Woman with Cats,” detail, early summer 1901, Paris, oil on cardboard, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), “Artist and Model,” Cannes, July 24, 1933, detail, watercolor and pen and black ink on paper, Gray Collection trust.

When Chicago in the 1920s began a Picasso buying frenzy another young Spanish painter twelve years younger than Picasso arrived into Paris and was immediately overtly critical of the great Picasso’s work at that time. That younger painter was Joan Miró (1893-1983) and his criticism of Picasso (more a kind of disgust)—and also of Henri Matisse (1869-1954)—was that the pair were making all their art for their dealer. In other words, they were making art primarily for a paycheck. Miró knew at first look—and history has proven him correct—that the future of contemporary painting did not rest with Picasso after about 1920. This is partly why Miró turned to the “nonsense” of the Dadaists for the future of his modern art. Keeping Miro’s judgment in mind during a visit to Picasso and Chicago one realizes rather quickly that with notable exceptions an earlier Picasso painting—that is, on the chronological spectrum of the Blue Period after 1901 to Picasso’s period of synthetic cubism until around 1920—offers intrinsically cohesive artwork that contains the germ or seed of progress.  The art collection in Picasso and Chicago mostly bears out Miró’s critical judgment of Picasso. The Red Armchair of 1931 is hung at what is about the show’s halfway point. At this point, I might have exited. Yet where Miró’s critical judgment lags for me is that Picasso’s art is never really boring. His art is perceptibly linear and, despite its erotic themes, often contains qualities which cleanse and satisfy a critical eye. Picasso’s art is ever ancient and ever new, and distinctly European. For me, seeing a Picasso might connote a stroll in Paris or having a sunburn on the face after revelry and reverie along the Mediterranean coast. One could have this vicarious experience even when strolling merely The Art Institute’s Regenstein Hall to soak up some of Picasso’s later and mostly lesser-vintage work. There are 250 items on display in Picasso and Chicago—and this includes paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics— which only begin to manifest Pablo Picasso’s profligate artistic genius. Picasso and Chicago may be closed now, but each of these works lurk in Chicago’s domain to be savored and treasured one at a time as they are made available for display. A visitor may do no better than to make their beeline to The Art Institute of Chicago to see The Old Guitarist and The Red Armchair and begin one’s own absorption and critique of his work.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973), “Nude with a Pitcher,” detail, Summer 1906, Gosol, Spain, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish 1881-1973),

Detail of “The Red Armchair,” December 16, 1931; oil and ripolin on panel; signed, u.r.: “Picasso”; The Art Institute of Chicago.

Nessus and Deianira, Juan-les-Pins, September 22, 1920, Graphite on papere with white ground

“Nessus and Deianira,” September 22, 1920, Graphite on tan wove paper, prepared with a white ground ,signed recto, upper left, in pen and blue ink: “Picasso” (underlined); inscribed upper left, in graphite: “22-9-20”

Picasso and Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, February 20 – May 12, 2013.

SOURCES:

Miró, Janis Mink, Taschen, 2006;

Je suis Le Cahier: The Sketchbooks of Picasso, 1986, Arnoldo  Mondadori Editore, Verona, Italy;

http://michiganavemag.com/living/articles/aic-opens-picasso-and-chicago;

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780300184525http://chicagoist.com/2013/05/11/last_chance_to_see_picasso_and_chic.php.

All photographs (except “The Old Guitarist”) by John P. Walsh (May 7, 2013).

©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.

French Cartoonist fêted, then revealed as Nazi Collaborator: Chaval and the purpose of art history and exhibitions.

 

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Chaval’s cartoons, mainly wordless, are often derisive, ironic and filled with dark humor.

By John P. Walsh

The 53-year-old French cartoonist’s suicide in Paris in winter 1968 served as a tragic end to a witty career. Born Yvan Le Louarn near Bordeaux in 1915, Chaval left a suicide note on the apartment door that read “Mind the gas.” But today it is his actions as a young man in his late 20s that mark him for controversy.

Chaval’s professional name is a bastardization of Chevel, an early twentieth century architect for whose work the term “architecture naïve” was coined. While Chevel came to fantastical architecture after being a poor farmer, Chaval trained for years at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the nation’s foremost art school.

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It is a specific period in the cartoonist’s past that erupted into a controversy in late spring 2008 as a major French art museum mounted a retrospective exhibition of Chaval’s career. During the near incredible period of World War II, Chaval created drawings after 1940 with a racist and anti-Semitic slant for publication in Le Progrès, a Vichy newspaper. His drawings were characterized as “Pro-German Vichy and not just” by Pascal Ory, a leading French cultural historian of the Université de Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne. When the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux hosted an exhibition of 120 of Chaval’s pen-and-ink cartoons in summer 2008 none of his wartime anti-Semitic drawings was displayed. In an article in La Croix, the daily Paris Roman Catholic newspaper, Professor Ory revealed the nature of some of these hidden racist works as the exhibition opened.

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By the mid 1950s Chaval was an international sensation, his cartoon work mentioned in the same breath in American publications with icons such as James Thurber (1894-1961), Charles Addams (1912-1988) and William Steig (1907-2003). Immediately after the war Chaval was cleared of wrongdoing and started to be published in top French publications—Punch, Le Figaro, Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris Match. He won the industry’s highest awards and remained at the top of his field until the time of his death.

In a June 5, 2008 article Professor Ory described Chaval’s wartime cartoons as “compelling” of racist anti-Semitism.  One published Chaval wartime cartoon Professor Ory described—and the Bordeaux fine arts museum director confirmed its existence—shows two figures with exaggerated noses and wearing yellow stars on their coats. One of them wears two yellow stars and says to the other: “He made me a good price!” Professor Ory criticized not only the drawing’s crude racist ontology but that the Bordeaux art museum would seek to ignore or even cover up the cartoon’s existence in Chaval’s oeuvre. “I’m surprised,” Ory said, speaking in 2008, “that after thirty years of historiography, we are always looking to conceal the period of collaboration under the Occupation in France.”

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That the art museum buried Chaval’s early racist work from view without explanation did not stop the museum director, M. Olivier Le Bihan, from defending an impugned Chaval after his controversial work was publicized: “We do not have the right to condemn a man because he made a tendentious drawing. Remember that after the war a trial cleared Chaval of some of the anti-Semitic cartoons ascribed to him. Chaval was called a humanist in Robert Merle’s 1954 Holocaust novel (“Death is my Trade”).”

Professor Ory, author of the classic Les Collaborateurs 1940-1945 (published in 1976), counters that it is “absurd” for the museum to justify the overriding purpose of an art exhibition as “first drawing” or that Chaval “does not deserve this trial of intent” because “he did it to eat.” Professor Ory states there is a “dialogue gap” between art historians and historians that leads to an “endemic lack of historical understanding” of the issues involved in an art exhibition resulting only in an ensuing public spectacle of controversy. Ory points to a similar mistake being made in another 2008 exhibition held in Paris of photographs by Collaborationist André Zucca (French, 1897-1973). This exhibition caused a public furor for not being specific about the conditions under which these images of the city during the Nazi Occupation had been made.

chaval

Ory contends that Chaval’s case is not simply a matter of a hungry young artist making due in wartime. There is further documentation of Chaval’s friendly relations with racist editors and writers on the Vichy newspaper. Beyond these facts is Professor Ory’s principled belief that “the problem of political engagement is not secondary” to any artist’s life or work. Chaval, professor Ory concludes, is a “draftsman collaborationist” – and though his political affiliations do not detract from his artistic talent it becomes important for the art historian and curator to explain the historical context including “the artist’s overall character” to the viewer. This practices intellectual honesty and makes the enterprise of art making and art exhibition “more human,” according to Ory.

SOURCES:The Best Cartoons From France, Edna Bennett, Philippe Halsman,Simon & Schuster, 1953; C’est la vie: The best cartoons of Chaval, Citadel press, 1957; http://www.la-croix.com/Culture-Loisirs/Culture/Actualite/A-Bordeaux-l-exposition-Chaval-souleve-la-polemique-_NG_-2008-06-05-672010.

©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.

The “Tricky Business” of the Caillebotte Bequest.

Featured Image: Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), Self Portrait, 1878, private collection.

 

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: L’Estaque, c. 1878/9, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 x 28 3/4 inches, Paul Cézanne. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

By John P. Walsh

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) exhibited together in the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876 and became lifelong friends. Just two years later, in 1878, Caillebotte appointed Renoir to be executor of his will. Now in the wake of Caillebotte’s death in 1894, Renoir and Martial Caillebotte (1853-1910), the artist’s younger brother, were resolved to carry out Caillebotte’s final wishes to the letter. The most important charge given to Caillebotte’s advocates was to persuade the French State to accept their late friend’s collection of Impressionist art that came to be known as the “Caillebotte Bequest.” These 68 paintings were the wealthy artist’s assemblage of prime Impressionist art which today provides a glittering foundation for museum collections around the world, especially the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. An exact count of the bequest varies whether based on the inventories by the estate in 1894, by art writer Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) also in 1894 or by Renoir, Martial Caillebotte and Léonce Bénédite (1859-1925) in 1896.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919) at Montmartre in a photograph by Martial Caillebotte around 1885.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919) at Montmartre in a photograph by Martial Caillebotte around 1885.

Martial Caillebotte (1853–1910), photographer and composer, with brother Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), artist, collector and arts organizer.

Martial Caillebotte (1853–1910), photographer and composer, with brother Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), artist, collector and arts organizer.

Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) in a portrait photograph by Nadar.

Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926) in a portrait photograph by Nadar.

Léonce Bénédite (1856 - 1925), at left, curator for the Caillebotte Bequest.

Léonce Bénédite (1856 – 1925), at left, curator for the Caillebotte Bequest.

In 1894 Caillebotte’s bequest included paintings by living artists such as Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Two artists in the collection were already dead – and both Jean Millet (1814-1875) and Édouard Manet (1832-1883) were more highly prized than the others at the time. A vast majority of Caillebotte’s more than five dozen paintings were painted and purchased before 1880.

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Edouard Manet, The Balcony, 1868-69, oil on canvas, 67 3/4 x 40 1/4 inches,  Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The French government was accustomed to selecting and purchasing works for the national collection on their own initiative and looked on Caillebotte’s donation as a “tricky business” as expressed by Republican Henry Roujon, Fine Arts administrator who had only recently worked for Jules Ferry. From a wanting-to-oblige Establishment viewpoint the bequest was complicated because Caillebotte boldly stipulated that all 68 works be accepted together and earmarked as a group for entrance into the Louvre. Up to now the French State only had experience in purchasing Sisley and Renoir (“Young Girls at the Piano,” acquired in 1892) for the national collection. Moreover the acceptance of Caillebotte’s collection would change State policy to exhibit no more than three works by any artist for Caillebotte’s bequest included more paintings than that number for each artist. Although twenty years had passed since the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874, the French State had never taken much of a public interest in this diverse group of nonacademic artists.  On the other side of the table as Renoir and Martial Caillebotte were primarily concerned with the State’s acceptance of the entire body of work, those living artists in the bequested collection had their concerns if they succeeded.

Henry Roujon (French, 1853-1914).

Henry Roujon (French, 1853-1914) in 1912.

One antidote to this attitude of entrenchment was that the Republican French state in 1894 was halfway into its second decade of shepherding progressive policies onto France and its cultural leaders realized this must extend to a determined national support for this windfall of abstruse avant-garde artists. Following a year of negotiation with executors Renoir and the younger Caillebotte the State cut its deal. They might have refused the whole lot of them, but accepted a majority of the bequest and more than one painting of each artist. Further they formally agreed to exhibit all 40 works and they were duly hung in the Luxembourg Museum in February 1897. In addition to two by Millet, these 38 Impressionist masterworks are today in the Musée D’Orsay. None of Caillebotte’s own paintings were included in the legacy. Protests by traditional art voices were now useless: the Impressionists,  accused of “ruining young artists,” were now on national museum walls. Cézanne’s response to the inclusion of two of his paintings is forthright: “Now (William-Adolphe) Bouguereau can go to hell!” During this hard-edged contest to determine which artists and art works were included or excluded, it was not the museums that picked up the pieces but the mainly French and American collectors as well as the gallery dealers who mounted historic one-man shows for Caillebotte (at Durand-Ruel in June 1894), for Cézanne (at Ambroise Vollard in 1895) and for Monet (Durand-Ruel in May 1895).

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Claude Monet, Luncheon in the Garden, 1873-74, oil on canvas, 63 x 79 1/8 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Girl Reading, c. 1874, oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 15 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

railway-bridge-at-chatou-1881

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Railroad Bridge at Chatou, 1881, oil on canvas, 21 1/4 x 25 1/2 inches. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

study-torso-sunlight-effect

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Study (Nude in the sunlight), 1875, oil on canvas, 31 7/8 x 25 1/2 inches. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

swing-renoir-jpeg

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Swing, 1876, oil on canvas, 36 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Edgar Degas, Women on the Terrace of a cafe in the Evening, 1877, pastel over monotype, 16 1/2 x 23 5/8 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

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CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Edgar Degas, The Chorus,1876/77, pastel over monotype, 10 5/8 x12 1/4 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

the-star

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Edgar Degas, L’Etoile (the Star), 1876/77, pastel over monotype, 22 7/8 x 16 1/2 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

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CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Edgar Degas, Femme sortant du bain, vers 1876, pastel sur monotype, H. 0.16 ; L. 0.215, musée d’Orsay, Paris, France.

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Camille Pissarro, Red Roofs, Village scene, Winter Effect, 1877, oil on canvas, 21 1/2 x 15 1/4 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

the-harvest-at-montfoucault-1876

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Camille Pissarro, Harvest at Montfoucault, 1876, oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 36 1/4 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

the-vegetable-garden-with-trees-in-blossom-spring-pontoise-by-camille-pissarro-1877

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Camille Pissarro, The Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise, 1877, Oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 31 7/8 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Regatta at Argenteuil

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Claude Monet, Regattas at Argenteuil, c. 1872, oil on canvas, 17 3/4 x 29 1/2 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Alfred Sisley, Boat Races at Molesey, 1874, oil on canvas, 26 x 35 3/4 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

the-church-at-vetheuil-under-snow-1879-jpglarge

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Claude Monet, The Church at Vétheuil, Snow, 1878-79, oil on canvas, 20 1/2 x 28 inches, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

renoir_1876_lg

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Auguste Renoir, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, 1876, Oil on canvas, H. 131; W. 175 cm © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d’Orsay) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

The settlement accepted in January 1895 and promulgated a year later was not the last word for Renoir who continued to try to fully achieve his friend’s terms. On at least two occasions – in 1904 and 1908 –  the works refused by the State in 1894 were proffered to them. Both times these 28 remaining works were refused and as far as the French State was concerned the case of the Caillebotte Bequest was closed. Only by his death in 1919 were Renoir’s efforts to honor Caillebotte’s bequest to France halted (Martial had died in 1910). In 1928, over thirty years after Caillebotte’s death and bequest, the French State dared to make a legal claim to those remaining 28 works they had rejected three times previously. Inexorably cloaked in superiority, this latest endeavor of the official art establishment revealed its opportunism as the changing winds of taste now clearly favored Impressionism. Both original executors of Caillbotte’s bequest now dead, it was left to Martial Caillebotte’s son’s widow to respond to these highly-placed administrative scratchings. Her decision: she refused to hand over these works and placed them on the open market. The “rejected” and overlooked works of the “Caillebotte Bequest” were sold to private collectors all over the world, including to Americans Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951), and H.O. Havemeyer (1847-1907) and Louisine Havemeyer (1855-1929). Many of these remainder works’ locations are unknown.

Baigneurs au repos BAthers at rest Barnes 1876 7  oil on canvas

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Bathers at rest, (Baigneurs au repos), 1876/77, oil on canvas, 32 5/16 x 39 7/8 inches, Paul Cézanne. The Barnes Foundation.

CAILLEBOTTE BEQUEST: Edgar Degas, The Dance Lesson, c. 1879, pastel and black chalk on three pieces of wove paper, 25 3/8 x 22 1/8/inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.

SOURCES: Anne Distel, Impressionism: the First Collectors, Abrams, 1990; Anne Distel, Douglas W. Druick, Gloria Groom, Rodolphe Rapetti and Kirk Varnedoe, Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, 1995; http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/history-of-the-collections/painting.html; http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/312.html?page=2

©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.

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 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 initial euphoria was short lived.  Just two weeks after the show closed, when hopes for picture sales continued to be high, a Constitutional crisis in the French government led to consolidation of Republican power against Royalists and a national economic recession ensued. The Impressionist group, carefully built to a unity by Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as each artist jostled for survival 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. For Caillebotte whose brand for the 1877 exhibition was based on  “broken brush” impressionists the irony was not lost on him as he worked on the next impressionist shows with Degas and an artistic coterie that excluded them. By 1881 Caillebotte had had enough of the artistic partisanship and before the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in that year he departed the Degas-led organization.

Caillebotte’s retirement was a short one. Soon the 32-year-old Caillebotte was promoting a retro-style vision for an exhibition in 1882. He promoted his vision tirelessly to his obvious partner, Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922). But the previous seven years had taken a financial toll on the 51-year-old art dealer who re-tooled his business plan to focus on small shows of individual artists. The French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money, although by 1882 there was sufficient expectation to make a small profit from this one. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—and Durand-Ruel believed it was a sour attempt to discredit him as an avant-garde art dealer—the over-stocked Impressionist art dealer proved reluctant but finally willing to go forward with Caillebotte’s “old school” exhibition plan.

Picture1

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 his new, large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival) and 23 other new works. Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt and Paul Gauguin stayed away from this seventh Impressionist show. Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, this show hailed the triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. The artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, was off experimenting and would not be seen in another Paris art show until 1895.

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Caillebotte, Rising Road (Chemin Montant). 1881.

Caillebotte sent 17 works to his 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. Is it a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics when they saw it in his The Floor Scrapers of 1875? Rising Road is painted in the loose brushwork idiom with the free handling of colors as practiced by Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte was making. The mystery deepens as to who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” as one critic poked fun at them. Both couple and their location are unknown. It is conjectured that the viewer is looking at Caillebotte with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier. Rising Road (Chemin Montant) which has had only two owners since 1881 sold for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) in a 2003 sale at Christie’s in New York City,

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 Impressionist Exhibitions of 1879, 1880, and 1881.

Featured Image: The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue), 1880, private collection.

By John P. Walsh

By the time Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) painted The Bezique Game in 1880 and the four-by-five-foot oil on canvas was exhibited in the penultimate Seventh Impressionist exhibition in 1882, many changes in the art world had transpired in those five years since his “balanced and coherent” Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877. Two major developments proved especially impactful for the select band of ever-varying avant-garde and independent artists calling themselves “impressionists.” The first major development is that, after 1877, the group had fallen apart.

Caillebotte attempted a follow-up impressionist exhibition for 1878 and utterly failed to get it off the ground. It wasn’t for lack of trying. He and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) jump-started and organized the third exhibition in 1877 proving the benefits of professional arts organization and marketing. By the next year Caillebotte moved from the measurable success of eighteen cogent modern movement artists under a brand name, 230 works, and attendance numbers bursting the attendance of previous shows by almost four foldsales were up as wellto a complete lack of collective coherence and cooperation.

Seeds of destruction for the cozy klatch of budding avant-garde artists had sprouted in the 1877 show. Caillebotte’s genius for that show was one of avoidance. He adeptly avoided a train wreck of antagonistic and divergent creative forces by keeping them literally physically apart.  Of the two major factions one was the classically-trained realist urban figure drawing of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and the innovative nonacademic broken brush landscapes of Claude Monet (1840-1926). Caillebotte assented to their separateness by hanging all 25 beach and ballet works by Degas in their own room for the show’s duration.

220px-Edgar_Degas_(1834-1917) EDGAR DEGAS (1834 – 1917).

cm_1860CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926).

7601_m_gustave_caillebotte___french_artist CAILLEBOTTE (1848-1894).

Rule number one in business: don’t argue with success. That is unless you are “the terrible Monsieur Degas.” Degas’s dispute with Caillebotte’s show’s success was not entirely Degas’s fault – his disputatious character, however, was.  The catalyst for the ensuing political battle between Degas and Monet which affected the rest of the impressionist shows after 1877 was their varying understanding of the second major development to affect all modern artists. By 1878 the trend to a liberal Salon, despite monarchical, religious and aristocratic reactionaries in leadership after 1863, had become inescapable. While the government would divest itself of the Salon completely in 1881, it had allowed in 1878 its brittle conservative dam to break. Suddenly it became a propitious moment for “broken brush” Impressionists like Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) to return to the 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 15,000 visitors in its month-long run—an exciting 500 visitors per day—the Salon attracted 23,000 visitors per day. Although the Salon displayed around twenty-three times more stock than an Impressionist show it attracted fifty times more visitors. Opportunity for client building and sales potential at one of these annual warehouse events was immense and until 1878 the Impressionists had been regularly kept away by the Salon’s small and shrinking institutional elite.

Degas came up with his own ingeniously small-minded idea. It struck to the heart of his reactionary mentality which he manifested on many important issues during his lifetime. In this instance, his limiting idea was craftily couched in nobility. Despite a new opening into the Salon for modern artists, Degas insisted that the Impressionists had to choose between the Salon or the Impressionist group. He was forcing artists like Renoir and Monet (as well as Cézanne and Sisley) to break ranks with the Impressionists only to best survive in a changing marketplace. Degas’s gauntlet was a perfectly-crafted wedge that, for the moment, prevailed.

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 doomed the next three Impressionist shows to one-sided affairs. The exhibitions of 1879, 1880, and 1881 featured Degas and his favorite artists including Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926) and Paul Gauguin (French, 1848-1903). Édouard Manet (1832-1883), of course, was not directly affected by this ongoing intramural contest since he continued to exhibit only in the Salon. Of the Impressionists’ founding members in 1874 only Pissarro and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) stayed loyal to the independent art group. Caillebotte too—who from almost the beginning delivered his talent and resources to the independents—continued to organize and exhibit with them in 1879 and 1880. But Caillebotte stayed home for the 1881 show after breaking with Degas on ostensibly an advertising issue. By that time, a new set of opportunities for Impressionist exhibitions was brewing and Caillebotte painted The Bezique Game in this shifting political environment.

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.

Bezique is a curiously French 64-card game for two players. 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 critics called the painting a “legible and tightly ordered” image of a long-held pictorial tradition of card playing. Idiomatic clichés of card playing such as “playing one’s cards right” or “holding one’s cards close to the chest” may be read into this painting by Caillebotte as it pertains to the Impressionists’ recent 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 any dealings with those daubers.

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.