Tag Archives: Claude Monet

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.

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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 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.

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.