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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: his complete 31 mass-produced art posters in color.

By John P. Walsh

The nineteenth century in France brought about a radical transformation of the role of the artist. In place of artwork for aristocratic patrons, artists in all media were increasingly left to their own devices and began creating works of art in their studios and looking to sell them in the open marketplace. Innovative forms, new subjects, and new styles emerged from these changing economic structures brought about by the dawning of the industrial and technological age as well as the growing importance of cities.

In Paris and elsewhere, enterprising artists sought to attract new clients increasingly composed of the urban bourgeoisie. By the mid-to-late nineteenth century the involvement of the public in artistic matters became an irrevocable fact which had been secured by the improved means of mass production. New processes in lithographic and photographic printmaking, for example, made art widely available to a popular audience. The entry of this sort of democracy into artistic production coincided with current aesthetic influences such as a Japonisme movement prevalent in France in the years before 1890. In addition, there was a new understanding of modern beauty that began around 1830 that rejected traditional forms of beauty manifested in classical and later art forms.

By the early 1890’s when Henri Toulouse Lautrec (French, 1864-1901) created his mass-produced posters in Paris a new artistic practice had appeared whose idea of beauty was contemporary, sophisticated and subtly realistic. By 1890, Lautrec’s art could react in several ways to the modern art tradition. Toulouse-Lautrec repudiated the bourgeois modernity of the Impressionists from the 1870’s and 1880’s displayed in the drawing-room paintings of Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919) and, owing to cultural spaces that had shifted by the 1880’s to artistic cabarets and literary cafés, Lautrec could also claim to be a direct heir to an earlier 1830’s romantic bohemian and 1840’s flâneur.

There are several interpretations for this cultural shift and its effects on artists and artistic practice in the 1890’s including Toulouse-Lautrec’s mass-produced commercial posters. Building on a rejection of bourgeois art forms, Mary Gluck at Brown University argues that artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec—who with others was a creature of the cabarets and cafés—desired commercial mass media to be the means by which the public sphere would eclipse individual lives which modern society had fragmented. At the center of their art production, Gluck believes, is a distinct vision of modernity identified with a city’s public space as opposed to the private anonymity of bourgeois culture (see Popular Bohemia: Modernism and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, 2005). To strive to transform the public sphere by way of the legacy of the café-concert about and for which Toulouse-Lautrec created a significant amount of his mass-produced commercial art could only be an ambitious cultural task. These cabarets and café-concerts, mostly centered on and around Montmartre in Paris, were crowded, loud and often rowdy. Its performances and clientele were often unpolished and popular. Small but well-known art movements such as Les Arts incohérents and their Montmartre cabaret Les Hydropathes begin to describe the level of social parody and frivolity to be expected within these establishments. While Lionel Richard at the University of Picardy attributes these activities to social rebels (see Cabaret, Cabarets: Origines et décadence, 1991), Jerrold Seigel at New York University views it as a calculated new relationship between the popular classes and the bourgeoisie where the aspiring artist, such as Toulouse-Lautrec, could create art for potential customers (see Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930, 1986). For T. J. Clark, the cabaret’s diverse audience as a venue for some form of cultural democracy by way of a mixing of classes is illusory (see “The Bar at the Folies-Bergères,” The Wolf and the Lamb: Popular Culture in France, From the Old Régime to the Twentieth Century, 1977). Charles Rearick of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, casts an eye on those frivolous aspects of the Montmartre cabarets, dance halls, and literary cafés. His conclusion is that these activities allowed a Parisian to escape modern society’s social constraints of respectability typically found everywhere else (see Pleasures of the Belle Epoque: Entertainment & Festivity in Turn-Of-The-Century France, 1985). Phillip Dennis Cate at The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University viewed the role of cabarets in the artistic context of these bohemian antics being the genesis of what became twentieth-century avant-garde aesthetics (see The Spirit of Montmartre: Cabarets, Humor, and the Avant-Garde, 1875-1905, 1996). It is the affirmation of the values of spontaneous experience and direct communication as an integral aspect of the modern experience and, for the fin-de-siècle bohemian, parodic performances which helped criticize the official art establishment that carried forward into artistic attitudes in the new century.

The fruit of reflection for this late-nineteenth-century artistic period in Paris is numerous and diverse. It leads to the observation—whether of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or the variety of subjects in his mass-produced commercial art—that the stereotype of the artist, poet, or performer as bohemian, owing to their psychological nuance and stylistic antisepsis as aesthetic modernity—and possibly its inverse—becomes a source for their estrangement and alienation from modernity—that is, to emerge as an alienated human figure detached from their society and time. With Toulouse-Lautrec’s sixth poster (Divan Japonais, 1893) it is clear that his mass-produced commercial poster art in Paris was making an important impact on modern art in the 1890’s. It was a new art form for its deploying the rapidly developing technique of color printing. It utilized new approaches to composition and subject matter which were created for a mixture of new and popular commercial establishments. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, they became the first regularly displayed art commodity for public mass consumption. Each of these art principles and practices found in Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters of the 1890’s continue to impact contemporary art-making today.

Toulouse-Lautrec_-_Moulin_Rouge_-_La_Goulue

1. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Moulin Rouge-La Goulue, 1891.

1. Moulin Rouge-La Goulue is a lithograph done in 4 colors: yellow, blue, red, and black. The Moulin Rouge opened in 1889 and, in summer 1891, the poster was commissioned by its owners. It depicts La Goulue (“The Glutton”) who is 21-year-old Louis Weber (1870-1929) and Valentin-le-Désossé (“the Boneless”) (1843-1907). This is Toulouse-Lautrec’s first, largest, and many estimate, most complex and artistically important poster. Printed by Charles Levy, it is made up of two sheets although Toulouse-Lautrec thought the printer had made mistakes and didn’t use him again. When this poster was plastered around Paris, the artist knew that his own silhouetted profile could be found in the background of silhouetted figures. The art of the streets pioneered by Jules Chéret (1836-1932) and immediately recognized for its implications by writers such as the Goncourt brothers and J.K. Huysmans (1848-1907) Lautrec exploited in the 1890’s aided by technological advances in color printing that continued to improve throughout the decade.

le Pendu

2. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Le Pendu, 1892

2. The poster Le Pendu is a lithograph done in 2 colors: black and dark green. It was commissioned by a magazine editor to publicize a new theater play. Based on a true story of a wrongful capital death, the poster depicts the son’s suicide. Created in charcoal in late 1891, it was printed in 1895 in a limited edition for collectors only.

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3. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Ambassadeurs Aristide Bruant, 1892.

3. The poster Ambassadeurs Aristide Bruant is a lithograph in 5 colors yellow, blue, red, black, and olive green. Aristide Bruant (1851-1923) was a singer and this was a promotional poster for a café concert that opened in June 1892. The poster appeared all over Paris and on stage during the performance. The café owner thought the poster was a “disgusting mess” and refused to hang it until Bruant threatened to cancel his show. The subject wears a heavy dark velvet jacket, red shirt scarf, and wide brimmed hat with a riding crop. His head rises out of a dark mass which is lifted wholesale from a Japanese print by Katsukawa Shunshō (1726-1792).

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4. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Eldorado Aristide Bruant. 1892.

4. The poster Eldorado Aristide Bruant is a lithograph in 5 colors (olive green, yellow, red, blue, and black). It includes the letters “TL” and signed monogram which will appear on other posters. The poster was created for the singer’s event on Boulevard de Strasbourg (north of Boulevard Montmartre at Sebastopol). With the same but reversed design, the customer and artist cut poster costs while increasing brand identity. In modern art the figure of the imposing heroic individual performer was new and Bruant became an overnight celebrity that year in Paris. Toulouse-Lautrec made no money on this project because the café owners were shocked by its content and refused to pay him.

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5. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Reine de Joie, 1892

5. The poster Reine de Joie is a lithograph in 4 colors (olive green, yellow, red, and black). It includes the emblematic letters “TL” and is signed. The poster was an advertisement for a suggestive new serialized novel by Victor Joze (1861-1933) and depicted the moment in the novel when the heroine kisses a fat banker, the latter being modeled by Georges Lasserre, a Lautrec friend. The poster, also used as the novel’s cover, caused a scandal across Paris and prompted a poster tear-down campaign. Speculation ran rampant as to who might be the real-life personalities on which characters in the novel were based.

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6. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Divan Japonais, 1892-93.

6. The poster Divan Japonais is a lithograph in 4 colors (olive green, yellow, red, and black). The cabaret on rue des Martyrs came under new ownership in 1892 and was totally refurbished in a trendy Japanese style. The poster depicts 24-year-old Jane Avril (1868-1943) with critic Edouard Dujarden (1861-1949). On stage are shown the long black gloves of new singer Yvette Guilbert (1865-1944). When this poster went up all over Paris it created a sensation and was a triumph for Lautrec. In 1894 the Divan Japonais closed to be replaced by another establishment. As with his other posters, there were several preliminary sketches the artist made for Divan Japonais.

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7. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Jane Avril, 1893.

7. The poster Jane Avril is a lithograph in 5 colors (olive green, yellow, orange, red, and black). The same subject who appeared in Divan Japonais, Jane Avril commissioned this poster for her performance at the Jardin de Paris, a new café-concert. The letters for the name of the establishment were added later by someone other than Lautrec. The artist first produced 20 collector prints and after, with its newly-added letters, the poster went into mass production. Known as La Mélinite—a type of explosive—Jane Avril looked to this poster to reinvigorate her career as a performer in Paris. The poster helped her to take Paris by storm as she went on to perform at the Casino de Paris, the Moulin Rouge and the Folies-Bergères. In terms of composition, the poster is noteworthy for its strong diagonals inspired by Japanese prints and the detail of a large musical instrument—including the meticulously drawn hairs of a musician’s fingers—which rounds out the design and is seen as homage to Degas who used a similar motif in his artwork.

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8. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Aristide Bruant Dans Son Cabaret, 1893.

8. The poster Aristide Bruant Dans Son Cabaret is a lithograph in 4 colors (olive green, brown, red, and black). Lautrec’s third image of the singer became a Parisian icon. From the poster’s inception the singer used this image to promote his appearances—and for the next twenty years until 1912.

Au Pied De L'Echafaud, 1893

9. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Au Pied De L’Echafaud, 1893.

9. The poster Au Pied De L’Echafaud is a lithograph in 4 colors (grey, red-brown, red, and black). The poster was an advertisement for the memoirs of a prison chaplain published in 1893.

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10. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Caudieux, 1893.

10. The poster Caudieux is a lithograph in 4 colors (olive green, yellow, red and black). Lautrec depicts Caudieux, who was a popular cabaret comedian, to be striding across the stage. Lautrec used the partial figure in the prompt box in other artwork.

Bruant Au Miriton 1893

11. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Bruant Au Miriton, 1893.

Bruant Au Miriton, 1893.

Bruant Au Miriton, 1893.

11. The poster Bruant Au Miriton is a lithograph in 2 colors (olive green or black and red). Represented with his back to the viewer, the popular performer is identified simply by his costume and the way he stands. This artistic device had already been used by Degas based on a theory by an art critic that a person’s economic and social class could be revealed simply by the way he or she comports themselves. The poster was recycled by Bruant as a songbook cover.

Babylone D'Allemagne, 1894

12. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Babylone D’Allemagne, 1894

12. The poster Babylone D’Allemagne is a lithograph in 5 colors (olive green, yellow, red, dark blue and black). This was Lautrec’s second poster for another Victor Joze novel following his Reine de Joie. Lautrec wrote to his mother at this time to relate how busy he was with his art projects. Because of Joze’s anti-German message in the book, the author wanted the poster suppressed but it went up all over Paris nonetheless.

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13. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – L’Artisan Moderne, 1894.

13. The poster L’Artisan Moderne is a lithograph in 4 colors (dark blue, yellow, green, and brown). The lettering is not done by Lautrec. Because of the impact of the cabaret and book posters, Lautrec began to be commissioned to make posters for the trades. This poster was provided to an interior design firm.

P. Sescau, Photographe, 1894

14. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – P. Sescau, Photographe, 1894

14. The poster P. Sescau, Photographe is a lithograph in 4 colors (dark red, yellow, green, and dark blue). The lettering is not done by Lautrec. This poster was provided to Paul Sescau, a professional photographer and personal friend of the artist.

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15. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Confetti, 1894.

15. The poster Confetti is a lithograph in 3 colors (dark olive green, red and yellow). This is Lautrec’s poster for the English paper manufacturer Bella & de Malherbe. The model is Jeanne Granier (1852-1939). These paper manufacturers hosted poster exhibitions in 1894 and 1896 to which Lautrec was invited.

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16. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – May Belfort, 1895.

16. The poster May Belfort is a lithograph in 4 colors (olive black, red and yellow). Following his trades posters Lautrec returned to the subject of the single musical performer. May Egan (whose stage name was May Belfort) was an Irish singer who appeared at the Cabaret des Décadents where Jane Avril performed.

La Revue Blanche, 1895

17. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – La Revue Blanche, 1895.

17. The poster La Revue Blanche is a lithograph in 4 colors (blue, red, black, and green). The subject is Misia Natanson (1872-1950) who was married to Thadée Natanson whose brother was editor of La Revue Blanche from 1891 to 1903. Misia was muse to a generation of avant-garde artists, composers, and writers as the publication itself was the remarkable meeting point for the Paris literary and artistic worlds in the 1890’s. Lautrec shows Misia wearing an ostrich feather hat, spotted dress, fur jacket and muff and ice skating which was a popular activity in Paris. Two preparatory drawings for this poster are known.

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18. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – May Milton, 1895.

18. The poster May Milton is a lithograph in 5 colors (blue, red, black, yellow and olive green). This poster was never posted in Paris but produced as an advertisement in a magazine to promote the U.S. tour of May Milton, an English dancer at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. Picasso owned a copy of this poster and used some of its compositional elements in his own artwork. Art dealers would commission limited editions of black-and-white lithographs of performers such as May Milton because they sold quickly.

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19. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Napoleon, 1895.

19. The poster Napoleon is a lithograph in 5 colors (blue, reddish brown, black, yellow and olive green). Toulouse-Lautrec produced this poster for a book cover competition that he lost. Failing to sell this artwork, the artist produced a limited edition of 100 copies at the artist’s expense.  The artist’s fee for his poster artwork varied a good deal, although during his career Lautrec clearly made more money from the output of his graphic work than his paintings.

Salon des Cents, 1895

20. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Salon Des Cents, 1895.

20. The poster Salon Des Cents is a lithograph in 6 colors (blue, dark blue, black, yellow, ochre, and red). This poster is Lautrec’s homage to a married woman he met and became infatuated with during a summer cruise in 1895. The young woman sits in a deck chair under an awning facing out to sea. He produced the poster at his rentrée to Paris that fall and used it for international poster exhibitions sponsored by the journal La Plume at the Salon des Cent during winter 1895-96 and later in 1896 at the Libre Esthétique exhibition in Brussels.

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21. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – The Chap Book, 1895.

21. The poster The Chap Book is a lithograph in 5 colors (olive green, blue, yellow, pink and red). The lettering is not done by Lautrec. The artist used the setting of an Irish-American bar near Place Madeleine in Paris to promote The Chap Book, an American magazine.  Along with its identifiable characters, Lautrec includes the image of a bartender preparing a cocktail which was a libation newly introduced to Paris.

La Chatelaine, Ou 'Le Tocsin', 1895

22. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – La Chatelaine, Ou ‘Le Tocsin’, 1895

22. The poster La Chatelaine, Ou ‘Le Tocsin’ is a lithograph in 2 colors (blue and blue-green). This poster was commissioned by former Republican politician and Editor-in-chief Arthur Huc (1854-1932) to advertise a novel by Jules de Gastyne (1847-1920) which appeared in his newspaper in popular serial form in 1895. Letters were added by others after copies of the poster were printed for collectors of Lautrec’s increasingly popular artwork.

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23. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Troupe De Mlle Églantine, 1896.

23. The poster Troupe De Mlle Églantine is a lithograph in 4 colors (green-blue, red, yellow and dark brown). The lettering is not designed by Lautrec. This was commissioned by Jane Avril for her work in London at the Palace Theatre and elsewhere. The formation dance was comprised of four identified dancers including Mlle Églantine and Jane Avril and derived from the famous French can-can.

 

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24. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – La Vache Enragee, 1896.

24. The poster La Vache Enragée is a lithograph in 5 colors (dark blue, green-blue, red, yellow and black). The lettering is not designed by Lautrec. This was an advertisement for a new monthly magazine founded by Adolphe Willette (1857-1926). Its editor, Adolphe Roedel, organized an annual parade through Montmartre called the Vachalcade to lampoon the artist’s state of life in a major urban center.

Elles, 1896

25. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Elles, 1896.

25. The poster Elles is a lithograph in 4 colors (yellow, dark green, orange and blue). Later lettering is not designed by Lautrec. Degas would visit a Paris brothel to sketch its denizens, but Lautrec moved in for weeks at a time to do his artwork. Elles is a series of lithographs of the lives of prostitutes. Although considered some of the finest of lithographs of the nineteenth century, its portfolio of prints could not find collectors and they had to be sold singly. An exhibition of the complete lithographic series was held at La Plume starting in April 1896 where Lautrec adapted Elles’ title-page lithograph as the poster to advertise the show.

L'Aube, 1896

26. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – L’Aube, 1896.

26. The poster L’Aube is a lithograph in 2 colors (dark blue and blue-green). The lettering is not designed by Lautrec. This was another advertisement for a new journal, the leftist L’Aube, first published in 1896. After its printing, the printer and artist had a rafter of remainders of this poster which they tried to sell for next to nothing.

Cycle Michael, 1896.

27. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Cycle Michael, 1896.

27. The poster Cycle Michael is a lithograph in 1 color (olive green). Bicycling had developed into a cult sport in France by the 1890’s. Lautrec’s interest in the new sport led to this poster commission of British cyclist Jimmy Michael with his trainer (left background) and a sports writer with a hand in his coat pocket. The bicycle company rejected Lautrec’s design in part because the depiction of its mechanics was inaccurate which left the artist to print a limited edition for collectors at his own expense.

La Chaine Simpson, 1896

28. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – La Chaine Simpson, 1896

28. The poster La Chaîne Simpson is a lithograph in 3 colors (red, yellow and blue). The lettering is not designed by Lautrec. This is Lautrec’s second poster for the new sport of bicycling which had become immensely popular in France in the 1890’s. It depicts popular rider Constant Huret (left) and, in the background wearing hats, two British and French bicycle and chain manufacturers. Lautrec was fascinated with the cycling sport and its imagery appears in other of his artwork.

The Ault & Wiborg Co, 1896

29. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – The Ault & Wiborg Co, 1896.

29. The poster The Ault & Wiborg Co is a zincograph in 4 colors (brown, red, yellow and black). The lettering is not designed by Lautrec. The smallest of Lautrec’s posters, it was commissioned by an American ink manufacturer whose sitters are not precisely identified. Before it became a poster advertisement, Lautrec had an edition of it printed which he titled Au Concert.

Jane Avril, 1899

30. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – Jane Avril, 1899.

30. The poster Jane Avril is a zincograph in 4 colors (black, red, yellow and blue). After six years of intense poster production, Lautrec temporarily left its practice in 1897 and 1898. When he returned to it in 1899 he found that technology had advanced to make the printing technique for his artwork more efficient. This poster was commissioned by Jane Avril but never publicly displayed. Lautrec looked to capture her dancing style and graceful and wistful figure which the artist admired. The serpentine-themed dress Jane Avril wears was a popular motif in the Art Nouveau.

La Gitane, 1899-1900

31. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – La Gitane, 1899-1900.

31. The poster La Gitane is a lithograph in 5 colors (black, grey, red, brown and blue). The lettering is designed by Lautrec. Lautrec’s last poster was produced for a Carmen-like play that opened in January 1900 at the Théâtre Antoine in the tenth arrondissment. The play was unpopular, the poster never published, and Lautrec’s modern art poster career had come to an end.

Select Bibliography:
Ash, Russell, Toulouse-Lautrec:The Complete Posters, Pavilion Books Limited, London, 1991.
Beauroy, Jacques, Bertrand, Marc, Gargan, Edward T., editors, The Wolf and the Lamb: Popular Culture in France, From the Old Régime to the Twentieth Century, Anma Libri, Saratoga, CA, 1977.
Cate, Phillip Dennis, The Color Revolution: Color Lithography in France, 1890-1900, Peregrine Smith, Inc., Santa Barbara and Salt Lake City, 1978.
Cate, Phillip Dennis and Shaw, Mary, editors, The Spirit of Montmartre: Cabarets, Humor, and the Avant-Garde, 1875-1905, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1996.
Denvir, Bernard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Thames and Hudson, London, 1991.
Gluck, Mary, Popular Bohemia: Modernism and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005.
Foxwell, Chelsea, Leonard, Anne, et.al. Awash in Color: French and Japanese Prints, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, 2012.
Oberthur, Mariel, Cafés and Cabarets of Montmartre, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, 1984.
Rearick, Charles, Pleasures of the Belle Époque: Entertainment & Festivity in Turn-Of-The-Century France, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1985.
Seigel, Jerrold, Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930, Penguin Books, New York, 1986.
Thory-Frèches, Claire, Roquebert, Anne, Thomson, Richard, Toulouse-Lautrec, South Bank Center, 1991.
Weisberg, Gabriel P., Montmartre and the Making of Mass Culture, Rutgers University Press, News Brunswick, New Jersey and London. 2001.

Text ©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any 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.