Tag Archives: Gustave Caillebotte

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 held 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 first euphoria was short lived.  Two weeks after the show closed, as hope for picture sales was high, there was a Constitutional crisis in the French government. This political turmoil resulted in the consolidation of Republican power against Royalists which led to a severe national economic recession. The Impressionist group, conceived and carefully built to a unity by Gustave Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as the artists jostled to survive 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. The irony of the intramural politics that created these developments was not lost on Caillebotte. 

For the April 1877 Third Impressionist Exhibition Caillebotte built the group’s brand largely on  “broken brush” impressionists. For the next three impressionist shows in 1879, 1880 and 1881, he worked with Edgar Degas and an artistic coterie that effectively excluded the broken brush contingent. It was prior to the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881, that Caillebotte finally departed the Degas-led organization, citing a managerial difference on an advertising issue.

Caillebotte’s withdrawal from arts organization was a short one.

The 32-year-old Caillebotte led the offensive for a retro-style vision for the next impressionist exhibition in 1882. With his emerging partner — 51-year-old Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) — Caillebotte promoted his vision.

But the changing art market in the 1870’s had taken a financial toll on the art dealer. Durand-Ruel had to re-tool his business plan to focus not on large-scale group shows but small shows of individual artists. Overall the French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—which Durand-Ruel believed was an attempt by his critics to discredit him as an art dealer—the well-stocked Impressionist art dealer reluctantly agreed to go forward with Caillebotte’s exhibition plan for 1882 which the artist-art show organizer had crafted to likely realize a small profit.

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P.A.-Renoir, A Luncheon at Bougival, 1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Caillebotte’s main hook was to re-integrate the excluded “broken brush” or “strict” impressionists including Renoir and Claude Monet. Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt stayed away from this Seventh Impressionist exhibition though Paul Gauguin was represented. Also missing was the artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, who was off experimenting in the south of France. Cézanne would not be seen again in a Paris art show until 1895 when a huge body of his work was featured in an exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery.

Caillebotte’s first move was to secure the popular Renoir for the upcoming March 1882 show. Renoir sent 24 new works, including his iconic large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival). Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, the seventh show hailed a triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. Camille Pissarro displayed several paintings of peasant girls. His tiny pseudo-pointillist brushstrokes overlaid now and then with dabs of thicker paint, built up an uneven surface that integrated the figure and background and worked to visually mimic the textures of the sitter’s wool clothing.

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Caillebotte, Rising Road (Chemin Montant). 1881.

Caillebotte sent 17 works to the 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. The question was asked whether it was a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics in 1876 when they saw it in The Floor Scrapers.

Rising Road is painted with a free handling of colors in the loose brushwork style of Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte made. One critic poked fun at the painting’s mysterious pair as viewers wondered with him who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” ? Their identities and location are uncertain although speculation has put Caillebotte in the painting with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier.

Rising Road (Chemin Montant) has had only two owners since 1881. It sold in 2003 for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) at Christie’s in New York City,

Gustave Caillebotte, Balcon (Balcony), 1880, oil on canvas, 26 1/4 x 24 in. (68 x 61 cm). Private Collection, Paris. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Paul Gauguin, A la Fenêtre, nature morte (At the Window, Still Life),1881, oil on canvas, 7.5 x 10.625 in (19 x 27 cm), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Jean-Baptiste-Armand Guillaumin, Paysage (fin octobre) (Landscape, End of October), c, 1876, oil on canvas, 17 7/8 x 48 1/8 in. (180 x 123 cm), Nasjonalgallereit, Oslo. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Claude Monet, Soleil couchant, sur la Seine, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine, Winter Effect), 1880, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 59 7/8 (100 x 152 cm), Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Camille Pissarro, Jeune paysanne prenant son café, (Young Peasant Woman Drinking Her Coffee), 1881, oil on canvas, 65.3 × 54.8 cm (25 11/16 × 21 9/16 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Jongleuses au Cirque Fernando, (Jugglers/acrobats at the Cirque Fernando), 1879, oil on canvas, 131.2 × 99.2 cm (51 ½ × 39 1/16 in.), The Art Institute of Chicago. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

Alfred Sisley, Saint-Mammès, temps gris (Saint-Mammès, Cloudy Weather), c. 1880, oil on canvas, 21 5/8 x 29 1/8 in. (54.8 x 74 cm), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition-1882.

SOURCES: Charles S. Moffett, The New Painting, 1986; Anne Distel, Urban Impressionist, 1995; http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4181485

A Bridge Too Far: Gustave Caillebotte and the Fourth (1879), Fifth (1880) and Sixth (1881) Impressionist Exhibitions.

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 was that, after 1877, the group had fallen apart.

The Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 organized by Caillebotte and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) demonstrated the benefit of a marketing plan within a professional arts organization. Caillebotte attempted a follow-up impressionist exhibition for 1878 but failed to get it off the ground.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. In 1877 Caillebotte could measure success by 18-count modern art artists under a new brand name, their 230 works, and attendance numbers up from previous shows by almost four fold. Picture sales were up.

In less than one year, the enterprise had devolved into nothing tangible mainly because of a lack of collective coherence and cooperation among the artists themselves. The seeds of destruction for the klatch of avant-garde artists began to sprout during the 1877 show.

Caillebotte’s genius in that show was to ignore the necessary problems. He adeptly avoided a train wreck of antagonistic and divergent creative forces by keeping them literally physically apart. 

There were two major factions. The first was the classically-trained Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and his realist urban figure drawing and the second was the nonacademic broken-brush innovators such as Claude Monet (1840-1926).

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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GUSTAVE CAILLEBOTTE (1848-1894).

If in business one cannot argue with success, the caveat for the impressionist shows is: unless you are “the terrible Monsieur Degas.”

The circumstances surrounding Degas’s dispute with Caillebotte’s show was not entirely of Degas’ making, though his disputatious character was. The ensuing personal and political battle after 1877 between Degas and his group of artists and Monet and his, affected every impressionist show up until and including the last one in 1886.

The catalyst for their dispute and division was their different understandings of what was the second major development to affect the modern artists.

Despite the Salon leaders after 1863 continuing to be anti-democratic, the trend by the late 1870’s was towards a liberalized Salon. In 1881, the French government divested itself of the Salon completely. Before that, in 1878, the government allowed the “broken brush” Impressionists like Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) to participate in their “Exhibition of Living Artists.”

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.

Biggest art show in Paris.

Whatever its drawbacks, the Salon remained the biggest art show in Paris. While the Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 attracted 15,000 visitors in its one month run—the Salon attracted 23,000 visitors per day. The Salon displayed around twenty-three times more art than the Impressionist show and attracted fifty times more visitors. Opportunities for sales and new clients at one of these nineteenth-century warehouse events was immense. After years of fighting for greater participation in the Salon, in 1878 innovative Impressionists were allowed to hang their artwork in an annual show that for hundreds of years was the domain of the Paris art world’s institutional elite.

In terms of the next impressionist show, Degas devised an ingeniously small-minded idea that he presented ennobled by principle.

Despite the opening to the Salon to young avant-garde artists—Monet and Renoir were in their late 30’s, Degas in his mid 40’s—the older and more financially secure artist insisted that impressionists must make a choice. Either they exhibit in the Salon or with the Impressionists.

Degas ultimatum was crafted to pressure the “broken brush” impressionists such as Renoir, Monet, Sisley and Cézanne to break ranks so to improve their sales and reputations in a rapidly changing art market.

Degas’s wedge prevailed. By 1880, the “broken brush” impressionists 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 helped secure the Impressionist shows of 1879, 1880, and 1881 under the leadership of Degas.

These three exhibitions featured Degas and his favorite artists. It was in these Degas-led shows that the public had their first in-depth look at Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), among others.

Not all of the Impressionists’ founding members decided to exhibit in the Salon. Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) chose to stay loyal to the independent art group and would continuing doing so through all eight shows. Gustave Caillebotte had invested his talent, reputation and resources into the independents since 1876 and continued to organize and exhibit with them in 1879 and 1880. Before the 1881 show, Caillebotte broke with the impressionist exhibition as he and Degas had a dispute over a minor business issue.

As quickly as the calendar proclaimed a new decade, a set of new opportunities for Impressionist exhibitions began percolating in Caillebotte’s head as he painted The Bezique Game (1880) of and within a constantly shifting artistic environment.

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.

Card games.

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.

Some art critics viewing Caillebotte’s contemporary subject of a popular game identified the painting as a “legible and tightly ordered” image out of the 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 the painting. It is one of the canvasses painted by impressionist artists during this time that relate to the Impressionist group’s recent and ongoing exhibition experiences.

Nineteenth-century art critics usually grouped together the artwork of Caillebotte and Degas, Neither artist was among the “strict” impressionists such as of Monet and Renoir. Several critics wondered aloud in the newspaper why Caillebotte would even have dealings with those “broken-brush” daubers now 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

Gustave Caillebotte and the Second Impressionist Exhibition of 1876.

Gustave Caillebotte, Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers), 1875, oil on canvas, 102 x 146.5 cm (40.2 × 57.7 in.). At his death in 1894, Caillebotte bestowed the painting to the Musée du Luxembourg where it was accepted. In 1929, it was transferred to the Musée du Louvre. It was relocated again in 1947 when it was moved to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume. In 1986 it was brought to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

By John P. Walsh

The first Impressionist exhibition was held in Paris in 1874. Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) who had in 1875 divided a more than two million franc inheritance with his priest-brother Alfred and sibling Martial was not of the Impressionists’ rank for that watershed show.

Henri Rouart (1833-1912) was of the same high social circle as his neighbor Caillebotte and one of the two signatures on the formal invitation to Caillebotte inviting him to exhibit in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. The other signatory was Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Caillebotte accepted and sent eight paintings including his famous The Floor Scrapers (Les raboteurs de parquet) that today hangs in the Museé D’Orsay.

Rejected by the Salon.

The Impressionists were not purists to their collective cause and to varying degrees many of them if reluctantly exhibited in the French government’s annual exhibition known as the Salon. Despite its attempts at modernism, the Salon remained a conservative venue and while The Floor Scrapers of 1875 was exhibited in the Impressionist show in 1876 it had been rejected by the Salon in the previous year.

Artwork called “vulgar” and “leftist.”

In addition to its subject matter and artificially enhanced perspective, The Floor Scrapers was called “vulgar” and “leftist” by critics because the painting commutes the nude—a traditional academic subject—into the Impressionist specialty of a modern life subject.

The floor scrapers in the painting are not removing old wax as might be first suspected. Their efforts show them working in a new building where they are preparing the wood by inducing its buckling with water and scraping it smooth.

Gustave Caillebotte, Raboteurs de parquets (The Floor Scrapers), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm (31.5 × 39.375 in.).

Gustave Caillebotte, Jeune homme jouant du piano (Young man Playing the Piano), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 166 cm (31.5 x 45.625 in.). Private collection.

Gustave Caillebotte, Déjeuner (Lunch), 1876, oil on canvas, 80 x 166 cm (31.5 x 45.625 in.). Private collection.

Sources: Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, 1995, Anne Distel, editor.
The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, 1986, Charles S. Moffett.