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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 (AIC: “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 theater? This last gallery then led directly to the ubiquitous and depressing gift shop hosting the galleries’ multitude disporting themselves basically as they did in and among the art. Hearing its timbre I wondered if a unique opportunity to view together these three Van Gogh bedroom paintings“the first time in North America”had under- or overplayed its hand? As its elemental objective had the exhibition 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? Or had the artist Van Gogh merely omitted to paint into his own scene the 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Gustave Caillebotte and the Second Impressionist Exhibition of 1876.

Featured Image: Gustave Caillebotte, Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers), 1875, oil on canvas, 102 x 146.5 cm (40.2 × 57.7 in.). It was bestowed by Caillebotte at his death in 1894 to the Musée du Luxembourg and, in 1929, transferred to the Musée du Louvre. In 1947 it was moved to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume and, in 1986, 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.

The Impressionists were not purists to their collective cause and to varying degrees many of them if reluctantly exhibited in the 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. 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.

Source: Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, 1995, Anne Distel, editor.

©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.