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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 hopes for picture sales was high, there was a Constitutional crisis in the French government. It 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 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 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 them. Before the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881, Caillebotte cited a managerial difference on an advertising issue and departed the Degas-led organization.

Caillebotte’s retirement from arts organization was a short one. The 32-year-old Caillebotte led the offensive for a then-retro-style vision for the next impressionist exhibition in 1882. With his emerging partner — Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) — Caillebotte promoted his vision tirelessly. But the art market that was changing in the last decade had taken a financial toll on the 51-year-old 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.

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 24 new works, including his iconic large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival). Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt stayed away from this Seventh Impressionist exhibition though Paul Gauguin was represented. 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 now and then overlaid 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. The artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, 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.

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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 though speculation put Caillebotte in the painting with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier. Rising Road (Chemin Montant) had only two owners since 1881 and 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

©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.