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 older half-brother and Catholic priest Alfred (1834-1896) and younger brother Martial (1853-1910 did not participate with the Impressionists in that watershed show.
Henri Rouart (1833-1912) was of the same high class circle as his neighbor Caillebotte and one of the two signatures on a formal invitation to Caillebotte inviting him to exhibit in the second Impressionist exhibition in 1876. The other signatory was Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).
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’s Dinner Invitation Leads to the Exquisite Third Impressionist Exhibition of 1877
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—specifically, 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 Saint- Honoré in Paris.
The clubby dinner idea and its invitation to artists ranging in age from 28-year-old Caillebotte to 49-year-old Pissarro was the initiative of those two arists as evidenced in a surviving letter from Caillebotte to Pissarro. In the letter, haute bourgeois Caillebotte invites sometime anarchist and socialist Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) to this smart-set gathering and shares with Pissarro an advance guest list.
Monday night dinner of Impressionists
Five of the greatest avant-garde painters of their generation joined Caillebotte and Pissarro on the next Monday night. 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 artists to set an agenda and strategy for the future of French modern painting. Their plans included a third exhibition of their so-called “new painting.” A likely agenda item was marketing for these modern artists’ first exhibition that was advertised as “Impressionist.” Such is the an ambiguous moniker of descriptive iconography and critical valuation that endured.
Modern art show on the new Paris Boulevards
Caillebotte selected the venue for the April 1877 show. It was 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. The Third Impressionist Exhibition is judged to be “the most balanced and coherent” of the eight exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886. 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 500 attendees per day.
Caillebotte sent six of his paintings to the show including his iconic Paris Street: A Rainy Day. It hangs today in The Art Institute of Chicago though in 2012 and until January 20, 2013 it was loaned out to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
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.
The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886, 1986, Charles S. Moffet.
Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist, 1995, Anne Distel, editor.