Clodion, The See-Saw, 1775, terracotta. Toledo Museum of Art.
Frédéric Bazille, Self-portrait, 1865-66. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Heads, Female Diety; Bodhisattva; Buddha, stucco, Afghanistan/Pakistan, before 500 C.E. The Art Institute of Chicago.
(From left) Gabriele Münter, Kirche von Reidhausen, 1908, oil on canvas board; G. Münter, Girl with Doll, 1908-09, oil on cardboard; August Macke, Geraniums Before Blue Mountain, 1911, oil on canvas. Milwaukee Art Museum.
Bill Reid, Birth of the World, Museum of Anthropology, UBC, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Mikazuki (male deity) Noh Mask, Japan, 16th century, cypress wood, colors, brass. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Aristide Maillol, Enchained Action, bronze, 1905.
Charles Collins, Still Life with Game, 1741. Private collection.
Roman Venus, Asia Minor, marble, c.165 CE. Toledo Museum of Art.
Michel Anguier, Amphitrite, 1684. Toledo Museum of Art.
The Dressing Table, William Glackens, c.1922, oil on canvas. Private collection.
Paul Manship, Dancer and Gazelles, 1916, bronze. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Charles Ray, Young Man, 2012, Solid Stainless Steel.
James C. Timbrell, Carolan the Irish Bard, c. 1844, oil on canvas. Private collection.
Gabriele Münter, Portrait Young Woman, 1909, oil on canvas; Keesvan Dongen,Quai, Venice, 1921 and Woman with Cat, 1908. Milwaukee Art Museum.
Oil jar, Greece (Athens), terracotta, 450 B.C. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Lorado Taft, Fountain of the Great Lakes, or Spirit of the Great Lakes Fountain, 1913. The Art Institute of Chicago (South Garden).
Henry Moore, Large Interior Form, bronze, 1982. The Art Institute of Chicago (North Stanley McCormick Memorial Court).
Henry Moore’s 16-foot sculpture was made when the 84-year-old British artist was concerned with the construction of three-dimensional space, internal forms within solid volumes, and placing his work in a natural setting. Moore had worked primarily in stone but shifted to modeling and bronze casting once these formal concerns emerged. Large Interior Form explores mass and void, gravity and growth within an nature-inspired artist-created form.
David Adler (January 3, 1882 – September 27, 1949) was an American architect who made major contributions in domestic architecture for mostly affluent clients in and around Chicago. Different than German-American modernist architect Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) who also practiced in Chicago around the same time, David Adler’s important work drew from the past for his architectural idioms.1 What are these artistic arrows in Adler’s quiver and what makes his work interesting and valuable today?
A great amount of his domestic buildings are still standing and mainly intact for the viewer to see and experience today. Only seven of his architectural projects have been demolished. These monuments of a gilded age attract one’s attention by their powerful presence based on their typical enormity, ornate details, and tasteful grace rooted in the classic European style. Gigantic skylights, curved staircases, ornate fanlight windows, columns, working fountains, and many other features, characterize Adler’s homes for his clients.
Based on his commissioned projects, David’s Adler’s architectural career spanned from 1911 following his return from studying in Europe (after an undergraduate career at Princeton University) until the year of his death in 1949. In 1913 he was designing and building outside of the Chicago area—specifically, a chapel and iron gates at Greenwood Cemetery in Galena, Illinois. After 1915, he was doing out-of-state projects such as the Berney house and garage in Fort Worth, Texas and the Dillingham house in Honolulu, Hawaii. Adler’s grandiose floor plans made their appearance at start of his career in 1911 and continued over 38 years in more than 200 major works, several of which he returned to in later years and updated.
His work includes mostly houses, whether complete or in alterations and additions, but also apartments, townhouses, gates and terraces, outbuildings and dependencies, clubhouses, locker rooms, bathhouses, swimming pools, cottages, commercial buildings, boardrooms, lodges, prefabricated houses, houseboats, and in 1924, a dining car for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. In the late 1940s, Adler turned to designing an altar and headstones for the social elite.2
Adler planned and built in locations throughout the United States as well as internationally including Fort Worth, Texas; Wisconsin; Minnesota; Massachusetts; New York City and State; Connecticut; Colorado; Georgia; California; Florida; the aforesaid Honolulu, Hawaii; Louisiana; Virginia; New Mexico; British Columbia; and London, England. But the vast majority of his commissions—whether he planned and built them or only planned them—are found in the American Midwest, especially in Illinois, and particularly in and around Chicago. While some Adler commissions were also planned but not constructed, only a handful of buildings have been so far razed. This translates for today’s viewer into a near complete body of Adler’s architectural work to be appreciated (although most remain in private hands).
As streamlined, monumental and functional modernist architecture made its appearance in the late nineteenth century based in part on the stylistic language of industrialization, the wealth generated in that prosperous machine age became concentrated in the hands of individuals and their families who, having begun the perennial pilgrimage of American tourists to Europe, desired to live in private residences that evoked the palatial surroundings of historical nobility.3 David Adler’s “traditionalist” work in the first half of the twentieth century was part of, and built on, the great American tradition of architects who relied on European antecedents but adapted them to contemporary American taste. Additionally, Adler’s years in Europe between 1908 and 1911, especially in France, and his return to Chicago which like other cities in the United States after 1890 experienced a Beaux-Arts (academic neoclassical) renaissance, led him to embrace traditional architectural systems and rules for his clients throughout his career.
Throughout the 1910s and 1920s Adler’s architectural practice— surprisingly he was not a licensed architect although he received an honorary license in his mid-career—encountered socioeconomic conditions in Chicago and elsewhere that benefited his early and later design success. Proliferation of his traditional work is more remarkable when viewed in the context of the modernist architectural achievements which were materializing on the landscape in the United States and Europe in those same years he practiced.4 By the end of his life Adler expressed regret that the lengthy era of the “great house” was over and he was, after the Great Depression in the 1930s, having to adapt to designing smaller-scaled projects. When Adler died unexpectedly at 67 years old in 1949, he left new commissions on the drafting table. His memorial service was held in The Art Institute of Chicago where Adler had been a board member for almost twenty five years and he was buried in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.
The Country Houses of David Adler, Stephan M. Salny, Introduction by Franz Schulze, W.W. Norton & Company, New York and London, 2001. p. 9.
Ibid., pp.193- 203.
Ibid., p. 10; see We’ll Always Have Paris, American Tourists in France since 1930, Harvey Levenstein, The University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Charter Club, Princeton, New Jersey, 1903. Razed in 1913.
Mrs. and Mrs. Charles A. Stonehill, Glencoe, Illinois, 1911. Louis XIII style. Alterations, 1930. Razed, 1960s.
Mrs. and Mrs. Ralph H. Poole, Lake Bluff, Illinois, 1912. Louis-XV style. Stands.
Mrs. and Mrs. Charles B. Pike, 955 Lake Road, Lake Forest, Illinois. Built in 1916 in the Italian Villa style. Building stands.
The house at 955 Lake Road in Lake Forest, Illinois, sits on Lake Michigan and is designed in the Italian villa style. Built in 1916 for Charles and Frances Pike, the 21-room house possesses one of Adler’s most successful outdoor spaces – the entrance Courtyard. Creating paths using paving beach stones with embedded designs, this outdoor garden was encapsulated on four sides by the back wall of the house (the main entrance which faces the road) as well the Kitchen, classically-proportioned Entrance Loggia and fifty-foot-long Gallery. The Courtyard was further integrated with the interior space where one enters the house’s main rooms from the Entrance Loggia into the Vestibule (with Adler’s masterful treatment of pediments and coffered ceiling) or by way of one of three sets of French doors with pilaster-supported archways into the vaulted Gallery.
In addition to the Vestibule and Gallery with its airy fifteen foot-tall ceilings, the interior first-floor plan of the Pike house contained the Living Room, Dining Room and East Loggia. Each of these main rooms was oriented to the balustraded landings of two staircases which led to an expansive sunken garden and towards Lake Michigan. The second floor of the Pike house contained bedrooms.
Mrs. and Mrs. Alfred E. Hamill, Lake Forest, Illinois. Built by Henry Dangler in 1914 in the Italian style and renovated by David Adler in 1917. Building stands.
N.B. At this blog post’s publishing in July 2016, Aristide Maillol’s Enchained Action — a torso cast in bronze and created in 1905 in France — enjoyed a lengthy though indeterminate time on the Women’s Board Grand Staircase at the Chicago art museum. In 2017 the torso was removed by museum curators and placed in an undisclosed location out of public view. At this writing, it has been replaced by Richard Hunt’s Hero Construction (1958).
Text and photographs by John P. Walsh.
In September 2016 the Musée Maillol re-opens in Paris following its unfortunate closure due to poor finances earlier in the year. Under the new management team of M. Olivier Lorquin, president of the Maillol Museum, and M. Bruno Monnier, chairman of Culturespaces, the museum’s new schedule calls for two major exhibitions each year which will look to honor the modernist legacy of the artist, Aristide Maillol (French, 1861-1944) and the museum’s founder, Maillol’s muse, Dina Vierny (1919-2009).
This photographic essay called “Encountering Maillol” is constituted by 34 photographs taken by the author in The Art Institute of Chicago from 2013 to 2016 of the artistically splendid and historically notable sculpture Enchained Action by Maillol and random museum patrons’ reactions when viewing it. The impressive bronze female nude from 1905 stands almost four feet tall atop a plain pedestal which greets every visitor who ascends the Grand Staircase from the Michigan Avenue entrance. Enchained Action is one of Maillol’s earliest modernist sculptures and is doubtless filled by a dynamism not encountered anywhere else in his oeuvre.1
Modelled in France in 1905 by a 44-year-old Maillol who by 1900 had abandoned Impressionist painting for sculpture (first in wood, then in bronze) Enchained Action is one of the artist’s most impressive early sculptures. From the start of his sculptural work around 1898 until his death in 1944, the female body, chaste but sensual, is Maillol’s central theme. What can be seen in Enchained Action expresses the intensity in his early sculptural work which is not found later on—particularly the artist’s natural dialogue among his experimental works in terracotta, lead, and bronze each of which is marked by an attitude of robust energy expressed in classical restraint and modernist simplicity. Enchained Action exhibits Maillol’s early facility for perfection of form within a forceful tactile expression which deeply impressed his first admirers such as Maurice Denis (1870-1943), Octave Mirbeau (1848-1917) and André Gide (1869-1951) and cannot fail to impress the museum goer today.2 By force of this new work in the first decade of the twentieth century, Maillol started on the path of becoming an alternative to and, dissonant heir of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).3
Maillol’s early sculptural work is important for what it is—and is not. Modeled around three years after he completed his first version of La Méditerranée in 1902 in terracotta and for which his wife posed—a major modernist achievement of a seated woman in an attitude of concentration—and whose radically revised second version was exhibited at the 1905 Salon d’Automne, Enchained Action forms part of Maillol’s revolution for sculpture starting around 1900. Maillol made a radical break with neoclassicism and stifling academicism with its strange blend of realism and mythological forms—and with a rising generation of young sculptors such as Joseph Bernard (1866-1931), Charles Despiau (1874-1946) and Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929)—blazed a new path for sculpture. Except for Maillol, all these young sculptors worked in menial jobs for Rodin. Because of Maillol’s chosen artistic distance from Rodin’s work, Maillol did not need to react to it and so rapidly achieved his own new style as soon as 1905, the year of Enchained Action.
Maillol’s concept and primary approach to the beauty of the human body was to simplify and subdue forms. This pursuit began in early 1900 and advanced until the artist’s first time outside France on his trip to Greece in 1908 with Count Kessler (1868-1937). An important early sculpture—Recumbent Nude, 1900—was cast with the help of his lifelong friend Henri Matisse (1869-1954). This friendship had ramifications for the Art Institute’s Enchained Action in that it was purchased from Henri Matisse’s son, art dealer Pierre Matisse in 1955 right after his father’s death. While it would prove quaint for The Art Institute of Chicago to install Maillol’s limbless torso of Enchained Action on The Grand Staircase to pay homage or evoke the Louvre’s Winged Victory or Venus de Milo, it is historically significant so to embody Maillol’s artistic outlook in 1905 for his new sculpture, of which Enchained Action is an example. In the years between 1900 and 1908, Maillol searched beyond realism and naturalism to create sculpture with an abstract anatomical structure that jettisoned the sign language of physical gestures which are emotional and where limbs could be problematic for Maillol’s end design. The human torso of Enchained Action foregoes limbs and head to alone embody and convey the artist’s import for it.4
On The Art Institute of Chicago’s Grand Staircase Enchained Action displays Maillol’s sensitive surface modeling capturing human flesh’s animation and sensual power more than its suppleness as found in Italian masters such as Bernini –such difference serves Maillol’s purpose for his subject matter. The torso is differently pliant—toned, muscular, and strident. It displays the humana ex machina whose stance and posture express the modern hero’s defiance and whose nakedness retains the beauty uniquely imbued in the female human body. Enchained Action is a different work altogether than every work Maillol modeled and cast up to 1905. His art progresses in experimentation by its direct interface with politics. Enchained Action is not only an artwork but a political artwork where Maillol empowers both spheres. For today’s viewer who reacts to nudity in art with the shame of eroticism, they may see (or avoid seeing) its sprightly breasts, taut stomach, and large buttocks of Enchained Action only in that mode. The museum limits such visitors to this narrow viewpoint because they do not explain to them Maillol’s artful technique, conceptual artistic revolution by 1905, or unique political and socioeconomic purpose for this imposing artwork in plain view.
With an aesthetic interest established for Enchained Action—for it signals a break with the artistic past and the birth of modern sculpture in its abstraction – a question is posed: what are the political and socioeconomic purposes for this work? Its original and full title reveals a radical social implication: Torso of the Monument to Blanqui ([En] Chained Action). Abbreviated titles—and such appear at The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Torso of Chained Action) and in the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris (L’Action enchaînée)—neatly avoids or even voids the sculpture’s original radical social message. Maillol’s Enchained Action is dedicated it to the French socialist revolutionary Louis Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881).
In 1905 Maillol’s Enchained Action was a public monument honoring the centenary of Blanqui’s birth and consolidation of the French socialist movement that same year into the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO), a single leftist political party that was replaced by the current Socialist Party (PS) in 1969. Given this background a visitor may simply stare at or bypass the torso but perhaps for reasons of politics rather than eroticism. The title omission—first promoted by André Malraux in 1964 for the Tuileries’ copy—does disservice to Maillol’s accomplishment and its full title should be restored. The Metropolitan has an incomplete title but on thee label includes information on Blanqui and clearly states their version was cast in 1929. The Art Institute of Chicago’s casting date for the torso is obscure. For a better appreciation of the artwork, familiarity with its social and political historical context is important to locate the intended nature of the energy expressed in it. Torso of the Monument to Blanqui ([En] Chained Action) is a figure study of a strident naked female torso and an expression of radical politics in France at the turn of the last century.
By 1905 Maillol’s new sculptural work attracted important collectors. Rodin introduced Maillol that year to Count Kessler at the Paris gallery of Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) and to other progressive writers, art critics, and painters. Maillol’s work was a new art form for a new century. It was in 1905 that Paris friends, among them Anatole France (1844-1924), Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929), Gustave Geffroy (1855-1926), Jean Jaurès (1859-1914) and Octave Mirbeau, approached Maillol to persuade the avant-garde artist to accept a commission for the politically sectarian Blanqui monument. It would be a tribute très moderne to a fierce socialist revolutionary but and the entire Blanqui family tradition which had voted to guillotine Louis XVI in the French Revolution and plotted against each ruling regime in France afterwards. Immense confidence was placed in Maillol by these bold turn-of-the-century intelligentsia and by the artist himself who came from a generation that came to believe they were the torchbearers of a new art.
In France public opinion was frequently divided on art matters. When Rodin agreed to Maillol’s commission—he wanted Camille Claudel to do it, but she had become seriously psychotic by 1905—the older sculptor admired and purchased Maillol’s new sculpture—in addition to experiencing his own deep familiarity with the vagaries of creating public monuments. Committee members, by and large left-wing sympathizers, made a favorable impression on Maillol who agreed to do the work. On July 10, 1905, Maillol promised Georges Clemenceau, “I’ll make you a nice big woman’s ass and I’ll call it Liberty in Chains.”5 After that, Maillol’s new sculpture—a symbolic monument to a political revolutionary erected in October 1908 under protest of town leaders on the main square of Blanqui’s native village of Puget-Théniers in the south of France—became the subject of unending intense scrutiny. How to respond to a large and powerful standing figure, tense and in motion where human struggling is borne to the edge of absorbing mute serenity by restraint of chains symbolizing Blanqui’s thirty years in jails by successive French governments?6 In the first ten days of working on the new commission, Maillol made three small sketches and two maquettes of an armless torso followed by other preliminary work. He finished a final clay version in 1905 whose contemplative intimacy reflected socialist Jean Jaurès’sagenda for political life: “We are inclined to neglect the search for the real meaning of life, to ignore the real goals—serenity of the spirit and sublimity of the heart … To reach them—that is the revolution.”7 Sixty-five-year-old Rodin whose critical judgment of the new sculpture which undertook to streamline art forms to the point of austerity against Rodin’s “monstrous subjects, filled with pathos” remarked tersely on Enchained Action.8 Although Maillol saw this public monument as more reliant than ever on Rodin’s concepts, M. Rodin after seeing it was reported to ambiguously mutter: “It needs looking at again.”9
It may be better to judge Enchained Action inside its historical moment. Former Metropolitan curator Preston Remington (1897-1958) praised his museum’s copy of the torso calling it “splendid” and “impeccable” in its observation of the human form. Yet he concludes that it is “essentially typical” of the sculptor for it “transcends the realm of visual reality.”10Enchained Action displays none of the delicacy, awkwardness, luminosity, or calm of the artist’s earlier sculptures and predates major developments in Maillol’s oeuvre after 1909 which differs extensively from that of Enchained Action11 and for which is based much of the artist’s legacy, even by 1929 when Remington is writing. Is it fair to identify Enchained Action as “essentially typical” even as it sublimates form? Viewed in 1905—a watershed year for modern art, including an exhibition of Henri-Matisse’s first Fauvist canvases at the Salon des Indépendents and at the Salon d’Automne—Enchained Action became that year Maillol’s largest sculptural statement to date. The commission, while relying on Rodin’s concepts in its depiction of strenuous physical activity—a quality Preston Remington recognized as “exceptional” in the torso and yet as a critical judgment ambiguous as to whether it refers to Maillol’s reliance on Rodin—afforded Maillol further confidence to execute his monumental art after 1905 for which today he is famous. While for Mr. Remington the representative quality of Enchained Action was what he sought for a museum collection, its exceptional qualities in values that are literally not “essentially typical” for the sculptor.
The complete final figure of Monument to Blanqui([En] Chained Action)—and not only the torso that is displayed on the Grand Staircase of The Art Institute of Chicago—depicts a mighty and heroic woman struggling to free herself from chains binding her hands from behind. Both of these “complete” versions are in Paris and found in the Jardin des Tuileries and in the Musée Cognacq-Jay. Maillol’s later studies for Enchained Action commenced without its head and legs that expressed a heightened anatomical intensity in place of Rodin-like strife.12 Chicago and New York each have a bronze replica of the torso. The Tate Britain has one in lead. Following the Great War, Maillol’s Monument to Blanqui ([En] Chained Action) standing for 14 years in Puget-Théniers’ town square was taken down in 1922 so to erect a monument aux morts. During World War II fearing that the extant original sculpture would be melted down for Nazi bullets, Henri Matisse purchased it from Puget-Théniers and gave it to the city of Nice. The original bronze was saved and now stands in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris.13
Dynamism not anywhere else in his oeuvre – “Maillol/Derré,” Sidney Geist, Art Journal, v.36, n.1 (Autumn 1976), p.14.
Sketches, maquettes, final version – Lorquin, p. 57-58.; Jaurès quoted in Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920, James T. Kloppenberg, Oxford University Press, New York & Oxford, 1986, p. 297.
“A Newly Acquired Sculpture by Maillol,” Preston Remington, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 11, Part 1 (Nov., 1929), pp. 280-283.
Such works as Night (1909), Flora and Summer (1911), Ile de France (1910–25), Venus (1918–28), Nymphs of the Meadow (1930–37), Memorial to Debussy (marble, 1930–33; Saint-Germain-en-Laye) and Harmony (1944) which are composed, harmonious, and monumental nude female figures often labeled “silent” by critics.
Enchained Action was first modeled with arms. The story of how the first limbless final version came about involving Henri Matisse – see Lorquin, p.58.
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 strategies—were 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. 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.
Van Gogh Museum Amsterdam, October 1888. 72.4 x 91.3 cm.
Chicago, 1889. 72.4 x 91.3 cm. The version Van Gogh first painted in the asylum at St. Rémy.
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 works—and minus the Disney World trappings—might 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 mad—he mutilated his ear in this bedroom in December 1888—he 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 theatricality—although 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?
This pleasant if heavily-restored late 16th century allegorical paintingin the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago is now called “Allegory of Venus and Cupid” and dated to around 1600. Attributed to an “imitator” of Titian it remains today in museum storage (“Not on Display”). When this same painting was “rediscovered” around 1930 it was hailed as a Titian masterpiece and over the next 15 years was talked of that way in the general press and in some quarters of the art press. It delighted crowds who came to see it hang on the walls of The Art Institute of Chicago and The Cleveland Museum of Art. Called then “The Education of Cupid” and dated to the 1550s, it was compared favorably with Titian’s famous allegorical subject paintings in Paris’s Louvre and in Rome’s Galleria Borghese. The painting, through the Great Depression and World War II, was labeled “Titian,” but among expert connoisseurs there existed a longstanding dismissal of that high attribution ever since its first known “resurfacing” in the mid1830s in Scotland at Gosford House.
In Italian his name is Tiziano Vecellio, but he is famously known in English as Titian (1485-1576). He was part of a family of artists who, previously in the 13th and 14th centuries in Italy, had been civic leaders such as mayors, magistrates, and notaries. Offspring of two Vecellio brothers in the 15th century became artists. One of those brothers was ambassador to Venice and his grandsons became Venetian-trained painters (the family had a timber trade there). The younger grandson was the great Titian. Titian became the leading painter in Venice and an influential artist throughout 16th century Italy. His cousin Cesare Vecellio trained in Titian’s workshop and in spite of the fact that other Vecellio cousins and their sons became artists and were allowed to use the appellation “di Tiziano” which turned some heads – they, along with later followers of Titian, are now considered artistic mediocrities.
Today the painter of the Art Institute of Chicago’s allegory entitled “Allegory of Venus and Cupid” is only identified as an “imitator” of Titian. Its allegorical motifs share similarities with Titian’s and this is perhaps partly why this Old Master by an unknown follower of Titian was mistaken for the master himself when it resurfaced on the art market in 1927. Called then “The Education of Cupid” and dated to the 1550s, it traded back and forth to the dealer for almost a decade until it was bought in 1936 by a well-connected Chicago couple who collected 16th century Venetian paintings. The “Wemyss ‘Allegory’” (named for its former British owner, Lord Wemyss) came to Chicago out of what amounted to be a Scottish attic. It gained ready acclaim as a rediscovered Titian and since its subject was reminiscent of Titian’s “Allegory of Marriage” (1533) in the Louvre and a Titian subject allegory in the Galleria Borghese, the Wemyss “Allegory” in Chicago was hailed as completing a triumvirate of Titian’s greatest allegorical compositions. The problem was that the Chicago Titian was not a Titian at all – although it took about 10 years for that fact to gain modern acceptance. After the purchase, the new owners immediately lent their Titian to The Art Institute to mount on its gallery walls next to the collector couple’s Tintoretto, Veronese, and G.-B. Moroni. The museum eventually acquired the Wemyss “Allegory” in 1943, but not before it toured The Cleveland Museum of Art during their “Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition” in 1936 and was viewed with enthusiasm as a Titian. The collector purchase and subsequent loan to the Art Institute was front page news in Chicago. The director of the museum at the time, Robert Harshe, compared the work in importance to only two others in the Art Institute at that time – El Greco’s “Assumption of the Virgin” (1577-79) and Rembrandt’s “Girl at the Open Half Door” (1645).
Soon after its acquisition by The Art Institute the Titian attribution was loudly critiqued in print and eventually dropped. The subject of the painting is of a girl who appears before Venus to be initiated into the mysteries of Love. At the girl’s right are Venus and the boy Cupid with an arrow. In the background one satyr raises a basket with two doves and another satyr raises a bundle of fruit. Allegories were popular in Italian Renaissance art to convey various social, political, economic and religious messages using historical and mythological figures. However, this painting’s figures appear to be derivative of specific Titian works. Further, it possesses little of the technical brilliance or psychological revelations found in Titian’s work such as in “Triple Mask or Allegory of Prudence” (c. 1570, London, National Gallery). For instance, Titian’s imitator gives the figure of the girl the same dramatic hand gesture found in Titian’s “Venus with a Mirror” (c. 1555, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. ) or, even earlier, “The Penitent Magdalene” (1531-33, Florence, Palazzo Pitti) insofar as the girl’s skyward gaze and flowing hair. What most connoisseurs recognized by 1945 – in addition to the painting’s derivative character of well-known Titian works – was what they called its “very modern” execution – precisely, its sharp color contrasts and figurative forms that only developed after Titian’s time. Connoisseurs further noted that Titian always differentiated sharply between hair and ornament and that his female figures’ hair is neatly braided – whereas in the Wemyss “Allegory” the hair is “in a mass.” Characteristics such as these pointed to the picture being less related to authentic Titians in Paris and Rome and more to ones attributed dubiously, even spuriously, to Titian in Munich and at the Durazzo Palace in Genoa. Yet this inauthenticity of Chicago’s Wemyss “Allegory” could have been questioned right at the start of its Chicago appearance in 1936 if the museum adhered more closely to the historical connoisseurship.
Sir Joseph Archer Crowe (British, 1825-1896) and Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle (Italian, 1819-1897) had seen all three of the spuriously attributed Titians in Munich, Genoa, and, at the time, Gosford House which was now in Chicago. It was well known the pair excluded all three from their Titian catalog except to note that they were imitations which had been notably damaged and restored. Chicago museum research in the late 1930s was also aware of Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s attributive work for they cited them in official publications on the Wemyss “Allegory,” but they overlooked their conclusions. With the museum’s acquisition of the Wemyss “Allegory” in 1943 Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s negative attribution for it was no longer ignored or denied. About its reworking in England one tempting and likely wishful speculation was that the Wemyss “Allegory” was restored by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) but that claim is unsubstantiated. Further facts contextualized in the deft historical hands of modern connoisseurship left the Wemyss “Allegory” out in the Titianesque cold as an imitator. In the case of the Chicago painting it was by historical comparison with compositional arrangements in known Titians that the compositional arrangements in the Munich and Chicago paintings were deemed by Crowe and Cavalcaselle to be done by imitators. Historically for Titian it would be nonsensical or “unique” for Titian to have manipulated the figures in that way at that time. By the mid1940s the Chicago painting was searching for a new name attribution, although Crowe and Cavalcaselle did not give it one. The notion that it was done by Damiano Mazza, an obscure 16th century artist and student of Titian, was proposed but later dismissed.
Some of the confusion over the attribution to Titian of the Wemyss “Allegory” is based on erring connections made using erring extant evidence. For example, the conjecture of Vienna School-trained art historian of Venetian art Hans Tietze (Czech, 1880-1954) that a sketch by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) which Tietze wrongly believed was made at Chatsworth House of a painting once attributed to Titian was a sketch that shared similar motifs with the Wemyss “Allegory” is his thin thread for possible attribution to Titian. It can be argued that the Wemyss “Allegory” shares very little with the Van Dyck sketch except for the satyr lifting a basket and, further, the painting in question which Van Dyck sketched is no longer attributed to Titian and remains in the Galleria Borghese as a minor “Venus and Cupid with Satyr Carrying a Basket with Fruit” attributed to Paolo Veronese. It is in Rome where Van Dyck must have made his sketch, not England, and it was there he mislabeled it as Titian – and this misleading evidence became the key to prompt a connoisseur’s train of thought.
One persuasive conclusion on attribution today for the Wemyss “Allegory” was offered by Hans Tietze’s wife, the historian of renaissance and baroque art, Erika Tietze-Conrat (1883-1958). She believed that the Art Institute painting resides in a pool of works done by assistants and imitators who combined varied elements of Titian’s allegories as found in the Louvre’s “Allegory of d’Avalos” (the aforementioned “Allegory of Marriage”) and the Borghese’s “Education of Cupid.” Those known Titians were purported by Erwin Panofsky (German, 1892-1968) to be nuptial paintings – and Tietze-Conrat postulates that numerous reproductions were made by these followers so to create nuptial paintings for their patrons to suit their needs. The derivative works shared the intimacy of a private format with a recognizable cast of 16th century depictions of mythological actors and the evocation of a Titianesque mood. Today the Art Institute of Chicago has renamed their Wemyss “Allegory” as “Allegory of Venus and Cupid,” dated it to “around 1600,” and removed Titian and every other named attribution. Attribution has been returned to the term that connoisseurs Crowe and Cavalcaselle gave the painting in 1881 – that is, “imitator.” “The execution here is very modern,” the pair wrote in their Life and Times of Titian that year, “It is greatly injured, but was apparently executed by some imitator of Titian.”
“ready acclaim as a rediscovered Titian…”; “lent their Titian to The Art Institute to mount……”; “Cleveland… ‘Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition’ in 1936…” – “A Great Titian,” Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago (1907-1951) Vol. 31, No. 1 (Jan., 1937), p. 8; “Famed Titian Work Acquired by Chicagoans,” Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1936, p. 28; “The Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Worcester Gift,” Daniel Catton Rich, Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Mar., 1930), pp. 29-31 and 40. The Chicago collectors were Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Worcester, a museum Vice-President and lumber and paper manufacturer.
“…director of the museum… compared the work in importance to El Greco’s ‘Assumption of the Virgin’ and Rembrandt’s ‘Girl at the Open Half Door’” – “Famed Titian Work Acquired by Chicagoans,” Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1936, p. 28.
“little of the technical brilliance or psychological revelations found in…Triple Mask…” – H. E. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian: Complete Edition, vol. 2, The Portraits, Phaidon, New York, p. 50.
“its ‘very modern’ execution”; “in a mass” – The Wemyss Allegory in the Art Institute of Chicago, E. Tietze-Conrat. The Art Bulletin Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1945), p. 269.
“It was widely known the pair excluded all three from their Titian catalog…” – “A Great Titian Goes to Chicago,” Art News 35, 5 (1936), p.15 (ill.).
“Chicago museum research in the late 1930s was aware of Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s attributive work… overlooked their conclusions…” – Footnote #4, The Wemyss Allegory in the Art Institute of Chicago, E. Tietze-Conrat. The Art Bulletin Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1945), p. 269.
“…restored by Sir Joshua Reynolds…” – The Wemyss Allegory in the Art Institute of Chicago, E. Tietze-Conrat. The Art Bulletin Vol. 27, No. 4 (Dec., 1945), p. 269.
“done by Damiano Mazza…” Ibid., p. 270.
Conjecture of Hans Tietze; Erika Tietze-Conrat’s postulation – Ibid., p. 271.
“the execution here is very modern… It is greatly injured, but was apparently executed by some imitator of Titian.” – Crowe and Cavalcaselle, Life and Times of Titian, London, 1881, II, p. 468.
Picasso and Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, February 20 – May 12, 2013.
Text and photographs by John P. Walsh.
The links between this art exhibition called Picasso and Chicago going on from February 20 to May 12, 2013 at The Art Institute of Chicago and the artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) as well as the centenary of the landmark 1913 Armory Show is often tenuous. From virtually the beginning of his artistic practice, bragging rights on Picasso have come to the Catalan artist. Forty years after the artist’s death at 91 years old, the media talk in 2013 revolves around American collector “firsts” associated with Picasso.
Which institution collected Picasso first? (The Art Institute of Chicago in 1923.) Which institution collected Picasso most? (The Chicago Renaissance Society by 1930.) Which institution had the first Picasso exhibition? (The Arts Club of Chicago in 1923.) Which institution first had a Picasso retrospective? (The Wadsworth Atheneumin Hartford, Connecticut in 1934.)
The Art Institute of Chicago is able to put imagination aside and quote itself in Picasso and Chicago. Nearly all of the same inventory of Picasso artwork in this 2013 show were assembled and displayed in the exact same order in a previous exhibition at the museum called Picasso in Chicago held from February 3 to March 31, 1968. According to the museum director writing at that time, that exhibition had been inspired by the dedication of the Picasso sculpture on August 15, 1967, and which remains a Chicago icon today standing five stories tall in Daley Plaza. If attention is what Pablo craves, he has no worries.
Pablo Picasso, The Two Saltimbanques, 1905, printed and published 1913. The Art Institute of Chicago. Drypoint on ivory wove paper 120 x 91 mm (image/plate); 193 x 129 mm (sheet)
There are several good things about Picasso and Chicago although it doesn’t always revolve around his art. It is satisfying to know that Chicago possesses these rich resources to showcase a chronological and comprehensive Picasso show within its own collections. In these tight economic times there is a certain kudos owed to major museum curators who recognize how it can effectively display its own and nearby institutions’ holdings to produce another blockbuster show. The chronological exhibition of Chicago’s Picasso collection—and that includes works from The Art Institute of Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago and The Renaissance Society—is front loaded providing for immediate pleasures. The visitor is greeted nearly at the door by The Old Guitarist painted by Picasso in 1903-1904—a revered Blue-period painting in the Art Institute—and for the viewer to be edified by its presence is worth any exhibition’s admission price though there was no special exhibition fee beyond the price of general admission to the museum.
Does a front-loaded show spell overall superficiality? The answer is: yes and no. For any future Picasso show curators should find every possibility — as I am doing already for this review — to whittle away at the volume of artwork on display for Picasso and Chicago to present its interesting parts. It is precisely the show’s downsizing opportunity that intimates its shortcoming: by displaying some of the Spanish master’s later increasingly commercial and less compelling artwork produced during a lengthy and prosperous career, the Art Institute of Chicago’s holdings of 500 Picasso works in every medium begin to reveal the challenges of building a successfully qualitative collection of contemporary art even when the artist is Picasso.
Picasso, Sketch of a Young Woman (detail), pen and brush and black ink on paper, Paris 1904, gift of Robert Allerton, 1924, The Art Institute of Chicago. Allerton, a museum trustee since 1918, began in 1923 to acquire Picasso drawings with the sole purpose of donate them to the museum. Sketch of a young woman was Allerton’s first Picasso drawing purchase and museum donation in 1923. It was purchased in Chicago from Albert Roullier Galleries.
When Chicago in the 1920’s began its Picasso-buying frenzy another young Spanish painter twelve years younger than Picasso arrived into Paris and was immediately overtly critical of the great Picasso’s work at that time. That younger painter was Joan Miró (1893-1983) and his criticism of Picasso (more a kind of disgust)—as well as of Henri Matisse (1869-1954)—was that the pair were making all their art for their dealer. In other words, they were making art primarily for a paycheck. Such may be the inherent risk in making contemporary art that meets a market demand: the artist is tempted, after a fashion, to sell-out. Miró knew at first look—and history has proven him basically correct—that the future of contemporary painting did not rest with Picasso after about 1920. This is partly the reason why Miró turned to the “nonsense” art of the Dadaists for the future of his own painting. Keeping Miro’s judgment in the back of one’s mind at Picasso and Chicago one can see that with some notable exceptions an earlier Picasso painting—that is, from the Blue Period after 1901 to Picasso’s period of synthetic cubism until around 1920—offers cohesive artwork that contains a germ or seed of progress. The art collection in Picasso and Chicago, much of it produced following Miró’s critical judgment of Picasso, shares his problematic.
“Nessus and Deianira,” September 22, 1920, Graphite on tan wove paper, prepared with a white ground ,signed recto, upper left, in pen and blue ink: “Picasso” (underlined); inscribed upper left, in graphite: “22-9-20.” Just before leaving Paris in September 1920, Picasso made a series of drawings of the Greek myth of the abduction of Hercule’s bride Deianira by the centaur Nessus. Following this, Picasso became fascinated with Greek mythology to continue to make artwork using its themes.
Picasso, Head of a Woman, summer 1909, Oil on canvas 23 3/4 x 20 1/8 in. (60.3 x 51.1 cm), Winterbotham Collection, 1940. This painting dates to one of the most productive and inventive periods of Pablo Picasso’s career, a stay in the town of Horta de Ebro in Spain from May to September 1909. In these spring and summer months, Picasso produced artworks that rank as some of the earliest achievements of Cubism. Fernande Olivier (French, 1881-1966), Picasso’s mistress at this time, was the model for the series of heads that the artist produced.
Picasso, Head of a Woman (Fernande), fall 1909, bronze, 16 1/8 x 9 7/8 x 10 9/16 in. (40.7 x 20.1 x 26.9 cm), cast 1910, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949. This work is Pablo Picasso’s first large Cubist sculpture and represents the distinctive physiognomy of Fernande Olivier, who was the artist’s model and mistress from 1905 until 1912. Before making the bust, Picasso produced countless drawings and gouaches to explore the specific form and structure of his subject’s facial features – her hair in a coil and a topknot; a bulging jaw; a well-fined depression in the center of her upper lip. The Art Institute of Chicago. The Fernande series’ evolved from the agility of facial expression to its individual features that became fixed signs.
Picasso, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, autumn 1910, Oil on canvas, 39 9/16 x 28 9/16 in. (100.4 x 72.4 cm) Gift of Mrs. Gilbert W. Chapman in memory of Charles B. Goodspeed, 1948. The Art Institute of Chicago. German-born Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979) opened an art gallery in Paris in 1907. The next year he began representing Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and introduced him to Georges Braque (1882-1963). Kahnweiler championed these artists’ revolutionary experiment with Cubism and purchased most of their paintings between 1908 and 1915. Kahnweiler sat for Picasso up to thirty times for this portrait.
Picasso, Head of Harlequin, 1916, The Art Institute of Chicago.
The Red Armchair of 1931 is hung at what is about the show’s halfway point. At this point, I might have exited. Yet where Miró’s critical judgment lags for me is that Picasso’s art is never incompetent or boring. His art is perceptibly linear and, despite its erotic themes, often contains qualities which satisfy and cleanse a critical eye. Picasso’s art is ever ancient and ever new, and distinctly European. For me, seeing a Picasso connotes a stroll in Paris or feeling a sunburn on the face after revelry and reverie along the Mediterranean coast. Quite readily the show produced these kinds of vicarious experiences as one soaked up a plethora of Picasso’s later, lesser work in utilitarian Regenstein Hall.
There are 250 items on display in Picasso and Chicago—and includes paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics— which begin to manifest Pablo Picasso’s profligate artistic genius. Picasso and Chicago may have closed, but these works in Chicago’s various cultural institutions and private collections can still often be savored with the simplicity of a museum visit. A visitor may do no better than to start with a beeline to The Art Institute of Chicago to see Picasso’s The Old Guitarist and The Red Armchair and begin one’s own new absorption and critique of the Spanish master’s work whose home is in Chicago.
The Red Armchair, December 16, 1931
Detail of “The Red Armchair,” December 16, 1931; oil and ripolin on panel; signed, u.r.: “Picasso”; The Art Institute of Chicago.
Picasso, Head of Woman (Dora Maar), Paris, April 1, 1939, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm. Private collection. Maar met Picasso in 1936 at the Café des Deux Magots in Paris. Her liaison with Picasso ended in 1943.
Picasso, Large vase with dancers, Vallauris, 1950, red earthenware clay, ground painted in white engobe, 71.2 cm. Crown 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.
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.
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,