The Story of French Impressionism, Part X: Paul Gauguin

Paul Gaugin (1848-1903) (pronounced “go-gan”) was born during a tumultuous political epoch of revolutionary upheaval throughout Europe. His mother descended from both Spanish aristocracy, as well as socialist revolutionaries, while Gauguin’s father ran a Socialist newspaper that was suppressed forcing the young family to flee Paris. Young Paul idolized his grandmother on his mother’s side, who was abused by her husband and fled for Peru where she wrote travelogues of her journeys. Gauguin kept these travelogues as inspiration.

In 1850, the young Gauguin family fled Paris for Peru, however Gauguin’s father died of a heart attack en route, leaving Gauguin’s mother alone in a foreign country with the young children. Luckily, her distant family members were part of the ruling party in Peru, so the family lived on a lavish estate with servants, until the age of 6 for Gauguin, when their power was toppled. Thus, once again they fled, this time back to Paris.

In Paris, he attended private school and even went to serve in the navy for two years. His mother died while he was away in India. He returned to Paris and became a successful stockbroker, as well as an art dealer. Here, he met Pissarro and Cézanne, among others in the Impressionist circle. In 1873, he married and had five children. They lived for a time in Denmark, however his wife was more successful as a translator for French diplomats, and eventually Gauguin decided to pursue painting full-time, so he completely separated from his wife and her family. Their last contact was in 1891. She began only communicating to Gaugin through a mutual friend, thus making his betrayal known to friends. In 1882, the Paris stock exchange experienced a significant crash, causing Gauguin to pursue painting. Later, when Gauguin received a modest inheritance, he refused to give any meaningful amount to his wife and family.

The Market Gardens of Vaugirard (1879) -notice how many of his early works mirror those of the other great Impressionists.

Winter Landscape (1879)

Garden in Vaugirard (Painter’s Family in the Garden in Rue Carcel) (1881)

He exhibited at several of the famous Impressionist exhibits in Paris. His works have been ascribed all sorts of “isms” such as “Post-Impressionist” or “Primitivism.” He later spent some time traveling through Martinique and the Caribbean, disilusioned with Western colonialism and materialism. Several of his paintings during this period were purchased by Theo van Gogh, the art dealing brother of Vincent van Gogh. The paintings were seen by Vincent van Gogh, and the two developed a fond relationship. They even went to paint together in 1888 in Arles, however the fought bitterly, and even one night van Gogh famously cut his ear with a razor and presented it to a woman at a brothel for remembrance. The next day, van Gogh was hospitalized and Gauguin left to go home. He had a longer lasting, and more meaningful relationship with Degas.

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The Yellow Christ (1889) -one of Gauguin’s most famous, folk-inspired paintings. It depicts ordinary people in 18th century France in Pont-Aven around a portrayal of a crucified Jesus Christ.

Paul Gauguin (Man in a Red Beret) (1888) By: Vincent van Gogh

Gauguin traveled to Tahiti (Polynesia) in later life, eventually returning to Paris but continuing to paint Tahitian subjects, until he returned again to Tahiti, though frustrated by French colonialism on the island. He was always living on the edge of despair as his financial situation was precarious, though he lived comfortably. He took in a mistress, Pahura, a Tai. They had two children together (one who died in infancy) but Gauguin also abandoned this family, as well. He moved around the islands, partying, and he even lived in the upper floor of a Catholic missionary Bishop’s house at one point, decorating his walls with a pornographic collection.

Here are a few of his paintings from his time Polynesia:

Vahine no te tiare (Woman with a Flower) (1891)

Te aa no areois (The Seed of the Areoi) (1892)

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897-1898) -Gauguin indicated the painting should be read from right to left. It is considered one of his masterpieces, along with the “Yellow Christ.”

Self-Portrait with Halo and Snake (1889) -one of many self-portraits during his lifetime.

Paul Gauguin 1891.pngGauguin photographed in 1891

His health started failing him, likely due to syphilis. He had a child with another native woman, who then left him to raise the child sensibly with her family. He started writing as well as painting, and got into many squabbles with the Catholic Church. Shortly after finishing his autobiography, he died suddenly in 1903 at his house in the Marquesas islands.

The Story of French Impressionism, Part IX: Gustave Caillebotte

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) -pronounced “kye-bott”- was descended from a wealthy military textile family in Paris. His family owned a home in Paris and later bought a larger home south of Paris, as well.

Gustave Caillebotte photo c1878.jpgPhotograph of Caillebotte circa 1878

Caillebotte studied law, and he was also drafted to serve in the armed forces during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Upon his return to Paris he started hanging around the art studios. He attended, but did not participate in the famous first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, but he did showcase his work at the second exhibit, where he displayed one of his early masterpieces, “The Floor Scrapers” (pictured below):

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Les raboteurs de parquet (1875) – the scene is believed to be Caillebotte’s own studio, the perspective is unique (long lines extending across the room), and the subject matter is distinctly modern, highlighting ordinary working people. Its subject was deemed “vulgar” and was rejected by the Salon. It was presented at the Impressionist exhibit in 1876.

The Young Man At His Window (1875) – a realist depiction of the artist’s brother at his window at their family home in Paris. It has echoes of German romanticism, however the painting is distinctly urban and informal, not rural. It was presented at the Impressionist exhibit in 1876.

Les jardiniers (1875)

Portraits à la campagne (1876)

Le Pont de l’Europe (1876)

Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877) -surely the best known work by Caillebotte. It shows a busy street in the rain in Paris, at the Place de Dublin, then known as the Carrefour de Moscou, at an intersection to the east of the Gare Saint-Lazare in north Paris. The painting contains elements of influence from photography -note the reflective rain puddles on the street, the many out of focus people, the man on the right who is deliberate halfway cut out of the frame, and the candid, or unposed postures of the central subjects. Also, note the huge, geometric, and elongated Parisian buildings in the distance (Napoleon III had undertaken a huge remaking of the city of Paris in the 1870s). Perspective is jokingly played with as a man off to the left appears to jump from the wheel of a carriage, while a pair of legs seems to stem from an umbrella in the center of the painting. We get the impression of silence and isolation, as each couple or individual seems to live an entirely different world from the others. No one seems to be looking at or talking to one another, as the umbrellas serve as a barrier between man and nature, as well as man and man. There is a greater sense of loneliness in Caillebott, than in Renoir’s jovial parties or Monet’s vivid landscapes. The central vertical lamppost seems to divide the painting into four quadrants. Émile Zola was often a critic of Caillebotte, but he praised this particular work. It holds kinship with American painters, like Edward Hopper. The painting was acquired by the son of the Chrysler company in the 1920s, and he later sold it to the Art Institute of Chicago, where it remains to this day.

After Caillebotte’s father’s death, he inherited a large sum of money and bought a large property not far from Renoir’s home at Argentiel. The two were good friends and Caillebotte was featured in Renoir’s famous 1881 painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party. At the age of 34, Caillebotte stopped showing his works publicly. He devoted all his time to gardening and yachting.

Les Orangers (1878) -painted at the family’s country estate. Caillebotte preferred geometrically manicured gardens, in contrast to Monet’s wilder and unkempt organic gardens.

Despite latter-day rumors of homosexuality, Caillebotte had a mistress who was eleven years his junior. Upon his death he left her a sizable annuity.

L’homme au balcon, Boulevard Haussmann (1880)

Un Balcon (1880)

La Plaine de Gennevilliers (1888)

He died suddenly and unexpectedly while working in his garden at the age of 45. For much of his life he was a patron of his friends and their works, not needing to support himself financially, however after his death critics have found more reasons to praise his works. He had bequeathed many of his works and other Impressionist works he had collected over the years to the French government, however there was a controversial disagreement (Renoir served as executor of the estate) and many of the remaining works were later acquired by Mr. Alfred Barnes and reside today at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.

The Story of French Impressionism, Part VII: Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) (pronounced “day-dahs” but in later life he changed the pronunciation to “day-gah”) never wished to be called an “Impressionist” instead preferring to be called a “Realist.” In his paintings he was obsessed with motion, particularly of dancers, which occupied nearly half of his works.

Degas was raised in an upper middles-class family. He studied art from a young age, and was classically educated, though his father wanted him to study law. He started as a copyist and history painter, where he met Édouard Manet, until the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 which paused the momentum of the Parisian arts community. He enlisted in the National Guard.

After the war he visited family in New Orleans, Louisiana, but soon returned to France upon the death of his father. Degas’s brother had accumulated significant business debts, so Degas sold his inherited art collection to pay off his brother’s debt. For the first time in his life, Degas’s financial security was dependent upon the sale of his artwork.

During the 1870s, he joined up with the young Impressionist movement in rejection of the Salon, but he found himself in constant conflict with other Impressionists about the exclusiveness of the group. Degas had always wanted to include other non-Impressionist painters in the revolution. He also despised their rapid and unfinished style. Degas took careful time, working for extended periods of time, and he took a more classical approach to his works.

Edgar Degas - The Bellelli Family - Google Art Project.jpgThe Bellelli Family (1858-1867) -a massive and early masterpiece by Degas. It is a portrait of his aunt, uncle, and two young cousins. Like in Velázquez’s Las Meninas, Degas employs odd framing techniques. One of his cousins stares directly out of the painting at the viewer, while the two parents appear divided. Emotional and physical distance between the sexes is a theme Degas explores in many of his works. The portrait hanging on the back wall is of Degas’s recently deceased grandfather, while the family dog appears in the lower corner of the frame.

Interior (1869) - Edgar Degas
-Sometimes called “The Rape” it is one of Degas’s most dramatic and mysterious paintings.

Musicians in the Orchestra (1872)

The Dance Class (1873-1876) -it depicts his friend Jules Perrot and his ballet dance class. Unlike other Impressionists who were focused on landscape “en plein-eir” artworks, Degas moved inward, focusing on particular subjects indoors.

Rehearsal on Stage (1874) – note: Degas had an extreme sensitivity to light in eyes.

L’Absinthe (1876)

Dancer with a Bouquet of Flowers (Star of the Ballet) (1878)

Stage Rehearsal (1878–1879)

As time went on, Degas became increasingly isolated, focusing on his painting, sculpture, and photography. He started going blind and lived like a recluse. He had a fiery personality with strong opinions, and he was friends with Mary Cassatt, another strong personality, for many years, but they eventually had a falling out over his antisemitism with regard to the Dreyfus-Affair. He believed an artist should live alone. He never married. He died alone at age 83.

Self-Portrait (1895)

The Story of French Impressionism, Part III: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was born into a lower middle-class family in France. His father was a tailor and his mother worked as a seamstress. At a young age he wanted to be a singer, however due to his family’s financial concerns, he went to work in a porcelain factory until a new mechanized procedure was developed in the factory. The factory went bankrupt so Renoir went to attend art school, working to paint fans and signs as decorative art to pay his bills while in school.

Self-Portrait (1875)

He studied under Charles Geyre with new friends: Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. Through Monet, his roommate for a spell, Renoir was connected to other notable artists, such as Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne. Together they began experimenting with painting en plein-air outside, and like Monet, Renoir was penniless through his early career, despite generous support from Jules Le Cœur and family, a fellow artist. Unlike Monet, Renoir’s early works found favorable audiences at the Salon. His first successes include the following:

Image result for la esmeralda renoirLa Esmerelda (1864), based on Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame that was featured in the Salon, a first for Renoir. He later destroyed the painting -above is a copy.

File:Pierre-Auguste Renoir - William Sisley.jpgWilliam Sisley (1865) – a commissioned portrait of his friend and fellow artist, Alfred Sisley’s wealthy father.

Lise with a Parasol or just simply Lise (1867)

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Diana (1867)

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In Summer (1868)

These latter three paintings feature Lise Tréhot as the female figure, Renoir’s mistress and model for many of his early paintings. The painting Lise won acclaim at the Salon. In total, she appeared in more than twenty of Renoir’s early paintings, several of them in the nude. Renoir fathered a child out of wedlock with Lise in 1870, however the child was given away to a wet-nurse. Renoir never acknowledged his daughter, Jeanne, as his child, but he did secretly financially support her all of his life. Little is known about the relationship between Renoir and Lise, however they separated in 1872 and it was said that Lise never spoke to Renoir again. She eventually married and raised several children.

In 1870, Renoir was drafted to serve in the military for the Franco-Prussian War, however illness soon sent him back home. In 1874, Renoir was part of the first Impressionist exhibit. He exhibited many of his early great works, however in order to remain financially stable, Renoir started painting portraits upon commission to survive.

Pont-Neuf (1872)

Claude Monet painting in his garden at Arganteuil (1873)

The Grand Boulevards (1875)

This painting uniquely displays an out of focus street in Paris, around the time that the boulevards were widened. The street is filled with activity, shortly the effects of industrialization take hold.

Auguste Renoir - Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette - Musée d'Orsay RF 2739 (derivative work - AutoContrast edit in LCH space).jpgBal du moulin de la Galette “Dance at Le moulin de la Galette” (1876)

The painting portrays an evening out for working class people in Paris, filled with dancing, drinking, and eating. Note the lighting of the sunset through the trees as it appears on the party-goers. We can almost hear and see (peripherally) the sounds and motion of the people in the crowd when viewing this painting. The painting is currently held by a private and anonymous collector. It is currently on the list as one of the most expensive paintings ever sold ($78M in 1990). Prior to that it was owned by the wealthy and well-connected American, John Whitney, whose widow sold it to a wealthy Japanese manufacturer who professed at one point a desire to burn the painting, luckily financial troubles caused him to sell it in 1990.

The Swing (1876)

Image result for Madame Charpentier and her ChildrenMadame Charpentier and Her Children (1878) – this was Renoir’s first big breakthrough

By the late 1870s and 1880s, he had secured a name for himself. This new financial security allowed him to travel to Algeria, as well as Italy and throughout France, to meet the great European artists of the day. While in Algeria he contracted pneumonia which permanently damaged his respiratory system.

Portrait of Alphonsine Fournaise (1879)

Boating on the Seine (1879)

By The Water (1880)

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The Two Sisters, on the Terrace (1881) – note the elder sister was actually a young French actress and the younger is unknown. The two were not related.

Le déjeuner des canotiers “Luncheon of the Boating Party” (1880–1881)

This painting was showcased at the Impressionist exhibit in 1878, and won great acclaim. It featured a variety of Renoir’s friends and patrons enjoying themselves at a high-class restaurant which had recently opened its doors to all groups of people, a novelty in the 19th century. A still-life of fruit and wine sits on the table. The French art patron Gustave Caillebott is seated in the lower right, and Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife, is playing with a dog in the foreground on the left (Renoir replaced a different woman who was annoying him with Aline in the painting). A panoply of other art historians, painters, and patrons are depicted in the painting. Note the casual attire of the people in the painting. It is a masterpiece of the Impressionist era, one of Renoir’s best. Duncan Phillips, the grandson of an American banking and steel family, was obsessed with acquiring the painting and in 1923, he purchased it, in an effort to build his collection of modern art. Today it remains the most popular work in his foundation’s collection – The Phillips Collection – in Washington DC. The location of the activity in the painting is the The Maison Fournaise in Chatou west of Paris along the Seine. Renoir also completed an earlier painting at this location below:

Lunch at the Restaurant Fournaise (1879)

Children at the Beach at Guernsey (1883)

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The Large Bathers (1884-1887)

Renoir spent three years completing this painting, studying various sketches and pieces of architecture. His hope was to harmonize the classical modes of painting, like Raphael, with the new Impressionist. Notice the sculpted, classical style of the nude women in the painting (one is Renoir’s future wife, Aline), and contrast those sharp characteristics with the blurred, shiny Impressionistic background. Two women bathe in the background, while the action occurs in the foreground, where one woman reaches to splash the other two from the river, one preparing to shield herself, the other covering herself with a towel.

Renoir grew disillusioned with Impressionism over time, and as such his style evolved, though his work always remained lush, indulgent, and voluptuous.

Dance at Bougival (1883)

Tamaris, France (1885)

The Farm at Collettes (1908-1914)

In 1890, Renoir married Aline Charigot, one of his models and a dressmaker who was twenty years his junior. Like Monet, Renoir had a child out of wedlock with Aline named Pierre (born in 1885), who later became a notable stage and film actor. They had two other children together: Jean Renoir, the great film director, and Claude Renoir who also became an artist of ceramics.

Self-Portrait (1910)

By 1892, Renoir was stricken with arthritis which severely limited his mobility. Yet he continued to paint, and was at one point quoted as saying: “The pain passes, but beauty persists.” He moved to a warmer Mediterranean climate along the French Riviera in a town called Cagnes-sur-Mer in southeastern France, where he lived on a luxurious home he had built called “Las Collettes.” He had a stroke in 1912, yet Renoir still continued to paint. His wife, Aline, died in 1915. In 1919, Renoir traveled to the Louvre to see his paintings hung alongside the masters. He died at his home in Cagnes-sur-mer in 1919.  Renoir had completed thousands of paintings in his lifetime.