|Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880–81. Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.|
Here is an actual postcard from that time showing what the restaurant and surrounding area looked like when it was frequented by Renoir and friends just a few years before he painted the famed luncheon group. I have clipped it from an excellent artistic and historical analysis of the painting that you can find here at the Phillips Collection website.
|Postcard of the Maison Fournaise and Seine river, 1870s. © Musée Fournaise, Chatou-France|
... a class of unattached young women, characteristic of the scene before and after the Empire, changing lovers easily, satisfying any whim, going nonchalantly from a mansion in the Champs Elysées to a garret in the Batignolles. To them we owe the memory of a Paris which was brilliant, witty and amusing.
Much has been written on the mix of boatmen, artists, patrons, actresses, restaurant owner and others who are gathered around this table. For more information on this festive cast of characters, you can do no better than to visit the informative and enjoyable website devoted to Susan Vreeland's novel Luncheon of the Boating Party.
Among that group, moreover, Renoir got a great many of his volunteer models... Because French people love a medley of classes, actresses, society women and respectable middle-class people also patronized the Fournaise restaurant. The tone of it was set by young sportsmen in striped jerseys, who vied with one another to become accomplished boatmen.
|Gustave Caillebotte, 1875. Les raboteurs de parquet (The Floor Scrapers). Musee d'Orsay, Paris|
Renoir praised it, and Caillebotte, being an exceedingly modest man, had blushed. He was only too well aware of his limitations. "I try to paint honestly, hoping that some day my work will be good enough to hang in the antechamber of the living-room where the Renoirs and Cézannes are hung".At the recent Impressionist exhibition in Madrid (see earlier post on the Impressionist show at Fundación Mapfre), I was able to see this painting and found it quite striking. I even found myself looking at the floor below the painting to see if I could spot any wood shavings that may have wafted down. In recent years, Caillebotte's works have been drawing renewed attention from art historians and receiving greater due (see the highly interesting essay, "Odd Man In: A Brief Historiography of Caillebotte's Changing Roles in The History of Art" by Kirk Varnedoe, chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC).
What is beyond all dispute is the valuable contribution he made to the early Impressionists as they struggled to eke out an existence. His financial support, especially for Monet, was crucial. Caillebotte funded exhibitions, paid studio rents, bought several dozen of their paintings and helped keep them together when disputes arose and threatened to irreparably disrupt the movement.
And in 1876, when he wrote his will, he came up with a "little plan" to definitively elevate the Impressionist upstarts to what he felt was their rightful place in the art world, a plan that would not be activated until his death in 1894 at the age of 45. Again, Jean Renoir recalls what his father told him of this generous friend and patron:
Caillebotte had gathered the most important collection of his friends' works. His enthusiastic purchases were often made just in the nick of time for those who benefited by them. How many artists in financial straits at the end of the month were saved by his generosity and farsightedness. "He had his own little plan ... He was a sort of Joan of Arc of painting".
|Gustave Caillebotte — Paris Street- Rainy Weather 1877. Art Institute of Chicago.|
Caillebotte willed his collection of nearly 70 paintings (almost all by Impressionists) to the French government, on the condition that they be shown at the Luxembourg Palace (where living artists were exhibited) and then at the Louvre. He hoped the French government would not dare to refuse it. The ostracism still faced by the Impressionists would thus be vanquished and they would finally have their place of honor in the great museum of French and world art. That was Caillebotte's "little plan".
Sadly, the government did not accept the terms. Renoir, as executor of Caillebotte's will, had to carry on the very complicated and unpleasant negotiations. His son Jean describes the outcome:
Everyone knows the sequel. At least two thirds of this unique collection, one of the greatest in the world, was turned down. The remaining third did not get past the doors of the Louvre, but was stored away in the Luxembourg Museum. On the death of Charlotte Caillebotte, those works which had been rejected went to various heirs, who got rid of them as quickly as possible. Scorned by France, they were well received in foreign countries. A good many were bought in the United States. I tell this story to any French friend who accuses Americans of having emptied France of its masterpieces by means of the almighty dollar.The exact number of paintings almost reluctantly accepted by the French government and stored at the Luxembourg museum was 38. They eventually went on to form the core of the Musée d'Orsay's Impressionist collection. The French government did finally change its mind in 1928 and tried to claim the inheritance of the rest of the paintings from Caillebotte's marvelous collection, but the bequest was repudiated by the heirs (Caillebotte's widowed daughter-in-law), and most of those paintings were purchased by Albert C. Barnes and are now held by the Barnes Foundation near Philadelphia. For more on Caillebotte and a slideshow of some of his major works, see the website Gustave Caillebotte — The Complete Works.
|Dufayel, Amelie and 'Renoir'|