Kearis on Gleis, ed. (2019)

Gleis, Ralph, editor. Gustave Caillebotte: Painter and Patron of Impressionism. Hirmer Verlag, 2019, pp. 120, ISBN 978-3-7774-3323-3 

Upon Gustave Caillebotte’s death in 1894, more than sixty Impressionist works from his collection were offered to the French State in the form of a highly controversial bequest. In 1897, thirty-eight of these works were ultimately placed on view in the new annex of the Musée du Luxembourg, the state museum devoted to living artists. Therefore, best known in the late nineteenth century as a patron of Impressionism, Caillebotte’s status as a master painter was legitimized by the work of twentieth-century scholars. 

The Alte Nationalgalerie exhibition, Gustave Caillebotte: Painter and Patron of Impressionism, which ran from May 17, 2019 to September 15, 2019, centered around the painter’s masterpiece, Rue de Paris; temps de pluie (1877). This represented a prestigious trade with the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) for the Berlin State Museum’s iconic work Au conservatoire by Édouard Manet, replaced for the duration by Caillebotte’s Les Raboteurs de parquet, on loan to the AIC from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. The organization of the show leaned primarily on works by artists in Caillebotte’s Impressionist network, housed in the Nationalgalerie, one of the earliest collections of Impressionist art in a German museum. In fact, the only major canvas by Caillebotte in the show was Rue de Paris; temps de pluie. The following review focuses on the catalogue published in support of the 2019 exhibition. Edited by head curator Ralph Gleis, the catalogue contains a welcome, a foreword, an introduction, three main essays, two photo essays and an appendix. The title of the book, “Painter and Patron,” suggests equal billing for Caillebotte’s roles as both an artist and as a patron of the arts. Nevertheless, the true success of the catalogue lies in its articulation of Caillebotte’s legacy as a collector in conversation with the international movement to acquire modern art for major museums in the late nineteenth century. 

Karin Sagner’s essay deftly addresses Caillebotte the painter, drawing on familiar themes of cityscapes, modern Paris, and his unique photographic framing, as well as providing an introduction for readers unfamiliar with Caillebotte’s work. Arnika Groenewald-Schmidt’s essay foregrounds the relationships between Caillebotte and the principal figures in the Impressionist movement, such as his correspondence with Pissarro, his trust in Renoir as the executor of his will, and his deep artistic exchange and friendship with Monet. In his two essays, editor Ralph Gleis compares the visionary support of Impressionism by Caillebotte with the pioneering work of Hugo von Tschudi, director of the Alte Nationalgalerie from 1896 to 1908. Tschudi was responsible for spearheading the entry of modern, international art into the Berlin State Museum with major purchases in 1896. Gleis spotlights the importance of the historic exhibition organized by Tschudi, one that displayed the new acquisitions of Manet’s Au conservatoire, Claude Monet’s Vétheuil-sur-Seine and Edgar Degas’s La Conversation. This exhibition took place within two months of the 1897 inauguration of the new Impressionist wing featuring the Caillebotte bequest, though not in its entirety, to the Musée du Luxembourg.

The unique angle of the 2019 exhibition catalogue is therefore German, a welcome perspective in the scholarship on Caillebotte vis-a-vis Impressionism. Indeed, it brings into sharper focus the Nationalgalerie’s part in establishing museum recognition of artists like Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Sisley, and Cézanne in the mid-1890s. In the final section of the catalogue, “An Imaginary Encounter between Two Collections,” Groenewald-Schmidt and Gleis match the star-studded French Impressionist holdings in the Nationalgalerie with works from the Caillebotte collection, now in the Musée d’Orsay, as well as works by the artist himself. Pairings include: Renoir’s vibrant early work En été (Nationalgalerie, Berlin; 1868) and from the Caillebotte collection, the sun-dappled Étude: Torse, effet de soleil (Musée d’Orsay, Paris; ca. 1876); Degas’s pastels in a similar palette of brown, red and blue (La Conversation ca. 1882/83 in Berlin, and Femmes à la terrasse d’un café le soir in Paris [Musée d’Orsay; 1877]). 

What is not clear to the catalogue reader is which illustrations were included in the exhibition itself. For example, the section devoted to Caillebotte’s working methods, “Construction and Impression,” features preparatory drawings and oil sketches of Rue de Paris; temps de pluie as well as Pont de l'Europe (Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva; 1876), accompanied by oil sketches and a grid drawing. An exhibition checklist would have provided clarification as to which works were part of the exhibition and would have enhanced this publication further, especially with the addition of conservation notes on the Staatliche Museen works.

The catalogue provides an appendix that includes an inventory of the Caillebotte collection, based on Anne Distel’s reconstruction of the Caillebotte bequest (“Gustave Caillebotte's Collection,” in Caillebotte: The Unknown Impressionist, 1996). The complete list of Impressionist works in the Caillebotte collection is organized by artist, indicating works accepted into the Musée du Luxembourg. Interestingly, the data indicating works rejected by the French State demonstrates that the largest number of works accepted as bequests were by Monet, a total of eight. The biographical chronology contributed by Gilles Chardeau, President of the Comité Caillebotte, reveals the artist Caillebotte to be a collector of the works of his Impressionist colleagues, lender of those works to shows, and general organizer and promoter of the group. For example, he was responsible for renting the exhibition space for the third Impressionist exhibition, oversaw advertising, managed the invitation list, and even designed the catalogue.

In sum, the exhibition catalogue edited by Gleis provides a proper introduction to Rue de Paris; temps de pluie, and brings Caillebotte into high relief as a visionary champion and member of the Impressionist circle, a story worth revisiting. The parallel narrative of Hugo von Tschudi and Gustave Caillebotte as forward-thinking promoters of modern art in the last half of the nineteenth century is convincing. Easily digestible and well written, the range of materials presented in the catalogue publication make it appealing to a wide readership, especially lovers of the radical French Impressionists and their battle for recognition by state institutions at home, abroad, and in neighboring Germany.

Kedra Kearis
The Barnes Foundation