Caillebotte’s Footsteps in the 8th

Gustave Caillebotte, Anonymous Photo c1878

Gustave Caillebotte (1878)

 

Gustave Caillebotte 

 

I feel like I’ve known Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) ever since I was a young art student on a bus trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. That is where I first saw his very lovely Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877).

 

 

Paris Street: Rainy Day, 1877, Art Institute of Chicago

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street: Rainy Day, 1877, Art Institute of Chicago

So when I first arrived in Paris, I couldn’t help going to the site of Paris Street; Rainy Day in the Place de Dublin behind Gare Saint Lazare. What I didn’t know at the time of my first visit to the Place de Dublin was that I could trace Caillebotte’s footsteps from that scene to the scenes of many of his other paintings, all around his old neighborhood in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.

Geeking out at Place de Dubin, site of Caillebotte's Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877)

Geeking out at Place de Dublin, at the corner of rue de Moscou, rue de Tourin and rue de Saint Pétersbourg, the site of Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877)

From the Place de Dublin, it is a short walk down rue de Saint-Pétersbourg to the Place de L’Europe which overlooks Gare Saint Lazare, the train station that was the site of many Impressionists paintings. Caillebotte painted an interesting urban scene on the bridge (below) and exhibited the painting in the Second Impressionist Exhibit of 1876.

Gustave Caillebotte, Pont de L'Europe (1876), Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva, Switzerland

Gustave Caillebotte, Pont de L’Europe (1876), Musée du Petit Palais, Geneva, Switzerland

 

From the Place de L’Europe, it is just another short walk down rue de Madrid to the lovely neighborhood where the Caillebotte family lived.

In 1866, Gustave Caillebotte’s father bought a plot of land in the nouveau riche neighborhood near Parc Monceau and built a lovely three story townhouse (two more stories would be added after the Caillebottes no longer lived there). It was located on the corner of rue de Miromesnil and rue de Lisbonne. It actually shares two addresses: 77 rue de Miromesnil and 13 rue de Lisbonne. This is where Gustave Caillebotte lived with his parents, his brothers and their servants.

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The corner of rue de Lisbonne and rue de Miromesnil in Paris, once the home and studio of the painter Gustave Caillebotte.

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Before his death in 1874, Caillebotte’s father Martial built an atelier within the family compound for his artistic son. (Which must have been a true sign of paternal support. Gustave had studied law but preferred the study of art to the practice of law.) It was built on top of a two-story loge used by their concierge, located to the right of the carriage entrance on rue de Lisbonne. Although nothing is left of this structure today, the atelier once consisted of two floors. The top floor had a high-vaulted ceiling, a north-facing skylight, a balcony facing the rue de Lisbonne and French windows to the south.

It is believed that this is exactly where Cailbotte painted the famous The Floor Scrapers (1875), Musée d’Orsay. In fact, art historians believe that the wood scrapers were installing  the new wood floor in Caillebotte’s studio at the time. As Michael Marrinan stated in Caillebotte as a Professional Painter, From The Studio to the Public Eye:

The complex lighting of  The Floor Scrapers – soft backlighting from the visible window amid a cool, even, interior light – accords perfectly with the studio’s configuration and suggests that Caillebotte was keen to record the good light of his new work space.

 

The Floor Scrapers, 1875, Musée d'Orsay

The Floor Scrapers, 1875, Musée d’Orsay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caillebotte was pleased with his work and submitted it to the 1875 Paris Salon. The conservative jury was quick to reject it, finding the subject matter vulgar. Caillebotte had the audacity to paint urban workers with their shirts off with a vaguely erotic mood. (As for me, I love the play of the light from the window, the men’s strong arms, and of course, the bottle of red wine to the side.)

Caillebotte gave up trying to please the Salon jurors and showed this painting in the Second Impressionist Exhibit of 1876, which was held in three rooms in the Durand-Ruel Gallery at 11 rue le Peletier, just off Boulevard Haussman. Although Emile Zola was a friend of the Impressionists, he criticized Caillebotte for being too realistic and too bourgeois. (Critics. You just can’t please them.)

At about the same time, Caillebotte painted his younger brother René standing at one of the windows of the family townhouse. Young Man at the Window was also shown at the Second Impressionist Exhibit. Unfortunately, René would die later that same year. When their mother died just two years later, in 1878, Gustave and his remaining brother Martial moved to a new apartment on Boulevard Haussman.

If you look closely at Young Man at the Window and compare it to the photograph of this building today (above), you can tell that René is standing in one of the corner windows facing rue de Lisbonne, with the intersection of rue de Miromesnil and Boulevard Malesherbes in the background. There was once a stone balustrade in front of this window instead of the iron railing that exists today. In any event, we can be pretty certain that this was not painted in Caillebotte’s new studio, which was located not on the corner, but a little further down rue de Lisbonne.

Gustave Caillebotte, Young Man at the Window (1876), Private Collection

Gustave Caillebotte, Young Man at the Window (1876), Private Collection

These days, there is another prominent Frenchman who can be found at this address. I stumbled upon this fun fact quite by accident on a random stroll through the neighborhood. He was having a press conference on the sidewalk outside Caillebotte’s former townhouse, so I stopped to watch the frenzy of the French paparazzi. Yes, that would be Nicolas Sarkozy. In Caillebotte’s footsteps. Quelle surprise! (Do you doubt me? Check out the Paris Match, c’est vrai!)

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Caillebotte’s former townhouse, 77 rue de Miromesnil, is now occupied by France’s ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy. His office is located on the first floor (second floor to Americans). So I have to wonder, does Sarkozy ever stand at the window with his hands in his pockets like René Caillebotte?

If your own walk through Caillebotte’s neighborhood leads you into a crazed flock of paparazzi like mine did, you could calm your nerves in the nearby Parc Monceau, a favorite of the Impressionists. Caillebotte painted there himself in the 1870s:

Caillebotte, Le Parc Monceau

Gustave Caillebotte, Le Parc Monceau (1878)

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Gustave Caillebotte, Le Parc Monceau (1877) – sold in a 2013 Sotheby’s auction for 2.6 million pounds.

 

One of Parc Monceau's "follies" - architectural features of interest from different continents and cultures, as designed by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle in 1778.

One of Parc Monceau’s “follies” – architectural features of interest from different continents and cultures, as designed by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle in 1778.

 

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The Corinthian Columns, Parc Monceau in September.

 

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Parc Monceau: a bridge designed by Haussman era architect Gabriel Davioud, modeled after the Rialto bridge in Venice.

 

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Parc Monceau: A classic scene featuring the gravel paths painted by the Impressionists

 

To finish off what could be a perfect day of all things Caillebotte, I would head over the the Musée D’Orsay to enjoy all of the Impressionist paintings that were part of the Caillebotte Bequest of 1894. By the time of Caillebotte’s death (he was only 45 years old) he had become a leading collector of Impressionist art and one of their most helpful patrons. His bequest to the French government included 67 paintings from artists such as Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Sisley and Pissaro. Although the French government refused to accept part of the bequest, those that were accepted now form the heart of the Impressionist Collection of the Musée D’Orsay.

While you’re there, be sure to take an extra moment in front of The Floor Scrapers, and take pleasure in knowing that you’ve walked down the very street where it was painted back in 1875.

 

My sources, and for your further reading:

Caillebotte book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gustave Caillebotte, Urban Impressionist, edited by Anne Distel, Art Institute of Chicago (1995).

caillebotte book 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gustave Caillebotte and the Fashioning of Identity in Impressionist Paris, ed. Norman Broude, Rutgers University Press (2002)

 

Also recommended:  Paris Walks Impressionist Walking Tour, April 2015 schedule here —   ParisWalks.com holds a “Paris of the Impressionists” Tour almost every month.

“Paris of the Impressionists: This walk includes the lovely Parc Monceau, fine town houses and grand 19thC boulevards. See where the painters lived, worked and set many of their Parisian views: Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Caillebotte’s iconic painting ‘The Rainy Day’. We also hear of their contemporaries: writers, art collectors, benefactors. Meet at metro Monceau.”

 

Path of the Impressionists: Louveciennes

Many prominent Impressionist painters lived or kept summer homes in the western suburbs of Paris in the late 1800’s. Berthe Morrisot, Mary Cassatt, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet lived or painted in the area.

It is easy to reach this area by train or rental car. I prefer renting a car (with GPS, bien sûr) so I can hit several different cities in the same day. You can easily drive from Chatou to Bougival, Marly-le-Roi, Rueil-Malmaison and Louveciennes in one day. Click here for another post I wrote about a day trip to Chatou, the site where Renoir painted Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Alfred Sisley lived in Marly-le-Roi, a close-in suburb just west of Paris in the 1870s. Marly-le-Roi was once the home of Louis XIV’s summer palace, but it was destroyed during the French Revolution. Louis XIV built a huge aqueduct called the Machine de Marly, which brought water up from the Seine to the chateaux of Versailles and Marly. The machine is no longer standing but the basins remain.

Alfred Sisley painted The Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes (Musée D’Orsay) in 1873. You can find a sign commemorating the very spot where Sisley’s easel stood. It is part of a tourist initiative called the Pays des Impressionistes. Today, the road is still called Rue de la Machine, easily found on Google Maps.

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The scene of Sisley’s Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes (1873). We might have electrical street lights and more mature trees, but the slope of the street is still recognizable.

If you’re like me, it’s inspiring to stand in the place of a famous painting. I rarely bring along my own easel because I’m not an en plein aire painter, but I’m still inspired when I get back to my own art studio. I gain a lot from the experience, studying how a good painter selects a scene and creates a good sense of composition out of what would other wise be a random slice of life. It is no accident that these paintings still make an impression on us more than 125 years later.

Making art out of the randomness of life. The challenge and calling of an artist.

 

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation

You really shouldn’t miss this multiple biography of six flappers from the 1920s (Josephine Baker, Talulah Bankhead, Diana Cooper, Nancy Cunard, Zelda Fitzgerald and Tamara de Lempicka).

flappers

Each woman’s story is equally fascinating. Author Judith Mackrell gives us all the scoop, including tales of booze, drugs, adultery, abortions, bisexuality and more. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to pour a martini and put on some jazz. I’m already picturing a Flapper theme party for my book club.

But this book is more than a dishy exposé. Mackrell understands that the flappers represented much more than a new sense of 1920s style and glamour. The flappers were at the vanguard of an attempt to redefine 20th century womanhood. Their personal failures and challenges, viewed together and in full historical context, teach us that the history of the woman’s movement is truly a story of fits-and-starts, a seesaw of hard-fought change and regression. No generation of women illustrate this better than the flappers.

And of course, like most interesting stories about women in the late 19th and early 20th century, the story of the flappers takes you to Paris, where they became dancers, actresses, writers or painters. They frequented the nightclubs and cafés of Paris, including Bricktops, the Dome and the Rotunde, as well as the salons of famous women, such as Gertrude Stein and Natalie Barney.

Most interesting to me was the story of Tamara de Lempicka, the iconic art deco painter whose self-portrait appears on the cover of the book. (Have you read The Last Nude by Ellis Avery? It’s a terrific novel about Tamara de Lempicka and one of her models.) You can enjoy my two-part Last Nude Literary Tour here and here.

Tamara de Lempicka, Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti, 1925 (Private Collection)

Tamara de Lempicka, Self-Portrait in a Green Bugatti, 1925 (Private Collection)

Tamara de Lempicka arrived in Paris in 1918 as a Russian refugee. She came to Paris after losing everything in the Russian revolution and reinvented herself as a professional painter.

Lempicka took only a year of formal instruction from Maurice Denis at the Académie Ransom at 7 rue Joseph Bara in the 6th arrondissement, just off of rue Notre Dame des Champs. Like most art students, she took her sketchbook to the Louvre in the afternoons. At first she rejected the modernist style of Cézanne, Picasso and the Dadaists, preferring the Renaissance masters. But soon she was drawn into the style of cubist André L’hote, an instructor at the Académie Notre Dame des Champs and later at the Académie de la Grand Chaumière. Lempicka studied with L’hote privately for a few months, long enough to absorb his powerful and charismatic portrait style. By 1922, after less than two years of study, Lempicka had three works accepted in the Salon d’Automne in Paris. By 1925, Lempicka had a solo show in Milan organized by Count Emanuele di Castelbarco.

Interestingly, from 1922-1924, Lempicka presented herself as a man in the catalogs for  the Paris exhibitions. She was listed as “LEMPITZKY (Tamara de) Born in Warsaw, Polish (French masculine form)” [delempicka.org].

Lempicka promoted herself with a ferocious sense of ambition, understanding that commercially lucrative portrait commissions would come as much from her talent as her own personal style and connections. She lived a chic and erotic bisexual life, which is exactly what she conveyed in her portraits.

Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait of the Duchess of Valmy (1924), Oil on canvas, private collection

Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait of the Duchess of Valmy (1924), Oil on canvas, private collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait of the Duchess of  La Salle (1925), oil on canvas, private collection.

Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait of the Duchess of La Salle (1925), oil on canvas, private collection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tamara de Lempicka, La Belle Rafaela (1927), oil on canvas, private collection

Tamara de Lempicka, La Belle Rafaela (1927), oil on canvas, private collection

 

Judith Mackrell follows Lempicka’s rise through the 1920s and and her subsequent fall in the 1930s. As Mackrell explains:

[T]he forces of fashion and history that had swept her to eminence were changing course in the early 1930s, and while she was still much talked about in public, in private she felt that she had failed to catch the pulse of the new decade.

 

The rising political tensions in Europe, a new wave of modern art, Lempicka’s dated sense of glamour and lack of youth all combined to Lempicka’s decline after 1935. She remarried and moved to America, where she had a difficult time marketing herself as well as she had in the Paris of the 1920s. She tried living in Beverly Hills, then the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and finally Houston, where her daughter Kizette had settled with her husband and two daughters. Lempicka found Houston “uncivilized” and mundane.

After Lempicka’s bold life in Paris in the 1920s, can you blame her?

 

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell: Highly recommended

 

For Further Reading:

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery (A novel about Tamara de Lempicka and one of her models)

Covers-The-Last-Nude-US-334x491

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camille Claudel: Rodin’s Lover

rodins loverI’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of Heather Webb’s new book  Rodin’s Lover, the story of Camille Claudel, one of Auguste Rodin’s most promising students.

I first learned about her art and her tumultuous love affair with Auguste Rodin when a friend recommended that I read Naked Came I by David Weiss (1970).

But then, during my year in Paris, I got to frequent the Musée Rodin, where I could see her work with my own eyes. Haven’t been? You gotta go, although I’m not sure which, if any, of Claudel’s works are on display since the extensive museum renovations. Check the website before you go.

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Musée Rodin, 79 rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France

Musée Rodin, view from the south garden

Musée Rodin, view from the south garden

The view from an upstairs window of Musée Rodin onto the south garden

The view from an upstairs window of Musée Rodin onto the south garden

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The grounds of the Musée Rodin are like an urban sanctuary in the middle of Paris. There's even an outdoor café where you can grab lunch.

The grounds of the Musée Rodin are like an urban sanctuary in the middle of Paris. There’s even an outdoor café where you can grab lunch.

The old Hotel Biron was a dilapidated mess when Rodin first rented out four south-facing, ground-floor rooms opening onto the terrace, to use as his studios.

The old Hotel Biron was a dilapidated mess when in 1908, Rodin first rented out four south-facing, ground-floor rooms to be used as studios. He shared the space with other artists, including Matisse, Isadora Duncan and By 1911, Rodin had taken over the entire building. (Source: Musée Rodin exhibit)

At the time of my visit, Camille Claudel’s work was on display in one of the upstairs rooms of the museum. I would hope and fully expect that her work will return as soon as renovations are complete. The fact that her work is displayed alongside his is itself remarkable. After her love affair with Rodin came to an end (it ended badly – just read Webb’s book) Camille Claudel suffered from financial, professional and mental health issues. Her father supported her, but after his death in 1913, her mother and her brother Paul had her institutionalized, first in Ville-Évrard in Neuilly-sur-Marne, and then, from 1914 until her death in 1943, in the Montdevergues Asylum, at Montfavet near Avignon. Her family rarely visited and refused to bring her home despite the recommendations of the treating physicians.

Before his death in 1917, Rodin continued to provide some financial and artistic support to Claudel, agreeing to reserve exhibition space for Claudel’s works when Hotel Biron was being turned into the Musée Rodin. In 1952, Claudel’s brother Paul finally donated four major works by his sister to the museum. The museum continues to acquire her available works, recently acquiring Young Girl with a Sheaf. Its website features an educational background file on the relationship between Rodin and Claudel, with photos of her best-known sculptures.

Camille Claudel’s sculpture reveals astonishing talent and emotion. Rodin’s influence is unmistakeable in her early work, less so in her later, smaller work.

Camille Claudel, Bust of Auguste Rodin

Camille Claudel, Bust of Auguste Rodin (Bronze, 1892), Musée Rodin

Camille Claudel, Clotho (1893), Plaster. Donated by Paul Claudel in 1952.

Camille Claudel, Clotho (1893), Plaster. Donated by Paul Claudel in 1952. Musée Rodin

Camille Claudel, The Age of Maturity (1899), Bronze. Donated by Paul Claudel in 1952.

Camille Claudel, The Age of Maturity (1899), Bronze. Donated by Paul Claudel in 1952. This is a partial view of the sculpture, featuring a pleading woman, often said to be Camille begging for Rodin, who is being torn away by his long-time companion Rose. Claudel herself would reject such an autobiographical interpretation, and instead claim that it is intended to symbolize the grass of youth versus age.

Camille Claudel, The Wave

Camille Claudel, The Wave (1897), Onyx and bronze. Musée Rodin, purchased in 1995.

Camille Claudel, The Gossips (1895), Musée Rodin. Donated by Rodin in 1916.

Camille Claudel, The Gossips (1895), plaster. Musée Rodin. Donated by Rodin in 1916. Note Claude’s signature in the lower left corner.

And if this small sampling of Claudel’s work isn’t enough for you, there’s more on the way.  In March, 2017, a new Musée Camille Claudel will be opening in Nogent-Sur-Seine, the a small town southeast of Paris where the Claudel family lived when Camille was young.  Over 77 pieces of Claudel’s art will be on display, thanks to a large 2008 acquisition by Reine-Marie Paris, the granddaughter of Paul Claudel. Here is a link to a video from French television about the plans for the museum. Finally, here is a link to the website of Reine-Marie Paris which includes photographs of even more of Camille Claudel’s sculptures.

Maison de Claudel, Nogent-sur-Seine, France.

Maison de Claudel, Nogent-sur-Seine, France.

Rendering of the future Musée Camille Claudel in Nogent-sur-Seine

Rendering of the future Musée Camille Claudel in Nogent-sur-Seine

I can’t wait to hear more about the completion of the new museum. It will definitely be worth a drive out to the countryside southeast of Paris.

In the meantime, we will have to content ourselves with Heather Webb’s new book, which breathes life into the passionate, turbulent life of Camille Claudel. Book clubs will find much to discuss, above and beyond the historical interest in a female artist of the late 19th century.

For instance, what do you think drove Camille Claudel to mental illness, if that’s what it was? Was she paranoid about Rodin, or did he really manipulate and compete with her? Which injured her more, the lack of support from her mother and her brother Paul, or a sexist society that made success in the arts so extraordinarily difficult for women? Would Camille Claudel have been better off if she’d never entangled herself with Rodin? Finally, do you see any parallels between Camille Claudel’s struggles and those of 20th and 21st century women?

I’m definitely recommending it to my own book club. Bring some wine!

Rodin’s Lover by Heather Webb: Highly Recommended.  

For further enjoyment: Don’t miss the 1988 Oscar-nominated film, Camille Claudel, starring Isabelle Adjani and Gérard Depardieu, available on Amazon Prime Instant Video.

camille claudel 1988 movie

Portrait of a Woman in White

portrait of a owman in whitePortrait of a Woman in White by Susan Winkler is the story of a family of wealthy Jewish art collectors in Paris that begins before World War II. That’s all I need to say, and you can imagine the rest. You already know what tragedy will befall them even if they don’t. We know they will be forced to flee France, or worse, and that their art will be looted.

But it’s what we don’t know that makes us keep turning the page. Who will survive and how? What becomes of the family’s most precious possession, a Matisse portrait of their mother? And finally, what will become of the young lovers who are separated at the border of France and Spain?

By now most of us know about The Monuments Men, the story of how the Nazis systematically looted the art of Paris. We’ve seen the images of Hermann Göring marching into the Jeu de Paume in Paris to claim more trophies for his art collection under the watchful eye of Rose Valland. But to hear the story from the point of view of one young woman, Lili Rosenswig, brings it all to life and makes the tragedy that more real.

First, Lili witnesses her mother posing for Matisse in his studio on Boulevard Montparnasse in a lovely white satin gown. The portrait becomes a prized family possession, and hangs from the wall of the Rosenswig’s salon in a gilded wood frame. As the Rosenswigs prepare to flee France, they hide the Matisse at their relative’s country villa, planning to see it again soon. Instead, the family is betrayed and the portrait is seized by the Nazis along with most of their other valuables, and taken to the Jeu de Paume.

As Winkler explains in the book:

The Jeu de Paume was a serene pavilion set in the northwest corner of the Tuileries Garden, opposite the Louvre, in the center of Paris. Napoleon had built it to house tennis courts, and its high white walls had served most recently as an impressionist museum. But when the Nazis arrived in Paris and began seizing private Jewish collections, the initial storage rooms in the nearby German embassy were soon filled to overflowing. Urgently, four hundred cases of work were moved to the Jeu de Paume, which then became the official repository and sorting center for all the art that the Nazis confiscated in France.

 

Rose Valland is the lone French member who remained on the staff of the Jeu de Paume after the Germans requisitioned it, and managed to keep a secret record of all of the stolen art that came in and out of the museum.

Jeu de Paume Plaque

The plaque on the side of the Jeu de Paume commemorating Rose Valland’s heroism on behalf of French art. It explains that from the fall of 1940 until the summer of 1944, the building was requisitioned by occupying German forces storing art stolen from the French. Rose Valland took great risks to record the location of the stolen art, which resulted in the restitution of over 45,000 works.

 

Rose Valland (on the right) and Edith Standen posing with art being returned to France in 1946

Rose Valland (on the right) and Edith Standen posing with art being returned to France in 1946. Source: Archives of American Art, http://www.aaa.si/edu

In Winkler’s book, Valland watches as Göring marches into the Jeu de Paume with his entourage of German officers and curators. The Matisse portrait catches Goring’s eye and leaves him breathless. Lili’s mother looks just like Göring’s deceased wife Carin. Göring claims the painting for his personal collection in his hunting estate near Berlin, named Carinhall after his first wife.

 

Goring and the SS at Carinhall. Source: Wikipedia

Göring and the SS at Carinhall. Source: Wikipedia

 

The painting has its own journey, just as Lili Rosenswig and her family do. What became of the thousands of pieces artwork that Göring had installed in Carinhall by the war’s end? As bombs fell near Berlin, Göring was loading trucks and trains with his 1,375 paintings, 250 sculptures, 108 tapestries, 75 stained-glass windows and 175 objet’s d’art, sending them to secret locations in various mountain villages, including a mine shaft in Altausee, Austria and Bertchtesgaden in Bavaria.

Matisse, Woman in Blue in Front of a Fireplace (1937)

Matisse, Woman in Blue in Front of a Fireplace (1937)

The story of A Woman in White is even more interesting because a very similar art mystery was just resolved earlier this year. A real-life Matisse painting called Woman in Blue in Front of a Fireplace was the property of Paris art dealer Paul Rosenberg, was looted by the Nazis and sold to an unscrupulous French art dealer. A Norwegian art collector bought it in 1950, unaware of its provenance, and proudly installed it in the Onie Onsted Art Museum near Oslo, Norway. In 2012, Rosenberg heirs asserted a claim against the museum, and in March, 2014, after its own investigation, the museum agreed to give the $20 million painting back to its original owners, in accordance with the 1998 Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, to which Norway is a signatory. To read more, click here.

The road to reunite pre-war owners of Nazi looted art is long and complicated. And so it is for Lili and the Portrait of the Woman in White. Will Lili and her family every see their beloved painting again? You’ll just have to read Susan Winkler’s book to find out.

 

For further reading:

A previous post reviewing the book Pictures at an Exhibition by Sarah Houghteling

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My prior post about The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

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Mary Cassatt’s Chicago Mural

Mary Cassatt, Modern Woman Mural (1893)

Mary Cassatt, Modern Woman Mural, as photographed in the Women’s Building of the Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893.

In 1892, Mary Cassatt and Mary MacMonnies, both of whom were American artists living in France, were commissioned to paint giant murals for the Chicago World’s Fair. Bertha Palmer, a Chicago philanthropist and wife of the rich and powerful Potter Palmer, had been named the President of the Board of Lady Managers of the fair, and was determined to fill the walls of the Women’s Building with original art by talented women.

Cassatt was not Bertha Palmer’s first choice. Palmer preferred the more traditional style of Elizabeth Gardner, an American painter who lived in Paris with the famous French academic painter William Adolphe Bourguereau. But Gardner turned down the commission, claiming that it would be too physically demanding for her at the age of 55.

Sara Hallowell, an American art dealer who had been appointed Assistant Chief of the Fine Arts Department of the fair, urged Palmer to consider the more modern Cassatt. Although Bertha Palmer was familiar with her work, Cassatt was not well-known in America at the time, despite the fact that she was nearly 50 years old and had been painting for over 30 years.

Cassatt had mixed feelings about the commission, as shared in a letter to her friend Louisiana Havemeyer:

I am going to do a decoration for the Chicago Exhibition. When the committee offered it to me to do, at first I was horrified, but gradually I began to think it would be great fun to do something I had never done before and as the bare idea of such a thing put Degas into a rage and he did not spare every criticism he could think of, I got my spirit up and said I would not give up the idea for anything.

 

Degas considered “decorations” such as mural work beneath a true artist, but his opposition “got her spirit up” and convinced her to accept the commission. The theme was Modern Woman, which Cassatt would explore with the smoldering feminist point of view of a successful single female at a turning point in history.

Cassatt’s mural was a 58×12 foor triptych that featured women picking fruit, dancing, playing instruments and interestingly, young women chasing a flying nude female figure. Cassatt fully intended all of the underlying feminist symbolism (women picking the forbidden fruit for themselves and passing it on; young women chasing fame, being chased by a gaggle of geese) but the subtext and the modernism of Cassatt’s technique shocked Chicago audiences.

Cassatt received horrible reviews for the work, which disappeared after the fair and has never been found. Some speculate it was destroyed while in storage at the end of the fair, while others hope that it might still be uncovered in the back room of some small midwestern college.

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I already knew the story of the mural when I set out to see Chateau Beaufresne, Mary Cassatt’s country home in Le Mesnil-Theribus, feeling a special connection between my hometown of Chicago and France. I also knew that Cassatt didn’t buy Chateau Beaufresne until 1894, so I knew she didn’t paint the mural there. In fact, Cassatt painted the mural at another country home that she rented in nearby Bachivillers, France. I was determined to find it.

Bachivillers, Mary Cassatt's summer home in 1891 and 1892, not far from Le Mesnil-Theribus

Bachivillers, Mary Cassatt’s summer home in 1891 and 1892, not far from Le Mesnil-Theribus

 

Chateau Bachivillers, Mary Cassatt's rental home north of Paris the summers of 1891 and 1892, the place where she painted the Modern Woman Mural for the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.

Chateau Bachivillers, Mary Cassatt’s rental home north of Paris during the summers of 1891 and 1892. This is where Cassatt painted the Modern Woman Mural for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

I never would have found the right house were it not for the help of Marianne Caron of the French organization Les Amis de Mary Cassatt. The home is privately owned, and there are no plaques or commemorative signs to identify it. Caron and I drove over from the nearby village of Le Mesnil-Theribus on a narrow little country road surrounded by farmland. Caron confirmed that this would have been the very same road on which Cassatt and her father would have traveled in their horse-drawn carriage. The smell of moist soil rose from the newly tilled fields. It felt like we were a million miles from Paris and decades – if not centuries – back in time.

Caron told me that the current owners of Chateau Bachivillers are aware of the house’s history and have actually hosted a Mary Cassatt lecture in the home, which Caron participated in.

And then I asked her about the trench. I had read that Cassatt built a special outdoor glass-roofed studio at Chateau Bachivillers in order to complete the mural. She had workmen dig a giant 60×6 foot trench into the soil below. This way, Cassatt – who was almost 50 years old – wouldn’t have to climb on ladders to reach the upper portions of the mural. Instead, the workmen would lower the mural into the trench.

I wondered, would remnants of the trench remain all these years?

While I wasn’t able to enter the property and examine the yard for myself, Caron told me the story about the time she did exactly that. When she was there for the Mary Cassatt lecture, she walked out to the side yard (indicating to the left of the home) with another local expert, and they spotted some disruption in the soil. However, something about its location made them skeptical, it being more likely that the studio would have been located to the rear of the chateau where there was no evidence of a trench.

As I stood outside Chateau Bachivillers, I tried to imagine Cassatt’s trusted friends and family arriving to witness Cassatt’s progress on the mural, including Chicago art dealer Sara Hallowell, Paris art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, and possibly Cassatt’s friend and neighbor in L’Oise, Camille Pissaro. Cassatt longed for Degas’ advice, but never invited him out to see the mural for fear of his savage opinions.

In the end, Cassatt was paid $3,000 for the mural, which was the same amount that men were paid for their similar murals for the fair. It was enough to compensate Cassatt for her many expenses, including the cost of the models, the workmen, the studio and the trench. Cassatt was able to shake off the criticism of the unsophisticated American audience and continued to work quite happily on new paintings with some of the same models. Just as the Chicago World’s Fair closed, Cassatt’s first major Paris exhibition opened at Durand-Ruel’s gallery, featuring 100 of her paintings.

A talented and independent woman still hitting her stride at the age of 50. In 1894. I’m humbled and inspired. . . .

 

For further reading: Eve’s Daughter/Modern Woman: A Mural by Mary Cassatt by Sally Webster and Mary Cassatt: A Life by Nancy Matthews

Eve's Daughter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cassatt A Life, Mathews

Mary Cassatt’s Gravesite

I recently wrote about my trip out to Chateau de Beaufresne, Mary Cassatt’s country home north of Paris in Le Mesnil-Theribus. There, I made the acquaintance of Marianne Caron, local tour guide and Cassatt expert, who took me on a short walk from the chateau to the Cassatt family gravesite.

On the way, we talked about our shared interest in Cassatt and the local stories about Cassatt’s involvement in the community. Cassatt employed many locals as domestic staff, gardeners and models, and thus had very deep connections to the community.

Many of the local women worked in a button factory, and according to local legend, Cassatt intervened on their behalf in a wage dispute and strike against their employer. Cassatt cared so deeply about the local children (many of whom were here little models) that she built them a small schoolhouse and arranged for them to go to public school. On our way to the cemetery, Marianne Caron pointed out the building that once housed the school that Cassatt built.

Rumor has it that Cassatt gave some of her artwork to local friends and supporters as gifts. In fact, she once offered her gardener (whose descendants are known to Marianne Caron) to take his pick of a selection of canvases that were propped up against the wall. He declined and lived to tell his children that he wished he hadn’t.

Once we reached the gravesite, I was struck by the fact that both of Cassatt’s parents were buried here, along with her sister Lydia and her younger brother Robert (“Robbie”). Cassatt truly did consider France her home, and wanted her loved ones nearby. Robbie died of bone cancer in Germany in 1855, and was originally buried in Germany. (I believe Caron told me that Cassatt moved his remains to France after World War I.) Lydia died in 1882 at the age of 45. Robert Cassatt died in 1891, before Mary purchased Chateau de Beaufresne. Mary and her mother lived there together for just one year before her mother passed away in 1895. Ever since 1926, they have all rested peacefully together in Le Mesnil-Theribus.

The cemetery gates of Le Mesnil-theribus

The cemetery gates of Cemetiére Saint Louis in Le Mesnil-Theribus

 

The sign honoring Mary Cassatt in French and English, donated by Les Amis de Mary Cassatt

The sign honoring Mary Cassatt’s legacy in both French and English, donated by Les Amis de Mary Cassatt

 

Locals donated this plaque to remember Mary Cassatt and her contribution to the community

Locals donated this plaque to remember Mary Cassatt and her contribution to the community. Le Moulin Vert is the current name of the old Chateau Beaufresne, named after the green water mill on the property.

 

Mary stevenson Cassatt (1845-1926)

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (1844-1926) – but doesn’t the grave say 1843?

 

Family Cassatt's grave marker

Family Cassatt’s grave marker

A building in Le Mesnil-Theribus that Cassatt is said to have built as a schoolhouse for the local children

A building in Le Mesnil-Theribus that Cassatt is said to have built as a schoolhouse for the local children. It is located just down the street from the cemetery.

 

The lovely chemin from the chateau to the cemetery.

The lovely tree-covered chemin from the chateau to the cemetery.

 

 

For Further Reading: I Have Always Loved You by Robin Olivera, in which the story begins and ends at Chateau de Beaufresne, as Cassatt is remembering her relationship with Degas.

My Review here: Cassatt and Degas: A Love Story?

i always loved you