A Family Reunion...

Wars, pestilence, misery... What everybody needed was to go to the beach! Preferably the French Riviera.

The Promenade- A Woman with a Parasol, by Claude Monet
Probably Monet's stepdaughter, Suzanne Hoschede posed for this scene.

 Now the Impressionist movement was unstoppable. It had a cause, and a martyr and a steeled shepherd, and the war provided the desperate need for escape the Impressionists needed to get sure footing. Ever resilient, the French provided a safe-haven for Reconstruction-weary Americans, worldly bohemians, and Western creativity... and her nasty associates. 

Claude Monet was more prolific and far more disciplined than most of his fellow Impressionists. It was Monet who most beautifully and effectively personified the “Impressionist” style we think about today; Painting plein air (out of doors), thick painterly canvases, avoidance of detail, tangible atmospheric qualities, and natural, sun-kissed colors. Learning from the improprieties of his political friends, he trained his eye on "realism" of the unmistakably safe, and most successfully painted the French countryside, truly inventing standards in landscapes to this day; Haystacks. Lily ponds. Flower gardens. Believe it or not, these were not considered worthy before his group took on the art establishment. Now they were necessary fare.

  L@L  Camille Monet who should have been made
 a saint, right along with Joan of Arc.

If Monet was a big brother, Edgar Degas was an adopted orphan. Never really accepting much of the Impressionist mantra, Degas was one who was tolerated and included, out of French hospitality and maybe even sympathy. Grumpy and isolated, almost hating women, hating authority, hating the out-of-doors, (even disliked dogs until Mary Cassatt, someone he cared for, needed one ) loving only his work, Degas focused on the pageantry of the French wealthy class. Whether his work was a glorification of the highest achievements in art, or the exposure of decadent French materialism, will always be the question.  Some would say that his genius simultaneously exposed both.

Self-portrait by Degas...
Really, more of a cruel caricature.  

 L@L  Edgar Degas (1834-1917)

I think, and this is just me talking, that he hated his mother, or at least hated things about his mother, like her marital unfaithfulness and her early death which left him with his devastated father, and an unhappy childhood. Unresolved issues there led to a lifetime of looking at and trying to forgive the human female. He painted dancers. Relentlessly. This was not by accident, as in those days, dancers, even ballerinas, were considered, and for the most part were girls who were inherently debased; they sold their bodies, however they had to. His lifelong epic obsession with ballet was his own sly way of saying, “All the world's a stage, and all women are whores. But look how adorable they are! I hate them.”

Degas was a fierce draftsman, and a workaholic, yet never discovered local color, never advanced much into painting; a genius stuck at an impasse of his own, lacking forgiveness, smothered by contempt. He preferred to work indoors, painted posed, indoor subjects... depended on artificial light... contriving complex and epic scenes he had not actually experienced; All things that were the antithesis of the bohemian/ realist/  impressionist mindset.

 Primarily a pastel artist, he saw the world in lines and smears, where uncompromising pigments never blend, but are mixed dry to simulate forms and hues. This resembled his place in society perfectly. There was no form, no definition, no medium to hold it together. Still, as unorthodox, and simple and limited as his methods were, the results would vie for supremacy among his peers.

Art can be inspired by all kinds of inner passions...

Art is usually at its best when it is the product of some kind of inner struggle

No truly great art ever emerged out of anything else. It seems artists and songwriters need to be overcoming some kind of hardship or obstacle in order to find inspiration to do the truly great things.

Degas gave the world a fabulous gift as he wrestled with his demons and especially his long-lost love, perhaps his perceived betrayer, (his mother) and because that love could never be answered or resolved, he came back to it over and over and over. Something broken inside actually provoked and perpetuated his creative flow.

 Like Homer, no matter how ugly the truth, no matter how dismal the place or the circumstance, Degas still found the subtle beauty in it. It was hard for him to paint just a landscape, and he would often hide sexual imagery within the elements of an otherwise pastoral scene. He seemed to be fascinated with the forces which lie underneath. Mary Cassatt, who was probably the love of his life, would have testified of his toxic personality, his irrepressible cynicism, which left him ultimately alone. Still, beneath all of that was a little boy searching for loving eyes.

This is the greatest gift an artist has, the gift of searching... and seeing what everyone has missed... and one which he must share.  
  Dancer with Flowers, by Edgar Degas

Ex-cavalryman August Pierre Renoir was the truest bohemian. He partied and painted parties and relentlessly seduced beautiful women into his studio, and made irresponsibility a virtue. Renoir was the spoiled, bad little brother. He was one of those who early on, hid his illegitimate son to protect his source of income (parents), for a decade! Renoir was a connoisseur of willing women, with more beautiful models than any artist could ever do justice. This never bothered him, as he was looking at colors, hats and accessories, and gave all his figures fat round faces as if they were all born of the same mind.. and they were. He had an affair with Lise Trehot, his favorite model early on.

 L@L  Pierre August Renoir (1841-1919) 
and his wife Aline, (born 1860)
possibly with two students.

Renoir did finally marry however... in his middle age, to Aline Victorine Charigot, his gorgeous young muse and model, whose figure was soon lost in the process of bearing him his three beautiful sons, who often modeled for him, sometimes as girls. 

 L@L  Aline Charigot Renoir

L@L  Aline met Pierre when 20 years old,
 in 1880 - borne him a son, Pierre in 1885,
married him in 1890

Gabrielle Renard by Renoir

The Renoirs hired Aline's cousin, a lovely nanny named Gabrielle Renard, who quickly became Pierre's preferred model and her round-faced likeness graced many canvases. 

Unfairly, Renoir outlived his sweet, indulgent, longsuffering, much younger wife, and became old and like Mark Twain, someone who literally needed pretty young women to breathe. And more importantly to create. Lewis Carroll (left-handed) had exposed the very heart of man's spinal chord with his focus on the young female, in his photography and in his writings such as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland... Perhaps it is the age difference, where old men finally feel equal to the emotional, ego-crushing conundrums of their youth, and joyfully enjoy the pressure-free exchanges between themselves, past their prime (and sexual vitality) and innocent girls on the cusp of theirs.  

 Child actress Elsie Leslie was just one of Mark Twain's "Angelfish."

Whatever the motives, and they are legion, Twain called his lovely young fans “Angelfish.”  Renoir called them students. Twain was often photographed with darling little girls in white dresses, seemingly in perpetual reconstruction of his early years when his daughters were young and innocent and had not brought so much frustration and tragedy in his life. Renoir, father of sons,  had never really known that kind of sweet, trusting intimacy, but certainly understood that children and youth, and especially young girls, were the apex of life.

L@L   Jeanne Gonzales, artist and 
 Gabrielle Renard, nanny & model.

L@L  This appears to be an amazing group photo
 of Julie Manet in the front and center, with 
Edward Darley Boit, Childe Hassam and
 Genevieve Mallarme behind. Boit and 
Hassam were American impressionists.

One young female muse of Renoir's was the classically beautiful niece of Edouard Manet, Julie Manet, the orphaned daughter of the marriage of his brother and artist Berthe Morisot. The above photo is of Julie and Genevieve, apparently showing two American artists around Paris Her mother had painted her many times, but when Morisot died fairly young, sweet, vulnerable Julie was left in the care of another relative, the well known French art patron and writer, Stephane Mallarme

L@L   Stephane Mallarme, poet and art patron
 who provided a home for Julie Manet,
 Berthe Morisot's daughter.

 Julie grew to maturity in the household with the Mallarme children, much like a step-sister.

L@L  Pierre August Renoir & his son Jean pose with
 (possibly) his babysitters, and models, the Gobillard sisters

 L@L  The Renoir children nanny and one of Renoir's favorite models Gabrielle Renard 
and Paule Gobillard, who often modeled
 for her aunt, Berthe Morisot (above). 

Mutual friends of the Mallarme's were the Gobillards, and their two daughters were quite close as well. There are several tintypes of various members of these tightly-knit yet blended families, revealing how inclusive and supportive the “Impressionist family” was. It is known that Pierre Renoir pledged his financial support of Julie Manet when she was quite young and her father had passed away. Quite naturally, she became his model and student when she reached maturity. She was in my opinion, (besides my wife!) one of the most beautiful women in the world.

 This tintype is the grand-slam of Manet's artist's models.
 Standing in the back is Mery Laurent.
on the floor are Paule Gobillard, 
Lise Trehot (center) and Julie Manet.

Apparently, all of these girls modeled for artists. It was the patriotic thing to do. When artists looked around and asked who can I employ... the Renoir-Mallarme-Gobillard network was sure to produce a body. This was for the most part on the “up and up.” These artists were no longer playing chase the muse/model around the easel. Models were no longer necessarily dancers and prostitutes. Still, it took a very confident young woman to cultivate a professional relationship with a force in art such as Renoir. The Renoir family nanny, Gabrielle did for years. Julie Manet did, and she married well, into an artist's family (Rouart) of course.

 Albert D'Cahens & family, 
art patrons who sat for Renoir.

When the Clemens's made the rounds in social circles, the Impressionists had become local heroes, underdogs who had challenged authority and prevailed, beloved more for what they represented than what they had painted. Mark Twain would have identified with all of that. Serious French collectors made their lives easier, purchasing and brokering their better works. They were famous and middle aged and secure financially, and their places in history unquestioned. In the beginning "ne'r -do -well" bums, they had evolved into an institution of their own. The argument was over...The revolution had a birthplace.

And a new form of art, inspired by the fringe Impressionist associate Paul Cezanne, now threatened to displace them. That is what happens when the underlying motive of a movement is change for change sake. Anarchy only breeds anarchy. And it usually is led by a... lefty. You can tell "handedness" in artist's self portraits, because the artist holds the palette with the "other hand," leaving his painting hand to paint. 

Felix Vallotton, self portrait.

Artists were often known to paint while looking into a double mirror, so as to not paint themselves backwards!

Self Portrait by Vallotton

L@L   Felix Vallotton (1865-1925)

 When Paul Cezanne passed away, Marie Cezanne his widow gladly wholesaled his mountain of unwanted, unstretched works, now piled in layers, actually walked-on like floor mats on his studio floor. The Americans gobbled them up. Durand-Ruel and other savvy art dealers had learned the art of selling art. What the market needed was not so much quality but affordability, and most of all, change, ever so often. Just like fishing, sometimes you just have to change the lure. 

Felix Vallotton was starting to take abstraction and obscenity to new levels. The sky was the limit. 

 Woman with a Black Hat, by Felix Vallotton, 1908.
L@L  Paul Durand-Ruel, (1831- 1922)
aggressive French art dealer, supporter 
of the Impressionists.

Then the inevitable happened. Money and commercialism took over the art market.  dealers became ruthless marketeers. They learned that the best way to sell art is attach a juicy story with it. Collectors, especially Americans, loved a scandalous story to go along with their souvenir from France... the ultimate conversation piece. And there were some sad cases which fed that heartless, insatiable monster.  Like a lonesome, schizophrenic artist who sliced off his ear to make the prostitute who neglected him feel guilty... and then became one of the most famous artists of all time... 

L@L   Vincent van Gogh
The man who straddled that fine line
 between genius and insanity.

NEXT:  Go to home fires.

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