The Restless Impressionist, Part 2

floor scrapers
‘The Floor Scrapers’ by Gustave Caillebotte was submitted, and rejected, at the Salon. 

I’ve been puzzling over the question I asked at the end of the last post: how did the Impressionist painters get anyone to show up to their exhibition? For an artist, creating the art is easy; getting anyone to care is the hard part. Well, after some initial digging, it seems the clearest answer to my question is “Gustave Caillebotte.”

Caillebotte was an Impressionist painter, but most importantly, the heir of a textile fortune who painted as a hobby. Being rich, he was able to support his buddies, often buying the paintings they were unable to sell. When he died he owned a substantial collection and, in his will, left the paintings to the French government, asking that they be hung at a national museum. How dare someone demand the government to officially exhibit such garbage? The executors of the will fought hard, and a few years later, the first national exhibition of Impressionist paintings opened in Paris.

I found this story in Hit Makers by Derek Thompson, where he argues we might not remember the Impressionists if it weren’t for Caillebotte’s collection. The most famous paintings by the most famous painters – Monet, Renoir, Degas – were all present at that first exhibit. With his will, Caillebotte took advantage of the controversy around these painters and packaged them the way you would package a boy band, which leads us to a new question: do you think Monet was the Harry or the Zayn of his group?

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