Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927) part I

Armand Guillaumin

Armand Guillaumin

Jean-Baptiste Armand Guillaumin was born on the 16th of February 1841 in Paris, the grandson of Jean Joseph Guillaumin who was a notary by trade. Sent to school in Moulins, his stay there was remarkable for two things: the mountainous landscape of the area inspired his interest in art and the beginnings of a life long friendship with the celebrated impressionist collector Eugene Murer.




By 1857 he was back in Paris working as a clerk in his uncles shop and combining this with art studies under the sculptor Caillouet. However, these studies caused conflict with his family and he left to seek new employment and at the same time continuing his art training at the Academie Suisse where he came into touch with Courbet, and formed more lasting friendships with Cezanne, Oller and Pissarro. Guillaumin exhibited in the first Salon des Refuses in 1863 together with Pissarro and Cezanne and in the following two years Renoir and Monet amongst others were added to their ranks. Even at this early stage in his career Guillaumin was considered an accomplished draughtsman using economic and dynamic strokes to execute remarkably mature compositions. He was quickly accepted into the circle of Zola and the directions in which Manet was taking art drove his interest. His paintings of this period incorporate a heavy impasto derived in no small part from his exposure to Courbet.

Guillaumin, like Renoir but unlike the majority of the Impressionist artists, had no private income and had to continue in menial work to support his profession. The advent of the Franco-Prussian war did nothing to help his cause either, but the period after the war saw a greater linking of the artists who were taking part in the Impressionist movement. Guillaumin and Cezanne came into touch with Dr Gachet who bought a number of their works, as did Murer who had recently established a successful cafe in Paris. However times were bleak for the Impressionists as a whole with the advent of a rigorously conservative political regime and the trial of Courbet for his part in the commune. The salon voted to reject all Courbet’s work and that of the Impressionists who were seen as part of the Realist school, although perhaps only Pissarro had any particular political leanings towards the commune. By the time of the scandalous Exposition de la Societe Anonyme Guillaumin and Cezanne were sharing the studio that used to belong to Daubigny, both in precarious financial positions although aided by the patronage of Gachet and Murer who remained close friends of the pair. In the mid to late 1870’s Guillaumin’s handling of the brush becomes lighter and more complex and his palette becomes more luminous in a move away from the style of Manet and Courbet. Both Cezanne and Guillaumin wished to create something solid out of impressionism, to create a sense of underlying form in nature.

By 1880 the Impressionist group was beginning to scrap, particular camps forming around Degas and Pissarro with artists drawn to either side. Gauguin was becoming a particularly vocal member of the artistic society of that time and sided heavily with Pissarro, making every effort to include Guillaumin in his cause. Despite their initial misgivings, Renoir and Monet joined the Impressionist Exhibition of 1882 with Guillaumin, Gauguin and Pissarro (also included were Sisley, Morisot, Vignon and Caillebotte) but Degas was conspicuously absent.

Gauguin, a notably egotistical and difficult man, went to surprising lengths to keep Guillaumin within the impressionist fold during its fragmentation and during this period he was introduced to a wide range of emerging artists including Redon, Seurat and Signac with whom he formed a lasting friendship. By 1885 Guillaumin’s studio had become a centre for the young group influenced by the work of Pissarro. All three artists from the Academie Suisse were revered by the emerging artists, but by 1885 the old guard of impressionism had effectively dispersed and the new styles of painting were causing further rifts. Gauguin who had worked himself to the centre of the impressionist group was allowing his temper and intolerance to destroy the group from the inside, and it was at this time that Guillaumin saw himself outgrowing the impressionist movement he had been a part of since its outset. However by the time of the last Impressionist exhibition of 1886 Guillaumin was receiving some rapturous critical appraisal. Paul Adam wrote in La Revue Contemporaine that he “was not aware of any other painter who has so correctly noted the corresponding values of the lights of the firmament and of the ground. their unification in colour appears to be perfect.” Felix Feneon reiterated this writing of the same show “Immense Skies: superheated skies where clouds jostle each other in a battle of greens and purples, of mauves and of yellows.”

To be continued in part II




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