Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863 -1944) was active for more than 60 years – from the 1880s until his death. He was a prolific artist whose range, and volume, of work is staggering. On his death, he bequeathed to the city of Oslo, 1008 painting, 4,443 drawings, and 15,391 prints in addition to etchings, lithographs, woodcuts etc. All of which makes it even more ironic that today he is known the world over for one single image – the iconic Scream.
Munch experimented in different movements – from Pointillism to Expressionism. Yet, it is in his sorrowful paintings that he reveals his soul and shares the enduring sadness he felt after the death of his mother and then his sister.
I’m fascinated by famous artists that are also collectors -Edgar Degas is one such artist who was also a collector and owned paintings by Edouard Manet and Paul Gauguin. Another such artist who was an avid collector – and left his amazing collection for Musee d’Orsay (Paris) – is the French Impressionist artist Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894). Though he was part of the French Impressionist Movement, his own paintings were more realistic – they had less of the light airiness of Monet and the gaiety of Renoir’s boating parties and more of the stark, modern cityscapes and city workers of Haussmann’s Paris.
Caillebotte was different from the other Impressionist artists in another way – he was born into a wealthy family and did not need to sell his paintings. Not only did he not need to sell his own work, he supported the other Impressionists by regularly buying paintings from these avant-garde artists at a time when they did not enjoy the same patronage that classical Salon artists did. In 1876, Caillebotte purchased his first Monet, after which he bought numerous paintings from Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, and Sisley.
On his death he bequeathed his collection of 68 impressionist paintings to Musee d’Orsay, who interestingly were not interested in this bequest. Caillebotte’s younger brother and Renoir spent months convincing the museum to accept the paintings, and in 1895 they accepted 40 of them.
These paintings now form the heart of Musee d’Orsay’s impressionist collection. The museum did try to acquire the rest from Caillebotte’s niece Genevieve Caillebotte in the early 1900s but she denied the request and the paintings were sold to collectors. Many can be found at the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia – I found this Edouard Manet that was purchased by an American and later donated to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas.
Caillebotte and his brother also had the largest stamp collection in France, which is now at the British Library. This amazing artist collector was also responsible for convincing the Muse de Louvre to purchase Edouard Manet’s Olympia.
Once again, we find ourselves in the midst of stay-in orders due to the rising cases of coronavirus across the country. It reminded me of the time earlier this year, when Italians with stay-in orders spent their evenings on the balconies – socially distant yet connected with their neighbors – singing songs together and trying to make the best of a very difficult situation.
This gave me the idea for today’s blog – people in their balconies watching life go by – sometimes wistfully, sometimes happy to be onlookers, sometimes to connect with the outside world, sometimes to disconnect from the world, sometimes spying on others – and occasionally being spied on by others – like in Caillebotte’s woman looking at and at the same time being looked at by another woman on a balcony across the street!!
Balconies are a special world – a meeting point of the interior world of homes and shelter spaces and the outside world – they can bring a tiny bit of the outside in or take a bit of the inside out – it all depends on the person inhabiting the balcony at any moment in time.
Looking out – whether to watch people on city streets, or to become one with nature, or to be mesmerized by the sea…..
Nothing quite like the childlike joy – filled with anticipation – of looking out..
(Sources: Google Arts and Culture, Tate Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, Christie’s, Van Gogh Museum)