French Art at the Exposition Universelle of 1889

Café Volpini poster, cover and front page for Volpini exhibition, 1889. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Café Volpini poster, cover and front page for Volpini exhibition, 1889. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

This week my students and I are discussing a show that Gauguin and his friends mounted in June 1889 at the Café des Artes (later known as the Café Volpini, after its owner). Gauguin and his friends, who failed to exhibit at the official art show that was mounted by the committee of the Exposition Universelle, decided to mount their own show at a venue on the grounds of the fair.  This café was located in an ideal location: it was right outside the Italian galleries from the Décennale exhibition (a show which was devoted to art from the past decade), and also near the Pavilion de la Presse.1 As a result, journalists were sure to pass by the café and see the art on display. Although the Café Volpini show was a flop from an economic standpoint, the artists must have gotten some exposure by being on the fair grounds, given that an overwhelmingly impressive number of people – 28 million! – visited the Exposition Universelle that year; the fair ran from May 6th until November 6th.2

After class yesterday, a student asked me whether any avant-garde artists (like the Impressionists) exhibited their work at the Palais des Beaux-Arts show at the Exposition Universelle. I thought I would address that question here, in order to showcase why Gauguin and his friends were not invited to exhibit at the Exposition Universelle. For the most part, conservative, juste milieu, academic (including “pompier”), and/or Naturalist (i.e. late Realist) painters were highlighted in the official show. There were only few Impressionists who exhibited work (see below), but overall the show largely ignored this artistic movement. It seems logical to me that Post-Impressionists like Gauguin would not have been invited to exhibit in this show, given that a small dose of Impressionism was barely palatable enough for the exhibition committee.3

To prepare for this post, I have been combing through two catalogs from the 1889 exposition: Catalogue général officiel and Catalogue général officiel; Exposition centennale de l’art français (1789-1889). French art was divided into two exhibitions, the “Exposition centennale de l’art français (1789-1889)” and the “Exposition Décennale de l’art français (1878 to 1889).” There are over six hundred paintings that appeared on display in the Palais des Beaux-Arts (not to mention sculpture, drawings, and prints), and I am only highlighting a few artists and paintings which I find to be of interest. Since there were so many conservative artists that monopolized the show, I will discuss a few of these first, and then highlight some of the more avant-garde and recent artists which were accepted to the official show.

Meissonier is one artist who is particularly praised by the international jury. Perhaps this praise reveals a bit of a bias, since Meissonier was serving as president of the jury for the fine arts division of the Exposition Universelle that year! Meissonier, who was seventy-four at the time, had nineteen works of art on display at the show. These works of art included L’Auberge au Pont de Poissy (shown below), which was painted the same year as the exhibition itself.

Meissonier, "L'Auberge au Pont de Poissy," 1889

Meissonier, “L’Auberge au Pont de Poissy,” 1889

Other paintings included in the show were Bouguereau’s La Jeunesse de Bacchus (The Youth of Bacchus, 1884) and Jules Bastien-Lepange’s Joan of Arc (1879). One of the prize winners of the Palais des Beaux-Arts show was  Léon-Augustin Lhermitte, who exhibited The Harvest (1874).

Alfred Stevens, "A Portrait of Parisian Celebrities" from "Panorama of the Century," 1889

Alfred Stevens, “A Portrait of Parisian Celebrities” from “Panorama of the Century,” 1889

Alfred Stevens, who was born in Belgium but moved to Paris in the 1840s, was another artist who was highlighted at the Exposition Universelle. However, Stevens was not featured in the retrospective fine arts exhibition, but received the commission to create a panoramic painting specifically for the Exposition Universelle of 1889. This painting, Panorama du Siecle (Panorama of the Century), was painted with the help of Henri Gervex. It was an astonishing 120 meters long and 6 meters high (in other words, the size of a football field)! The immense panorama was installed at the Tuileries during the Exposition Universelle. Unsurprisingly, Stevens was unable to secure a permanent place to display the panorama after the fair ended, so he cut the painting into sections and distributed them to shareholders. One of these sections is now titled A Portrait of Parisian Celebrities (shown above, more information HERE). A few other segments of the panorama can be seen HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Édouard Manet, "Boating," 1874. 38 1/4 x 51 1/4 in. (97.2 x 130.2 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Édouard Manet, “Boating,” 1874. 38 1/4 x 51 1/4 in. (97.2 x 130.2 cm). Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image courtesy Wikipedia. Exhibited as part of the “Exposition centennale de l’art français (1789-1889)” from May-November 1889.

Artists with more of a notorious reputation were invited to show their work, too, thanks to the influence of the critic Roger Marx.4 For example, Courbet had twelve paintings on display at the Centennial Exhibition, and Manet had fourteen paintings in that show. In addition to Boating (shown above), Manet also exhibited The Spanish Singer (an earlier work of art that I highlighted in a recent post). Manet first received critical success for The Spanish Singer, so it makes sense to me that this painting by Manet would be included in the centennial show. Unsurprisingly, his infamous Olympia painting was also shown. I think the inclusion of this painting really shows how accepting the French public had become of Realism by 1889, considering that this painting caused a scandal when it was exhibited at the Salon of 1865.

A few Impressionist paintings were on display as well. Monet had three paintings on display in the Centennial Exposition, listed as Les Tuileries, Vetheuil, and L’église de Vernon (read about the series for this latter painting HERE). Pissaro also had a work of art on display, Soleil d’hiver. Degas was invited to exhibit, but he declined the invitation.(Given the ambiguity of these titles in the catalog and the fact that Impressionists would often paint the same subject more than once, I haven’t been able to concretely pinpoint which specific paintings were exhibited. If anyone knows, please share!)

Gustave Moreau, "Jacob and the Angel," 1878. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Gustave Moreau, “Jacob and the Angel,” 1878. Image courtesy Wikipedia

I think that Gauguin and his colleagues would have been most interested having their show compete with the art that was displayed in the “Exposition Décennale de l’art français (1878 to 1889),” since this art would have been the most recent. And, as I mentioned earlier, the Italian galleries for the overall décennale exhibition were located near the Café des Artes (Café Volpini).

I haven’t found a catalog for the décannale show specifically – please share if you know where I can find one in print or digital format! I do know, though, that Moreau’s Jacob and the Angel (1874-1878) was part of this official show. I find this subject matter striking, given the context of Gauguin and the ongoing Cafe Volpini show, because of Gauguin’s interest in this biblical subject. Although Gauguin’s famous painting Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) was not included in the 1889 Café Volpini show, Gauguin had painted this work of art just a year previously. Perhaps he noticed Moreau’s painting on display and considered how the painting was different from his own interpretation of the subject matter. I wouldn’t be surprised if this painting prompted Gauguin to brood over the fact that his own painting was not on display!

Are there particular works of art from the 1889 Beaux-arts exhibition or Café Volpini show that stand out in your mind?

 1 Heather Lemonedes, “Paul Gauguin’s High Yellow Note: The ‘Volpini Suite,'”, p. 29. Available online HERE.

2 Gill Perry, “Exhibiting ‘les Indépendents': Gauguin and the Café Volpini Show,” in The Challenge of the Avant-Garde by Paul Wood (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), p. 180.

3 The unequal representation of the French artistic scene caught the attention of at least one writer who covered the 1889 exhibition: “Offrons-nous aujord’hui à un artiste quelque chose que ressemble à cette collaboration silencieuse et efficace? Analysez les éléments dont se compose un public d’exposition, écoutez les jugements contradictoires et les théories discordantes des critiques; voyez le désarroi de l’esthétique contemporaine et toutes les nuances d’opinions, de gouts et d’idéals, depuis M. Bougereau jusqu’à M. Degas, depuis M. Bonnat jusqu’à M. Manet, depuis M. Paul Flandrin jusqu’à M. Claude Monet, depuis M. Meissonier jusqu’à M. Raffaëlli. Chacun a son public, ses défenseurs ou ses contradicteurs, souvent également acharnés.” See Librairie Illustrée, L’Exposition de Paris 1889 p. 242. Available online HERE.

4 Lemonedes., p. 28. Available online HERE.

5 Degas refused to participate in group exhibitions after 1886, and the World Fair of 1889 was no exception. See Lemonedes, p. 28. See also Metropolitan Museum of Art, Edgar Degas (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988) p. 363. Available online HERE.


Cleopatra and the Carpet Myth

Jean-Leon Gérôme, "Cleopatra and Caesar," 1866

Jean-Leon Gérôme, “Cleopatra and Caesar,” 1866

Today in class I showed my students the beginning of a short video clip by Sotheby’s about Gérôme’s Cleopatra and Caesar (shown above). The clip highlights how Cleopatra is depicted as having hidden in a rug (either a Persian or Turkish rug), which isn’t an accurate representation of what is described in Plutarch’s text. However, given the taste for exoticism in Orientalist art at the time, I can see why Gérôme’s opted to depict a carpet rug instead, despite the cultural inaccuracy and anachronism.

The video clip mentions how Gérôme’s painting has influence on Cecil B. DeMille, who directed Cleopatra (1937, starring Claudette Colbert). I can see how the inaccurate inclusion of a carpet could perhaps connect to this point, since a carpet rug was used to smuggle Cleopatra into Caesar’s presence in DeMille’s film (see image below). Similarly, a later version of Cleopatra which was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1963, starring Elizabeth Taylor) has a great scene which shows the queen dramatically and unceremoniously unrolled from a rug before Caesar (who is played by Rex Harrison). I can see why these filmmakers opted to depict a lavish carpet – it is more visually striking and dramatic than a sack used to hold bedclothes (as described by Plutarch).

Claudette Colbert in film "Cleopatra" (1937)

Claudette Colbert in film “Cleopatra” (1937)

To be fair, though, I want to highlight something about this “carpet myth.” While I think that Gérôme’s painting may have inspired 20th century filmmakers to portray Cleopatra with a carpet, other sources should be acknowledged too. I don’t think that this painting, which was completed in 1866, should be highlighted as the ultimate source for the myth. In fact, a 1770 translation of Plutarch by Langhorne introduced the word “carpet” instead of “sack of bedclothes.”1 A few decades after Gérôme’s painting was completed, George Bernard Shaw highlighted the carpet in his 1898 novel, Cleopatra and Caesar, by writing, “It is a Persian carpet – a beauty!”2

Do you know of other examples in art or popular culture that display Cleopatra with a carpet?

1 Christopher Pelling, Plutarch Caesar: Translated with an Introduction and Commentary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 385.

2 Ibid.



Manet’s Early Salon Submissions

I’m on a roll this week with my posts on 19th century art, aren’t I? I have been discussing Manet’s Le Déjuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) with my students over the past few days, particularly in how this painting caused a scandal when it was displayed at the Salon des Refusés in 1863. In that discussion, I had a student ask what was the first painting that Manet ever submitted to the Salon for consideration. I didn’t know that answer off the top of my head, so I looked up that information after class.

After a little research, I learned that The Absinthe Drinker (c. 1859, shown below) was submitted to the 1859 Salon, when Manet was twenty-seven years old. It was rejected almost unanimously by the committee, with only Eugene Delacroix voting in its favor. I can see why this painting was rejected. The painting looks rather unfinished, and the legs of the figure are quite awkward. The feet turn outward in an awkward way, so that it looks like the shoes are worn on the wrong feet! That being said, I can’t deny that I’m also drawn to the contrast of the black shoes and bottle with the light-yellow floor.

Édouard Manet, "The Absinthe Drinker," c. 1859

Édouard Manet, “The Absinthe Drinker,” c. 1859

Two years later, in 1861, Manet had two paintings accepted into the Salon for the first time. At this point, Manet was twenty-nine years old. One of these debut paintings was The Spanish Singer (1860, shown below). This also was the first work that brought Manet critical success and recognition; he actually won an honorable mention at the Salon for this painting.

Manet, "The Spanish Singer," 1860. Image courtesy WikiArt.

Manet, “The Spanish Singer,” 1860. Image courtesy WikiArt.

The other painting which was accepted into the Salon of 1861 was a portrait of Manet’s parents, Portrait of M. and Mme Auguste Manet (1860, shown below). This painting did not receive critical attention or favor, which makes sense to me. Madame Manet’s facial features are a bit awkward and asymmetrical (more so, than say, Manet’s Olympia), and the shading of her face seems a bit inconsistent.

Manet, "Portrait Of M. And Mme. Auguste Manet" (1860)

Manet, “Portrait Of M. And Mme. Auguste Manet” (1860)

It was fun for me to look into these paintings and see some works of art that preceded Manet’s more famous paintings like Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia. I think these earlier paintings are great examples of how Manet was influenced by Velasquez. I particularly thought of Velasquez’s The Water Carrier of Seville (1618-1622) when I looked at these early works, particularly in terms of the color palette, dramatic use of light, and the Caravaggesque background.

It was surprising for me to realize that Manet was in his late twenties when he started submitting paintings to the Salon. He achieved a lot of attention for his art (for better or for worse) fairly early in his life, especially considering that he was just thirty-one when Luncheon on the Grass was hung in the Salon des Refusés in 1863! (This same year, Manet married his old piano teacher, Suzanne Leenhoff, a woman who was two years his senior. It could be that Manet fathered a son with Suzanne a little over a decade before the wedding.) I suppose it was good that Manet captured the attention of the Parisian artistic scene at a relatively young age, since he died of syphillis at the age of fifty-one.

What early works by Manet to you like (or not like)?


The World Fair and Datsolalee’s Baskets

Photograph of Datsolalee (also spelled "Dat-so-la-lee")

Photograph of Louisa Keyser, called Datsolalee (also spelled “Dat-so-la-lee”)

It’s always interesting to me when art historical worlds collide. Just yesterday I was writing about how Anna Alma-Tadema, the daughter of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exhibited the watercolor The Drawing Room at the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chacago. And then today, in a tour of an exhibition of American Indian art curated by David W. Penney, I learned that the Washoe basketweaver Louisa Keyser (called “Datsolalee”) exhibited her basketwork at this same exhibition! In fact, Penney said that this exhibition helped Datsolalee to achieve more fame and renown for her basketweaving.1

Louisa Keyser (Datsolalee), Basket bowl ("Morning Lights" style, as dubbed by the artist), 1907. Willow shoots, redbud shoots, bracken fern root.

Louisa Keyser (Datsolalee), Degikups (“day-gee-coops”) basket bowl (“Harbor Lights” design, as dubbed by Keyser’s dealer), 1907. Willow shoots, redbud shoots, bracken fern root.

It’s striking to me how a Western taste for “the exotic” can be found in just these two examples that I have been thinking about this week, although the “exotic” looks to two different non-Western cultures. Anna Alma-Tadema’s watercolor contains textiles, tilework, and laquered furniture which are Eastern and/or Eastern-inspired in style. The inclusion of Datsolalee’s baskets in the 1893 fair is one way that Westerners were interested in American Indian cultures. This fair also was the first to include a live exhibition of American Indians (see one photo HERE).2

It seems to me that such live exhibitions and displays could help to disseminate an understanding of American Indian culture on some basic level, but the sheer spectacle and to-be-looked-at-ness of these displays suggest an “exoticization” and Other-ing on part of the Westerners to who organized and attended the fair. Although I realize that this Western interest in (and exploitation of!) the exotic can be found at many other of the World Fairs that were held during the 19th century and beyond, I think that this particular fair is somewhat-wryly appropriate, since the Columbian Exposition celebrated the 400th year that Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492. Given this context, it seems fitting that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show performed at the exposition, just outside the main entrance to the fair!3

Datsolalee is an interesting artist to me, especially since she was able to be successful, due to and in spite of the Western culture which encroached and superimposed itself on her people. Datsolalee’s people, the Washoe, are from the area in the United States called northwest Nevada. She married a man of mixed blood, Charlie Keyser, and made her living as a camp cook and laundress, but her skills at basketweaving were soon recognized by Amy and Abram Cohn. The Cohns became Datsolalee’s art dealers (in fact, they gave her the “Datsolalee” nickname, perhaps as a marketing strategy) and promoted her work.4 She wove baskets for Cohn’s Emporium for thirty years until her death. (Read more details of her biography HERE and an article written in the Reno Evening Gazette just after her death in 1925.)

Abram "Abe" Cohn with baskets by Datsolalee

Dealer Abram “Abe” Cohn with baskets by Datsolalee

One of the reasons why Datsolalee is well-known today is not just because she achieved exposure through Cohn’s Emporium or the Columbian Exposition, nor just because of her impressive craftsmanship (her best work is recorded to be baskets that had eighty strands to an inch!), but because of the cataloging of her baskets that was done by her dealer, as well as the bill of sale that was given with her baskets. The Cohns wrote these bills of sale to include several detailed bits of information: a description of the basket, stitches to the inch, the design of the basket, the amount of time it took to create the basket, and Datsolalee’s handprint. Datsolalee used her handprint, which was copyrighted, as a signature! As a result, these baskets were easily identified and connected back to her, which wasn’t always the case with American Indian weavers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although the Cohns were known to fabricate and exaggerate elements of Datsolalee’s biography, as well as include incorrect information on the bills of sale, these bills still helped to connect the baskets to Datsolalee as a specific, unique individual.5

On one hand, the “exoticizing” of American Indian culture and craft at Western venues like the 1893 Columbian Exposition likely spread some inaccurate information or perceptions of American Indians to those who visited the fair. At the same time, though, this Western venue helped to promote Datsolalee and her basketweaving. And, thanks to the the detailed bills of sale written by Datsolalee’s art dealer, we know about Datsolalee today (although, admittedly one needs to separate the truth from myth). I think these points help illustrate that the dissemination and preservation of knowledge, especially accurate knowledge, is a tricky thing when it comes to cross-cultural interactions.

What do you know of other ways in which Westerners helped to preserve the information about American Indian craftsmen and artists? Do you know anything else about Datsolalee which interests you? I learned today that she requested to be buried with one of the last baskets she made, which I thought was fitting.

1 Tour with David W. Penney, Seattle Art Museum, February 10, 2015.

2 Elizabeth Hutchinson, The Indian Craze: Primitivism, Modernism, and Transculturation in American Art, 1890–1915 (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 43. Available online HERE.

3 Marsha C. Bol, “Defining Lakota Tourist Art,” in Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds, by Ruth B. Phillips, Christopher B. Steiner, eds. (Oakland, California: University of California Press, 1999), p. 200. Available online HERE.

4 The name “Dat-so-la-lee” means “Big Hips” in Washoe. However, I also found elsewhere that the nickname was actually due to “Dr. S.L. Lee,” the first white man to admire and take an interest in Datsolalee’s baskets. See HERE.

5 For more information on the myths that were propagated by the Cohns, see Christopher Ross, “Datsolalee and the Myth Weavers” in The Historical Nevada Magazine: Outstanding Historical Features from the Pages of Nevada Magazine by Richard Moreno, ed. (Reno, Nevada; University of Nevada Press, 1999), 86-94. Available online HERE.


The Alma-Tadema Artists!

This afternoon I learned that I can no simply write “Alma-Tadema” to designate the paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, a Dutch-born artist who worked in England in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Writing just the last name would be too confusing, since I now have learned that Lawrence was not the only painter in his family: his second wife, Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema (maiden name: Laura Epps) was a painter as well, as well as his daughter Anna! I love the thought of the Alma-Tademas painting together and consulting each other on their latest artistic project. I want to highlight these two lesser-known female Alma-Tadema artists, Laura and Anna, in this post.

According to her obituary in The Times in 1909, Laura was being trained as a musician until she met Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who subsequently taught her how to paint. The two were wed that same year, in 1871. The paintings by Laura Alma-Tadema are different than her husband, though I do think that their styles are complementary. Although both husband and wife were interested in depicting scenes from the past, Laura’s paintings tended to focus more on genre and domestic scenes.

Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema, "Always Welcome," 1887. Russell-Coates Art Gallery and Museum.

Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema, “Always Welcome,” 1887. Russell-Coates Art Gallery and Museum.

The painting Always Welcome (shown above), suggests the interior of a Dutch home in the 17th century, particularly due to the clothing of the little girl. In this scene, a young girl has come to visit her invalid mother. This painting was owned by the collector Sir Merton Russell-Coates, and it was Merton’s favorite piece in his extensive collection. The painting also resonates with me, since my littlest sister, a blonde, was five years old when my dark-haired mother fell very ill and was bedridden some years ago.

Similar subject matter that celebrates the Golden Age of Holland can be seen in lots of Laura’s other paintings, including At The Doorway and Sweet Industry. Although I do think that her husband was the greater of the two artists (there are some bits of awkwardness in her proportions and stiffness in her figures at times), I’m glad to know that Laura was a painter in her on right. She exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and also exhibited elsewhere in Europe, including the International Exhibition in Paris (1878) and International Art Exhibition in Berlin (1886).

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, "This is Our Corner," 1872. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Lawrence Alma-Tadema, “This is Our Corner,” 1872. Image courtesy Wikipedia

There is no doubt that Lawrence and Laura’s artistic influence played a role in the art created by Lawrence’s daughter, Anna. Anna and her elder sister Laurence were born to Lawrence’s first wife, Marie-Pauline Gressin Dumoulin, who died the year that Anna turned two years old. The two sisters are depicted in This is Our Corner (shown above), painted by their father Lawrence in 1872.

Anna Alma-Tadema, "The Drawing Room" (also called "The Drawing Room at Townshend House"), 1885. Watercolor

Anna Alma-Tadema, “The Drawing Room” (also called “The Drawing Room at Townshend House”), 1885. Watercolor

Anna Alma-Tadema enjoyed some success as an artist, particularly during the time that her father was also alive. Like her stepmother Laura, Anna also exhibited at the Royal Academy and other international exhibitions. Anna was a talented artist with an eye for fine detail, which allowed her to create some beautiful paintings of domestic interiors full of exotic and luxurious items. One watercolor, The Drawing Room (1885, shown above), was created when Anna was a teenager. This painting was exhibited in the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893. I think it is easy to see how Anna’s taste for luxury and exoticism fits with the aesthetic of her father’s romanticized and orientalist paintings.

Anna Alma-Tadema (1865-1943), Self_Portrait, n.d. Oil on paper.

Anna Alma-Tadema (1865-1943), Self_Portrait, n.d. Oil on paper.

The two Alma-Tadema sisters never married – in fact, Laurence, a writer, wrote a short poem, “If No One Ever Marries Me” in 1897. The two sisters reputedly lived in poverty and obscurity after their father’s death, which is unfortunate given their talent and promise. In order to help pull Anna’s work out of obscurity, I’ll be more careful and specific when I label something by one of the Alma-Tadema painters. Even in writing this post, I found several paintings by Laura and Anna which were attributed to Lawrence (something that another blogger lamented back in 2011!).

What are your favorite paintings by either Lawrence, Laura, or Anna Alma-Tadema?



This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.