The Bad Boys of the 1867 Paris International Exposition: Whistler, Manet & Courbet

A bigger event than the Salon in 1867 was the Paris International Exposition. Held from April 1 to November 3, this World’s Fair proclaiming the cultural supremacy of France included exhibitors from 41 nations. Japan, which had been open to foreign trade for only about a dozen years, sent a delegation, the first to any International Exposition. The extravaganza boasted shops, restaurants and amusement parks and drew between 11 and 15 million visitors.

At the Paris Exposition, several of Whistler’s etchings and four of his paintings were exhibited:  The White Girl and Old Battersea Bridge, both of which he had exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1865, Wapping or On the Thames, which he had shown at the Royal Academy in 1864, and Twilight on the Ocean, later renamed Crépuscule in Flesh Colour and Green, which he just had shown in January at Ernest Gambart’s French Gallery in London.  His work was relegated to the dark corners reserved for Americans.  Whistler, who always walked his mother to church on Sunday mornings, was involved in more street brawls in 1867 – in Paris, he punched a workman who accidentally dropped plaster on his head in a narrow street, and soon after that, he shoved his brother-in-law through a plate-glass window. Whistler ended up in court both times, and the Burlington Fine Arts Club expelled him. He had earned a reputation, in London, as an uncouth individual.

Manet’s work was rejected by the 1867 Salon jury. His entries – all his paintings which had been rejected from previous Salons — also were rejected for the Paris Exposition, which, like the Salon, was sponsored by the French government.  Since Manet earned so little from his art, he lived on a generous 20,000 francs a year doled out by his mother.

Gustave Courbet - The Oak at Flagey (The Oak o...

The Oak at Flagey (The Oak of Vercingetorix), by Gustave Courbet.  Murauchi Art Museum.  Photo credit: Wikipedia

Henri Fantin-Latour: Portrait d'Edouard Manet,...

Portrait of  Édouard Manet, 1867, by Henri Fantin-Latour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Courbet had nine paintings accepted for the 1867 Salon – ones he called “proper” pictures, “the kind they like” – including The Oak at Flagey – and four in the Paris Exposition, including The Black Stream, borrowed from Napolean III’s collection at the palace of Saint-Cloud.

Though Manet still craved official recognition, he and Courbet teamed up to present their work in an independent exhibition based on Courbet’s groundbreaking private exhibition next to the 1855 Paris Exposition. (After only 11 of his 14 entries were accepted that year, Courbet had withdrawn them and then raised the funds to build his own exhibition hall; his “Pavilion of Realism” failed due to lack of public interest.)  This year, Manet borrowed 18,000 francs from his inheritance and hoped to earn public acceptance of his work by building a large, temporary wooden pavilion across the street from one of the entrances to the International Exposition, at the Place d’Alma. The land was owned by an aristocratic art-lover who owned several of Courbet’s landscapes. Courbet, intending his pavilion to be permanent so he could boycott future Salons, invested 50,000 francs in the scheme. He mailed 3,000 invitations, sent his catalog to artists all over Paris, and showed 140 of his pictures, half of them landscapes (which he boasted he could paint in two hours).  He also exhibited his Woman with a Parrot, which he had retained rather than sold after it had been such a hit at the 1866 Salon.  But the public was apathetic, and his exhibition closed after only six months.  Courbet had been publicly criticized for charging an admission fee, but he had bigger problems with the employee who embezzled three to four thousand francs from those fees, as well as the theft of several paintings.

Manet showed fifty-six paintings, including Young Lady in 1866 (Woman with a Parrot) and Luncheon on the Grass, which had been reviled at the Salon des Refusés three years ago.  Manet explained his work in the catalog: “Manet has no pretensions either to overthrow an established mode of painting or to create a new one. Manet never wished to protest. He has only sought to be himself and not another.”

Manet - Blick auf die Weltausstellung von 1867

The Universal Exhibition of 1867, by Édouard Manet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few visitors came to this independent exhibition, and Manet’s work – and the man himself — continued to receive jeers from the critics and the public. Between June and August, he painted The Universal Exhibition of 1867, a large and cynical panoramic view from the edge of the fairgrounds by an artist who remained marginalized. He continued to paint scenes from contemporary life, such as The Races at Longchamp, showing horses speeding toward the viewer in a cloud of dust.

The Races at Longchamp, 1864.

The Races at Longchamp (1866) by Édouard Manet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tissot had enjoyed a career free from this kind of public misunderstanding, personal attacks and struggle, so far.

© 2012 Lucy Paquette.  All rights reserved.

CH377762The Hammock:  A novel based on the true story of French painter James Tissot, brings Tissot’s world from 1870 to 1879 alive in a story of war, art, Society glamour, love, scandal, and tragedy.

Illustrated with 17 stunning, high-resolution fine art images in full color

Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library  

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