Both Michael Marrinan’s Gustave Caillebotte: Painting the Paris of Naturalism, 1872–1887 and Mary Hunter’s The Face of Medicine: Visualising Medical Masculinities in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris consider painting from the same place and period, as well as conceptions of realism and naturalism, and constructions of masculinity. The ways that they do this attest not only to the diversity of arts practices operating within those arenas but also to the very different modes of art historical inquiry that address them. Gustave Caillebotte: Painting the Paris of Naturalism, 1872–1887 is a long-awaited contribution to Impressionist studies, and the result of decades of research. Through extensive work in the Paris notary archives and careful study of little-known and privately held paintings, Marrinan offers a cohesive picture of the artist’s life and career, answering biographical questions that have long plagued scholars. Twelve short and clear chapters are accompanied by over 130 colour reproductions. Given that Caillebotte’s catalogue raisonnée is almost exclusively black and white, and that the majority of his work resides in private collections and is therefore difficult to access, this is a significant achievement that greatly expands our understanding of the scope of Caillebotte’s practice. The application of a consistent authorial voice addressed to the entire span of the artist’s career is also noteworthy. Caillebotte holds a unique place in histories of nineteenth-century art, which has given rise to bold arguments from some of Impressionism’s most eminent scholars but few single-authored, book-length studies. Caillebotte’s best-known paintings do not include the hallmarks of what has come to be identified as Impressionist style. His independent wealth has often been considered the cause of an inconsistent oeuvre, which allowed at times for striking innovation in composition and subject choice but, on other occasions, work that has been described in terms of a rather amateur quality. His notoriously sketchy biography and striking pictures have been the subject of essays and chapters that have included interpretations related to Caillebotte’s sexual identity, his transgression of gendered norms of representation, and his contested relationship to class.1 While Marrinan’s project may lack the radical stakes and polemical energy that drove some of those earlier interventions, his account of Caillebotte’s work nonetheless provides a touchstone for coming to terms with it. The book opens with an impressive display of archival research, through which Marrinan recounts the successful business career and resultant wealth of Martial Caillebotte, the artist’s father, and the posthumous dispersal of his estate. The chapters that follow are organised roughly chronologically, mapping Caillebotte’s moves across city and country. Discussion of the painter’s role within the Impressionist circle and exhibitions is especially illuminating. Marrinan argues that Caillebotte’s collecting strategy was directly related to exhibition planning. Responding to critics who perceived the group as a smattering of undertrained outcasts, Caillebotte curated a version of Impressionism designed to seem coherent by collecting particular paintings by his colleagues, lending them to the group shows, and organising their hanging. In this manner, he also worked to secure his place within that company, collecting and displaying works with pictorial kinship to his own in order to address the many critics who wondered whether he was a bona fide Impressionist. For example, Caillebotte bought three of Monet’s paintings of the Gare Saint-Lazare, all of which include the section of the railway bridge that Caillebotte featured in Le Pont de l’Europe (1876). Similarly, in Le Pont de l’Europe, the strolling bon bourgeois figure, a self-portrait, stares through the bridge’s girders at the location where Monet set up his easel. Le Pont de l’Europe hung alongside Monet’s paintings in 1877, where exhibition visitors could experience the culmination of a dialogue between the two painters in the conception and execution of the works. Through such examples, Marrinan offers a picture of Caillebotte as determined and calculating, amassing a collection that responded directly to his ambitions for the movement. The benefit of this line of inquiry is that it connects Caillebotte the painter to Caillebotte the collector, identities that have often been addressed separately. However, pitfalls can occur when Marrinan extends this argument, asserting that the artist’s collecting strategy also related to his ambitions for his own practice. Marrinan explains that Caillebotte absorbed much from those works he purchased by Degas, Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir. That is to say, he learned from their examples. Certainly this is true, but without attending to how those pathways of influence worked both ways, Caillebotte can emerge in the text as struggling to keep pace with the developments of his peers, and rather dependent upon them. For instance, Marrinan argues that Monet’s Red Chrysanthemums (1881), which Caillebotte purchased, sparked the younger artist’s decision to paint still life in the early 1880s, and ‘would ultimately guide [Caillebotte’s] work in the genre’ (p. 287). But Caillebotte’s still life practice quickly took a very different direction than Monet’s, if he was indeed motivated by Monet’s example at all. In the early 1880s, Caillebotte produced the most remarkable still life paintings of any of his cohort—far surpassing Monet’s ambitions—and Marrinan does justice to this fact in his comprehensive chapter focused solely on them. Questions of Caillebotte’s tantalisingly enigmatic biography have always been central to inquiry into his oeuvre. This book is no exception, and it fills out the details of Caillebotte’s life story in crucial ways. As such, it will be foundational for any scholar working on the painter, and is at the same time accessible to the non-specialist. Perhaps as a result of Marrinan’s investment in Caillebotte’s life story, he privileges biographically inflected assessments of Caillebotte’s paintings with a wide-ranging combination of insights drawn from psychoanalysis. For example, he reads the intense pictorial ordering and rigid structure of Caillebotte’s canvases from 1875–8 in relation to the painter’s desire to exert control in his personal life, and as evidence of a certain socially mandated, haut bourgeois discipline. The distorted visual field of The Luncheon (1876) is interpreted as a response to ‘simmering familial tensions’ (p. 67) that Marrinan presumes to be operative because the brother depicted in the painting died shortly thereafter in significant debt. Canvases from the period after Caillebotte’s father’s death are described in melancholic terms, while analysis of Young Man at His Window (1875) conflates Caillebotte the painter with the figure at the window, both powerful propriétaires. While we may agree that Marrinan is right in his descriptions of the tone captured in Caillebotte’s paintings, to this reader it was not always clear how the biographic accounts for the formal choices and technical shifts in the work. Among Marrinan’s most important overarching claims is that Caillebotte thrusts the viewer into his scenes as a participant—something that Michael Fried has also described, at less length, in an essay that addresses the effects of embodiment in Caillebotte’s oeuvre.2 Marrinan argues that across his work in various genres, Caillebotte compensate[d] for a lack of technical spontaneity by engaging the comprehension of the artist/viewer in the present, thus shifting the depicted ‘instant’ from the time of making the image to that of apprehending it. Caillebotte precociously approached a phenomenology of time explored in Monet’s later series of wheatstacks, poplars, and cathedral facades. (p. 340) This passage from the end of the book is highly convincing, even if it casts Caillebotte’s accomplishment as a precursor to Monet’s. Caillebotte’s strongest works demand this active response from viewers, who are wont to feel a sense of immediacy before them, as though the paintings open onto a surreal, uncannily present world. Marrinan shows how, especially in paintings of Paris streets, Caillebotte communicated the physical materiality of things by embedding the viewer in the scene depicted. In his reading of Le Pont de L’Europe, the inconsistencies of perspective and resolution become devices to suggest that the viewer, like the depicted figures, is in motion, and that the spectator’s vision is likewise configured as a fellow stroller whose attention shifts among figures, buildings, shop windows, and traffic. Marrinan argues that the implied viewer of this painting, as in the other 1870s street scenes, is a flâneur ‘who strolls the boulevards and sees everything with interest, but always from an emotionally detached, analytic distance’ (p. 97). Notably, Marrinan not only describes the implied spectator as a ‘flaneur-viewer’ (p. 118), but he also uses the term as a descriptor for the artist himself, a ‘painter-flaneur’ (p. 111). However, Marrinan’s mobilisation of this mythic figure does not take sexual difference into account: The defining quality of a serious flaneur is his or her intelligence, the ability to see and to understand more fully than ordinary people. For Caillebotte this means understanding more than the city’s economic structure that is for him everyday business; it means grasping the imaginary form of new Paris, demonstrating the visual logic of its design, and celebrating its distinctive sociability. (p. 111) Whose ‘distinctive sociability’ is here celebrated, we might ask. Is the feminist critique of flânerie so well established that its gendering goes without saying? In The Face of Medicine, Mary Hunter refers to the flâneur only once, matter-of-factly and with the weight of four decades of feminist literature behind her, as ‘an exemplar of heroic masculinity in modern Paris’ (p. 113). Her point is that the flâneur does not describe a person but instead a figuration of male mastery and ocular connoisseurship that is anything but neutral. In fact, the problems plaguing the construction of the flâneur lie at the heart of Hunter’s book. Is the figuration of ideal modern masculinity emotionally detached or passionately invested? Does ‘he’ maintain analytic distance from the surroundings that he strives to represent with a degree of objectivity, or is his relationship to them marked by subjective desire, or even obsession? Is he the privileged interpreter of optical data, or does his practice implicate other modes of sensory experience and the gendered models of knowledge tied to them? These questions guide Hunter’s exploration of medical masculinities in 1880s Paris. She describes the systems of power and privilege through which leading painters, physicians, and scientists, as well as photographers, journalists, novelists, and wealthy individuals, relied upon their relationships with one another to establish their reputations and expand their influence. Hunter demonstrates the extent to which science, medicine, and the beaux-arts were mutually constitutive spheres, and, appropriately, brings together oil paintings with medical wax models, drawings and photographs of the ‘diseased’, popular caricatures, a death mask, and the otherwise eccentric collections of medical museums. She shows how their circuits of production and exchange overlapped. Hunter attends closely to the possibilities and limitations of specific media, and the differing ways that objects and images were commissioned, collected, displayed, and studied. Each of three chapters provides a detailed analysis of one to three paintings, with a tight chronological focus. The five paintings in question—Henri Gervex’s Avant l’opération, André Brouillet’s Une leçon clinique à La Salpêtrière, and portraits of Louis Pasteur by Léon Bonnat, Albert Edelfelt, and Lucien Laurent-Gsell—were shown in the 1886 or 1887 Salon. Hunter explores the specificities of the subject matter, the identities of the figures, and the social, institutional, and national politics at stake. The painters themselves are less the object of inquiry than the ‘medical men’ represented: Louis Pasteur, Jules-Émile Péan, and Jean-Martin Charcot. One of the book’s greatest strengths is to work against the conventional distinctions between so-called Modernist painting, with its host of familiar protagonists including Caillebotte, whose innovations often required working outside of the state-sponsored Salon system, and popular Salon artists whose work was instead commonly collected by the state. The former have gone by a variety of equally familiar terms including realist, naturalist, Impressionist, Modernist, vanguard, advanced, and self-consciously modern. Marrinan prefers the term naturalist as a descriptor for Caillebotte’s work, which he even uses in his title. He does not define naturalism, except insofar as it was understood by writers such as Zola, as applying to artworks ‘inspired by an impartial observation of the time and place of their making’ (p. 30). Marrinan otherwise rightly insists that Caillebotte’s works ‘elude easy stylistic categories’ (p. 10). Hunter’s book confounds any notion that the term ‘self-consciously modern’ can justly distinguish painters like Caillebotte from Gervex, Brouillet, Bonnat (Caillebotte’s teacher), Gsell, or Edelfelt. The latter artists ranged from relatively to hugely popular in their time, largely due to their portraits of famous individuals. Each was deeply committed to the idea of the modern. This was signalled through their choice of contemporary scientific subjects as well as their manner of painting, which Hunter calls realism—here defined as a technique suggesting an authentic depiction of people and events, free of painterly or compositional theatrics that would betray the artist’s hand in the painting’s development. Scientific and medical scenes, Hunter argues, were especially suited to realism because they required a style that appeared modern, detached, and accurate just like the scientific processes and protagonists represented. Subject matter and style grew so intimately intertwined that pathologised bodies ultimately became realist tropes, the very sign of a realist practice. Hunter’s complication of nineteenth-century stylistic categories would benefit from more sustained attention to the surfaces of the paintings that she considers, namely the use of brushwork and the materiality of paint. Because subject matter is her foremost concern, the reader must assume that each of the five artists produced more or less uniform surfaces, comprised of small and well-blended strokes, free of distinctive materiality or idiosyncrasies. This runs the risk of reinforcing the distinction that Hunter’s book otherwise so forcefully challenges between artists such as Manet or Degas on the one hand, and Bonnat or Gervex on the other. Because the illustrations are in black and white and do not include details, readers cannot do this kind of close analysis without Hunter’s help. ‘Realism’ is a central concern of The Face of Medicine, and in an extended introduction Hunter teases out the complexities of the term, alongside others, such as the objective and subjective, as well as key issues including the intersecting domains of medicine and science, and the overlapping genres of portraiture and history painting. Extensively footnoted and divided into numerous subheadings, this section should find a home on many undergraduate syllabi. In this introduction Hunter also signals a deeper and more recent critical literature around the construction of masculinity than can be found in Marrinan’s book. Homosociality is crucial to Marrinan’s account of Caillebotte’s life as a bachelor and his picturing of it, and while the author engages with canonical texts on male bonds and gendered spaces within paintings by authors including Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Griselda Pollock, his discussions of bachelorhood rely foremost on nineteenth-century constructions of the condition in novels by Huysmans and the de Goncourts. Hunter’s feminist approach focuses attention on the ‘medical men’, her umbrella term for laboratory scientists and physicians, rather than their patients. She turns the medicalised language of mania, obsession, and madness back against these professionals. To this end, Hunter argues that Charcot’s collecting practice at the Salpêtrière verged upon insanity and that, more broadly, whether these men commissioned Salon paintings or wax moulages, the resulting objects say more about their own subjectivities than about the pathologies or patients represented. Shifting focus from how women were treated and mistreated in medical contexts, medical men become the vulnerable subjects, whose public self-representations did not always accomplish desired goals. Salon portraits enabled the public to examine the bodies of famous men, now exposed to mass scrutiny and judgement on the exhibition walls as well as in the pages of the press. The artists of those portraits walked a fine line. In paint, Pasteur, Péan, and Charcot needed to appear virile and strong, but simultaneously human, although defining that term, too, was another difficulty of the genre. Medicine and science were sources of public fear as well as fascination, and the suspicion that practitioners preyed upon bodies to advance their research was widespread. To that end, Hunter’s discussion of Bonnat’s portrait of Pasteur with his granddaughter, received ambivalently because it raised the spectre of the scientist’s mortality and the feminised realm of private life, is especially strong. The entire book provides a valuable account of what was required of a Salon picture, how medical subjects could be represented there and what could emerge outside of those constraints. To be sure, nobody would want to contest the male-dominated nature of these fields and their representation. But it does leave the reader wondering, what of medical women? Hunter provides passing references to Marie Curie, to the admission of women into medical school in the late 1860s, to women’s role as funders of the Pasteur Institute, and to a fascinating set of stained-glass panels that Pasteur commissioned and displayed prominently in his laboratory: One panel depicts a female figure symbolising Chemistry. She is shown kneeling before a pestle and mortar … The second stained-glass panel portrays Pasteur’s daughter, Marie-Louise, as a young schoolgirl … [and] a serious student, her intellectual endeavours emphasised by the book she holds. Placed next to each other, the stained glass windows represent Chemistry as a female body and a woman’s pursuit. Such imagery challenges nineteenth-century gender norms … By exhibiting these works to the public, Pasteur displayed the two most important things in his life, chemistry and family, visually uniting the two and reinforcing science’s crucial role in the protection of families and women’s role in disseminating scientific knowledge. (pp. 76–8) This passage reads as a breath of air in the relentless story of how men of power and influence—scientists and physicians, painters and photographers, journalists and novelists—established themselves by their exploitation of female bodies both real and phantasmatic, scrutinised and probed, displayed and drugged, subject to the paintbrushes, pens, and scalpels that emerge as mutually inflecting instruments. The anonymous female body as a figuration of difference remains trapped within the confines of these artistic and medical practices, the records of which are reproduced as illustrations in the pages of Hunter’s book. In passages such as this, Hunter suggests one way out, but without developing the story of Marie-Louise Pasteur or ‘women’s role in disseminating scientific knowledge’, the possibilities for women in medicine and science remain obscure. So too are readers left with questions relating to access to health care and treatment by France’s leading doctors. In the realm of representation, the anaesthetised woman in Gervex’s Avant l’opération is certainly more prop than portrait, and in Hunter’s accompanying description of Péan’s operating theatre as a location of public spectacle, modern medicine seems cruel indeed. We may wonder to what extent this was the normal state of Péan’s operating theatre, and whom his procedures cured. Reading Marrinan’s text is much like moving through a retrospective art exhibition, ambling forward smoothly, guided by chronology and theme, encountering paintings and insights that are sometimes reassuringly familiar, and sometimes warrant surprised pause. The path is clear and satisfying, and, when finished, the artist appears less mysterious but no less interesting. Hunter’s book is a very different journey. It is less comfortable and its protagonists less appealing. It progresses with abrupt twists and turns as it juggles artists and medical men, paintings and material culture, formal analysis and the history of science, in turn raising as many questions as it answers. This feels right if the goal is to address the knotty construction of masculine subjectivities. Appropriate to its placement in Manchester’s Rethinking Art’s Histories series, it will speak to emerging revisionists who will continue to challenge the history of Modernism, who will have more to say about gender identities, and who may even wish to push against the cordoning off of ‘masculinity’ itself. Footnotes 1 On Caillebotte’s sexual identity, see Norma Broude, ‘Outing Impressionism: Homosexuality and Homosocial Bonding in the Work of Caillebotte and Bazille’, in Norma Broude (ed.), Gustave Caillebotte and the Fashioning of Identity in Impressionist Paris (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002). For examples of his transgression of gendered norms of representation, see Tamar Garb, ‘Gustave Caillebotte’s Male Figures: Masculinity, Muscularity and Modernity’, in Tamar Garb, Bodies of Modernity: Figure and Flesh in Fin-de-Siècle France (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998); and Gloria Groom, ‘Interiors and Portraits’, in Anne Distel et al., Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1995). For two examples relating to class: Albert Boime considers Caillebotte as participating in the conservative reclamation of Paris for the bourgeoisie in the aftermath of the ‘terrible year’ in Art and the French Commune: Imagining Paris after War and Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995). Julia Sagraves instead suggests that Caillebotte identified with certain working class figures in his paintings in her essay ‘The Street’, in Anne Distel et al., Gustave Caillebotte: Urban Impressionist (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1995). 2 Michael Fried, ‘Caillebotte’s Impressionism’, Representations, vol. 66, Spring 1999, pp. 1–51. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Oxford Art Journal – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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