Artists of the Petit Boulevard
Artists of the Petit Boulevard
Painting Date1st of June 1887
Vincent and Theo were both very knowledgeable of the impressionists who had forged a path forward in the 1870s and 1880s and concerned themselves more with how light reflected off of scenes rather than their strict realistic portrayal. Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir and several others were famous enough to be able to sell their works on the grandest boulevards in Paris. Vincent and Theo sought to create a second tier of allied artists who could not sell their works on the grand boulevards, but were resigned to the smaller, more “petit boulevards” (Boulevard de Clichy) whose storefront displays came at a discount comparably.
Included in this imagined group of painters are a core who met at the Cormon studio in 1886 and others who did not attend Cormon but knew one or more of the painters who did. Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Emile Bernard and Louis Anquetin were all highly respected by Cormon but after many months or years under a more traditionalist approach, the young and talented artists were looking to do new things.
Bernard knew Gauguin and Paul Signac and all knew Pere Tanguy, the supplier of paint and canvas and displayer of their cutting edge canvases in his store window. Signac worked closely with the Pissarros and even closer with Seurat, his mentor. Over absinthe and wine at places like Le Mirliton or the Chat Noir, they shared their views of the new divisionism or pointillism he and Signac were experimenting with and the merits of Cezanne’s latest pieces from Provence.
They met in the cabarets and dance halls of Montmartre by night and discussed the direction their studies were taking during the day. Vincent was part of this group but due to his irascible and passionately argumentative demeanor, he was again a bit of an outsider. His brother Theo was important to this group as he supported the artists and was one of the only dealers to attempt to sell their post-impressionist canvases and succeeded to a greater degree than any of his competitors.
Vincent and Theo imagined these artists living communally and creating canvases for sale in exchange for room and board. A spartan and cost effective mode of living and a crucible in which to explore the boundaries of new directions in art. It never came to be as they imagined it, but Vincent’s yellow house in Arles was the first step in the realization of the dream. When Gauguin arrived with financial support from Theo in late 1888, it seemed the plan was coming together. Less than two months later, Gauguin would leave Arles and Vincent behind after a mental break and Van Gogh cutting off the lobe of his ear. Vincent would spend most of the rest of the next and final two years of his life under a doctor’s close care in one setting or another. He would produce a volume of over a thousand canvases and nearly as many drawings and sketches before he passed away in the summer of 1890.
Time would prove the brothers had selected the right artists as their works are now among the most prized of collectors, but they could not create a compelling enough communal studio and living situation to attract artists in the numbers they had hoped.