By Alina Tortosa
For the Herald Sunday. September 10, 2000
There is that quota of anguish in the appreciation of contemporary art for the non initiated that causes them to look away, to withdraw, or to ignore it. They may find it hard to come to terms with life as it is today, and do not want to be reminded of the hard edges. A commited and talented artist has feelers that will interpret reality for him, before it becomes real to most people. The work may appear far fetched or obsessed because he has consciously or uncousciously understood social, historical and biological processes ahead of most of his contemporaries.
In restrospect, the work of the Impressionists seems harmless enough today. Yet in its own time it caused a major outroar. To most people today, Impressionsism is a sort of aesthetic oasis. It was not like that at the time.
An interesting example is what the french call "le leg. Caillebotte". Gustave Caillebotte, one of the until recently less known impressionists, when he died in 1984 left his art collection to the French nation "on condition that 'it should go neither to an attic, nor a provincial museum, but straight to the Luxembourg [the museum then devoted to the work of living artists} and later to the Louvre' ". The collection was made up of nineteen Pissarros, fourteen Monets, ten Renoirs, nine Sisleys, seven Degas, five Cézannes and four Mannets.
Renoir, who together with Martial Caillebote, Gustave's brother, was the executor of the legacy, wrote to Henri Roujon, the Director of Fine Arts, informing him of the bequest. As Roujon was unsure of how to proceed, he asked for advise from established artists, and from his coleagues. Jean-Léon Gerôme, one of the official artists said that to accept the legacy would be a sign of "moral turpitude" and the end of the nation. The burocrats, Roujon included, argued that "they did not have space to hang the collection, and some artists (such as monet and Pisarro) would be heavily over-represented".
It took a long time for the French State to agree to the terms of the legacy. In 1895 the Musée du Luxembourg received some of the work. But it was only in 1928 when the government finally said that they would accept the remaining twenty-nine paintings. The widow of Martial Caillebotte's brother then "repudiated the terms of the bequest". Good for her! And so much for the contemporary appreciation and success of Impressionist art.