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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cafe Guerbois

The address was number 11, Avenue de Clichy. Today, it's a group of small shops, but in 1866, it was the Cafe Guerbois (pronounced gur-BWA).  It was a noisy little place filled with marble-topped tables, cheap, metal chairs, smoke, a few paintings on the dark, paneled walls, a bar across one end of the room, and young mademoiselles taking orders and delivering drinks. During the day it was just another Paris street cafe serving light lunches, lemonade, tea, wine, and presumably more potent beverages as the evening approached. It was then that the place came alive. The Guerbois was the favorite hangout for the "arty" crowd, especially painters, and especially those painters who admired the work of Eduoard Manet.   
Manet was the center of a group of friends, and younger, admiring fellow artists. Among the daily guests at the Cafe Guerbois were Paul Cezanne, Alfred Sisley, Claud Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Jean Renoir and Frederick Bazille. The list reads like a who's who of rogue painters at the time. Writers such as Emile Zola, and the photographer/caricaturist, Felix Nadar,came often as did lesser-knows, Astruc, Duranty, Fantin-Latour, Constantin Guys, Duret, Guillemet, and Bracquemond. Thursday nights were set aside especially for these artist to meet, eat, talk, drink, argue, and expound.  They did not always agree...actually, perhaps they seldom agreed fully with all that was said, and some talked more than others.  Some, like Cezanne did more listening than talking, but when he did, everyone listened intently. Cezanne observed that they argued and drank so late they couldn't get up to paint the next morning. 
Bohemes au Cafe, 1886,
 Jean-Francois, Rafaelli 
Few in the group could match Manet's intellectual prowess.  Except for Pissarro, he was the oldest, by far the best educated, and the wealthiest.  He dressed with great care, spoke with modesty and kindness, but by nature was ambitions and impetuous. He was often witty, at times he could be ironic, occasionally even cruel. His chief conversational rival was Edgar Degas. Though their tastes in art were similiar and they seemed to respect one another, they more often than not disagreed. When they were not quarreling, they were friendly, though both were known to bear one another grudges.   

Of the others, only Frederick Bazille had the education and taste for verbal sparring to tangle with minds as sharp as Degas' or Manet's.  Shy, but firm in his beliefs, he stood up for them with undeniable logic and passion. Together, they made up the main event, the only source of entertaintment, and the chief source of philosophical interaction for these nascent minds that were to revolutionize art during their own lifetimes.


  1. Very interesting commentary here.....I am researching this era for some work of mine and would be interested to discuss your influences, sources and thoughts in general!
    Sam Kitchin at

  2. Sam--
    This item was published here almost six years ago and written for a painters bulletin board something like sixteen years ago, but I'd be happy to discuss the Café and contribute whatever I might.