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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.

  3. all fascination, and I would love any information about this or any artist-welcoming cafe

  4. Mary Ann--

    As you will notice from the date, this was posted almost seven years ago, and actually written about ten years before that. Since that time a lot of art has passed under the bridges of Paris. In that time I've written on virtually every Café Guerbois artist mentioned (some, several times). In the upper left corner of this blog is a search engine accessing all I have written over the past seven years. To gain more information and insights into the Impressionists, simply type a name into the little white box and see what comes up. Also, typing in words such as Impressionism, Post-impressionism, and other general terms associate with the era will pull up more in-depth material. I'm sorry there are no "hot links" in the article above (as is my custom today), but back in 2010, the material to be linked to simply hadn't been written yet.

  5. Hello and thank you for this walk down memory lane for artists like myself so in love with the Impressionists art and artists, envious of their life at the Café you speak of here and would like to have lived in those days, struggle or not, just to hang our and paint with them! I have studied almost all of their lives and artwork in and out of museums, bookstores and libraries, and I am grateful for your wonderful description of the Paris café that comes to mind often. This was a treat.

  6. Mr. Henry--

    Thanks for reading and writing. This is one of my oldest posting from about seven years ago. Keep reading, The more recent ones are better written :-).

  7. I am currently in Paris on a Manet treasure-hunt (also Morisot and a model named Laura.) I have this address as 9 Avenue Clichy, but perhaps it took up more than one space?

  8. Katherine--

    Interesting note, I have no way of checking it out. 11 Avenue Clichy is the only address I've ever seen but perhaps you're right as to the café taking more than one space. I think I picked my reference up from a video on Impressionism many years ago so your source may be better than mine. Thanks for reading and writing.