As one enjoys the beauty of the paintings of Jean-Baptiste-Armand Guillaumin, it is difficult to realize that his work was once considered revolutionary. His paintings of Rouen, Crozant, of the quays along the Seine, of the Creuse Valley and of the areas around Amsterdam seem so serene in terms of their beautiful color, warm lighting and readily understood subject matter, that it is hard to think of them as radical or extreme in any period.
Armand Guillaumin was born in Paris in 1841. At the age of twenty-one he began to attend drawing classes in the public night school, while he worked in a shop his uncle owned in Paris. Later he secured a position in the civil service of the city of Paris. He enrolled in the Académie Suisse where he met Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne. Guillaumin began his career as an avant-garde artist by exhibiting at the first revolutionary exhibition of the Salon des Refusés of 1863. He shared in the exhibitions of the Impressionists from 1874 on.
Guillaumin was also active in the Manet circle at the Café Guerbois. Guillaumin’s studio served as a meeting place for many of the important painters of the period. Cézanne, Monet, Signac, Gauguin, Pissarro, Renoir, Van Gogh and Detroy were among those whom Guillaumin counted as intimate friends.
Looking at his paintings, one gains insight into Guillaumin’s masterful understanding of the palette that was soon to prompt the famous critic, Felix Feneon, to name him a “furious colorist.” Indeed Guillaumin’s definitive quality within the Impressionist group was his challenging of the school’s muted tones in favor of the use of brighter hues.
One finds controversy over whether Guillaumin was technically a pure Impressionist or a painter who held to a style of his own while exerting a strong influence on the development of Impressionism. This is a matter of definition, and the category into which Guillaumin fits depends on what each critic considers pure Impressionism.
By 1881, the year of the sixth exhibition of the Impressionist group, only Edgar Degas, Guillaumin, Berthe Morisot and Pissarro were included, as the other members were beginning to go their separate ways. However, in 1882 Durand-Ruel in its gallery on rue Saint Honoré was able to gather, for an important exhibition, the entire original group with the exception of Degas and Cézanne, and with the addition of Gauguin.
In 1904 Guillaumin went to Holland and painted some of his loveliest canvases near Amsterdam.
In spite of his advancing years he painted diligently. After 1920, his family insisted he spend the winters on the Côte d’Azur. Each spring he returned to Paris with beautiful canvases from that golden area of France.
Armand Guillauman surpassed the other Impressionists by the strength of his drawing and the breadth of his stroke and was their equal in charm and delicacy. He was a master in the subtle realm of nuance with Monet his only rival. His delight in expressing the beauty of nature was key. He painted the outdoors with great feeling for the ever changing effects of nature, whether in an open landscape or city areas. He saw color in the way the light touched the surfaces of the streets, the skies, water and people and captured it on canvas. Approached either from a technical point of view or from the standpoint of beauty and interest, the art of Guillaumin is outstanding in the mainstream of nineteenth and twentieth century French painting.
Armand Guillaumin died in Paris on June 26, 1927