Jean Baptiste Armand Guillaumin was a highly accomplished artist, and the least known of the Impressionist masters. As a member of the movement's earliest grouping, he exhibited at the Salon des Réfusés of 1863, and (contrary to later opinion) made a significant contribution to the development of the new pictorial aesthetic, at gatherings of what was still known as the circle of 'Naturalists' in the Café Guerbois.
Guillaumin came from a modest background, and occupied a lowly post at the French ministry of Ponts et Chaussées (Bridges and Highways). His spare time was devoted to painting. In 1863, aged 22, he attended the Académie Suisse, the haunt of numerous young artists seeking to rebel against the official, traditional art of the Salons and the École des Beaux-Arts, and where he met his lifelong friends Cézanne and Pissarro. He was made president of the paintings section of the Salon d'Automne, in 1905.
Guillaumin's work featured in all of the Impressionist exhibitions at Galerie Nadar from the first show in1874 (with the exception of 1876 and 1879). His paintings were shown at the exhibition Between Heaven and Earth: Camille Pissarro and the Painters of the Oise Valley (Entre ciel et terre, Camille Pissaro et les peintres de la vallée de l'Oise) at the Musée Tavet-Delacour in Pontoise, in 2003. Retrospectives of his work have been held at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Clermont-Ferrand, 1995; Fondation de l'Hermitage, Lausanne, 1996; Musée Fournaise, Chatou, 2003. Guillaumin painted exclusively out of doors, from nature, from his earliest period. Success came late in his career, and several critics have misguidedly focused on his early Parisian works to the exclusion of other periods. His paintings capture the changing light of Montmartre (at the time a relatively rural satellite of Paris), the Bièvre valley (unrecognisable today, but celebrated in Guillaumin's lifetime by the writer J.-K. Huysmans), and the quais along the Seine in central Paris.
From 1875 to 1880, he was a frequent guest of Dr Gachet at Auvers, seeking out the rural scenery of the Yonne and, later, the Creuse and the countryside around Crozant, where he spent most of his life. From 1887 onwards, he became a friend of van Gogh. Significantly, one of the causes of Vincent's tragic disagreement with Gachet, leading him to quit the doctor's home for the nearby inn, where he took his own life, was what van Gogh saw as Gachet's inappropriate hanging of a painting by Guillaumin.
In 1891, Guillaumin won the enormous sum of 100,000 francs in a state lottery, and was able to leave his job with the Ponts et Chaussées in order to travel and paint throughout France, along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, notably at St-Palaus-sur-Mer and Agay. He also visited Holland, for a two-month spell in 1904.
Guillaumin's best-known works include: Pissarro Painting the Moulin des Bouchardonnes (purchased for the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris), Meadow at Crozant, Highway, Crozant, Rocks in the Creuse Valley etc., and the following signed lithographs: Child Eating a Bowl of Soup, the Chemin des Hautes Bruyères, Banks of a River, Frozen Canal, the Bas-Meudon etc. His earliest works are notable for their thickly-applied paint and bright colours ( Views of Montmartre, of about 1865, Barges on the Seine at Bercy of 1871, now in the Musée d'Orsay, and Sunset at Ivry of 1870, one of his most highly coloured works.) Guillaumin's output features numerous works on a par with those of his more celebrated fellow Impressionists, yet he has continued to be poorly received by the critics, largely due to what is perceived as his ill-judged preference for 'excessive polychromy'. Guillaumin's friend, the Academician Georges Lecomte, is the author of an important monograph on his work.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Aberdeen (AG): Apple Trees at Damiette
Cleveland (MA): The Sédelle Valley at Pont Charraud: Hoarfrost; Banks of the Marne at Charenton; Self-portrait
Dijon: The Barrage at Crozant
Épinal (Musée Départemental d'Art Ancien et Contemporain): The Pont des Arts and the Louvre
London (Tate Collection): Moret-sur-Loing (1902, oil on canvas)
Otterlo (Kröller-Müller Mus.): Unloading Coal
Paris (former Mus. du Luxembourg): Pissarro Painting the Moulin des Bouchardonnes
Paris (Mus. d'Orsay): Hollow Lane in Snow; Still-life; Place Valhubert; Normandy Landscape: Apple Trees; Portrait of the Artist (1870-1875); Barges on the Seine at Bercy (1871); Sunset at Ivry (1874); Reclining Nude (1877); The Bridge at Charenton (1878); Paris, Quai de la Gare, in Snow (1879); Interior (1889); Fishermen (1891); Dutch Landscape: Sailing-boats (1904); View of Agay (1895)
San Francisco (FAM)
St Petersburg (Hermitage): The Seine (c. 1867-1868, oil on canvas)
Washington DC (NGA): The Bridge of Louis Philippe (1875, oil on canvas)