Situated in Montmartre, at No. 9 Avenue de Clichy, the Café Guerbois was the meening-place of in artistic circle which, as early as 1866 (but especially during 1868 and 1869), was frequented every Friday by Manet and the writers and art critics Zola, Duranty, Théodore Duret; the painters Bazille, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Monet, Sisley, Guys, Stevens; the sculptor Zacharie Astruc, the engraver Bracquemond, and the photographer Nadar. The first principles of the Impressionist movement were laid down there. Inspired by the lengthy discussions that took place there, Zola enthusiastically launched his crusade for the movement, which he was soon to disavow. After the Franco-Prussian war these gatherings were resumed. Manet was always the central figure. It was there that Clémenceau met Monet. They were to remain lifelong friends. About 1876 the group began holding its sessions at the Nouvelle Athènes, also in Montmartre.
In those days most aesthetic theories were born in cafés. Manet, cynosure of youth since the uproar caused by the Salon des Refusés, abandoned in 1866 the fashionable Café de Bade and took to visiting the famous Café Guerbois. Its most active period was 1868-1869 when every Friday evening there gathered around Manet, Astruc, Zola, Duranty, Duret, Guillemet, Braquemond, Bazille, Degas, Constantin Guys, Stevens, Renoir, Nadar the photographer, and, when they were in Paris, Pissarro, Monet and Sisley. To begin with Duranty took the lead at these meetings; then, from his first dramatic appearance, Emile Zola, who launched a strenuous press campaign on behalf of Manet and the young school--though later he abjured them. One wonders if he ever understood his friends, and if he could really appreciate their painting; considering that he once said, "I have no use for that word 'art'; what I want of you is Life." The result was that even well-meaning critics, misled by Zola's dogmatic naturalism, had difficulty in understanding the originality and purely pictorial aspirations of Impressionism.
DISCOVERY OF JAPANESE COLOURPRINTS
Japanese art was a favourite subject of discussions at the Café Guerbois, and none of the group failed to visit the Japanese section at the 1867 World's Fair. The discovery of Japanese prints counted for as much in the shaping of Impressionism as did negro sculpture in the shaping of Cubism. It was to Braquemond the engraver, a friend of Degas, that they owed their first contact (in 1856) with the art of Hokusai. Soon after, in 1862, Madame Soye, a lady who, with her husband, had lived in Japan, opened an oriental shop, "La Porte Chinoise," under the Rue de Rivoli arcades, and it promptly became a favoured resort of Degas, Manet, Mary Cassatt, Whistler, Renoir, and Monet, as well as Baudelaire and the Goncourt brothers. All things Japanese came into fashion, and apart from the superficial "Japonisme" in the manner of Whistler and Tissot, serious enquiries were made into the underlying technical issues: the use of the decorative arabesque, pure, unmodelled colour, two-dimensional perspective and flat tones--all of which played havoc with the traditional way of viewing the world, and indeed changed the whole course of aesthetics from Manet up to abstract art. Cézanne was, it seems, the only artist uninfluenced by Japanese art; Degas, Monet and Manet were profoundly affected by it (note the copies of Japanese prints in the Portrait of Zolahere reproduced), and, in the next generation, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Lautrec. In 1873 Theodore Duret returned, full of enthusiasm, from a trip to Japan. "The Japanese," he said "are the first, and the supreme Impresionists."