Don't Quit Your Day JobThere is an old, sage piece of advice often heard by those in the arts, whether painter, sculptor, singer, actor, comedian, or whatever: "Don't quit your day job." And, while the line may be good advice from a financial point of view, its purpose is often that of a "put-down". It's often spoken in a humorous context, but its real intent is to put the would-be creative genius in his or her place. However, a number of very famous artists down through history have quite literally taken this advice. Camille Pissarro, for instance, painted window blinds. So did Renoir at various times. This was considered "commercial" work. Paul CÚzanne, though not technically "working", was a law student by day while in his free time he applied paint to canvas with an almost "vicious" intensity, perhaps working out his frustration at having to satisfy his father's insistence that he train for some "worthwhile" vocation.
In the case of the French Impressionist, Armand Guillaumin (pronounced GE-amin) it was not a matter of quitting a "day" job but his "night" job. For several struggling years, he worked three nights a week to feed his wife and family in order to leave himself free to paint during the day. Born at Moulins in 1841, he was about the same age as Renoir, Bazille, and Berthe Morisot. He'd come to Paris at the age of 16 to work in his uncle's shop. His family was vehemently opposed to his wanting to be an artist so he had to take a job with the Paris municipality, which in most cases meant building roads. He was quite literally a ditch digger. During the day, he often painted the urban and suburban scene of a growing, bustling Paris, sometimes even some of the same roads and thoroughfares he'd himself helped to build the night before.
Like Renoir and Pissarro, Guillaumin also painted blinds from time to time, welcoming this work no doubt, as a step up from digging ditches. In contrast, some of the other Impressionists like Berthe Morisot could be considered quite wealthy, as was Edouard Manet who inherited a sizeable fortune. Edgar Degas and Alfred Sisley would perhaps best be characterised as "comfortably well-off". Frederick Bazille, while coming from a wealthy family, appears to have been on a rather limited allowance. In general, they had not the need to sell their work in order to eat and have a roof over their heads. Therefore, unlike the "chronically impecunious" Renoir, Pissarro, Monet, and Guillaumin, they had no need for day jobs. Curiously, of these four poverty-stricken painters, Monet seems never to have even had a day job. Thus, during much of his life, he seems always to have been "broke". Apparently finding it easier to "sponge" off his friends, he differed from Guillaumin in that it never even occurred to him to work at anything other than painting.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
25 April 1998