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Measuring Masters and Masterpieces

French Rankings of French Painters and Paintings from Realism to Surrealism
David W. Galenson
p. 47-85

Résumés

Mesurer la création artistique. La hiérarchie des peintres français et de leurs œuvres du Réalisme au Surréalisme.

Cet article prend en compte des illustrations reproduites dans des ouvrages français comme éléments de mesure de l'importance des peintures et aussi des peintres, à partir de l'exemple de 35 artistes majeurs qui travaillèrent en France au cours d'un siècle d'art moderne. Les classements ressemblent étroitement à ceux qui avaient été obtenus précédemment à partir d'une analyse identique conduite avec des ouvrages américains. Ils posent également une énigme : pourquoi quelques-uns des plus grands artistes n'ont-ils pas produit les peintures les plus célèbres, alors que d'autres peintres de renommée relativement mineure ont laissé des œuvres renommées ? La réponse semble résider dans une différence d'approche entre les artistes expérimentalistes, qui innovent continuellement, et les créateurs conceptuels qui réalisent des œuvres novatrices. Ce texte démontre également le bien-fondé de la quantification du succès artistique qui permet d'améliorer notre compréhension des origines de la créativité humaine.

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Entrées d’index

Mots-clés :

histoire culturelle

Géographie :

France

Chronologie :

Période contemporaine
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Notes de la rédaction

Note de l’auteur : I thank Martin Bruegel, Robert Jensen, Pierre-Michel Menger, Gerardo della Paolera, and participants in a seminar at EHESS for discussions, David Hwang for research assistance, and NSF for financial support. Work on this paper was begun when I was a visiting researcher at the Institut National de Recherche Agronomique, and I thank INRA for its hospitality.

Texte intégral

1In 1962, art historian George Kubler remarked that « the modern professional humanist is an academic person who pretends to despise measurement because of its 'scientific' nature, » and although the passage of four decades has now produced exceptions to Kubler's generalization in some disciplines within the humanities, art history is not prominent among them 1. In 1998, for example, curator Robert Storr of New York's Museum of Modern Art could declare that an artist's success « is completely unquantifiable » 2.

2Yet Storr's belief is mistaken. As in other disciplines, quantitative evidence in art history has proven useful not only for constructing explanations, but for identifying problems to be explained. One recent study, for example, not only quantified artistic success, but helped to reveal an underlying structure of the creative process that deepens our understanding of the achievements of individual painters. The present paper extends this investigation, testing its conclusions by extending its analysis to a new body of data.

3The earlier study used a quantitative analysis of the illustrations contained in published surveys of modern art to produce measurements of art historians' own judgments of the relative importance of modern French painters, and paintings 3. That study drew its evidence from 33 books published in English during the past three decades. One further question raised by this procedure concerned the possible impact of culture: would French scholars define the canon of French modern art differently from American and English scholars? The present study will answer this question by carrying out a parallel analysis based on surveys of modern art published in French.

1. Quantifying Artistic Success

4The artists examined will be those considered by the earlier study. They are listed in Table 1. The sample was designed to include the most important modern painters who lived and worked in France for most or all of their careers, who were born between 1819 (the birth year of Gustave Courbet) and 1900. This was done by using five leading American textbooks on the history of modern art 4. The first step was to list all artists who had at least one painting reproduced in three or more of these five books. The 27 artists included in the list who had been born in France between 1819 and 1900 were placed in the sample. Another eight artists on the list who were born elsewhere during the same period but who spent substantial portions of their careers in France were also placed in the sample. In addition to Courbet and Manet, key figures in the transition to modern painting, the sample includes the central members of the groups - the Impressionists, the Post-Impressionists, the Fauves, the Cubists, and the Surrealists - that dominated modern painting France in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth.

5The evidence for the present study was drawn from all available books, published in French since 1963, that provide illustrated surveys of modern painting. A total of 31 such surveys were found; these are listed in the Appendix. The data set for this study was created by listing every reproduction of every painting shown in these books by all of the 35 artists in the sample.

6There are fewer college texts published in French than in English, but there also appears to be a larger range of French reference works and surveys aimed at a general audience, and these provide a strong basis for this study. As in the earlier study, published surveys of art history were chosen as the source of the data in order to draw on the judgments of art scholars as to the most important painters and paintings. The dozens of authors represented include many distinguished academic art historians, critics, and curators of the recent past and present. Yet regardless of the distinction of the authors, all have taken the time and trouble necessary to communicate their views of the history of modern art, and the number of books is sufficiently large that no significant result depends on the opinions of any single author, or the emphasis of any one book.

Table 1. Artists included in this study

Artist

Country of birth

Year of birth

Year of death

Arp, Jean

France

1886

1966

Bonnard, Pierre

France

1867

1947

Braque, Georges

France

1882

1963

Cézanne, Paul

France

1839

1906

Chagall, Marc

Russia

1887

1985

Courbet, Gustave

France

1819

1877

Degas, Edgar

France

1834

1917

Delaunay, Robert

France

1885

1941

Derain, André

France

1880

1954

Duchamp, Marcel

France

1887

1968

Dufy, Raoul

France

1877

1953

Gauguin, Paul

France

1848

1903

Gogh, Vincent van

Holland

1853

1890

Gris, Juan

Spain

1887

1927

Léger, Fernand

France

1881

1955

Manet, Edouard

France

1832

1883

Masson, André

France

1896

1987

Matisse, Henri

France

1869

1954

Miró, Joan

Spain

1893

1983

Modigliani, Amedeo

Italy

1884

1920

Monet, Claude

France

1840

1926

Picabia, Francis

France

1879

1953

Picasso, Pablo

Spain

1881

1973

Pissarro, Camille

West Indies

1830

1903

Redon, Odilon

France

1840

1916

Renoir, Pierre-Auguste

France

1841

1919

Rouault, Georges

France

1871

1958

Rousseau, Henri

France

1844

1910

Seurat, Georges

France

1859

1891

Soutine, Chaim

Lithuania

1893

1943

Tanguy, Yves

France

1900

1955

Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de

France

1864

1901

Vlaminck, Maurice de

France

1876

1958

Vuillard, Edouard

France

1868

1940

Whistler, James

United States

1834

1903

7This investigation is analogous to a citation study. Yet using illustrations as the unit of observation has an advantage, in that illustrations are considerably more costly than written references. In addition to the greater cost of printing, authors or publishers must also bear the cost of obtaining permission to reproduce each painting, and a suitable photograph. This higher cost in both time and money tends to make authors more selective in their use of illustrations, and this may make illustrations an even more accurate indication than written references of what an author believes to be genuinely important. Thus for example psychologist Dean Keith Simonton's listing of the potential problems with the use of citations to measure scholarly importance includes the following: methodological articles tend to be cited more than other publications; research papers may cease to be cited when their results become incorporated into a discipline's common knowledge; papers originating in more prestigious institutions may be cited more often than articles of equal quality produced elsewhere; and scholars may gain high citation counts by writing papers on fashionable subjects 5. The paintings illustrated in textbooks will not be subject to analogous problems, because in effect they have been screened by the critical judgment of the scholars who are reviewing the history of art. These scholars will generally be able to distinguish major contributions from useful but relatively minor advances, and they will typically have the perspective to separate genuinely important and enduring accomplishments from those that have proved to be ephemeral and less consequential.

8It might be objected that illustrations are chosen not according to the importance of the work, but instead to the ease of obtaining the relevant permissions and photographs. Yet for major artists, whose work has had many decades to find its way into public museums, the constraint posed by problems of access is not great. So for example 23 different works by Cézanne from just the collection of the Musée d'Orsay are illustrated in the 31 books used by this study, as are 24 works by Monet, and 23 by Degas; 16 different illustrated Matisses are held by the Musée National d'Art Moderne, and 25 illustrated Picassos are held in Paris by either the Musée National d'Art Moderne or the Musée Picasso. Scores of other paintings by these artists are of course held by other great museums 6. And the works owned by museums tend to be important ones, because curators – particularly at major museums – have little interest in acquiring unimportant works. Thus it seems clear that authors can readily choose among large numbers of important works in illustrating their books. Their decisions as to which to use will consequently tend to give a good indication of which they consider most important.

9The use of published surveys of art history in the manner described above is aimed at identifying the central core, or canon, of early modern art. In art, as in science, the importance of a practitioner, or of a work, is a function of influence. Yet unlike scientific papers, paintings do not explicitly identify their influences. Identifying influences is consequently one of the key tasks of art historians. This may be difficult in some cases, and accordingly there can be differences of opinion among these scholars. Yet as the critic Clement Greenberg observed, in each generation there is a consensus in the judgment of quality in art: « The best taste is that of the people who, in each generation, spend the most time and trouble on art » 7. The analysis of large numbers of published surveys allows us to draw systematically on the opinions of scores of just such people, and thus effectively to poll large numbers of art experts on the issue of which painters, and paintings, they consider most important in the narrative of art history. Doing this proves to be an interesting way to begin to remedy the neglect of quantitative methods by the discipline of art history.

2. Cross-Cultural Canon Comparison

10The two most basic rankings defining the canon of French modern art are straightforward: Table 2 ranks the artists by total illustrations, and Table 3 ranks individual paintings by the same measure. Each table also shows the corresponding American ranking of the respective painters and paintings.

11The similarity between the French and American rankings is striking. Considering first Table 2, Picasso holds the top place in both France and the US, in both cases by a large margin over his closest competitors, who are in both cases Matisse and Cézanne, respectively. Although there are minor differences in their ordering, the top 10 painters are identical in both rankings. Larger discrepancies in order appear lower in the rankings, as the distances among painters in numbers of illustrations become smaller, but the rankings remain similar; so for example only one of the top 19 painters in the French ranking fails to appear among the top 20 in the American ranking.

Table 2. Ranking of artists by total illustrations

French rank

Artist

French illustrations

US rank

US illustrations

1

Picasso

206

1

335

2

Matisse

121

2

169

3

Cézanne

120

3

136

4

Monet

108

5

125

5

van Gogh

101

6(t)

116

6

Manet

97

4

130

7(t)

Braque

85

6(t)

116

7(t)

Gauguin

85

8

97

9

Renoir

75

10

74

10

Degas

74

9

81

11

Courbet

73

12

68

12

Bonnard

62

20(t)

29

13

Léger

61

15

51

14

Toulouse-Lautrec

58

16

40

15

Seurat

53

14

60

16

Delaunay

51

20(t)

29

17

Miró

49

13

64

18

Gris

41

28

19

19

Duchamp

40

11

72

20(t)

Chagall

37

18

35

20(t)

Derain

37

24

27

22

Rousseau

36

23

29

23(t)

Picabia

35

27

20

23(t)

Pissarro

35

17

38

25

Modigliani

34

34

10

26

Rouault

27

19

31

27(t)

Masson

26

33

12

27(t)

Redon

26

26

23

29(t)

Dufy

25

35

7

29(t)

Vuillard

25

29(t)

18

31

Whistler

23

20(t)

29

32

Soutine

22

31

14

33

Vlaminck

20

30

15

34

Tanguy

18

32

13

35

Arp

14

25

26

Source : This and subsequent tables are based on the data set constructed for this study. See text and appendix for description. The last two columns are from D. Galenson, 2002, p. 7.

12Table 3 shows that French and American scholars are also in substantial agreement on the greatest individual paintings. Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon tops both rankings by a convincing margin, and four of the next five works in both rankings are the same, as French and American scholars agree on the great importance of Picasso's Guernica, Seurat's Grande Jatte, Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe, and Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase. Eight of the top 12 works in the French rankings appear among the highest American 11, and two more of those top French 12 are ranked in the top American 21. Only two of the 12 paintings most highly esteemed by French scholars – Courbet's Young Women and Rousseau's Snake Charmer – fail to appear among the 21 most favored by American scholars.

Table 3. Ranking of painting by total illustrations

French rank

French illustrations

Artist, Title

Date

Location

US rank

US illustrations

1

25

Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

1907

New York

1

30

2(t)

18

Manet, Olympia

1863

Paris

8(t)

15

2(t)

18

Picasso, Guernica

1937

Madrid

2

25

4

17

Seurat, Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte

1886

Chicago

3

24

5

16

Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe

1863

Paris

4(t)

21

6

14

Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2

1912

Philadelphia

4(t)

21

7

13

Monet, Impression, Sunrise

1872

Paris

19(t)

11

8(t)

12

Courbet, Burial at Ornans

1850

Paris

14(t)

12

8(t)

12

Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even

1923

Philadelphia

7

16

10(t)

11

Courbet, Young Women on the Banks of the Seine

1856

Paris

--

--

10(t)

11

Gauguin, The Vision After the Sermon

1888

Edinburgh

8(t)

15

10(t)

11

Rousseau, The Snake Charmer

1907

Paris

--

--

13Tables 2 and 3 therefore clearly show that there is no significant disagreement between French and American art scholars on the identity of the painters and paintings that constitute the canon of French modern art. But examination of the French rankings raises several intriguing puzzles. Two of these emerge from a comparison of Tables 2 and 3. One is that some of the highest-ranked painters in Table 2 – including Matisse and Cézanne, who rank second and third, respectively – have no paintings listed in Table 3. A second puzzle is that fully half of the 12 paintings in Table 3 were made by painters who do not rank even among the top 10 artists in Table 2. And a third puzzle concerns the composition of the works in Table 3. In this highly selective ranking of a mere handful of the most important individual paintings of French modern art, no less than four artists have two entries apiece. This third puzzle may furthermore have some relation to the second, for one of the painters with two entries in Table 3 is Marcel Duchamp. It is striking that a painter who ranks only 19th in total illustrations has two paintings among the greatest nine individual works in modern French art, while no less than 12 artists who rank above Duchamp in total illustrations have none.

14Why did some of the greatest masters not produce the most often illustrated masterpieces? Why were some of the most important masterpieces produced by painters who do not rank among the greatest masters? And why did some artists produce more than one of the most often illustrated masterpieces? These are obviously intriguing questions, but they have not been answered - or even asked - in the existing literature on modern art. This paper will suggest answers, based on a new typology of modern painters.

3. Importance in Modern Art

15Since the 1860s, when Charles Baudelaire declared that painters of modern life must continually search for new ways to portray the ever-changing beauty of the present day, and émile Zola asserted that every great artist would present a new and personal vision, leading art critics and scholars have understood that innovation is the source of true importance in modern art 8. From Courbet and Manet on, modern painters have made innovations in many areas, including subject matter, composition, scale, materials, and techniques. But whatever the specific form of an artist's innovation, its importance depends on its influence on other artists. The more widespread the adoption of an innovation by other artists, and the more profound its effect on their practice, the more important its creator. The importance of individual works similarly depends on the extent of their influence. The most important individual paintings are those that announce the appearance of the most important innovations.

16Recognizing innovation as the source of importance in modern art allows a restatement of the puzzles raised earlier. Why did some of the most important innovators not produce individual landmark works that announced their innovations? Why were many of the most important individual embodiments of innovations not produced by the most important innovators? And why were several artists able to produce more than one major landmark work declaring significant innovations?

4. A Typology of Artistic Innovators

17The answers to these questions may follow from the recognition that there have been two very different types of innovation in the history of modern art. What distinguishes them is not their importance, for both types are represented prominently among the major innovations of modern art. What distinguishes them is instead the method by which they are produced. One of these methods can be called aesthetically-motivated experimentation, the other conceptual execution 9.

18Modern artists who have produced experimental innovations have been motivated by aesthetic considerations, for their art has sought to present visual perceptions. These painters' goals are imprecise, so they have proceeded toward them tentatively and incrementally. They typically repeat themselves, painting the same subject many times - often painting over a single work many times - but always gradually changing its treatment by a process of trial and error. They generally regard even their finished works as provisional; many never consider their efforts as anything more than work in progress, and have great difficulty in declaring a painting to be finished. Each work leads to the next, and in advance none is privileged over any other, so experimental painters rarely make specific preparatory sketches or plans for a particular painting. Experimental painters' innovations appear by degrees over extended periods; they are rarely declared in any single work, but appear piecemeal in a large body of work. Experimental painters build up skills over the course of their careers, learning and advancing slowly toward their goals.

19In contrast, modern artists who have produced conceptual innovations have generally been motivated by criteria that are not visual, for their art has been intended to communicate emotions or ideas. Their goals for a particular work can usually be stated precisely, in advance of its production, either as a specific desired outcome or a particular procedure for the work's production. They often make careful preparations for their work, in the form of detailed sketches or plans. Their work is typically systematic: because they begin with a precise mental image of the finished work, or with a set of rules that are to be carried out without deviation, they often describe the actual execution of a painting as perfunctory. Conceptual innovations appear suddenly, with the formulation of a new idea, and they are often embodied in individual breakthrough works. Unlike experimental artists, whose inability to achieve their imprecise goals often ties them to a single problem for a whole career, the conceptual artist's satisfaction that a problem has been solved can free him to pursue new goals, and the careers of some conceptual artists have consequently been marked by a number of innovations, each quite different from the others.

20The life cycles of experimental and conceptual innovators tend to be very different. The long periods often required for the production of experimental innovations mean that they frequently occur late in an artist's career, but conceptual innovations can occur at any age. Fundamental conceptual innovations are in fact most often made by young artists, who are not yet committed by habit of thought to existing conventions and methods, and who might consequently be able better to perceive and appreciate more radical deviations from them.

5. Categorizing Painters: Quantitative Evidence

21The data set constructed for this study can be used to consider whether the typology of artistic innovation proposed here can help to resolve the puzzles raised earlier. Table 4 begins this process by presenting evidence on the degree of inequality in the distribution of each artist's illustrations 10. Economists often measure the degree of inequality of a country's income distribution by calculating the share of total income received by the wealthiest members of the country's population. Here, instead of people, the units of observation are paintings. Thus Table 4 shows the share of each artist's total illustrations that are accounted for by the 20 % of the artist's illustrated paintings that are most often reproduced.

Table 4. Share of top 20 % of paintings in Each Artist’s Total Illustrations, for Artists with more than 30 Illustrations

Artist

Share of Top 20 %

Total Paintings Illustrated

Duchamp

65 %

12

Seurat

64

20

Manet

63

32

Courbet

62

28

Monet

56

58

Rousseau

56

14

Braque

55

55

Picabia

51

20

Picasso

51

126

Renoir

51

41

Gauguin

49

40

Pissarro

49

22

van Gogh

48

62

Matisse

46

74

Bonnard

42

41

Cézanne

42

74

Gris

42

31

Degas

41

51

Miró

39

36

Modigliani

38

22

Toulouse-Lautrec

38

42

Chagall

38

26

Léger

38

44

Delaunay

37

31

Derain

35

30

22Table 4 shows that the greatest inequality in the distribution of illustrations is for Marcel Duchamp: the most heavily illustrated 20 % of his reproduced paintings account for nearly two-thirds of the total illustrations of his paintings. Duchamp was an archetypal conceptual innovator. His express goal was to change the focus of modern painting: « I was interested in ideas - not merely in visual products. I wanted to put painting once again at the service of the mind » 11. Duchamp wanted to make painting more precise and scientific, and toward this end he worked on a series of different problems: « I had a mania for change... One does something for six months, a year, and one goes on to something else » 12. His Nude Descending a Staircase, which ranks sixth in Table 3, presented a novel approach to producing a static image of movement, and his Bride Stripped Bare, tied for eight place, was an even more enigmatic work that used mechanical elements to represent the human anatomy. Duchamp produced the Nude when he was just 25, and the Bride at 36, by which time he had largely given up painting. Duchamp made other innovations in modern art, including what he called « readymades », manufactured objects he purchased and signed, which later had an enormous influence on generations of artists who would continue his exploration of the question of what constitutes art. But although his career as a painter was brief, and his output very limited, Duchamp's conceptual approach allowed him to place two landmark works in Table 3.

23Georges Seurat closely follows Duchamp in Table 4. Appropriately, Seurat was the modern painter whom Duchamp professed to respect the most, for Duchamp clearly recognized a fellow conceptual innovator 13. In the mid-1880s, when Paris' advanced art world was captivated by the discoveries of the Impressionists, Seurat set out to substitute scientific method for the unsystematic approach of Monet and his friends. At the age of 25, he began work on a major project that would apply to painting recent research on chromatics by a number of scholars, including the American physicist Ogden Rood. Two years later, after a process that involved more than 50 preparatory studies, Seurat exhibited the finished painting at the last group exhibition of the Impressionists. The Grande Jatte, ranked fourth in Table 3, was immediately a focus of critical debate, and soon became the most famous painting of the decade 14. Critic Felix Fénéon, who gave Seurat's new approach the name of Neo-Impressionism, declared that Seurat was the first to demonstrate the advantages of optical mixture - placing contrasting colors separately on the canvas and allowing the eye to mix them, rather than mixing them on the palette - that allowed him and his followers to replace the haphazard techniques of Impressionism with a « deliberate and constant » method 15. As Seurat remarked when visitors to his studio praised the Grande Jatte, « They see poetry in what I have done. No, I apply my method and that is all there is to it » 16.

24Having solved one problem, Seurat then set out to solve another: « If... I have been able to find scientifically the law of pictorial color, can I not discover an equally logical, scientific, and pictorial system to compose harmoniously the lines of a picture just as I can compose its colors? » 17 Seurat's work on this, based on the theories of Charles Henry, a young mathematician and aesthetician, was cut short by his death at the age of just 31. Yet as many art scholars have remarked, Seurat's youth was not a barrier to accomplishment: thus Meyer Schapiro observed that « Seurat was a complete artist at twenty-five when he painted the Grande Jatte » 18. The analysis presented here suggests that this early maturity was a direct consequence of Seurat's conceptual approach. After his death, a friend succinctly described his approach and its source:

Not only did he never begin his canvases without knowing where he was going, but his concern went even beyond their success as individual works. For him, they had no great meaning if they did not prove some rule, some artistic verity, some conquest of the unknown. If I understand him correctly, Seurat gave himself the mission of releasing art from the tentative, the vague, the hesitant, and the imprecise. Perhaps he thought that the scientific and positivist spirit of his time required, in the realm of the imagination, a more clear and solid tactic for the conquest of the beautiful. He wanted to inscribe this tactic point by point at the very foundation of each of his canvases, and often he succeeded. 19

25Only two other painters in Table 4 had more than 60 % of their total illustrations accounted for by just one-fifth of their reproduced works. One was Gustave Courbet. Courbet made detailed preparatory plans for his major works, often making full-scale drawings which he would then duplicate on the canvas as the initial step in making the final work. In 1854, while at work on one of his major paintings, L'Atelier, he wrote to a friend that in spite of a recent illness, « I have managed to sketch my painting, and at the moment it is entirely transferred to the canvas, which is twenty feet wide and twelve feet high » 20. When a friend, the philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, was writing a treatise on art, Courbet sent him some observations, including a clear description of his belief in a conceptual approach:

Works of art are conceived all at once, and the composition, once it is well established and firmly outlined in the mind in all its details, casts it into its frame on paper or on canvas in such a way that there is no need to modify it in the course of the execution. The beauty of the execution results from the clarity of the conception. 21

26Courbet produced a series of landmark works, two of which appear in Table 3. In this series of works he elevated the countryside and its common people to suitable subjects for advanced painting, and became the leading practitioner of Realist art. That he produced these innovative works before the age of 40 appears to have been a direct consequence of his conceptual approach.

27One of the most important painters with an entry in Table 4 below 45 % is Edgar Degas. The absence of key individual masterpieces that would stand out among the artist's works would not have surprised his admirers. One, the English writer George Moore, remarked of Degas' paintings of the ballet that « He has done so many dancers and so often repeated himself that it is difficult to specify any particular one » 22. The books surveyed here confirm this judgment, for 18 of Degas' illustrations are accounted for by portrayals of dancers, but no one of the 13 paintings represented appears more than three times. Degas' experimental approach involved repeated study of the same subject, and he often began a new drawing or pastel by tracing the previous one. His dealer, Ambroise Vollard, noted that « Because of the many tracings that Degas did of his drawings, the public accused him of repeating himself. But his passion for perfection was responsible for his continual research ». Unlike in Courbet's practice, however, this tracing did not provide the final contours for the new work, but rather served as the point of departure for it: « Tracing-paper proved to be one of the best means of 'correcting' himself. He would usually make the correction by beginning the new figure outside of the original outlines, the drawing growing larger and larger until a nude no bigger than a hand became life-size – only to be abandoned in the end » 23.

28A friend, the poet Paul Valéry, compared Degas to « a writer striving to attain the utmost precision of form, drafting and redrafting, canceling, advancing by endless recapitulation, never admitting that his work has reached its final stage: from sheet to sheet, copy to copy, he continually revises his drawings, deepening, tightening, closing it up » 24. Degas hated to sell his work, because « I always hope eventually to do better » 25. His hope of improvement lay in repetition: « One must redo ten times, a hundred times the same subject » 26. Degas made innovations in the use of pastel, in the use of color, and in the representation of space, yet these were not declared in individual breakthrough paintings, but rather in a large body of work. His career was notable for the extended and gradual evolution of his style over many decades. When Degas was told of another artist's excitement at having found his style, he responded « I'm glad I haven't found my style yet. I'd be bored to death » 27.

29Immediately below Degas in Table 4 is Joan Miró. Like a number of other Surrealist painters, Miró used an experimental approach in an attempt to explore the unconscious. To avoid preconceived images, he began a painting with arbitrary marks, then developed the images he saw implied in these beginnings: « I start a canvas without a thought of what it may eventually become ... I begin painting and as I paint the picture begins to assert itself, or suggest itself under my brush. The form becomes a sign for a woman or a bird as I work » 28. Like Degas, Miró never felt his work reached a definite conclusion: « when I've finished something I discover it's just a basis for what I've got to do next. It's never anything more than a point of departure... I'd paint over it again, right on top of it. Far from being finished work, to me it's just a beginning » 29. Interestingly, early in his career Miró gave a remarkably complete general description of the experimental approach to painting. In a letter to a friend, he described an artist who « sees a different problem in every tree and in every bit of sky: this is the man who suffers, the man who is always moving and can never sit still, the man who will never do what people call a 'definitive' work... [He] is always saying not yet, it is still not ready, and when he is satisfied with his last canvas and starts another one, he destroys the earlier one. His work is always a new beginning » 30. Miró also understood the implications of his experimental approach for the life cycle, as he believed firmly that « one's serious work begins only in maturity » 31.

Table 5. Artist’s age in year of most illustrations, for artists with more than 30 total illustrations and at least 10 in one year

Artist

Year

n

Age

Cézanne

1906

19

67

Rousseau

1907

12

63

Pissarro

1877

11

47

Degas

1877

10

43

Gauguin

1888

21

40

Matisse

1906

12

37

Courbet*

1855

12

36

Renoir

1876

14

35

van Gogh

1888

31

35

Picabia

1913

10

34

Modigliani

1917

20

33

Miró

1925

13

32

Monet

1872

17

32

Braque

1913

12

31

Courbet*

1850

12

31

Manet

1863

35

31

Toulouse-Lautrec

1894

11

30

Delaunay

1913

14

28

Seurat

1886

19

27

Derain

1906

19

26

Picasso

1907

35

26

Duchamp

1912

19

25

* Two entries tied for most illsutrations

30Table 5 shows that Degas was 43 in the single year represented by the largest number of reproductions in the books surveyed here, which places his entry among the highest in that tabulation. The painter who ranks first is Degas' contemporary, Paul Cézanne, who by this measure reached the peak of his achievement in the final year of his life, at the age of 67. Cézanne is perhaps the greatest experimental painter considered in this study. His letters provide an eloquent account of his progress as an experimental innovator. Thus for example in September, 1906, just six weeks before his death, he wrote to his son:

Finally I must tell you that as a painter I am becoming more clear-sighted before nature, but that with me the realization of my sensations is always painful. I cannot attain the intensity that is unfolded before my senses. I have not the magnificent richness of coloring that animates nature. Here on the bank of the river the motifs multiply, the same subject seen from a different angle offers subject for study of the most powerful interest and so varied that I think I could occupy myself for months without changing place, by turning now more to the right, now more to the left. 32

31In this short passage, Cézanne describes his visual motivation, the elusiveness of his vague but ambitious goal, the slowness of his progress toward it, the incremental and serial nature of his enterprise, his view of his work as research, and his frustration. The irony of this frustration stems from the fact that in time not only would Cézanne come to be widely recognized as the most important painter of his time, but that as indicated in Table 5, it would be the work he did late in his life that would be judged his greatest contribution. His late work would influence almost every significant artistic development of the next generation. These included movements as diverse as the Cubists, who saw in Cézanne's brushstrokes a structure of planes that could define three-dimensional space, and the Fauves, who seized instead on the surface pattern created by the colors of those brushstrokes.

32Cézanne's work provides a prime demonstration of why experimental artists do not produce famous individual works. Among the most familiar images of the latter stages of his career are his views of Mont Ste-Victoire. Had he produced just a single painting of this motif, it would likely rank at or near the top of Table 3. But instead he made dozens: 12 different views of the mountain made in the last two decades of his life are illustrated in the books surveyed here, a total of 21 times. Cézanne loved the landscape of his native Provence, and it is not surprising that he made his vision of its most commanding feature a cornerstone of modern art. Yet in view of his doubt that he would ever be able to create a « well-realized canvas », it is equally unsurprising that the importance of this motif was not achieved in a single celebrated image, but rather in the form of a series of works that document Cézanne's painstaking progress along what he considered the artist's « true path - the concrete study of nature » 33.

33Art historians have sometimes been puzzled by, and even critical of, Cézanne's casual attitude toward his paintings 34. He rarely signed them; he would sometimes deliberately slash a canvas with a palette knife; he would discard paintings in the garden outside his home at Aix, to be destroyed by his servants; and he would laugh in amusement when his young son poked holes in his paintings 35. But rather than demonstrating a lack of professionalism or respect for his craft, this apparent negligence appears to have resulted from Cézanne's experimental view of his paintings as research. Thus he advised the young painter Emile Bernard that « painters must devote themselves entirely to the study of nature and try to produce pictures which will be an education » 36. The importance of his own paintings consequently lay in what he learned while making them: « he never ceased declaring that he was not making pictures, but that he was searching for a technique » 37. Failed experiments were of no further value: « When a picture isn't realized, you pitch it in the fire and start another one! » 38. And the final object of the research always lay further ahead, as for example near the end of his life he complained to Bernard that « I progress very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in very complex ways; and the progress needed is endless » 39.

34Duchamp and Seurat are among the lowest entries in Table 5, as both did their most frequently illustrated work in their mid-20s. The other major artist whose single peak year occurred before he reached the age of 30 is Pablo Picasso. His entry in Table 5 of 1907 marks the year he painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the single most reproduced painting in the history of modern art. The Demoiselles is generally considered the forerunner of Cubism, which is in turn often regarded as the most important artistic revolution of the modern era. There is no doubt that Picasso specifically intended the Demoiselles to be a landmark work. The project may have originated in Picasso's rivalry with Matisse for preeminence in Paris' advanced art world. Fauvism had first aroused controversy in 1905, and the next year Matisse's leadership of the movement was underscored by his exhibition of a large painting called The Joy of Life. Late in 1906 Picasso began working on the large painting that he appears to have considered his answer to Matisse's challenge 40. During the fall and winter he filled one sketchbook after another with preparatory studies. William Rubin concluded that in all « there are at least some four to five hundred studies ... associated in one way or another with the genesis of the Demoiselles », which Rubin believed constituted « a quantity of preparatory work unique not only in Picasso's career, but without parallel, for a single picture, in the entire history of art » 41. At the age of 25, Picasso thus appears to have deliberately set out to make the most important work of his career, and remarkably he succeeded.

35The Demoiselles marked a break with the art of the past in its extreme conceptual approach to the treatment of space and the representation of objects. A young poet and friend of Picasso's, André Salmon, quickly recognized its conceptual basis, describing its figures as « stark problems, white numbers on a blackboard. This is the first appearance of the painting-equation » 42. The development of this conceptual approach by Picasso and his friend George Braque made Cubism the most influential artistic innovation of the first half of the twentieth century 43. As historian John Golding emphasized, the Cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque « are not so much records of the sensory appearance of their subjects, as expressions in pictorial terms of their idea or knowledge of them. 'I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them,' Picasso said » 44.

36Picasso could preconceive his works even when he did not use preparatory sketches. His dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler described to a friend how Picasso took a novel approach to making prints from linoleum plates. Instead of the normal procedure of cutting a separate plate for each color, Picasso used only one plate: after printing one color, he would recut the same plate and print another color. Kahnweiler explained that by repeating this process Picasso produced very complex prints, with as many as a dozen colors. Whereas the traditional approach of using multiple plates permitted adjustments during the printing process, by allowing changes to any of the plates to make the separate images of the individual plates consistent with each other, Picasso's method provided no such margin for error, for the plate for each color was effectively destroyed when the unique plate was recut to print the next color. Kahnweiler marveled at Picasso's ability to arrive at excellent results by this uncompromising process: « He must see in advance the effect of each color, because there's no pentimento possible!... I would call it 'pictorial premonition'. I was at his home and saw him working. When he attacks the lino, he makes out or sees in advance the final result » 45.

37Picasso became the most celebrated artist of the twentieth century, and produced other landmark works including Guernica, which appears tied for second place in Table 3. The frequency and abruptness of his stylistic changes during the nearly eight decades of his career have become a commonplace among the many scholars who have studied his work. Thus for example critic John Berger observed that « in the life work of no other artist is each group of works so independent of those which have just gone before, or so irrelevant to those which are to follow » 46. This independence, like the periodic appearance of the great landmark works that announced his innovations, was a direct consequence of Picasso's conceptual approach to art. Unlike Cézanne, who once told a younger artist « I seek in painting », Picasso valued conclusions: « In my opinion to search means nothing in painting. To find, is the thing ... I have never made trials or experiments. Whenever I have had something to say, I have said it in the manner in which I have felt it ought to be said » 47.

38Differences in the amount of time it took artists to reach their peak achievements are suggested by Table 6. Its measure of the time between an artist's earliest illustrated work and the date of his peak year for illustrations gives an indication of the interval between the artist's first significant accomplishment and his most important contribution. It is not surprising to see that the highest entries in Table 6 are for Cézanne and Degas, and that among the lowest are those for Duchamp and Seurat. Yet this measure clearly calls attention to the need for a significant qualification to the analysis presented above, in identifying two cases of important artists for whom the usual relationship between age and professional experience does not apply. These are Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. Both came to full-time painting late, Gauguin at 35 after a successful career in the stock exchange, and van Gogh at 28 after unsuccessful careers as an art dealer and pastor. Their careers as painters were also both brief, Gauguin's lasting only 20 years before his death in the Marquesas Islands in 1903, and van Gogh's just a decade before his suicide in Auvers in 1890. Yet both artists nonetheless made innovations that would have enormous influence on the development of modern art.

Table 6. Time elapsed between year of artist’s first illustration and year of artist’s most illustrations, for artists with more than 30 illustrations and at least 10 in one year

Artist

Years elapsed

Artist

Years elapsed

Cézanne

40

Toulouse-Lautrec

7

Degas

22

Picasso

6

Rousseau

17

Modigliani

5

Courbet*

13

Delaunay

4

Pissarro

10

Manet

4

Matisse

9

Picabia

4

Renoir

9

Seurat

3

Courbet*

8

van Gogh

3

Braque

7

Derain

1

Miró

7

Duchamp

1

Monet

7

Gauguin

0

* Two entries tied

39The careers of Gauguin and van Gogh call attention to the fact that it is not strictly youth that is critical to radical conceptual innovation, but rather professional inexperience. As the artist's acceptance of existing practices increases over time, the reinforcement of his habits of thought make it more difficult for him to perceive radical alternative conceptual approaches. Although their innovations were not made when they were young, both Gauguin and van Gogh made conceptual innovations early in their careers as painters. Gauguin's principal innovation was embodied in his Vision After the Sermon, which he painted in Pont-Aven in 1888, and which ranks tenth in Table 3. The painting became a manifesto for young Symbolist artists for the way Gauguin used distortions of scale, space, and color to separate real from imagined figures: in describing the work to van Gogh, Gauguin wrote that « I believe that in my figures I have achieved a great simplicity, which is both rustic and superstitious ». Gauguin studied with Camille Pissarro when he first decided to become a painter, but he soon grew dissatisfied with Impressionist techniques, which he found were « bound by the shackles of verisimilitude. For them there is no such thing as a landscape that has been dreamed, created from nothing ». Gauguin's goal was to make his paintings express ideas: « I do not paint by copying nature... Everything I do springs from my wild imagination ». Because of this, Gauguin believed that progress could be made quickly, so he advised his friend and fellow painter Emile Schuffenecker « don't sweat over a painting; a great sentiment can be rendered immediately » 48.

40As Table 5 indicates, van Gogh made his greatest contributions near the end of his life. When he arrived in Paris from Holland in 1886 his art was transformed by his first exposure to Impressionism, but he soon discovered that he needed other means to express his emotions, and he was encouraged in this pursuit by his association with Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and other Symbolist painters. From Arles in 1888 he wrote to his brother that the Impressionists would no doubt disapprove of his new work, « Because instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily, in order to express myself forcibly ». So for example when he painted a night café in Arles, he told Théo that he had « tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green », in order « to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime ». His letters to Théo also reveal the preconception of his work, as when he explained how he could complete a painting in a single sitting: « understand that I am in the midst of a complicated calculation which results in a quick succession of canvases quickly executed but calculated long beforehand » 49. The art of Gauguin and van Gogh inspired not only younger Symbolists of their own day, but also painters of later generations as varied as the Fauves, Cubists, and Expressionists. In part this was a consequence of the liberating example of their conceptual approach, which demonstrated how powerfully painting could be used to express intense emotions directly, without the need for the tedious apprenticeships emphasized by the more traditional academic approach.

41In histories of art, a prominent place is often given not simply to an important artist's great individual works, but to a short period in which the artist makes his principal contribution. Narratives of modern art are often organized around these episodes, for these have often been key periods in which the work of a small group gave rise to a new movement, from Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism through Fauvism, Cubism, and beyond. Table 7 uses the quantitative data to give an indication of which short periods are considered most important, by identifying the episodes that include the largest number of illustrations of paintings by individual artists within any five-year period. This may not exactly correspond to the historians' analyses, for artists' creative episodes vary in length, but five years constitute a period long enough to capture many of the most important breakthrough phases in modern artists' careers.

42The analysis presented above would predict that Table 7 should be dominated by conceptual innovators, because of the greater temporal concentration of their achievements, and this is clearly the case. Interestingly, in spite of Picasso's preeminent position in Table 2 and the enormous importance of Cubism, Table 7 is headed by van Gogh, as his years in France emerge as the most heavily illustrated five-year episode in the period studied here. The invention and development of Cubism from 1906 to the outbreak of World War I does account for the high positions of Picasso (both second in Table 7 for 1906-10 and tied for eighth for 1911-15) and Braque (tied for fifth for 1910-14), as well as for the appearance of Juan Gris, the only other painter who worked with Picasso during the Cubist period (seventeenth for 1912-16). Gauguin's leading role in Symbolism, from his Vision of 1888 through his first trip to Tahiti, places him third in Table 7. And Edouard Manet's crucial role in the transition to modern painting during 1862-66 places him fourth.

Table 7. Ranking of five year periods in artist’s careers by total illustrations

Rank

Artist

Starting age

Illustrations

% of Artist’s total illustrations

1

van Gogh

33

91

90

2

Picasso

25

65

32

3

Gauguin

40

55

65

4

Manet

30

46

47

5(t)

Toulouse-Lautrec

28

38

66

5(t)

Braque

28

38

45

5(t)

Seurat

25

38

72

8(t)

Monet

29

37

34

8(t)

Picasso

30

37

18

10

Delaunay

25

36

71

11

Courbet

34

33

45

12(t)

Matisse

35

32

26

12(t)

Picasso

52

32

16

14

Modigliani

31

30

88

15

Renoir

33

29

39

16

Derain

25

28

76

17

Gris

25

27

66

18(t)

Cézanne

63

26

22

18(t)

Duchamp

24

26

65

20

Matisse

41

24

20

Note: The final column shows the percentage of each artist’s total illustrations (Table 2) made up by illustrations of paintings from the periods identified here.

43Manet was celebrated by Zola, Mallarmé, and other advanced critics of the 1860s and '70s as the leader of the new movement of innovative painters. Two of his landmark works painted in 1863 caused great public controversy – the Déjeuner sur l'herbe, first exhibited at the Salon des Refusés in 1863, and the Olympia, first shown at the Salon of 1865. These paintings dramatically announced striking innovations in technique and subject matter, as in both works Manet abandoned the traditional use of graduated tones to create the illusion of three-dimensionality, and posed contemporary figures in classical settings, with nude female figures who looked directly and immodestly at their viewers. That both paintings rank among the top five works in Table 3 reflects their enormous impact on the early development of modern French painting. Thus for example Cézanne declared of the Olympia that « the whole of our Renaissance dates back to that painting », while Monet felt so strongly about the painting that after Manet's death, he devoted nearly a year to raising the funds necessary to buy the painting, then negotiated with the French government to assure that it would eventually be hung in the Louvre 50.

44Manet's conceptual approach is reflected not only in the abrupt introduction of the innovations embodied in these famous individual paintings, but also in his selection of motifs and his practice. Unlike Degas and Cézanne, whose experimental approach led them to return repeatedly to study the same subjects, Manet's friend Théodore Duret wrote that the painter « had no circumscribed circle. He painted indifferently all that the eye can see - men and women under every aspect and in all sorts of groupings, landscape, seascape, still life, flowers, animals, in the open air, and in the studio. His method was to have a constant change of subject, and never to stale a success by repetition » 51. Manet's major paintings, including the Déjeuner and the Olympia, were based on preparatory studies: « his favorite method was to use watercolor for the preliminary studies for his pictures, in order to establish the proper color-scheme and composition » 52.

6. Monet and Matisse

45The quantitative data presented above have thus provided strong evidence for the categorization of a number of major artists according to the scheme suggested earlier. So for example Picasso made two of the greatest individual works in the history of modern art, and the one generally considered the more important when he was just 26 years old; he is easily categorized as conceptual. Cézanne, third overall in total illustrations, produced no individual works that rank among the landmark paintings of Table 3, and did his most celebrated work late in his long career; he is equally easily categorized as experimental. Gauguin and van Gogh were not young when they executed their greatest works, but these nonetheless came early in their careers as artists; that they could make such important contributions so quickly is a consequence of their conceptual approach. Manet produced two of modern art's most celebrated paintings at the age of 31; these dramatic innovations of a young painter clearly identify him as a conceptual innovator.

46But the quantitative evidence might not point as clearly to the categorization of two of the most important painters considered in this study. The earlier of these is Claude Monet. That Monet has a painting listed in Table 3, which he executed when he was just 32 years old, might suggest that he was a conceptual innovator, as might his appearance among the top ten entries in Table 7, for a five-year period that began when he was under 30. Yet Monet was in fact quintessentially an experimental innovator. Throughout his career he repeatedly stressed the visual character of his goal of capturing the « instantaneity » of nature, with « the same light spread over everything », and like Cézanne, he found his goal elusive: « I'm never satisfied when working from nature ». He also had recurring doubts about finishing his work: in 1893, at age 53, in spite of his established reputation and growing commercial success, Monet wrote to a friend that « the further I get, the more difficult it is for me to convey what I feel; and I tell myself that anyone who claims he's finished a painting is terribly arrogant. To finish something means complete, perfect and I'm forcing myself to work, but can't make any progress; looking for something, groping my way forward, but coming up with nothing very special » 53. His use of the serial approach to chosen subjects in the 1890s – grainstacks, poplars, Rouen cathedral, the cliffs of Normandy, the Seine, and the Thames – famously elevated the experimental approach to an explicit strategy, with each of a set of paintings considered as a related observation of some chosen motif, but in fact his instinct had always been to work in series. Thus in 1886 he wrote to a friend that « I do know that to paint the sea very well, you need to look at it every hour of every day in the same place so that you can understand its ways in that particular spot; and this is why I am working on the same motifs over and over again, four or six times even »; but since the intent was visual, he added that « I'll be able to explain all this to you much better when I see you with my paintings laid out in front of you » 54.

47Monet's early artistic achievement, reflected in his peak five-year period in Table 7 spanning ages 29-34, is an anomaly for an experimental innovator, and appears to have resulted from his ability effectively to take advantage of a research project that others had begun. Art historians have long repeated Monet's account of how as a young man he initially rejected the advice of the older artist Eugène Boudin to paint from nature, and of the valuable lessons about working in the open air that he eventually learned from Boudin and his friend Johan Jongkind after he had understood their methods and intentions. Yet after receiving this tuition - from Boudin in the late 1850s, and Jongkind in the early '60s - Monet formulated goals more ambitious than those of his predecessors, and it was only after some years of further experimentation that he discovered « the principle of the subdivision of colors » that allowed him to achieve novel « effects of light and color » 55. This breakthrough is often traced to the summer of 1869, which Monet spent painting with Renoir at a riverside café near Paris, and Table 7 shows that Monet's prime period for illustrations begins in that year. That Monet could achieve this breakthrough at such an early age in spite of his experimental approach thus appears to have been a consequence of his ability to adapt to his own purposes the results of the earlier experiments of his teachers. And the evidence of Table 7 hints at Monet's experimental approach, for although it shows that the years 1869-1874 were those of his greatest concentration of illustrations, the number of reproductions from that period rank only tied for eighth place in that tabulation, in spite of the fact that Monet ranks fourth among artists in Table 2. Clearly much important work still lay ahead in his career, spread over many more years.

48The question nonetheless remains of why Monet's Impression, Sunrise of 1872 is ranked seventh in Table 3. How does a single work by an experimental painter achieve such a privileged position? The answer appears straightforward. The importance of Impression, Sunrise does not stem from its announcement of any new technique or method, since the most dramatic breakthroughs of Impressionism had already been embodied in Monet's work of the preceding three years. What elevated this painting was rather its title. Impression, Sunrise was included in the first group exhibition of independent artists arranged by Monet and his colleagues in 1874. A hostile review of that show referred to the group by the derisory name of Impressionists. Although some scholars deny that Monet's painting was the specific inspiration for the critic's mocking label, Monet himself claimed that it was 56. The artists themselves later accepted the name of Impressionists, and it has since become one of the most celebrated terms in all of art history. And as the fame of Impressionism has grown, Impression, Sunrise has become a convenient part of many narratives of the history of modern art. Unlike the other landmark works in Table 3, Monet's painting therefore appears to have achieved its position because of its usefulness for scholars rather than for other artists.

49The other major painter whose categorization is not clearly indicated by the quantitative evidence is Henri Matisse. Although he ranks second only to Picasso in total illustrations, he has no work listed in Table 3. He does have two five-year periods ranked among the top 20 for all artists in Table 7, but both are for work he did after the age of 35. This evidence might appear to suggest that Matisse was an experimental innovator, but in fact he was not. Instead he appears to have been a conceptual innovator who made a series of significant contributions over a long period, without one that clearly dominated his career. Matisse's single most celebrated contribution was his leading role in Fauvism; this is the source of his 12th place ranking in Table 7 for the five-year period of 1904-1908. Fauvism came into existence suddenly, it was practiced only during 1904-1907, and it was then largely abandoned. Given these characteristics, it is not surprising that its origins were conceptual: as André Derain, who worked most closely with Matisse in creating the movement, later recalled, « We painted with theories, ideas » 57. Similarly, the writer André Gide immediately recognized the conceptual basis of Matisse's Fauve works, as he explained in his account of his visit to the 1905 Salon d'Automne:

The canvases which he paints today seem to be the demonstrations of theorems. I stayed quite a while in this gallery. I listened to the visitors and when I heard them exclaim in front of a Matisse: « This is madness! » I felt like retorting: « No, Sir, quite the contrary. It is the result of theories ». Everything can be deduced, explained... Yes, this painting is reasonable, or rather it is itself reasoning. 58

50Matisse's statements about his art clearly reveal his conceptual approach. In his first and most famous published essay, which appeared in 1908, he stated that his goal was not visual, but was rather to express his emotions: « What I am after, above all, is expression ... I am unable to distinguish between the feeling I have about life and my way of translating it ». His work was the product of a clear initial intent: « For me, all is in the conception. It is thus necessary to have a clear vision of the whole right from the beginning » 59. Later in his life, in words that reflected the certainty that separated him from experimentalists like Cézanne and Degas, when an interviewer asked him when he considered a work to be finished, Matisse replied: « When it represents my emotion very precisely and when I feel that there is nothing more to be added » 60.

51Matisse planned his works carefully. His preparations for one of his major early works, Luxe, calme et volupté, occupied the whole winter of 1904-1905. Watercolor sketches he had made the previous summer of the bay of St. Tropez became the basis for oil studies. He added studio studies of nude figures, then produced a full-scale charcoal drawing of the whole composition. After his wife and daughter transferred this drawing to a large canvas using a traditional technique called pouncing, Matisse painted within the outlines they had traced to produce the finished work 61. Even Matisse's celebrated ink line drawings were based on preparatory sketches. He explained in 1939 that they were « always preceded by studies made in a less rigorous medium than pure line, such as charcoal or stump drawings, which allow me to consider simultaneously the character of the model, her human expression, the quality of surrounding light, the atmosphere ». These studies might occupy several sessions, until Matisse felt that he was « drained by the work », and it was then « that my mind is cleared and I have the confidence to give free rein to my pen » 62.

52Matisse was among the most influential artists of the twentieth century, and his career had a number of celebrated phases. Although Fauvism is generally considered his most distinctive innovation, it did not have the enormous impact on other artists that Cubism would have, and it does not stand out as far more influential than a number of Matisse's other achievements 63. Table 7 again points to Matisse's conceptual approach, as it shows that only he and Picasso had more than a single five-year period with an achievement great enough to rank among the most important in French modern art. Having moved beyond Fauvism, during 1910-1914 Matisse made very different contributions with such major works as Dance II (1910) and Red Studio (1911). In contrast to most of the other major conceptual innovators considered in this study, whose careers were dominated by one influential period, Matisse appears to have produced a number of innovations throughout a long career.

7. The Masterpiece of the Unknown Artist

53In Balzac's fictional The Unknown Masterpiece, a legendary painter spent years creating a masterpiece which he then destroyed. In 1888, modern art produced an actual event that might seem no less curious, as an obscure young artist produced a painting that became famous as the inspiration for an artistic movement, while the artist himself remained obscure.

54Paul Sérusier (1863-1927) is known today as a minor Symbolist painter. Had he been included in the sample of artists for this study, the 14 total illustrations of his work in the 31 books considered would have placed him at the bottom of Table 2, tied for last place with Jean Arp. Remarkably, however, 11 of those 14 illustrations are of a single painting, which would have placed that painting in a tie for tenth place in Table 3. A painting by the little-known Sérusier thus appears in more books than any single painting by such celebrated masters as Cézanne, Matisse, and van Gogh. How is this possible?

55In 1888, as a 25-year-old art student Sérusier visited the artists' colony of Pont-Aven. Late in the summer he approached Paul Gauguin and spent a morning painting with him at the edge of a small forest. Their session was later immortalized by another young painter and future critic, Maurice Denis, in an often-quoted passage:

« How do you see this tree », Gauguin had said, standing in one of the corners of the Bois d'Amour. « Is it really green? Use green then, the most beautiful green on your palette. And that shadow, rather blue? Don't be afraid to paint it as blue as possible » 64.

56When Sérusier returned to Paris, the small landscape of the Bois d'Amour that he had painted under Gauguin's prompting electrified a group of Sérusier's fellow students. Sérusier, Denis, édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and several other young artists began to meet regularly to discuss Gauguin's new ideas as transmitted by Sérusier: « The extremely philosophical intellect of Sérusier very quickly transformed the least words of Gauguin into a scientific doctrine, which made a decisive impression on us » 65. The group named itself the Nabis, the Hebrew word for prophets, and took Gauguin's ideas as a license to free themselves from the constraints of academic art. For a time their painting shared a pattern of flat colors that was even more simplified than that of Gauguin, and the Nabis became well known in the advanced art world of Paris until they were surpassed by more radical developments, including Fauvism.

57But although the group adopted the Bois d'Amour as their mascot, renaming it The Talisman in recognition of its inspiration for their art, Sérusier's little landscape played an even greater indirect role in the history of modern art because of Maurice Denis' literary talents. In 1890 Denis published an essay that opened with a sentence that attracted immediate attention: « It is well to remember that a picture - before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote - is essentially a plane surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order » 66. In a eulogy for Gauguin written in 1903, Denis identified The Talisman as the source for his earlier critical advance:

It was at the beginning of 1888 that the name of Gauguin was revealed to us by Sérusier, back from Pont-Aven, who showed us, not without a certain mystery, a cigar box cover on which could be seen a landscape ... Thus was introduced to us for the first time, in a paradoxical and unforgettable form, the fertile concept of the plane surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order 67.

58The Talisman was therefore credited with a causal role in Denis' provocative early statement of formalist art theory, which would eventually be used to justify the abandonment of representation in painting. The influence of The Talisman was consequently extended even beyond its impact on the Nabis to many of the central developments in modern painting of the twentieth century. The fame of The Talisman is a striking example of conceptual innovation: its importance rests on its embodiment of an idea that was expressed by Gauguin, even though it was recorded by another hand.

59In The Unknown Masterpiece, Balzac produced a classic portrayal of an experimental artist in Frenhofer, who « has meditated deeply on color, on the absolute accuracy of line, but he has investigated so much that he has at last reached the point of doubting the very object of his investigations » 68. Frenhofer's fatal frustration at his inability to achieve his ultimate artistic goal has such a strong parallel to Cézanne's profound frustration at his inability to « realize my dream of art that I have been pursuing all my life » that it is hardly surprising that Cézanne would see himself in the fictional master 69. The tension of Balzac's story, as of the story of Cézanne's life, stems from the long and painful search by a great artist for the unattainable goal of the definitive masterpiece. There is considerably less drama in the true story of the production of The Talisman. Unlike Frenhofer or Cézanne, Paul Sérusier was not a great artist, and the few hours he spent with Gauguin painting on the cover of a cigar box hardly bear comparison to the decades Frenhofer and Cézanne spent struggling toward their goals. But recognition of the two very different sources of artistic innovation allows us to understand how, in the course of a single brief session, a young painter who would never become more than a minor figure could produce a famous masterpiece that would have a profound impact on the history of modern art.

60In his inaugural lecture as professor of art history at Cambridge University in 1933, the distinguished critic Roger Fry declared that « we have such a crying need for systematic study in which scientific methods will be followed wherever possible, where at all events the scientific attitude may be fostered and the sentimental attitude discouraged » 70. In the spirit of Fry's appeal, the present investigation has carried out a systematic analysis of a body of data created by art scholars, using evidence drawn from published surveys of French modern art. This study has produced several significant results. One is the demonstration that there is no cultural gap between French and American scholars on the composition of the canon of French modern art. Picasso commands a unique position from the vantage points of both Paris and New York, and experts in both art capitals have no disagreement over the fact that he was joined by his friends Matisse and Braque in dominating the twentieth century, or that his most distinguished predecessors of the nineteenth century were Cézanne, Monet, van Gogh, and Manet. Scholars on both sides of the Atlantic also agree that Picasso's early masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, is the single most important work of French modern art.

61Interestingly, this quantitative investigation also appears to bear on a substantive issue that Roger Fry raised in his inaugural lecture nearly 70 years ago. Fry observed that:

When we look at the late works of Titian or Rembrandt we cannot help feeling the pressure of a massive and rich experience which leaks out, as it were, through the ostensible image presented to us, whatever it may be. There are artists, and perhaps Titian and Rembrandt are good examples, who seem to require a very long period of activity before this unconscious element finds its way completely through into the work of art. In other cases, particularly in artists whose gift lies in a lyrical direction, the exaltation and passion of youth transmits itself directly into everything they touch, and then sometimes, when this flame dies down, their work becomes relatively cold and uninspired 71.

62Fry immediately conceded that his remarks were « rather wildly speculative and hazardous », but this may no longer be true. For Fry may have had in mind the distinction supported by the quantitative evidence examined here, in which the innovations of conceptual artists have been embodied in a smaller number of key works, typically made at younger ages, and concentrated in shorter periods, than have those of artists who have followed an experimental approach. So conceptual innovators like Courbet, Duchamp, Manet, Picasso, and Seurat produced innovations embodied in specific masterpieces early in their careers, whereas Cézanne, Degas, Miró, Monet and Pissaro followed an incremental procedure in which innovations appeared gradually in larger bodies of work, and usually at older ages.

63Like the study that preceded it, this investigation has demonstrated that artistic success can be quantified, with substantial gains 72. Novel and even surprising results were obtained through a straightforward analysis of evidence generated by art historians themselves. The systematic analysis presented above made it possible to draw powerful conclusions that were implied by the historians' narratives but that they had not been able to recognize. Beyond demonstrating the value of quantification, this study has clearly shown that the greatest gains come from the combination of both quantitative and qualitative evidence in studying artists' achievements; neither type of evidence used alone can produce results as rich as when both are used together. As in a series of other disciplines which practitioners had declared immune to quantification but that were subsequently transformed by the application of quantitative analysis, the boundaries of quantification in art history will be limited in future only by the ingenuity of its researchers.

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Ashton, Dore, A Fable of Modern Art, New York, Thames and Hudson, 1980.

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Galenson, David W., « Quantifying Artistic Success: Ranking French Painters - and Paintings - from Impressionism to Cubism », Historical Methods, vol. 35, winter 2002, n° 1, pp. 5-20.

Galenson, David W. & Jensen, Robert, « Young Geniuses and Old Masters: The Life Cycles of Great Artists from Masaccio to Jasper Johns », NBER, Working Paper 8368, July 2001, pp. 1-42.

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Guérin, Marcel (ed.), Lettres de Degas, Paris, Bernard Grasset, 1931.

Heard Hamilton, George, 19th and 20th Century Art, New York, Abrams, 1970.

Herbert, Robert L., Georges Seurat, 1859-1891, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991.

Hughes, Robert, The Shock of the New, New York, Knopf, 1982.

Hunter, Sam & Jacobus, John, History of Modern Art, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, third edition, 1992.

Jensen, Robert, Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Siècle Europe, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994.

Kendall, Richard, (ed.), Monet by Himself, New York, Knickerbocker Press, 1999.

Kubler, George, The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things, New Haven,Yale University Press, 1962.

de Leiris, Alan, The Drawings of édouard Manet, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1969.

Malraux, André, Picasso's Mask, New York, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, [1976].

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Nochlin, Linda (ed.), Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, 1874-1904: Sources and Documents, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1966.

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Ruwell, John, The Meanings of Modern Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1981.

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Schapiro, Meyer, Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries, New York, George Braziller, 1968.

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Appendix
The books surveyed by this study are listed below in chronological order. In a number of cases, two or three books included in a series were treated as a single entry.

Maillard, Robert, (éd.), Nouveau Dictionnaire de la Peinture moderne, Paris, Fernand Hazan, 1963.

Maillard, Robert, (éd.), Dictionnaire universel de l'Art et des Artistes, Paris, Hazan, 3 volumes, 1967.

Jaffé, Hans L.C., Histoire Générale de la Peinture, v: xixe et xxe siècles, Paris, Flammarion, 1968.

Janneau, Guillaume & Stalter, Marcel-André, L'Art moderne, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1970.

Cabanne, Pierre, Dictionnaire international des Arts, Paris, Bordas, 2 volumes, 1979.

Christ, Yvan, L'Art au xixe siècle : du Second Empire à la fin du siècle, Paris, Flammarion, 1981.

Lassalle, Hélène, L'Art au xxe siècle : de 1900 à la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Paris, Flammarion, 1986.

Lassalle, Hélène, L'Art au xxe siècle : de l'Après-Guerre à Beaubourg, Paris, Flammarion, 1986.

Bazin, Germain, Histoire de L'Art de la Préhistoire à nos jours, Paris, Massin, cinquième édition, 1986.

Plazy, Gilles, Les Aventures de la Peinture moderne, Milan, Liana Levi, 1987.

Delacampagne, Christian, L'Aventure de la Peinture moderne, Paris, éditions Mengès, 1988.

Breuille, Jean-Phillippe, Dictionnaire de la Peinture francaise : la Peinture en France du Moyen Âge à nos jours, Paris, Larousse, 1989.

Cabanne, Pierre, L'Art du xixe siècle, Paris, Somogy, 1989.

Cabanne, Pierre, L'Art du xxe siècle, Paris, Somogy, 1982.

Cachin, Francoise &. al., L'Art du xixe siècle : 1850-1905, Paris, éditions Citadelles, 1990.

Bouillon, Jean-Paul, Rinuy, Paul-Louis & Baudin, Antoine, L'Art du xxe siècle : 1900-1939, Paris, éditions Citadelles et Mazenod, 1996.

Bornay, Erika, Histoire universelle de l'Art, Tome ix : le xixe siècle, Paris, Larousse, 1990.

Suarez, Alicia & Vidal, Merce, Histoire Universelle de l'Art, Tome x : le xxe siècle, Paris, Larousse, 1990.

Châtelet, Albert & Groslier, Bernard Philippe, Histoire de l'Art, Paris, Larousse, 1990.

Ferry, Luc, Le Sens du Beau : aux origines de la culture contemporaine, Paris, éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 1990.

Felici, Lucio, (éd.), L'Encyclopédie de l'Art, Paris, Librairie Générale Française, 1991.

Rancillac, Bernard, Voir et comprendre la Peinture, Paris, Bordas, 1991.

Argan, Giulio Carlo, L'Art moderne, Paris, Bordas, 1992.

Sprocatti, Sandro, Guide de l'Art : Peinture, Sculpture, Architecture du xive siècle à nos jours, Paris, éditions Solar, 1992.

Carrassat, Patricia Fride R. & Marcadé, Isabelle, Comprendre et reconnaître les mouvements de la Peinture, Paris, France Loisirs, 1993.

Marseille, Jacques & Laneyrie-Dagen, Nadeije, Les Grands événements de l'Histoire de l'Art, Paris, Larousse, 1993.

Barilleau, Michèle & Giboulet, Francois, Histoire de la Peinture, Paris, Hatier, 1994.

Loilier, Hervé, Histoire de l'Art, Paris, Spadem, 1994.

Dagen, Philippe & Hamon, Francoise, Histoire de l'Art, époque Contemporaine xixe-xxe siècles, Paris, Flammarion, 1995.

Mérot, Alain, (éd.), Histoire de l'Art, 1000-2000, Paris, éditions Hazan, 1995.

Lavaud, José, Grands courants artistiques et esthétiques depuis la Renaissance, Paris, Ellipses, 1996.

de Beaucorps, Monique, Ergmann, Raoul & Trassard, François, La Peinture des Grands Maîtres européens, Paris, éditions de la Martinière, 1997.

Laclotte, Michel & Cuzin, Jean-Pierre, Dictionnaire de la Peinture, Paris, Larousse, 1997.

Anquetil, Jacques, Le Grand Guide de l'Art, Paris, Le Grand Livre du Mois, 1998.

Daix, Pierre, Pour une Histoire culturelle de l'Art moderne : de David à Cézanne, Paris, éditions Odile Jacob, 1998.

Daix, Pierre, Pour une Histoire culturelle de l'Art moderne : le xxe siècle, Paris, éditions Odile Jacob, 2000.

Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Brève Histoire de l'Art, Paris, Hachette, 1999.

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Notes

1Kubler, G., 1962, p. 83.
2Duff, C., 1998, p. B1.
3Galenson, D. W., 2002.
4Heard Hamilton, G., 1970; Russell, J., 1981; Hughes, R., 1982; Arnason, H. H., 1986; Hunter, S. & Jacobus, J., 1992.
5Simonton, D. K., 1988, p. 85.
6For some quantitative evidence, see Galenson, D. W., 2002.
7Greenberg, C., 1993, p. 118.
8Baudelaire, C., [1986], pp. 12-14; Zola, É., [1982], pp. 30-31; Jensen, R., [1994], pp. 88-99.
9For a more detailed discussion of the analysis presented in the following three paragraphs, see D. W. Galenson, 2001, Chapter 5.
10Table 4 and subsequent tables will be restricted to the most important artists in the sample, defined as those with more than 30 total illustrations.
11Sanouillet, M. & Peterson, E. (eds.), 1989, p. 125.
12Cabanne, P., 1987, pp. 37-39.
13Tomkins, C., 1965, p. 24.
14Herbert, R. L., 1991, pp. 170-72.
15Rewald, J., 1943, pp. 32, 36.
16Rewald, J., 1956, p. 86.
17Schapiro, M., 1968, p. 104.
18Rewald, J., 1956, p. 86.
19Broude, N. (ed.), 1978, p. 29.
20Chu, P.-D. (ed.), 1992, p. 129.
21Chu, P.-D. (ed.), 1992, p. 230.
22Moore, G., 1913, p. 229.
23Vollard, A., 1928, p. 102.
24Valéry, P., 1989, p. 39.
25Vollard, A., 1928, p. 102.
26Guérin, M., 1931, p. 107.
27Vollard, A., 1928, p. 117.
28Rowell, M., 1992, pp. 209-11.
29Rowell, M., 1992, p. 98.
30Rowell, M., 1992, p. 51.
31Rowell, M., 1992, p. 79.
32Rewald, J., 1995, p. 327.
33Vollard, A., [1984], p. 87; Rewald, J., 1995, p. 302.
34E.g. see R. Shiff, 1984, p. 162.
35Vollard, A., [1984], pp. 62-3, 77; [1936], p. 182.
36Rewald, J., 1995, p. 303.
37Reff, T., 1977, p. 37.
38Vollard, A., [1984], p. 105.
39Rewald, J., 1995, p. 303.
40Richardson, J., 1991, pp. 411-17, 471; 1996, pp. 14, 43-45.
41Rubin, W., Seckel, H. & Cousins, J., 1994, pp. 14; 119.
42Gersh-Nesic, B., 1991, p. 40.
43On the diffusion of Cubism, see D. Cooper, 1970.
44Golding, J., 1988, p. 51.
45Brassaï, 1999, p. 347.
46Berger, J., 1989, pp. 35-36.
47Doran, P. M., 1978, p. 94; Barr, A. H., Jr., 1946, pp. 270-71.
48Gauguin, P., [1996], pp. 5, 24, 139, 204. For a discussion of Gauguin’s use of a preparatory study for a major work, see D. Sweetman, 1995, pp. 455-56.
49van Gogh, V., [1958], Vol. 2, pp. 606-07; Vol. 3, pp. 6, 28-31.
50Malraux, A., 1976, p. 56; Wildenstein, D., 1996, pp. 256-268.
51Duret, T., 1910, p. 57.
52Duret, T., 1910, p. 90; also see A. de Leiris, 1969, pp. 29-35, 109; T. Reff, 1977, pp. 72-79.
53Kendall, R., 1999, pp. 112, 172, 178.
54Kendall, R., 1999, p. 122.
55Nochlin, L., 1966, p. 42.
56Broude, N., 1991, p. 73.
57Giry, M., 1982, p. 250.
58Barr, A. H., 1951, p. 63.
59Flam, J., 1995, pp. 37-40.
60Flam, J., 1995, p. 145.
61Spurling, H., 1998, p. 293.
62Flam, J., 1995, pp. 130-131.
63E.g. see J. O’Brian, 1999, Chapter 6.
64Chipp, H. B., 1969, p. 101.
65Chipp, H. B., 1969, p. 102.
66Chipp, H. B., 1969, p. 94.
67Chipp, H. B., 1969, p. 101.
68Ashton, D., 1980, p. 26.
69Rewald, J., 1995, p. 313; Ashton, 1980, p. 9.
70Fry, R., 1962, p. 3.
71Fry, R., 1962, pp. 14-15. For evidence that Titian and Rembrandt were experimental innovators, see D. W. Galenson & R. Jensen, 2001.
72For different approaches to quantifying artistic achievement, see D. W. Galenson, 2001.
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David W. Galenson, « Measuring Masters and Masterpieces », Histoire & mesure [En ligne], XVII - 1/2 | 2002, mis en ligne le 09 décembre 2005, consulté le 25 juin 2017. URL : http://histoiremesure.revues.org/900

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David W. Galenson

Department of Economics, University of Chicago

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