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BIOGRAPHY - Gustave Cariot (1872 - 1950)

Gustave Cariot

Gustave Camille Gaston Cariot grew up in the Marais district of Paris just a few steps south of the Place des Vosges, one of the most elegant and prestigious squares of the city. Commissioned by king Henri IV, and completed in 1612, the Place des Vosges is the oldest square in Paris and an early example of residential urban planning. This quarter of Paris was historically the home of many aristocratic families and political leaders. After the French Revolution in 1789, however, the noble families and church officials fled, leaving behind a wealth of large urban palaces and monumental buildings. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the neighborhood was transformed by many rural workers who arrived seeking employment in the growing number of factories as well as periodic waves of immigrants and refugees from central and eastern Europe. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Marais was also the center of the Jewish community in Paris.

Cariot was born at 14 rue de Birague on June 28, 1872 to Félie Marie Granmange and Nicolas Cariot. [i] His father was a fabricant d’article de voyage, which suggests that he specialized in producing a variety of luggage and related travel goods. The summer of 1872 marked the early stages of rebuilding the city in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. As a child, Cariot would have experienced an extraordinarily rich urban environment just outside his door. From the remains of medieval monasteries to an art nouveau synagogue designed by Hector Guimard, the neighborhood offered not only living history lessons but an exceptionally abundant array of cultures, ethnicities, and architecture.

Little is known about Cariot’s education, although he likely attended the local public school. Eventually, he learned his father’s trade and was undoubtedly being trained to take over the family business. His aptitude for sketching took him in another direction, however. To date, there is no documentation of any formal art education, but it is clear from his early paintings that Cariot learned the rudiments of composition either in a drawing class at school or perhaps from his father. [ii] His earliest dated work depicts scenes of Paris, typically views of the Seine River not far from where he lived; the Vue du Pont d’Arcole (1891), for example, is no more than a half-mile from his home. These are generally small oil paintings on wood panels.

Coming of age as an artist in the 1880s offered a plethora of new ideas and techniques. The original circle of Impressionist painters was gradually exploring alternative approaches to painting—Monet was experimenting with series paintings that captured different light effects at different times of day; Renoir was returning to classical drawing; Degas was increasingly focused on thickly layered pastels of urban scenes; and Pissarro was mentoring a number of more experimental artists such as Cézanne and Gaugin. Japonisme was all the rage and even the middle-of-the-road painters were leaving the traditional academic subjects behind in favor of painting contemporary life. By the end of the 1880s, Seurat had developed pointillism, Gauguin and his circle were working with large flat areas of color and shape, and a young Dutchman who had just arrived in the city was creating wildly expressive paintings in brilliant colors. Montmartre had become a hotbed of new ideas where artists in every medium from dance to poetry to painting gathered for discussions and exhibitions as well a good time. We know almost nothing about Cariot’s adventures as a young man, but it would be highly unusual for a budding artist to have not known about such a lively arts community in his own hometown.

Throughout the 1890s, Cariot’s work was centered in Paris, where he painted many images of city life. There are numerous images of Notre Dame and the Pont Neuf, where he focused on the context of the surrounding city. There is also an extensive series on the rooftops of Paris in 1899 showing the same view at different times of day, undoubtedly inspired by Monet’s series of the Rheims Cathedral. Likewise, Cariot would paint a series called Paris, Notre-Dame, vue du Port aux Vins illustrating the cathedral from the left bank of the Seine, probably seated on the Pont de l’Archevêché, the small bridge connecting the Ile de la Cité to the medieval section of the Latin Quarter. Again, this location is not far from Cariot’s home.

Towards the turn of the century, Cariot began to paint more rural scenes of wheat fields and haystacks, most likely during visits to Normandy. Many of these images were also done as a series illustrating different times of day and lighting conditions. In 1901, he began exploring a larger time frame in a series featuring the different seasons of the year. What is distinctive about the seasonal paintings is that his titles are not the typical spring, summer, autumn and winter, but the names of the months as defined by the revolutionaries of 1789. For example, one painting of a lusciously green landscape is entitled Le poème des saisons, Fructidor; “Fructidor” is the name given to the twelfth month of the French Revolutionary calendar which runs from August 18 to September 17. Similarly, two years later, he painted golden wheat fields in Les champs de blé (Thermidor); the month of Thermidor runs from July 18 to August 17. To learn that Cariot was a dedicated supporter of the French Republic would not be surprising, but the use of the Revolutionary calendar in his series of paintings is unusual. He exhibited the entire series of Le poème des saisons at the Salon des Indépendants in 1903 where it caught the attention of Sergei Dmitrivich Cheremeteff, a Russian aristocrat, and the writer Armand Cabrol, both of whom helped to promote Cariot’s career.

By 1903, Cariot was spending increasing amounts of time in rural Normandy, painting the fields as well as the villages, open roads and misty river valleys. And it was in that year that he began to exhibit his work at  the Salon des Indépendents. Over the next few years, he would also submit his work to the Salon d’Automne and Salon Nationale des Beaux-Arts. At some time before 1906, he left Paris for the village of Périgny-sur-Yerres about fifteen miles southeast of central Paris. [iii]

In the early twentieth century, Périgny-sur-Yerres was primarily a wine-growing area surrounded by agricultural land in the region. It offered a variety of rural landscapes for Cariot’s paintings ranging from wheat fields to vineyards to picturesque riverside towns as well as several chateaux in the nearby countryside. Up until 1904 when the phylloxera virus invaded—and destroyed—the vineyards, Périgny-sur-Yerres was a thriving and prosperous community. The years following the devastation of the French vines, however, were very rough. Residents turned to farming vegetables, which kept them in food during World War I, but it was not until 1920 that they developed a new crop that would prove successful - roses. Cariot apparently arrived at exactly the wrong moment, but he would stay until the end of the war.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, Cariot successfully established his career as a landscape painter, and was consistently exhibiting his work at the annual salons. He was able travel to Normandy and Brittany on painting trips, and his move to Périgny-sur-Yerres suggests that he enjoyed some degree of financial independence. The year 1909 would mark a turning point, however, when he became the object of a ruthless campaign orchestrated by colleagues associated with the Salon d’Automne.

The Salon d’Automne itself had been established in 1903 as a reaction against the academicism of the Salon Nationale des Beaux-Arts. The founding group consisted of many avant-garde artists of the day, including Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Roualt, and Hector Guimard. In 1905, the annual exhibition created a scandal when Matisse and his circle of compatriots exhibited a radically new approach to painting characterized by bright, flat areas of color that was unrelated to the factual reality of daily life. Images of green skin, purple hair and bright yellow waves on the river were received with shock, dismay, and outrage. The art critic Louis Vauxcelles described the artists as “wild beasts” (fauvesin French), thus dubbing their work Fauvism for the foreseeable future. With this background, it might seem odd that the members of the Salon d’Automne would not welcome a fellow artist who shared many of their concerns.

The key to understanding the scandal surrounding Cariot is knowing that membership in the Salon d’Automne was based on the acceptance of a cumulative minimum of five paintings at the annual exhibitions. Once an artist had exhibited five works, he was automatically eligible to exhibit his work without submitting it to the jury. This standard had long been applied by other similar organizations including the mainstream Salon Nationale des Beaux-Arts. By 1909 ten of Cariot’s works had been accepted for exhibition by the juries; six paintings in 1904 and four paintings in 1906. In theory, he should have become a member after his first showing in 1904.

It was not until 1909 when Cariot again submitted his work to the Salon d’Automne jury that the bias against him became evident. And it was not until 1911 that the situation became public when André Rouveyre, a member of the organization, formally resigned his position in protest. Rouveyre was an artist, journalist, and caricaturist, who not only belonged to the Société du Salon d’Automne, but was an active participant in the avant-garde art circles of Paris. He was also a frequent contributor to the newspaper, Mercure de France. On November 8, 1911, he submitted his letter of resignation to Franz Jourdain, an architect and then president of the Société, claiming that the rejection of Cariot’s paintings—and his legitimate right to membership in the Société—were the result of personal prejudice, and that the artist had continued to suffer from their secret campaign against him since 1909.

Jourdain responded that same day, telling Rouveyre that he was “completely wrong” and that the jury was composed only of “generous, honorable and dedicated artists who are incapable of an unsavory action such as you seem to believe.” [iv] Rouveyre replied the next day, pointing out that Cariot’s work had already been accepted several times, and undoubtedly would have been again if Jourdain had not publicly slandered him. He goes on to say that this is why he is resigning and that Jourdain’s “vicious presentation to the tribunal has succeeded in suffocating this artist [Cariot] and limiting his rights as well as his income.” [v] The correspondence continues for several days, with Rouveyre pointing out that Cariot has a right to know why his membership was rejected in direct contradiction of the Société’s rules. Jourdain grows increasing hostile to any suggestion that Cariot was singled out for prejudicial treatment, while simultaneously writing that: “His presence would be harmful within a Society like ours; fomenting cabals, always accompanied by a bailiff, constantly raising incidents, and always threatening a lawsuit. We must warn you [the jury] that if Mr. Cariot enters our assemblies, we might as well say that the Salon no longer exists. We therefore ask you, in the best interests of the Company, to reconsider your decision, and to refuse the shipments from Mr. Cariot." [vi]

Rouveyre puts an end to it on November 17 saying that he has stated his opinion and will not participate in any public repetition of what has already been discussed—and would Jourdain please accept his resignation. Three days later, Rouveyre received a statement from the Société’s secretary that his resignation has been accepted. [vii]

The entirety of this correspondence was published by Mercure de France under the title Exécution secrète d’un peintre par ses confrères in 1912. Rouveyre’s dedication reads: “To a young painter to show him what he might expect from his elders; and what he may become someday, if he doesn’t pay attention, to his juniors.” Needless to say, the publication caused a scandal, although Cariot continued to exhibit his work at the Salon Nationale des Beaux-Arts until 1914 when the war began.

Cariot’s personal life was progressing more happily. He married Alexandrine-Jenny Dumoulin on February 22, 1911 in Paris. [viii] The war years were difficult for the young couple, although relatively peaceful in Périgny-sur-Yerres. Cariot’s work naturally focused on landscapes of the nearby countryside including the park of a local chateau and riverside scenes along the Yerres. By 1918, he was back on the road, traveling to Guingamp in Brittany where he painted both streetscapes and the surrounding countryside.

In 1919, with the military hostilities over at last, Cariot set out for the region around the Rhine River. He summered in Wiesbaden, painting the dramatic bluffs along the river as well as the fields and farms outside the towns. For the next couple of years, he would alternate between long painting trips to the Rhineland and the landscapes near his home in France. By the early 1920s, he moved to Germany, probably to the town of Georgeborn just outside of Wiesbaden in the province of Hesse. It is not clear whether or not his wife accompanied him or if he was a widower by this time. He returned to Paris briefly in the autumn of 1926.

By 1930 he was living in Wissembourg, France where he met and married Frida Thède Mina Augustine Muller on May 28th. The small city of Wissembourg is right on the border between the French province of Alsace and Germany, very close to the Rhine River. [ix] The rise of Nazism and in particular the election of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany early in 1933 may have been the reason for Cariot’s return to Paris that year. He and Frida would remain there until after the end of World War II.

Paris in the 1930s was a more sober place than the Paris of the 1920s, but Cariot returned to his paintings of the urban bridges and river activities. He did far fewer landscapes of rural life during these years. Between 1942 and 1943, there is a notable shift in his subject matter from Parisian scenes to the region around Périgny-sur-Yerres. This lasts until 1946. It seems likely that Cariot and his wife left Paris during the Nazi occupation, returning to a quieter—and safer perhaps—life in the rural region southeast of Paris.

Cariot’s love of the Rhineland region resurfaces in 1947 when he once again travels to Georgeborn on a painting trip. His images of fields and towns are increasingly abstract, focusing less on grand views of a wide landscape and more on interesting compositions of trees or rural structures. Back in Paris, he continued to exhibit his work with the Société des Artistes Indépendents and at local galleries until his death in 1950.

Janet Whitmore, Ph.D.


[i] Some sources list Cariot’s birthplace as Périgny-sur-Yerres, France. This is incorrect. His birth certificate (acte de nuisance) was registered in Paris. The birth certificate also lists his father’s occupation as a “fabricant d’article de voyage”. See Archives de Paris for 1872, Actes de naissance, V4E 2823 at: https://archives.paris.fr/arkotheque/visionneuse/visionneuse.php?arko=YTo2OntzOjQ6ImRhdGUiO3M6MTA6IjIwMjItMDMtMDkiO3M6MTA6InR5cGVfZm9uZHMiO3M6MTE6ImFya29fc2VyaWVsIjtzOjQ6InJlZjEiO2k6NDtzOjQ6InJlZjIiO2k6MjEzODI1O3M6MTY6InZpc2lvbm5ldXNlX2h0bWwiO2I6MTtzOjIxOiJ2aXNpb25uZXVzZV9odG1sX21vZGUiO3M6NDoicHJvZCI7fQ==#uielem_move=-135.5,-25&uielem_islocked=1&uielem_zoom=94&uielem_brightness=0&uielem_contrast=0&uielem_isinverted=0&uielem_rotate=F

[ii] Free education was established in France in 1881. Based on the pioneering work of Jules Ferry, the Prime Minister in 1880, the curriculum included the study of the natural sciences and mathematics, as well as the application of these studies in industrial arts and handicrafts. In short, drawing classes were mandatory for boys because it was a necessary skill for many different occupations.

[iii] The 1906 Salon exhibition catalogue for the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts indicates that Cariot exhibited one painting that year and that he was living in Périgny-sur-Yerres. See Base Salons at: http://salons.musee-orsay.fr/index/salons

[iv] André Rouveyre, Exécution secrète d’un peintre par ses confrères (Paris: Mercure de France, 1912) 8. The publication is also available online through the Hathi Trust at: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/gri.ark:/13960/t6pz7zs39

[v] Ibid., 9.

[vi] Ibid.,15.

[vii] Ibid., 22.

[viii] See Archives de Paris for 1872, Actes de naissance. Cariot’s birth certificate contains several notes in the margin, one of which includes his marriage record.

[ix] France lost the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Both were returned as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.

Meulés de foin - Gustave Cariot
Gustave Cariot
(1872 - 1950)
Oil on canvas
23.5 x 31.75 inches
Signed and dated 1925