A Different Kind of Impressionist: Pierre-Georges Jeanniot

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), Night on the Seine (1892), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last hundred years, a highly coherent view of mainstream French Impressionism has developed, which seems to have been quite unlike what happened at the time. Leading Impressionists such as Edgar Degas have been relegated to the background, framed in supporting roles, when they were actually quite dominant.

As a result, those in Degas’ circle, even Mary Cassatt, have fallen by the wayside and largely been forgotten, in favour of concentration on Monet and his circle, and those who led the way of post-Impressionism, like Cézanne. Today’s forgotten artist, Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), was never one of the big names, but surely deserves to be better-known.

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, his father was quite an eminent realist painter of landscapes, who served as the director of the École des Beaux-Arts in Dijon, France. (Pierre-Alexandre Jeanniot, 1826-1892, is now even more profoundly forgotten than his son.) Although taught to draw and paint by his father, Pierre-Georges chose a military career for himself, and in 1866 became an infantry officer in the French army.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), Reservists (1870), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Jeanniot still used the skills taught to him by his father, and at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in the summer of 1870, when serving as a Lieutenant in the 23rd Infantry, he painted this wonderful scene of Reservists (1870) queueing in the heavy showers to enlist and serve their country. Although his figures are tightly detailed, the trees are quite painterly for the time.

During that war, Jeanniot was wounded at Rezonville, was awarded the Légion d’Honneur for his service, and eventually left the army in the rank of Major in 1881. Already he had started to exhibit at the Salon in Paris: his first work was accepted in 1872, and in subsequent years he exhibited landscapes from around Toulouse, Paris, and Troyes, most of which appear to have vanished now.

Once he was a civilian, Jeanniot concentrated on more military and battle scenes, which earned him popularity with the Revanchists of the time.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), A Walk on the Pier (c 1885), oil on canvas, 60 x 73 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

From the mid-1880s he turned his attention to high society as it entered the Belle Époque, with paintings such as this, of A Walk on the Pier from about 1885. Painting in his studio in Paris, he made friends with several of those in the Impressionists’ circles, including Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, who rated his work highly – sufficient, in the case of Degas, for him to purchase at least one of his paintings.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), The Exposition Universelle of 1889 (1889), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

The Eiffel Tower was constructed as the entrance to The Exposition Universelle of 1889 (1889), and this is not only one of the first paintings of it, but captures well the celebrations which it must have hosted immediately after its opening. His use of colour sectors here is interesting: the upper half is red earth, a lower band green, and the bottom band of people is almost monochromatic.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), A Song of Gibert in the salon of Madame Madeleine Lemaire (1891), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, La Piscine, Musée d’art et d’industrie André Diligent, Roubaix, France. Wikimedia Commons.

In A Song of Gibert in the Salon of Madame Madeleine Lemaire (1891), he shows one of the most famous Salons held in Paris at the time, by Madeleine Lemaire (1845-1928), a painter of elegant genre works. She was responsible for introducing Marcel Proust to the Salon and art scene of Paris, thereby promoting his success. This Salon was held in a private hotel on the Rue de Monceau in Paris.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), Night on the Seine (1892), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Night on the Seine (1892) is one of the finest of his works that I have been able to trace. It shows the river running through central Paris on a slightly foggy night, and plays skilfully with the effect of fog on lights, and their reflections. It is also very painterly.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), The Pink Camelia (1897), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

He also painted informal portraits of society women, as in The Pink Camelia from 1897, which is as sketchy and gestural as similar paintings by Paul Helleu, another of Jeanniot’s friends.

One limitation to Jeanniot’s painted work was his love of drawing, and of making prints – which he shared with Degas and Mary Cassatt. Contemporary critical opinion held that, had he not been so prolific an illustrator, he could have been much better-known as a painter.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), illustration (1885) from ‘Germinie Lacerteux’ (1897), by Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, G Barrie, Philadelphia, Blough-Weis Library, Susquehanna University. Wikimedia Commons.

These two illustrations (above and below) which he made in 1885 for the de Goncourts’ book Germinie Lacerteux (1897) are good examples of his prints. First published in 1865, this novel tells of a poor country girl who goes to Paris, and succumbs to nymphomania, which is finally her undoing: a fairly stereotypical example of the nineteenth century fallen woman, which was to be developed successfully by the likes of Émile Zola. In 1889, it opened as a play in Paris.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), illustration (1885) from ‘Germinie Lacerteux’ (1897), by Jules and Edmond de Goncourt, G Barrie, Philadelphia, Blough-Weis Library, Susquehanna University. Wikimedia Commons.

Jeanniot illustrated popular editions of books by the de Goncourt brothers, Guy de Maupassant, Émile Zola, Victor Hugo, and many others, between about 1885 and 1911.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), A Paris Interior (c 1900), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

At the turn of the century, Jeanniot continued to paint quite loose indoor scenes, including this oddly deserted view of A Paris Interior from about 1900.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), At the Milliner (1901), oil on canvas, 54.5 x 81.5 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

More familiar may be this scene At the Milliner (1901), which contrasts with those of Degas in its relatively fine detail, and Jeanniot’s use of mirror play to show the milliner herself, at the right. His swirling hats, and the huge ginger cat, are marvellous.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), Elegance in the Salon (1905), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Elegance in the Salon (1905) is a brisk sketch reminiscent of those by Helleu and his friend, John Singer Sargent.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), The Ritz Hôtel, Paris (1908), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Jeanniot also painted some society scenes on a grander scale, such as this work showing the inner garden of The Ritz Hôtel, Paris from 1908. Unfortunately, this image is not of particularly good quality, so making decisions about nuances in the colours of the painting is risky; however, the rose pink shadows on the wall at the back suggest that Jeanniot’s paintings may have become more intense in chroma at this time.

Pierre-Georges Jeanniot (1848–1934), Self-Portrait (c 1910), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

This Self-Portrait from about 1910 shows Jeanniot towards the end of his artistic career. Although his cloak and hat look a little out of place for a society artist, he still wears a wing collar and looks every bit an infantry officer.

His last known painting was completed in about 1920, and he died in Paris in 1934, eight years after Claude Monet.

Jeanniot wasn’t a major Impressionist by any means, but shows well how too narrow a view of Impressionism can lose sight of its breadth of styles and motifs. If you collect, then his paintings and prints are still very affordable, and could be good value for fine art.