One hundred and fifty years ago, when Paris was at the center of the world, a group of painters used to gather every morning at Café Guerbois, in the neighborhood of Batignolles.
The ringleader of the group was Éduard Manet. He was one of the oldest and most established members of the group, a handsome and gregarious man in his early thirties who dressed in the height of fashion and charmed all those around him with his energy and humor.
Manet´s great friend was Edgar Degas. He was among the few who could match wits with Manet; the two shared a fiery spirit and a sharp tongue and would sometimes descend into bitter argument.
Paul Cézanne, tall and gruff, would come and sit moodily in the corner, his trousers held up with a string. "I am not offering you my hand," Cézanne said to Manet once before slumping down by himself. "I haven`t washed them for eight days."
Claude Monet, self-absorbed and strong willed, was a grocer`s son who lacked the education of some of the others. His best friend was the "easy urchin" Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who, over the course of their friendship, would paint eleven portraits of Monet.
The moral compass of the group was Camille Pissarro: fircely political, loyal, and principled. Even Cézanne - the most ornery and alienated of men - loved Pissaro. Years later, he would identify himself as "Cézanne, pupil of Pissaro."
Painting was regulated by a government department in the nineteenth century, called th Ministry of the Imperial House and the Fine Arts. Considered a profession in the same way that medicine or the law is today, a promissing painter would start at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts.