The Year 1877
How was the weather in 1877, when Gustave Caillebotte painted our eponymous picture – did it rain all year in Paris? What happened during the year? While some dates immediately evoke memories of history lessons, others are just empty shells. It’s the objective of our series »The Year X« to fill these. We look back on the years, in which our art works were created and explore what people were doing in politics, history and literature. A fascinating experiment, as we already saw after the first attempt!
Politics & History 1877
On January 1, 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. This officially incorporated India, which at that time included today’s India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, as part of the British Empire. The coronation was preceded by debates in parliament as MPs feared, among other things, that it could effectively be a step towards absolutism. The famine suffered by British India between 1876 and 1878 cast a dramatic shadow over the celebrations.
In France, political discourse in the spring of 1877 revolves around a conflict whose outcome sets the course for the continued existence of the Third Republic. The conflict arose from disagreements about the distribution of power between the president and legislature, culminating in the Crise du seize mai. New elections would see a Republican defeat of the royalists. Victor Hugo, among others, was vehemently in favour of a parliamentary system that would take precedence over a presidential system – a decision that would mark the Fourth Republic and which Charles de Gaulle immediately reversed in 1958.
Between 1877 and 1900, around 7,348,000 people emigrated to the United States of America. Many of them (72% of all immigrants between 1860 and 1900) came from Europe, mainly from Germany, Great Britain, and Scandinavia. There is no doubt that emigration to America was a prominent topic of conversation. Most people know someone who knows someone who has emigrated or is planning to do so. In retrospect, the period around 1877 is seen today as the prelude to the industrial rise of the USA, including the first national strike (Great Railroad Strike).
Recognized today as one of the greatest plays of all time, the premiere of Piotr Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake on March 4 at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre was largely met with negative reactions. One of the reasons is that some parts had to be simplified as the ensemble did not yet possess the same degree of excellence as it does today. The premiere’s audience, however, could not be deceived, and did not appreciate the musical modifications or sometimes subpar equipment.
The Impressionist movement took off and, after initial rejection, saw its representatives begin to use the term “Impressionist” as an identifier. The Third Impressionist Exhibition organized by Gustave Caillebotte in the spring of 1877 was a formative event in which all important members of the movement (even from today’s perspective) took part.
Paris didn’t experience any severe weather in 1877, but what was the weather like when Gustave Caillebotte presented his famous masterpiece at the exhibition in April? Was it really raining? It’s quite possible that he strolled to Rue de Peletier in the sunshine on one of the exhibition days (or maybe he travelled by train), as historical weather data from the archives of the British Met Office prove. April 3, 1877 in Paris: b-c, according to the Beaufort scale – “blue sky” and “detached clouds”.
Performing Arts 1877
Angela Duncan was born at the end of May in San Francisco and became world renowned as a dancer under the name Isadora Duncan. After leaving the United States in her early 20s, she toured Europe and convinced luminaries like Sergei Diaghilev of her mission to overcome rigid structures in classical dance. Duncan consistently broke conventions both artistically and in her private life, and was therefore often misunderstood, if understood at all, by the public. She would succeed in ushering in a new era for performing arts is regarded today as the founder of modern dance.
Literature & History 1877
Hermann Hesse was born on July 2, 1877 in the small town of Calw in the southwest of the German Reich. Thanks to his German-Baltic father, he was not only a citizen of the Kingdom of Württemberg, but also of the Russian Empire. A few months earlier, Russia, a world power, had agreed to the Treaty of Budapest with Austria-Hungary. The ensuing developments, namely the Treaty of San Stefano, negotiated with the Western European powers after Russia’s victory in the Russian-Turkish war created tensions on the Russian side. The First World War is not yet upon us, but some of the differences that led to its eruption are already beginning to emerge.
Research & Technology 1877
The age of the telephone is just around the corner in 1877. Alexander Graham Bell had secured the patent the year before after a nerve-wracking race (allegedly, his patent application was received two hours earlier than that of his competitor, Elisha Gray; the actual merit of Bell’s invention, however, is has become shrouded in doubt). In 1877, two people first spoke on the phone in Boston as part of an experiment, and the invention spread rapidly. Ten years later, 100,000 people in the United States owned one.
Thomas Alva Edison announced a second groundbreaking invention on November 21, 1877. With the phonograph, he developed a device that could record and reproduce sound. The significance of this achievements should require no further explanation.
The first issue of The Washington Post was published on December 6. It still exists today and is recognized as the oldest remaining newspaper published in Washington D.C. It had a decisive influence on U.S. politics over the course of its eventful history – up to the highly publicized takeover by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The Washington Post was responsible for the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, and the discovery of Watergate the following year. Fun fact: President Theodore Roosevelt was an early contributor to the paper.