8. Impressionist Group Exhibitions,
and Influences (2) Early
History (3) Impressionist
Edouard Manet (4) Impressionist
BEST MODERN PAINTING
Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris (1874-86)
On his return to France in 1871, the art-dealer/gallery owner Paul Durand-Ruel becomes interested in the new exponents of Impressionism. While he continues to support the Barbizon painters and Courbet, then exposed to the worst odium because he took part in The Commune, he discovers Sisley and Degas, presented to him by Monet and Pissarro. Also, having admired paintings by Manet in Stevens's studio, he visits the artist and in one deal acquires twenty-three paintings for the sum of 35,000 francs. He presents his acquisitions in exhibitions which he organises in London. In 1873, he makes the acquaintance of Renoir. His massive purchases, which unfortunately he is unable to sustain because there are not enough French collectors, not only provide material help for the painters but also bolster their morale. It proves to them that the solution of their problems can be found elsewhere than in official exhibitions to which, however, Manet and Renoir remain attached.
IMPRESSIONISM & PORTRAITS
The members of the Impressionist group
thus feel sufficiently assured in their technique and in their convictions
to attempt a great adventure. Still getting the same rebuff from members
of the Salon jury, they feel they can address themselves directly to the
public and seek its judgment, the more so since they have achieved some
success. The activities of Durand-Ruel, the prices that some of their
works have fetched at public auction in Paris, lead them to believe the
time is ripe for staging this exhibition and taking a decisive step.
First Impressionist Exhibition (1874)
As often happens a term born in derision
ends by assuming a very worthy significance. At the end of a few years
the greatest defenders of the group, Theodore Duret and Georges Riviere,
adopted the name of the Impressionists and made it famous. "Treating
a subject for tones and not for the subject itself, that is what distinguishes
the Impressionists from other painters;" wrote Georges Riviere in
1877. And finally the word was quite suitable for that direct painting
which is obedient to feeling, which is not realism but which shows nature
seen through moderation and in a certain light.
Second Impressionist Exhibition (1876)
Third Impressionist Exhibition (1877)
The third exhibition took place in the
month of April 1877, in an empty apartment which Caillebotte had rented
at 6 rue Le Peletier for the occasion. He was the king-pin of the project,
this time courageously called "Exhibition of Impressionists"
despite opposition from Degas, and which was to remain the most significant
of all the group's showings. There were 230 works by eighteen painters.
Monet showed thirty-five paintings, including several of Gare Saint-Lazare,
thanks to his collectors Hoschede and Dr Bellio, a Rumanian (who had bought
"Impression: Soleil Levant"). Pissarro showed twenty-three landscapes
of Auvers and Pontoise which he had put in white frames after a practice
introduced by Whistler on
the grounds that they would each stand out better. Renoir's contribution,
with "The Swing," "Le Bal au Moulin de la Galette"
and portraits of Madame Charpentier, Jeanne Samary and Madame Daudet,
was a particularly ample one. But those of Sisley and Cezanne were a revelation.
The former, who had just painted the Floods at Marly series, showed
seventeen landscapes. The latter, so unrecognised and scorned up to now,
received a veritable homage from his comrades. One wall of the central
room was reserved for the whole of his paintings (still-lifes, landscapes,
and a portrait of Chocquet) and his watercolours. In a separate gallery
Degas showed twenty-five paintings and pastels, cafe-concert scenes and
dancers and women at their toilet. During the exhibition Georges Riviere
published five numbers of "The Impressionist, Journal of Art."
But despite all these efforts the public, although more numerous, remained
indifferent. A sale at the end of the exhibition fetched only mediocre
Manet had drawn his young friend several
times before the famous pastel of 1879 (Metropolitan Museum, New York),
a thrilling drawing and an execution so supple that it appeared instantaneous.
In the same light manner, achieved with rapid, criss-crossed hatching,
he then paints views of Paris, particularly the rue Mosnier where he had
his studio, which are undoubtedly his most direct participation in Impressionism.
It is interesting to compare these light works, treated in frontal perspective
and not very deep, with the parallel efforts of Monet painting the flag-decked
rue Montorgueil in 1878, still on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition
(Rouen Museum). The work has the appearance of an onslaught of impressions,
the composition being organised in turning diagonals, the red of the flags
punctuating the building fronts with their elongated windows and the swarming
crowd translated in a predominant green. The theme was to be taken up
exactly by Van Gogh and then
by the Fauvists.
Manet also paints a series of Paris scenes whose subjects, marked by the naturalism of Zola and de Maupassant, are transformed by the manner in which he carries them out. Once again one may speak of abolition of the subject before the genial improvisation with which he treats faces and the bluish transparency and variations of grey which give a spiritual look to the heaviest scenes. This series goes from "Nana" (1877), through various cafe-concert scenes, "The Beer Waitress," up to "Ball at the Folies-Bergere" (1881), and takes a place between the great compositions of Renoir and what Toulouse-Lautrec is to paint later.
Beginning of the Break-up of the Impressionists
The year 1878 turns out to be a very difficult one and the group does not succeed in putting on a new exhibition. Sales are more and more rare. The singer Faure, hoping to make a profit on the paintings he had bought, puts his collection up at public auction; but he has to buy back most of them himself to save them going for a song. Two months later Hoschede, ruined, sees his collection sold by order of the court at catastrophic prices. The painters have to come to each other's assistance as they did in the worst times in 1868. Manet agrees to lend some money to Monet, repayable in paintings, to enable the painter to settle in Vetheuil. Caillebotte helps discreetly, as Bazille used to do. He has already acquired an important collection of their paintings and has taken the precaution of drawing up a will to leave them to the Louvre, which at this time is almost derisive. Pissarro, with a large family, goes through some very hard times. However, a new collector, a pastrycook and restaurateur named Murer, a one-time fellow-student of Guillaumin, comes on the scene and makes careful purchases, and invites the artists regularly to dinner. Sisley, completely losing hope, decides to isolate himself to work and give up all exhibitions. Renoir returns to the Salon where, more fortunate than Manet, he is accepted.
However, the idea of Impressionism continues to spread and gradually asserts itself. Duret publishes a booklet called "The Impressionist Painters" with a sharply worded preface which hits out with "some good little truths for the attention of the public". The body of the booklet establishes what the painters are aiming at and their reasons. It places them in the "naturalist" descendancy of Corot, Courbet and Manet and emphasises, perhaps excessively, the Japanese influence under which they have fallen. But in Duret's case this is probably excusable because he had made a voyage round the world and was particularly interested in Japan. Later he devotes detailed articles to the painters he regards as the most characteristic: Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir and Berthe Morisot. In the postscript he predicts that his friends' work will end up in the Louvre.
Fourth Impressionist Exhibition (1879)
Fifth Impressionist Exhibition (1880)
Monet has one of his paintings accepted
at the Salon, where Manet shows "Chez le Fere Lathuile," painted
in the open air. Zola, publishing three articles on "Naturalism at
the Salon", congratulates the painters who have come back, saying
that it is on this field that they ought to wage their battles. He remarks
that their exhibitions have been of most benefit to Degas and takes advantage
of the occasion to pass an incomplete judgment on the Impressionists which
marked the beginning of his disenchantment: "They remain inferior
to the work they have attempted, they are stammering without being able
to find the word." As far as he is concerned, the new formula has
not found its guiding genius and remains scattered among different endeavours.
Sixth Impressionist Exhibition (1881)
Seventh Impressionist Exhibition (1882): The Death of Edouard Manet
The seventh exhibition, opened 1 March 1882 in rented rooms at 251 Rue Saint-Honore, is thus the most homogeneous ever produced. Monet shows thirty landscapes, including "Debacles," and still-lifes; Renoir the "Dejeuner des Canotiers," which is like the conclusion of his Parisian period; Pissarro shows country scenes; Sisley has perhaps the most important with his river and canal banks. The prices asked by Durand-Ruel are high. But even though Impressionism is no longer discussed, buyers are rare and it becomes necessary gradually to open the American market to translate moral success into cash. Durand-Ruel works on this with the unstinted help of Mary Cassatt, and a big exhibition is opened in New York in 1886.
At the Salon of 1882 Manet exhibits "Bal aux Folies-Bergere," a large masterful canvas which synthesises, not without some melancholy, the charm of Montmartre life of which the painter was for so long a part. Now he is immobilised at his home, visited by beautiful women friends whose portraits he paints in charming pastels. At the beginning of 1883 gangrene reaches one of his paralysed limbs and, despite amputation of the leg, he dies on 30 April.
At the end of the year a big Manet exhibition is organised by Berthe Morisot and her husband, with a preface by Zola. His studio is sold at auction in February 1884 for a high price. The disappearance of Manet was felt by all as a great sorrow, an irreparable loss. Paradoxically his death marks the effective break-up of the group whose exhibitions he had followed so fondly without ever having been persuaded to take part in them. But even if he did hold himself aloof, he must nevertheless be considered the initiator, the one who was able to understand and master the most diverse propositions by putting himself on a friendly, spiritual and usefully critical level. In the last ten years of his life he seems even to have done everything to re-enter the ranks of the Impressionists and to suppress his superior personality. He is the least dogmatic, and in his art the most free, spontaneous and young, just one among the others without the least pretension to preaching. He accepts without fuss the few official honours that come to him too late, a decoration, a little respect, and he contemplates past battles with equanimity.
An eighth and final Impressionist exhibition is held in Paris in 1886. In his review of the show, the French art critic Felix Feneon (1861-1944) invents the name "Neo-Impressionism" to describe the pointillist pictures of Georges Seurat and others.
NEXT: (9) The Impressionist Group Splits.
For details of the Impressionist Exhibition in Boston (1883), and the even larger Impressionist Show in New York (1886), both organized by the Parisian dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, please see: American Impressionism (c.1880-1900).
For more about plein-air painting, see: Homepage.
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