6. Monet and Pissarro in London

(1) Origins and Influences (2) Early History (3) Impressionist Edouard Manet (4) Impressionist Claude Monet
(5) Impressionists Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne (6) Monet & Pissarro in London
(7) Impressionist Painting Developments (8) Impressionist Exhibitions (9) Group Splits (10) Legacy

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Lower Norwood under Snow (1870) National Gallery, London.
By Camille Pissarro.

Monet and Pissarro in London

Impressionists Visit London After Franco-Prussian War

The years following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 are of capital importance in the development of Impressionism. It was born at La Grenouillere in 1869, but a series of events, meetings and influences go to layout its direction; plot its course and precipitate its sparse elements to the point of condensation and definition of a style. The painters have passed the stage where they know only what they do not want; they are conscious of the importance of their enterprise and have found certain of their rules definitive. They know what they prefer and have taken certain irreversible steps. (For more, please see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.)

The Thames Below Westminster (1871)
National Gallery, London.
By Claude Monet.

See: Impressionist Portraits.

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Since the meeting between Renoir and Monet, when they studied the reflection of water at La Grenouillere, they know how to realise their intuitions, have discovered how to communicate their personal feeling to each other while still keeping all its particular flavour. They have a sharp sense of life, a strong taste for adventure. Partly gripped by the revolutionary spirit which was so active just before 1870, they have the feeling that general progress is possible and become interested in the development of experimental science. Their aversion to convention and restraint, the feebleness of official teaching, even the hostility they feel and which is confirmed every time they come up against authority or its representatives, all this incites them to push farther forward. It also permits them to surmount in their way the catastrophe which is about to befall France. It belongs to a society which is in no way theirs. It might even be said that the war, in causing the collapse (provisional) of out-of-date social structures, was to leave the way open for installation of real values. It causes a break in habits and routine, healthy for everyone. It makes it necessary to move, to travel abroad (England and Holland), which proves particularly fruitful. It allows for re grouping and meeting.

On the news of the declaration of war on Prussia each of the Impressionist painters reacts in his own manner, but what appears to be most important to all is that painting must be saved at all costs, and their painting first. Bazille gets to work immediately but unfortunately has only a few months to live. He is killed in battle at Beaune-la-Rolande on 28 November, leaving behind only promises. On the contrary Cezanne, not very concerned about being called up for the army, leaves Aix-en-Provence and the calm of his family to go and work at L'Estaque. Renoir is mobilised into a cavalry regiment, first at Bordeaux then at Tarbes. Degas, on the coast, and Manet, staying at Le Havre, hurry back to Paris. Both wait for the fall of the Empire to enlist, the former in the artillery and the latter in the National Guard. Monet stays first at Le Havre but, when things really begin to happen, succeeds in reaching England after entrusting a number of his works to Pissarro. The latter in turn, having had to leave all his work at Louveciennes, leaves for London. They follow events in France intensely but from a distance.

But the tenor of daily life is shattered for all of them; the cafe gatherings, exchanges of views, doctrinal discussions, friendly or stormy, are over. Each one, according to where he is and what he is doing, finds that the solution is to get down to hard work. In the midst of this upheaval even Manet stuffs enough materials into his soldier's kit to paint some studies from nature. Exile and isolation causes Monet to take refuge in his work. And I believe it is of the greatest importance that events should have led him to England.
Since the time of Romanticism literary and artistic exchange between England and France has been abundant and fruitful. After the contacts between Gericault and Delacroix on the one hand and Bonington and the Fieldings on the other, and above all Whistler, dividing his time between London and Paris, is a sort of hyphen between the two pictorial worlds which are moving farther and farther apart. Manet goes to England from Boulogne in 1868 and returns very satisfied. For Monet and Pissarro this enforced stay at this particular time in their development seems to be a happy stroke of fate, both as concerns influences, meetings and confirmation of their views.


Delacroix is known to have had a strong influence on the painters of the group who sometimes were not afraid to acknowledge it: Renoir, in the Salon of 1870, showed a "Woman of Algiers," in which the striking colouring and even the composition itself left no doubt about the admiration he felt for the master of Romanticism. Delacroix's technique, particularly that offlochetage (flossiness), which was like a pre-Divisionism, for long had attracted their attention, as did observations such as this from about 1846 or 1847: "Constable says that the superior green of his fields results from composition of a multitude of different greens. What brings a lack of intensity and life to the verdure of most landscapists is the fact that they usually paint it in a uniform colour. What he says here about the green of his fields may be applied to all tones."

The English landscape offers Monet and Pissarro subjects which touch them deeply, but they also find themes for meditation and discussion in the museums. Unfortunately our only information on these points is from much later recollections and letters. In 1899 Signac, recording conversations with the two painters, wrote: "In London ... they studied his [Turner's] work and analysed his technique. They are struck primarily by his snow and ice effects. They are astonished by the way he has succeeded in giving an impression of whiteness to the snow, they who so far had not been successful with their big white patches laid on with wide sweeps of the brush. They come to the conclusion that this marvellous result is not obtained by using a uniform white but by a large number of patches of different colour placed alongside one another and, from a distance, giving the desired effect." Pissarro, in a letter to Dewhurst in November 1902, wrote: "In 1870 I was in London with Manet and we met Charles Daubigny and Bonvin; Monet and I were enthusiastic about the London landscapes. Monet was working in the parks while I, staying in Lower Norwood, then a charming district, studied the effects of fog, snow and spring. We were working from nature and later Monet painted in London some superb fog studies. We also used to go to the museum. The watercolours of Turner as well as the works of John Constable certainly had their effect on us. We admired Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence, Joshua Reynolds and the others at the Royal Academy, but we were particularly taken by the landscapists who were nearer to what we were seeking in 'plein air', light and fleeting effects." In a letter to his son on 8 May 1903, he also remarked: "Turner and Constable, while useful to us, confirmed that these painters did not understand the analysis of shadow which, in Turner's case, is always a deliberate effect, a hole. As for division of tones, Turner confirmed its value as a way of painting but not as the exact one." Much later on the aging Monet, who alone has led Impressionism to its greatest importance, declares that to his mind Turner's art is "antipathetic because of the exuberant romanticism of his imagination".

Apparently one may attach more weight to what Pissarro had to say because of the deeply scrupulous and exacting mind of the artist and also because of the wealth of his detail. In 1870 what later was called Impressionism had barely taken shape. The movement was still very fresh. If the enthusiasm of the painters in the group was great and they were assured of their convictions, they nevertheless avidly and gladly welcomed any support for their ideas. Pissarro, with just discernment, uses the verb "to confirm". We can well believe that he and Monet were happy to find confirmation of the correctness of their enterprise, then in full development, in such a celebrated and admired master. They still wondered about the manner of treating shadow, the division of tones and the best technical means of securing the intensity of light they wanted. Thus they found an ally in the works of Turner and Constable.

This is incontestable even if, the sketches of Turner and Constable, so important in the eyes of the modern critic, were not yet to be seen at that time in the London museums. For this reason Clark possibly goes too far in minimising the contribution of British painters to Impressionism. When Monet shows a certain reserve about Turner, he places it on the aesthetic, not the technical level. On the other hand affirmations by Pissarro and Signac are essentially on considerations of craft and are of a practical and visual order. Finally, when Monet makes his declaration, he is near the end of his life. Since that visit to London long ago the impressionist technique has evolved, has become more explicitly formulated. Monet then has another manner of envisaging the deep significance of his work.

To put things in their right perspective we may recall another statement by Pissarro to Dewhurst: "Turner and Constable have been useful to us as have all the great painters. But the basis of our art is indisputably of French tradition. Our masters are Clouet, Nicolas Poussin, and Claude Lorrain; the 18th century with Chardin, and the group of 1830 with Corot." It is also true that Impressionism has developed far beyond Turner's ideas. He is a romantic. His imagination ennobles the world. He becomes delirious before the effects of nature, which he amplifies to the point of paroxysm. In his mind nature is transformed into a vast whirlwind of forces in which man finds his place; it is presented like a Byronic exaltation of the elements. But this world of raging or flashing outbursts keeps its order; the paradoxes are respected. The painter interprets it without destroying it, without placing before our intelligence another way of conceiving our condition; the traditional manner of co-ordinating the whole phenomena is not reversed. Impressionism, and Monet is fully aware of it at the end of his career, has produced a revolution in vision. Breaking away from criteria and conventions inherited from the classic tradition, it has turned the order of things upside down to put man and the universe into a new relationship. The evolution of art and thought allow us today to see even better its full consequences.

On the material level also, the sojourn of Monet and Pissarro in London was to have very great consequences; during this same period Daubigny, also a refugee in England, paints views of the Thames which are a great financial success and assure him of a living. Alarmed by the financial problems which face Monet, he undertakes, perhaps in charity, to introduce him to his dealer Durand-Ruel. The latter, who has left Paris and brought his stock, has opened a gallery in New Bond Street. Durand-Ruel is interested in the painters of the Barbizon school. And he begins to consider the painters of the following generation as the possible successors - Corot, Diaz, Daubigny and Courbet. Monet was not entirely unknown to him because in the International Review of Art and Curia, published under his direction at the Paris Salon of 1870, he had commented on the entries of Degas and Manet as well as Sisley, Pissarro and Monet, although Monet had been rejected by the jury. But in London they come into direct contact and their friendship is established. Despite financial difficulties which Durand-Ruel himself shortly has to face, he greatly increases his efforts and attempts to support and put this new painting on the market. In simple terms, Paul Durand-Ruel was an exemplary art dealer: an expert lover of art, with the courage of his own convictions, very sure taste, patient and tenacious, daring to be the first and only one, not hesitating to risk his own fortune on his choice. He was to play a decisive role in the survival, then the triumph, of Impressionism.

NEXT: (7) Impressionist Painting Developments Before First Exhibition.

We gratefully acknowledge the use of an excerpt from Impressionism, by Jacques Lassaigne (1966).

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