8. Impressionist Group Exhibitions, Paris

(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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Impression, Sunrise (1872) By Monet.
Art critic Louis Leroy used the title
when he labelled Monet and the
group, Impressionists.

For a list of great pictures in
oils, watercolours, acrylics,
see: Greatest Modern Paintings.

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.

Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes
(1873) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

Shows were held in the following
locations in Paris:
35 Boulevard des Capucines
Durand-Ruel Gallery
6 Rue Le Peletier
28 Avenue de l'Opera
10 Rue des Pyramides
35 Boulevard des Capucines
251 Rue Saint-Honore
1 Rue Laffitte, Paris.

The best collection of Impressionist
and Post-Impressionist paintings
hangs in the Musee d'Orsay Paris.

For a review of outdoor scenic
works, see Landscape Painting.
For a review of Impressionism
and plein-air art, see:
Impressionist Landscapes.

For information and examples
of portraiture, please see:
Impressionist 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.

The guarded reception given at the Salon of 1873 to Manet's "Le Bon Bock" made up their minds for them. They regard this work, which has about it too much of the Franz Hals whom Manet admired during his travels in Holland, as a concession and a step backwards from what they have elaborated over the past ten years. Not wishing to pay such a price to be admitted to the Salon, they want to stage an exhibition as a revolutionary demonstration. Paul Alexis, in an article, had defended the idea of setting up an artistic corporation which could organise independent exhibitions. Pissarro had always wanted to found a professional association to allow artists themselves to fight for their own interests. Monet, who already had had the idea with Bazille in 1867 of staging an exhibition by young Impressionist painters, assumes the management of the new enterprise.

After long discussions it is first decided that the exhibition should be strongly oriented on the aesthetic level and limited to artists who had shown proof of this. Cezanne's idea was that the exhibition should show the most startling works to make an impression. However, on the advice of Degas, who did not want the exhibition to look like that of a group of rejects, the majority ended up rallying round a more conciliatory view. Degas thought the public would accept the exhibition more easily if it embraced numerous artists of differing tendencies. It was even difficult to agree on a name for the exhibition. Under these circumstances they had to give up the idea of a belligerent title and in desperation settle for Co-operative Company of Artists, Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc., which did not mean very much.

First Impressionist Exhibition (1874)

The exhibition opened for one month on 15 April 1874, in the studios which the photographer Nadar had just vacated on the second floor of 35 Boulevard des Capucines, on the corner of the Rue Daunou and which he kindly loaned them. It included more than 200 works, 51 from members of the group and 114 by other invited artists, most of them friends of Degas. There were thirty participants, of whom only Boudin represented the older generations. Manet had refused to join his friends, despite the insistence of Degas. Monet presented five canvases and seven sketches; Renoir six canvases including "The Box" and "The Dancer"; Cezanne "The New Olympia" and two landscapes of Auvers, one of them "La Maison du Pendu"; Berthe Morisot nine paintings, watercolours and pastels; Degas ten paintings, pastels or drawings of dancers and racing; and Pissarro and Sisley five landscapes each. Pissarro had to fight to get Cezanne and Guillaumin in.

From the beginning the exhibition is well patronised, but mainly by a public ready to poke fun at it. Shades of the Salon des Refuses! The art critics come but without taking anything very seriously, without realising what the new style of painting is trying to seek out and achieve. But they do appreciate how it makes a break with traditional painting. On 25 April a bomb bursts in the form of an article in Charivari, in which Louis Leroy hacks it to pieces. But on the occasion of the exhibition the group at least found their name, a title which the painters finished up accepting although they were not satisfied with it because, like all titles, they thought it was incomplete and not expressing the full significance of their aim. Degas, for his part, never agreed to it, preferring the title of independents. Zola would hear of nothing but naturalists. But history finished up ratifying the word of which Monet had become the unwitting godfather:

"I was asked for a title for the catalogue; I replied, put down "Impressions.'" The painting was called "Impression, Soleil Levant" (Impression, Rising Sun). Thus was born the name Impressionism".


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.

The exhibition, however, closes with such a loss that the artists have to disband the company they have only just formed, each paying his part of the loss. This aggravated the situation and Renoir persuaded his friends to try a public auction at the Hotel Drouot. This took place on 24 March 1875, with a preface to the catalogue by Burty and with Durand-Ruel as the expert. It included seventy-three works: twenty-one by Sisley, twenty by Monet, twenty by Renoir and twelve by Berthe Morisot. The sales were difficult, often interrupted by demonstrations, and the prices very low. The average sum paid was hardly more than 100 francs a painting. But on this occasion the Impressionists recruited a new supporter, Victor Chocquet, a customs inspector and modest but passionate collector, who first showed a preference for Renoir then, thanks to the active friendship of the latter, for Monet and Cezanne. Chocquet was to play an important role in defence of the Impressionists, alongside Gustave Caillebotte, in their later exhibitions. After his death, in a sale organised by his widow in 1899, were thirty-two paintings by Cezanne, eleven by Monet, eleven by Renoir, five by Manet and one each by Pissarro and Sisley. For more information, see: Best Impressionist Paintings.

For details of similar lack-lustre Impressionist exhibitions in Australia, see the Heidelberg School (c.1886-1900) of Australian Impressionism.

Second Impressionist Exhibition (1876)

In 1876, the group decided to have a second exhibition, this time at the Durand-Ruel Gallery, 11 rue Le Peletier. There were not more than twenty artists exhibiting a total 252 works. Each artist exhibited separately: Degas, twenty-four paintings; Monet, eighteen; Berthe Morisot, seventeen; Pissarro, twelve; Renoir, fifteen; and Sisley, eight. Many works were loaned by collectors including Chocquet and the baritone Faure, who bought Monet's paintings on the advice of Durand-Ruel. Chocquet was there every day, trying to explain to visitors the value of his friends' work. Neither Guillaumin nor Cezanne, then staying in the Midi region of France, exhibited, but there were several newcomers: Caillebotte, Desboutin and Legros. The public was less numerous than at the first exhibition and the reviews were no better. It was about this exhibition that the critic Albert Wolf wrote in Figaro a particularly stupid article which, unfortunately for him, saved his name from being forgotten, and which included these words: "Rue Le Peletier is unlucky. After the fire at the Opera, here is a new disaster befalling the district. ... " However, it has its positive side. Notable among this is a leaflet by Duranty, "The New Painting," expressing reservations that were said to be inspired by Degas and extremely badly received by the other painters, but containing, just the same, some excellent definitions: "From intuition to intuition they have gradually achieved decomposition of sunlight into its rays and its elements and to recombine its unity with a general harmony of iridescence spread over their canvases. From the point of view of delicacy of their works and of the subtle penetration of their colours, it is a quite extraordinary result. The most learned physicist would have nothing to reproach them with about their analyses of light." And in his conclusion Duranty wondered if the artists were not the pioneers of a great movement of artistic renovation. For more on this, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.


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 - "Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette", "The Swing," 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 results.

Thus in a few years the group had found its name. At first burdened with trivia, it had seen the rise of artists who were the first to group themselves to seek and define a new method of translating a modern view. By the number and quality of their works they gave the movement all its significance. But they had not succeeded in asserting themselves as a group or as a commercial or economic success. This failure seemed to indicate that Degas was right because he had always recommended an exhibition without doctrine, in which very diverse tendencies might be brought together solely on the criterion of quality (in this he was often very unfair, not realising that others did not share his likes and dislikes). On the other hand the founder-members of the group, those who regarded it as a community of thought and technique, were tempted to break away again and take their own chance, either with various art dealers (for Durand-Ruel now had several competitors who were trying to entice away his painters) or even by returning to the Salon, as Manet did. So the rising movement of Impressionism, at the moment when it had affirmed its presence and its unity, in fact was on the brink of a grave crisis and of breaking up.

Impressionist Activity in Paris

Theoretical discussions resume their importance. They take place this time in a cafe of Desboutin's choice, the New Athens in the Place Pigalle near Fernando's Circus. In them, Degas is the redoubtable prime mover, surrounded by a circle of his writer and artist friends. Manet is also there, a little disillusioned and sometimes recalling that his research was the first. Renoir, then painting some of his best Paris canvases, drops in from nearby. Pissarro stops during his rare visits to Paris. Monet and Sisley are absent. The outbursts of Cezanne, still incomprehensible despite the evolution of his painting, remain violent and impassioned.

George Moore has recalled the door of the cafe sliding over the sand on the appearance of Manet with his very fashionable elegance, the usual arrangement of tables with their marble tops behind a partition a few inches higher than the men's hats, the discussions that went on into the moonlight of the Place Pigalle and in the thick shadows of the houses.

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.

From 1876 to 1878, Monet also painted the loveliest suite of atmospheric paintings that he ever produced, at the Gare Saint-Lazare and the Pont de l'Europe, where the railway lines lead out. The modernism of the theme, which also inspired Turner, and Pissarro when he was in England, is quickly superseded, the engines becoming nothing more than indistinct black monsters in the clouds of smoke which envelop them and which roll their bluish or grey velvets up to the glass roof or into the clear sky beyond. The clouds of smoke, with the iridescences and lights that they capture, become the main theme, and are developed in multiplying ten-fold the importance of the sensations felt into a sort of dizziness.

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)

But the fourth exhibition, put on from 10 April to 11 May 1879, at 28 Avenue de l'Opera, thanks to the devotion and perseverance of Caillebotte, is clearly a step back-wards. The influence of Degas is preponderant and marked by a return to a neutral title: "Exhibition of a Group of Independent Artists". Renoir and Sisley are absent, as is Cezanne, who has settled in Provence. Pissarro and Monet dominate the exhibition all the same with thirty-eight and twenty-nine paintings respectively. Paul Gauguin appears in the wake of Pissarro. The exhibition is less attacked and has a certain success with the public. It even shows a profit which is divided up among the fifteen participants. At the Salon which is showing at the same time the place of the new artists is very modest. Cezanne and Sisley are rejected. Only Renoir, who exhibits his great portrait of Madame Charpentier and her children, and that of Jeanne Samary, has any real success, and this probably partly because of the social position of his subjects. This success persuades Monet to enter a painting in the following Salon, which leads to a veritable break with Degas, who is furious at this abandoning of a principle.

Fifth Impressionist Exhibition (1880)

The fifth exhibition, opened in 1880 at 10 rue des Pyramides, thus leaves the field free for Degas, who puts in all his friends, particularly Raffaelli with thirty-five paintings. Of the group there remain only Pissarro, Morisot, Guillaumin and Caillebotte, and with them are joined Gauguin and Vignon. This time the public is less numerous and indifferent generally, and one cannot help thinking it is because the Impressionists are in the minority and their contribution diluted.

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.

This opinion is the more unfair, and regarded as such by the painters, because since 1879 they have begun organising private exhibitions in which each is able to show the development of his work. In rooms belonging to the artistic and literary weekly "La Vie Moderne," published by Charpentier, these exhibitions, organised by Renoir's brother Edmond, have allowed the public to see Renoir's pastels in 1879, Manet's paintings in April 1880 and Monet's the following month. They show clearly that the time has come for these painters to go further than group exhibitions and plumb further into the depths which their particular temperaments demand, while still remaining faithful to a common ideal.


Sixth Impressionist Exhibition (1881)

The sixth exhibition of the group, in April 1881, simply shows that the dispersal of the group has been increased. Caillebotte, having tried in vain to reassemble all those who really contributed to the birth of Impressionism, has withdrawn in his turn. The exhibition, which takes place in the same premises of Nadar's in the Boulevard des Capucines where the first was held in 1874, only comprises Pissarro, Guillaumin, Gauguin, Vignon, several studies by Degas, works by Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, and has an intimate character. Monet, Renoir and Sisley have rejoined Manet at the Salon.

The economic situation having improved somewhat, Durand-Ruel resumes his purchases and even begins to make small monthly stipends to his artists. Thus they are finally able to work in peace and travel a little. In this way Renoir goes to Algiers then to the south of Italy, to Palermo where he paints a portrait of Wagner in a few minutes, then Naples, Porrtpeii and Rome, where he discovers Raphael. On his return he stops at L'Estaque to see Cezanne. But his ideas have evolved in such a way that he is to move away from Impressionism. Manet, on the contrary, seriously ill and ordered by his doctors to stay in the country, finds a refuge in Impressionism. First he is at Belleville, then at Versailles. He paints the garden with lights playing on the banks of flowers, the masses of foliage, with lively and animated brush-work, simple, happy works in which he puts the whole of his love of life.

From the end of 1881 Caillebotte has resumed his efforts to gather his friends together again and restore its original character to the exhibitions of the group. Durand-Ruel is present and offers to take charge of all the business side. After protracted negotiations which result in the departure of Degas, followed by Mary Cassatt, agreement is reached on a limited group which, in the absence of Cezanne, is made up of Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Morisot, with Guillaumin, Caillebotte, Gauguin and Vignon added.

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 "Luncheon of the Boating Party," which signals 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).

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

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