9. Impressionist Group Splits Up

(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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Path Leading Through Tall Grass (1877)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
By Renoir.

Impressionist Group Splits Up (1882)

Impressionists Go Their Separate Ways

It is true that the 1882 exhibition was the outcome of Durand-Ruel's efforts to put a united front before the public in creating anew a solidarity among the painters. But the artists themselves no longer have any will for common action. There is no longer any object in collective struggle and none has any aspirations, now that groping in the dark and uncertainty are past, except to follow his chosen path. This is expressed better in the private exhibitions of Impressionism, which follow in the new gallery opened by Paul Durand-Ruel in the Boulevard de la Madeleine and which in 1883 shows the works of Boudin and Monet (March), Renoir (April), Pissarro (May) and Sisley (June).

Portrait of Victor Chocquet (c.1877)
Private Collection.
By Paul Cezanne.

See: History of Art.
See also: History of Art Timeline.

For a review of outdoor scenic
works, see Landscape Painting,
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The best collection of Impressionist
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The Impressionist painters themselves are far from Paris, isolated and settled more permanently to paint and develop their work. Sisley is at Saint-Mammes, near Moret and the Loing Canal. Monet is at Givemy near Vemon, in the Eure, with the widow of Hoschede, who is to become his second wife (Camille died in 1878, worn out by privation and difficulty). Pissarro has settled at Eragny, in the heart of the Vexin. Cezanne most often lives at Aix where his family life finally became stable, excepting the death of his father, by his marriage to Hortense Fiquet. He works in the solitude of his property Jas de Bouffan. Only Renoir pursues a different sort of life, spending ten years as a sort of mental and physical vagabond before finally choosing the Mediterranean coast as the setting and model for the Eden which blossoms out of his creation.

But even so it must not be thought that the painters have completely withdrawn into themselves. Some bitter ideas in the minds of some of them cannot make them forget that their solidarity remains deep, and that friendship continues to keep them together to a varying extent. They visit one another in their travels and sometimes spend long periods at each other's homes. Renoir goes a number of times to Cezanne's place (in 1882, 1883, 1888 and 1889), once accompanied by Monet, and Cezanne in turn visits Renoir at La Roche-Guyon and Monet at Giverny. Later strong ties link their children, but they are already like part of the same family. They exchange ideas and experiences, and so much the better if these do not agree. They attach the greatest importance to opinions formulated on their own works.
They remain bound by what they have lived through and helping those of them who have passed on. For more on the subject of their artistic aims, see: Characteristics of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.

Monet's efforts ensure the success of a subscription opened to purchase Manet's "Olympia" and offer it to the Luxembourg Museum in 1890. In the same way Renoir, executor of the will of Gustave Caillebotte, succeeds in overcoming the reservations of the Fine Arts Administration and having them accept (although sadly only thirty-eight out of sixty-seven paintings) the legacy of this magnificent collection to the State. In 1895 it is the insistence of Pissarro which persuades Vollard to organise the first Cezanne exhibition, which in one showing reveals the gigantic stature of the painter.

But preoccupied with the completion of their own personal works in their remaining years of life, the painters are indifferent to new research and the younger personalities who appear alongside them and by whom they may soon be regarded as outshone. But we shall see in the latter part of this work how Cezanne, Degas, Renoir and Monet survive their immediate successors and how their work, after having sometimes been regarded as anachronistic and outdated, keeps an unsurpassed presence and strength and, after years of eclipse, a surprising up-to-dateness.

Only Pissarro, always generous and enthusiastic, keeps in touch with the painters of the new generation who come to the fore after 1880. It is he who fosters the late-developing vocation of Gauguin and gives him all his help as Gauguin develops from a week-end painter and collector to a detested artist. Gauguin comes to work alongside him in Rouen in 1883. Pissarro becomes interested shortly afterwards in Georges Seurat who, with all the conviction and ardour of a tyro, devotes himself to giving a rigorous scientific base to the victories of Impressionism and who, in 1884, founds with a group of artists rejected by the Salon a new association of "Independents", in which each may exhibit freely without submission to a jury. Pissarro meets him in 1885, as well as Signac, who has asked Chevreul to amplify his interpretation of the laws which the Impressionists have applied more or less scientifically. Considering this more precise formulation to be a step forward, Pissarro does not hesitate to adhere to the system drawn up by the younger men. He decides to exhibit with the Independents and puts Seurat and Signac into the last showings by the Impressionist group, which take place in 1886.

In fact at the time when Durand-Ruel is attempting his New York exhibition, Berthe Morisot believes it would be appropriate to show the importance of Impressionists as a group in a parallel exhibition in Paris. Pissarro, who alone had taken part in all the previous showings, asked to be allowed to exhibit with his new friends. Monet, followed by Renoir, Caillebotte and Sisley, preferred then to withdraw and take part in the International Exhibition organised at the same time by Georges Petit. Thus was the final exhibition of the Impressionist group dominated by Pissarro and through him it opened the way to the future. He showed twenty canvases in his new style and Seurat's composition "La Grand-Jatte" and his Grandcamp landscapes caused a sensation. Seurat and Signac had been accepted by Durand-Ruel for the New York exhibition. The publication by Felix Feneon of an important article The Impressionists in 1886, which announced the passing of Impressionism and took the side of Seurat and Signac, for whom the critic invented the name "Neo-Impressionism", marked an important turning point.


The Fate of the Impressionists

After the half-successful exhibition of 1886 there are only a few isolated manifestations of the common aim of the Impressionists' research. In 1886 and 1887, Monet, Renoir and then Sisley are to be found again at the International Exhibition of Georges Petit. In 1889, Monet exhibits in the same gallery as Rodinand - this is the first and only time a sculptor shows publicly a possible application of the ideals of Impressionism in a medium other than painting. In reality there is, parallel with the development of painting, quite a stream of similar research on the part of sculptors like the Italian Medardo Rosso, then Rodin. We must remember also that from 1880 onwards a good deal of Degas' work is sculpted. A history of Impressionist sculpture remains to be written but it would doubtless show many interesting similarities.

At this common exhibition of 1889 Monet participated with a veritable retrospect of his painting since 1864. The preface, by Octave Mirbeau, spoke of nature recreated "with its cosmic mechanism". Despite unending quarrels the artists finally return to Durand-Ruel. It is in his gallery that Monet shows his series of Haystacks (1891) and Poplars (1892) and where Pissarro, emerging from his Neo-Impressionist experiences, stages his first great exhibition in 1892, followed several months later by Renoir. Even in his divisionist period Pissarro remains faithful to his comma strokes, which he prefers to dots. He only practises Pointillism proper for a very short time when coaxed into it by the young painters Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh. He tries to safeguard the vibrance of his emotion in the scientific technique formulated by Seurat, but that required detailed and exhausting work and forced him to paint very slowly. After the death of Seurat he refused to pursue the latter's theory and, in grand isolation, resumed his own personal technique more or less where he had left off.

The Impressionists outlive their immediate successors. Van Gogh disappears from 1890 onwards and Seurat in 1891. Gauguin leaves France for good in 1895 and Toulouse-Lautrec, very ill since 1896, dies in 1901. The sometimes flashing importance of these artists, the theoretical value of the works of these several surprising geniuses which stem partly from Impressionism alone, makes no inroads whatever into the profound development of Impressionism. It seems even that with the final consecration of their art, and with their age, the Impressionists recapture the enthusiasm of their youth and express themselves in a form that is more free, more broad and more visionary. Only Sisley perhaps - and he is the first to drop out of the picture in 1889 - shows a certain weakening of his inspiration. He is also the one whom life has treated most harshly, refusing him right to the end the recognition of his work and the material success which his friends have enjoyed. His work, carried out with a multiplicity of notations and resting essentially on the precision of its reproduction, gradually loses its intensity without finding that salubrious breath of air, those simplifying rhythms, which, by comparison, enabled the other Impressionists to surpass themselves. His attempts to intensify his colours destroys his delicate balance.

Pissarro's work, still very abundant, also marks time a little. Despite age and infirmity (an eye disease), Pissarro maintains his apostolic fervour and extraordinary appetite for action right to the end. He moves about incessantly in search of new themes, finally returning to those that are familiar to him. He is to be found in London, in Holland, in Normandy; but the familiar port of Rouen with its cargoes on the Seine, his views of Paris, the quais, the carousel, and the perspectives from his window in the Hotel du Louvre provide the best of his inspiration. This production, perhaps of somewhat even execution, shows a great mastery, an extraordinary knowledge of harmony and accord. And who could not be moved by Pissarro fighting blindness and old age with lighter and more luminous painting?


Huysmans, in 1889, noted that Cezanne, then almost forgotten, had contributed more than the others to the Impressionist movement. Because of the importance that Cubism accorded to the constructive period of the painter, this statement has long appeared debatable and, we believe, wrong. Cezanne leaves Impressionism with the intention of making it "something solid and durable like the art of the museums", a wish that, after all, is that of his companions. But he has never hidden the fact that his inspiration comes to him from his "little sensation" and he has never ceased to wonder about the subject in the open air. It is even in the protracted spells of painting outdoors, exposed to sun and rain, that he has contracted the illness from which he dies. He does not neglect the fluctuations of the atmosphere any more than Monet. But he goes voluntarily into another light, that of the Midi, which is less fluid and less variable. Thus it is quite normal that he, instead of being affected by the transience of time and by barely perceptible changes, should settle on a light which best qualifies the essential shape of the object and, in his own words, "modulates" it. Indeed in order better to express form by colours, he treats the surface in rhythms and geometrical figures, the famous "cylinders, cones and spheres"; however, these geometric forms have no value in themselves and are always superimposed with an absolute fidelity to the aspects of reality. Thus they do not repudiate the concepts of Impressionism but interpret it with its Cartesian, reasoned and lucid spirit (at a time when others are trying to reduce it to a scientific formula). He wants to show nature as it is, that is, as one sees it, stripped by the light of all obsession of the imagination and of all drama. The withdrawn manner in which he lives without any diversions allows him to perfect, day after day, an absolutely personal technique which is lightened to the extreme. He succeeds in qualifying the most dense construction and taking his drawing right into the edges of his canvas. In this respect his use of watercolours and diluted colours allows him to achieve the greatest economy of resources. All his work is bathed in a bluish atmosphere, producing deeply echeloned spaces. His world broadens out. This harsh land of Provence, this countryside which undergoes little alteration, whose masses and contours melt into a sky that is always blue, allows him to attain absolute truth. His synthesis comes not from abstract elements but from the concrete and most obvious. Thus he realises, although he always doubts it, his dream of "Poussin taken from nature".

But this idea does not become fixed and even runs into a grandiose coloured explosion in the last years of Cezanne's life. In his final effort Cezanne finds new accents to express his participation in the cosmic forces of nature. Venturi has very rightly noted the parallels which exist between the final work of Renoir and that of Cezanne (and Monet's was not far removed). Cezanne's colour, although reduced to various intensities of blue and ochre, are animated and "sing", and the structures to which he has attached so much importance become mere implications. "Transparent planes somersault and become intermingled like sound waves," writes Jean Leymarie.

Degas, who has suffered with failing eyesight for some years, is obliged to use richer colours. His disability causes a broadening and blurring of his forms. Ironically, this causes his late works to come closer to mainstream Impressionism than ever before. He turns more to the tactile practice of sculpture. His strange life, for most of which he was sufficiently well-off never to have to sell his paintings, but which contained no trace of romance, ends in virtual blindness. When he dies he leaves over 2,000 oils and 150 sculptures. For more information, see: Best Impressionist Paintings.

Renoir's life work also ends up in a hymn to nature, perhaps less religious than Cezanne's, more Dionysiac and pagan. From 1884 to 1890, in the so-called "sour" period, he imposed a real test on himself in rendering all the precision of shape, whose disappearance he dreaded, in the wizardry of Impressionism. His drawing, worthy of Raphael or Ingres, thus embodies shiny colours, as if they were enamelled. But soon he has to give up this excessive reaction, this meagreness which is so like his temperament. After the ravishing shades of his "pearly" period he chooses, probably more under the influence of Cezanne than Monet, an integration of form in a luminous atmosphere which gives it warmth and emphasises it without dissolving it. Thus he has recourse freely to figures, going beyond their individuality, and to nudes whom he clothes in an envelope of light which animates them and makes them live. When he settles permanently in the Midi in about 1900, his art begins a regal progress. His supple and enveloping brush accentuates and enriches masses and volumes. Albert Andre has described the birth of a Renoir thus: from a sort of coloured fog obtained from a dull scrumble there emerge "soft round forms which glitter like precious stones and are wrapped in transparent gilded waves". Renoir's final palette is of great richness, his flesh dominated by ardent reds which have all the throbbing of life and his landscapes by an intense blue-green harmony. His work ends in monumental poetry.

NEXT: (10) Claude Monet and the Legacy of Impressionism.

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

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