Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market

Yesterday was a new experience – an exhibition at the National Gallery and it was all about the impressionists.  Apart from the iconic pieces, I did not know a great deal about the main artists of the time until I read ‘Claude and Camille’ by Stephanie Cowell:

The exhibition centres on Durand-Ruel’s relationships with the penniless artists of Montmatre from the late 1860s onwards.  Seeing some of the most famous pieces of work from Monet, Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley et all was impressive and each room took us, chronologically, through the history of Impressionism.

The first room had the two famous Renoirs, Dance in the Country and Dance in the City: dance-in-the-country-1883-1dance_in_the_city

What I hadn’t known is that it is the gentleman in both paintings.  By using the same model, it gave me a sense of a story between these two and by being up-close, you can see how the two women behave quite differently.  The country girl looks out at us and her ruddy cheeks, smile and the way she clings to her partner, give the impression of a young girl at her first dance with the man she loves.  His body language does seem to indicate that the feeling is mutual.

In the city however, there is now a formality that is there on the surface. She is modestly facing away from the viewer and her cheek is firmly pressed to his shoulder.  His arm is keeping her close to him and you can almost sense the disapproval at such closeness being shown.

As you go through the rooms, you are confronted with portraits, landscapes, seascapes, interiors; it was enjoyable and there were some outstanding pieces, but, as always, I was more drawn to the darker, more melancholic subjects and I spent a lot of time with Monet’s Railroad Bridge and Manet’s Moonlight at the Port of Boulogne.  Both of these put me in mind of Turner with his Rain, Steam and Speed and The Sun Rising Through Vapour.


Being keen on the industrial past, Monet’s depiction of the heat of the engine, the headlights burning like devil eyes and the dark, clinging smoke was excellent and contrasted with the snow beautifully.  Manet’s moonlight takes a lot from Turner’s painting, as did the huddled women waiting for the spoils of the boat in the foreground.  Despite the room being busy, the works draw you into these scenes and you get a real sense of what the two artists were trying to show.

Lavacourt under Snow

The best painting came towards the end of the exhibition and it was another Monet, Lavacourt under Snow.  This was truly stunning.  The shadows in the foreground give the snow a crispness and creates a cold atmosphere.  However, the pinks and violets of the hillside where the evening sun hits, is so beautiful.  The story behind the painting is that the National Gallery actually refused the gift of this painting from the French Impressionist Fund, who raised the money to buy this painting for the nation.  The one they chose was very dull in comparison and it was only when it was left to the gallery as a bequest, did they finally receive it.

Some time ago, I watched a documentary Tales of Winter which explored the way Winter has been depicted.  I don’t think you can better it with this.






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