Inventing Impressionism

Watch our films introducing the exhibition 'Inventing Impressionism'
Trailer for Inventing Impressionism

Trailer for Inventing Impressionism

‘Inventing Impressionism’ looks at the history of Impressionism in an entirely new way.

We're looking at it through the eyes of the dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, the man who championed these artists, promoted their work over some 30 years, and established Impressionism at the very heart of modern art.

It is a fascinating, largely unknown story and without him we wouldn't have the Impressionism we have today.

More from Inventing Impressionism (2 videos)

00:52
Trailer for Inventing Impressionism
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‘Inventing Impressionism’ looks at the history of Impressionism in an entirely new way.

We're looking at it through the eyes of the dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, the man who championed these artists, promoted their work over some 30 years, and established Impressionism at the very heart of modern art.

It is a fascinating, largely unknown story and without him we wouldn't have the Impressionism we have today.

03:45
Introduction to Inventing Impressionism
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Co-curator Christopher Riopelle introduces our spring 2015 exhibition Inventing Impressionism.

Inventing Impressionism looks at the history of Impressionism in an entirely new way: through the eyes of the Parisian art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel.

Christopher introduces us to this little-known figure and reveals some of the show’s many highlights.

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‘Inventing impressionism’ looks at the history of Impressionism in an entirely new way. We're looking at it through the eyes of the dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, the man who championed these artists, promoted their work over some 30 years, and established Impressionism at the very heart of modern art. 

Durand-Ruel was living in exile in London in 1870/1, escaping the Franco-Prussian War, when the painter Daubigny, also in exile, introduced him to two of his friends, Pissarro and Monet.

He bought his first paintings by Pissarro and Monet. He exhibited them here in London in 1871 for the first time. 

It was as if he had been born again, as if there had been some sort of conversion experience because as soon as he went back to Paris in late 1871, he launched into meeting the other Impressionist painters: Sisley, Renoir, Degas, etc.; into acquiring their work in bulk and to becoming their dealer and promoting these largely unknown or reviled painters, and indeed came very, very close to bankruptcy.

If in the mid-1870s he had basically run out of money, one of his realisations was that he could still promote these artists by organising and arranging their exhibitions, and about thinking about new ways of exhibiting them.

We evoke the famous Second Impressionist Exhibition of 1876 that Durand-Ruel organised. We have no fewer than five of the ‘Poplars’ paintings that Monet showed as a series at Durand-Ruel's gallery in 1892. We have a room evoking the sales to the American museums and collectors, which made such a difference in his fortunes and the fortunes of the Impressionists.

He would go on to say that ‘America saved me’ because he found that the Americans did not resist the new art, but embraced it. Almost from the time he began to exhibit in America in the mid-1880s, he found a ready market and his fortune was renewed.

And we end by evoking something extraordinary. In 1905, Durand-Ruel returned to London, and at the Grafton Galleries in Grafton Street mounted what must have been the greatest exhibition of Impressionist painting ever seen anywhere in the world. And the final room of the exhibition evokes that extraordinary moment here in London.

It is a fascinating, largely unknown story, and without him we wouldn't have the Impressionism we have today.