Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting

  • PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania
  • /
  • February 11, 2015

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The Ballet Class, c. 1880. Hilaire Germain Edgar Degas, French, 1834 1917. Oil on canvas, 32 3/8 x 30 1/4 inches (82.2 x 76.8 cm) Framed: 41 9/16 x 39 5/8 x 2 5/8 inches (105.6 x 100.6 x 6.7 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, 1937.

This summer, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a ground-breaking exhibition examining the early struggles and ultimate triumph of the artists who created the style known as Impressionism and the role that the great Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel played in their success.

Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting will include numerous masterpieces by leading figures of this movement such as Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Mary Cassatt. It will reunite for the first time key paintings that were shown in the earliest exhibitions devoted to the work of these artists. Many of these were organized by Durand-Ruel, who was an early champion of the Impressionists and worked tirelessly over the course of nearly a half century to create a robust market for Impressionism in France, Germany, England, and the United States, from the critical moment in the 1870s when the paintings of Manet, Monet, Renoir, and others were greeted with ridicule to the early 20th century when their artistic genius was fully recognized. Philadelphia will be the venue for this exhibition in the United States after its presentation at the National Gallery of Art in London and the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.


Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer, stated: “This landmark exhibition brings together a remarkable group of masterpieces from collections throughout the world with the goal of exploring a chapter in the history of art that still captures our imagination. It will tell a story that has yet be told, of an enterprising art dealer who believed in sustained the careers of many artists such as Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro, and helped them to achieve great renown. In the process, Durand-Ruel essentially created the modern art market. Many great Impressionist collections today, including those of the Musée d’Orsay and the National Gallery—our partners in the development of this exhibition—along with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, were formed with works that at one time passed through his hands.”

Poplars on the Bank of the Epte River, 1891. Claude Monet, French, 1840 1926. Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 25 11/16 inches (100.3 x 65.2 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bequest of Anne Thomson in memory of her father, Frank Thomson, and her mother, Mary Elizabeth Clarke Thomson, 1954.

The exhibition will explore key moments in the history of the Durand-Ruel Gallery and will reassemble remarkable groups of paintings that he exhibited, ranging from Monet’s renowned series of Poplars to Renoir’s celebrated Dances. The range and quality of the paintings presented in this exhibition is a testament to the dealer’s deep personal relationships with his artists, his unwavering belief in contemporary painting, and his keen business acumen.

Paul Durand-Ruel’s eventful encounter with Impressionism began in London in 1871 when he was introduced to Monet and Pissarro. Durand-Ruel exhibited and acquired some of their works at that time and soon started buying Impressionist works on an unprecedented scale. Discovering the Impressionists will revisit the boldness of this moment, displaying several of these early purchases, including Monet’s views of London (Philadelphia Museum of Art and National Gallery, London), Pissarro’s The Avenue, Sydenham (National Gallery, London), Sisley’s The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne (Metropolitan Museum of Art), and Degas’ Dance Foyer at the Opera on the rue Le Peletier (Musée d’Orsay).

The exhibition will also reenact the dramatic moment when in 1872 Durand-Ruel purchased more than twenty-six paintings by Édouard Manet, a visionary acquisition that marked a turning point for the artist. Reunited from Manet’s studio at that time will be such major works as Moonlight on Boulogne Harbor (Musée d’Orsay), The Battle of the U.S.S. “Kearsarge” and the C.S.S. “Alabama” (Philadelphia Museum of Art), The Salmon (Shelburne Museum). They are presented along with Boy with Sword (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Key paintings from the Second Impressionism exhibition, of 1876, will be reassembled to reveal how this show advanced the careers of the dealer’s artists and brought Durand-Ruel into close contact with others, including Berthe Morisot. Some of these pivotal works were noted in the press: Renoir’s Study, Torso, Effect of Sunlight (Musée d’Orsay) derided for its vision of “putrefying flesh”; Morisot’s Hanging the Laundry Out to Dry (National Gallery of Art, Washington) compared favorably to Manet but accused of being unfinished; and Sisley’s The Watering Place at Marly-le-Roi (National Gallery, London), embraced by critics as one of “the good ones.” Held at Durand Ruel’s gallery, the exhibition indelibly linked the dealer to these artists at a vitally important moment in their careers.

Discovering the Impressionists will also focus on the importance of solo exhibitions, a novel concept that Durand Ruel pioneered for his artists, most notably with Monet in 1883 and 1892. Demonstrating the impact of the 1883 exhibition will be La Pointe de la Hève, Sainte-Adresse (National Gallery, London) to Train in the Snow (Musée Marmottan), Les Galettes (private collection), and others. Of the 15 paintings of poplars that Monet famously exhibited in 1892, six major works will be reassembled from collections around the world to examine in depth the artist’s serial approach to this subject.

Dance at Bougival, 1883. Pierre Auguste Renoir, French, 1841 1919. Oil on canvas, 71 5/8 × 38 5/8 inches (181.9 × 98.1 cm) Framed: 82 1/4 × 49 1/4 × 6 inches (208.9 × 125.1 × 15.2 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Picture Fund

Another highlight will be a choice selection of works shown at a landmark exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London that included more than 300 works by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, and others, still the largest Impressionist exhibition ever. Among the works reassembled from this 1905 exhibition will be Manet’s Music in the Tuileries Garden (National Gallery, London), Monet’s Coal-Dockers (Musée d’Orsay), Pissarro’s Pont Boieldieu (Art Gallery of Ontario), and Degas’ Miss La La at the Cirque Fernado (National Gallery, London). Also included will be period photographs that convey the exhibition’s unrivaled scale and ambition, considered a triumph for the movement.

The exhibition will demonstrate Durand-Ruel’s pivotal role in the formation of collections in the United States where he opened new markets for the Impressionists. Works shown in the U.S. to great acclaim in 1886 include Degas’ The Ballet Class (Philadelphia Museum of Art), and Morisot’s Woman at Her Toilette (Art Institute of Chicago). Renoir’s three large-scale dance paintings will be shown, including Dance at Bougival (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) and Dance in the Country and Dance in the City (Musée d’Orsay), as well as notable acquisitions from the gallery by American museums. Among them are Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath (Art Institute of Chicago) and Sisley’s View at Saint-Mammès (Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh).

Nearly all of the exceptional works that will be on view were once part of the gallery stock of this enterprising dealer. In addition, part of his much-admired personal collection, housed in the family’s apartment in Paris, will be reassembled with portraits by Renoir, a Rodin marble, and a recreated salon door composed of still life and floral panels painted by Monet.

Jennifer Thompson, the Gloria and Jack Drosdick Associate Curator of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900 and the Rodin Museum, stated: “Durand-Ruel and the history of Impressionism are to a large degree inseparable. From brilliant landscapes to riveting portraits of French leisure, the exhibition will demonstrate his unceasing commitment to fostering an appreciation for the work of these artists.”

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