Friday, October 31, 2014

Paul Durand-Ruel: Le pari de l’impressionnisme (The Gamble on Impressionism)

From an excellent article in the Irish Times: (Read the whole thing, please!)

In one of the ironies of art history, the great French art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel “discovered” Impressionism in London in January 1871 because he, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro had sought refuge there from the Franco-Prussian war…

With its muddy grass, grey but luminous sky and barely sketched, dark silhouetted figures, 

Monet’s Green Park, painted during his year of exile, still embodies London. Green Park is one of more than 90 works either owned or traded by Durand-Ruel that are on exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.

The same exhibition will travel to the National Gallery in London in March 2015, then to the Philadelphia Museum of Art from late June…

Back in Paris after the war, Monet and Pissarro introduced Durand-Ruel to Degas, Renoir and Sisley. “Durand-Ruel was a missionary,” Renoir said. “Fortunately for us, painting was his religion.”

“Without Durand, all of us Impressionists would have starved,” said Monet. “We owe him everything. He was stubborn, persistent. He risked bankruptcy many times to support us. The critics dragged us through the mud, but it was much worse for him! They wrote, ‘These artists are mad, but the dealer who buys them is more mad than they are’.”

Durand-Ruel was a monarchist and devout Catholic. Widowed at 40, he raised five children alone, and gambled everything on Impressionism. In a country politically polarised since the revolution, he was broadminded enough to support the communard Courbet, the anarchist Pissarro and the republican Manet.

Between 1891 and 1922, Durand-Ruel purchased some 12,000 paintings, including 1,500 Renoirs, 1,000 Monets, 800 Pissarros and 400 works by Degas, Sisley and Mary Cassatt. In January 1872, he purchased 23 paintings by Manet, the artist’s first significant sale…

Monet’s Woman Reading, or Spring, in which the painter’s wife, Camille, sits beneath a tree with her skirts spread around her, was shown in the 1876 exhibition. The painting was purchased by the American Impressionist Mary Cassatt and now belongs to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Emile Zola described it as a “portrait of a woman dressed in white, sitting in the shadow of foliage, luminous patches dappling her dress like drops of water”….

The exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg will also go down in history, as a long overdue tribute to the man who broke the monopoly of the Académie des Beaux Arts and the official salon, and attained recognition for Impressionism. Without Durand-Ruel, the coherence of Impressionism as a movement might not have been appreciated…

It is fitting that the exhibition opens with portraits of Durand-Ruel and his five children by Renoir:

Pierre Auguste Renoir French, (1841–1919) The Daughters of Durand-Ruel, 1882. Oil on canvas

Charles and Georges Durand-Ruel

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) Marie-Thérèse Durand-Ruel Sewing, 1882.

Durand-Ruel waited until he was 69 years old, successful and serene, before sitting for his portrait.

The exhibition closes with three exquisite dance paintings by Renoir: two from the Musée d’Orsay and one from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They show Renoir at his best, as the painter of happiness. 

Dance at Bougival is one of the Boston Museum’s most prized paintings and is rarely loaned, so this is a rare chance to see his three variations on a theme, side by side.