The art of Manet was one of the most important aesthetic factors contributing to the emergence of Impressionism. Although he was only twelve years older than Monet, Bazille, Renoir, and Sisely, those painters considered him a master. The originality of Manet’s painting and his independence from academic canons opened new creative horizons for the Impressionists.
Manet is one of the most famous artists from the second half of the nineteenth century linked to the impressionists, although he was not really one of them. He had great influence on French painting partly because of the choice he made for his subjects from everyday life, the use of pure colours, and his fast and free technique. He made, in his own work, the transition between Courbet’s Realism and the work of the Impressionists.
Born a high bourgeois, he chose to become a painter after failing the entry to the Marine School. He studied with Thomas Couture, an Academic painter, but it was thanks to the numerous travels he made around Europe from 1852 that he started to find out what would become his own style.
His first paintings were mostly portraits and genre scenes, inspired by his love for Spanish masters like Velázquez and Goya. In 1863 he presented his masterpiece Luncheon on the Grass at the ‘Salon des Refusés’. Manet shocked viewers at the Salon des Refusés with this large painting in which he includes both naked women and dressed male students. He at first had in mind to present a work like Titian’s Pastoral Symphony (1508). In his previous paintings naked women typically did not look directly at the viewer. In this painting, the expression of the lady is natural, relaxed, and without embarrassment. Manet said that light was the chief actor in the work. The basket of fruit on the blue dress in the foreground takes as much importance as the characters and shows Manet’s skills at depicting still-lifes.
Reproductions and parodies of the unforgettable work in many media have been presented over the past 150 years. But two decades after this painting was created, Manet no longer needed to shock in order to win attention. In 1882, he turned fifty. When the Salon opened that May as usual, Parisians went to see his final painting: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.
The beautiful barmaid with the golden fringe and pale pink complexion represented the type of model that Manet loved so: the type of Victorine Meurent and the actress Henriette Hauser, who had posed for Nana. She leans over a marble bar enhanced with an admirable still life. Méry Laurent (Autumn) observes the scene as she leans against a railing; Jeanne Demarsy (Spring) sits behind her. The women’s light-coloured outfits stand out against the men’s black clothing. In the upper left corner, one can make out the legs of an acrobat on her trapeze. And it is only after a certain amount of time that the viewer begins to realize that there is no restaurant or any figures on this canvas: the artist has depicted an enormous mirror. The young girl stands facing the dining room, which is reflected in the mirror and which is where the viewer also finds himself. Manet’s painting represents the culmination of his research in the area of composition: real space completely merges with painting space. Reflected in the mirror is the young girl’s back and the silhouette of the young man she is talking to, which also represents the spectator.
The painting was probably Manet’s true farewell to gay Parisian society. Physicians were unsuccessful in relieving him and his condition was only worsening. Often he had to lay down his paintbrush and rest. Manet spent the summer of 1882 with his family in Rueil. Already nearly immobilized by the illness, he was painting sunny landscapes and floral bouquets in the garden after nature. A medical examination in April 1883 revealed the need to amputate Manet’s left leg due to gangrene.
On 30 April, the day before the opening of the new Salon, Manet passed away.
At difficult moments in their lives Monet and the other Impressionists were assisted by their friends. They did not have many, but these provided both material support by buying their paintings and, more importantly, the warmth of their friendship. Among them were the amateur painter Gustave Caillebotte, who had exhibited along with the Impressionists and who enjoyed a considerable fortune. The baritone of the Paris Opera, Jean-Baptiste Faure, bought paintings by Édouard Manet and some Impressionists, including many paintings by Monet. The Parisian civil servant Victor Chocquet bought paintings by the Impressionists as soon as he had sufficient funds. Dr. Gachet owned some works by Monet and his friends, whom he treated as the need arose. The financier and editor of the art review L’Art de la Mode (Art Now), Ernest Hoschédé, bought paintings and invited the painters to his estate. In July 1876 Édouard Manet spent two weeks at Hoschédé’s home in Montgeron, south of Paris. Hoschédé commissioned some decorative panels by Monet for the main receiving room of the Château Rottembourg at Montgeron.
Decorative painting was a new field for Monet. These large, almost square canvases are little more than enlarged Impressionist paintings. Because of their dimensions it was impossible to paint out of doors. Monet worked on them in the studio from studies, yet these panels have all the qualities of open-air painting (Corner of the Garden at Montgeron). The flowering shrubs are cropped by the lower edge of the canvas and the bright blue of a part of the pond can be seen. A style of composition that was not classical, but seemed instead to be chosen at random. Another of Monet’s panels begins with a pond shadowed by trees that take up two thirds of the height of the canvas (Pond at Montgeron). The eye can barely make out one lady with a fishing rod standing in the shadow of a tree, another reclining in the grass, and two figures walking away. The painter has overturned all the classical rules of aerial perspective.
At the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877 Monet presented a series of paintings for the first time: seven views of the Saint-Lazare train station. He selected them from among twelve he had painted at the station. This motif in Monet’s work is in line not only with Manet’s The Railway and with his own landscapes featuring trains and stations at Argenteuil, but also with a trend that surfaced after the railways first began to appear.
The close of the 1870s was the most difficult period in Monet’s life. In 1878 the family had to leave Argenteuil. Monet’s financial situation continued to worsen despite his friends’ assistance. On the banks of the Seine, which he was still painting, Monet discovered Vétheuil, a charming town not far from Mantes. The Monet family moved there in 1878, along with Alice Hoschédé and her six children. The youngest of them, Jean-Pierre, was born nearly at the same time as Michel Monet. There has even been speculation that he himself was Monet’s son because, after the painter’s stay at Montgeron, he and Alice had begun an intimate relationship. In 1881 Hoschédé demanded that Alice return, but it was too late. Monet was happy with Alice, and considered her children his own. Because of their constant financial difficulties they were forced to move to Poissy, not far from Vétheuil.
Beside the house there was a garden full of blossoming sunflowers. Sunlight radiates through the garden in Monet’s canvases. Although Monet’s work didn’t include many still-life paintings, he could not resist the temptation to paint the cut sunflowers in a vase Bouquet of Sunflowers (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Under his brush the yellow flowers were miraculously transformed into sunlight. In 1879 Camille died. Monet painted her on her deathbed, unable to resist the pull of colour even at such a tragic moment in his life. During this period he frequently painted in Normandy, exploring the beauty of its seaports: Fécamp, Dieppe, Varengeville. He was often absent for several months at a time, and the search for motifs sometimes took him fairly far from home. In December 1883 Monet and Renoir travelled through Provence together, and afterwards went on to Genoa. Wherever he worked, Monet did not forget his family. However they were not truly a happy family until after the death of Ernest Hoschédé in 1892. The marriage of Alice and Claude Monet took place at Giverny 16 July 1892.
At Giverny, where ten years earlier, Monet had bought a house, series painting became one of Monet’s chief working procedures. Thirty years later he recounted how he had arrived at it. “I was painting some haystacks which had caught my eye and which made a terrific group, just a short distance from here. One day I noticed that my light had changed. I said to my stepdaughter, ‘Go to the house and get me another canvas, if you don’t mind.’ She brought it to me, but shortly after, it was different again. Another ! And one more ! And I wouldn’t work on any of them unless I had my effect, and that was it”. The haystacks became a nearly endless series in his work. He painted them at the very beginning of summer, on the green grass, and in winter, with a thin layer of snow covering them.
In 1892 Monet travelled to Rouen and took a room facing the famous Gothic cathedral. As he was obliged to stay in Rouen for some time he began to paint the cathedral from his window. He painted the cathedral in all weather and at all times of day or night. When lit by the sun at midday the enormous mass of the cathedral dissolved in the hazy heat, its contours became blurred, and the building became lighter and nearly transparent. At night the blue shadows were deeper and denser, and the Gothic-filigree stonework of the façade appeared in all its splendour. In reality the motif in Monet’s painting wasn’t Rouen Cathedral at all, it was the light and air of Normandy. The result was a veritable symphony of colours. Art had never, up to that point, seen anything like it. In the spring of 1895 Monet opened his exhibition, where he showed twenty variations of his Rouen Cathedral.
The English serial paintings mark a point in the natural evolution of Monet’s way of rendering atmospherics. Monet began to go to London in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and at the beginning of the 1900s he devoted a series of paintings to the Thames River. The Waterloo bridge series numbered forty-one canvases, and the Parliament series nineteen. Monet was now explicitly making the famous London fog the sole motif of his canvases.
One of Monet’s last trips was one he took with Alice, in 1908, to Venice. Monet was in a bad mood and did not even want to work, declaring that everything was too beautiful in Venice. Nevertheless in the end, as always, he allowed nature to beguile him. The canvases that he painted in Venice are full of vibrating colours. The sunlight’s soft reflections slide over the water of the canals and fade in the humid haze, tracing the shapes of the churches.
The 1890s were marked by a new passion in Monet’s life. He threw himself into the creation of his garden at Giverny, as he had thrown himself into the creation of serial paintings. Monet himself drew the shape of the pond and the little bridges that crossed it.. He painted an enormous number of landscapes of his own garden. They became a veritable obsession. The motif he loved most were the water lilies.
Monet died at Giverny 6 December 1926. He had survived all the other Impressionists, and had seen Matisse and the “Fauves” at the Autumn Salon of 1905. In 1907 he had witnessed the appearance of Picasso’s Cubism. He had lost a son, dead in 1914, had watched the second go off to fight in the First World War, and had read the Surrealist Manifesto published by André Breton. It is common to observe that at the end of his life Monet was no longer an Impressionist. The Water Lilies is indeed painted, contrary to his usual style, with big brushstrokes, the glittering light has dimmed, the juxtaposed touches of pure colour have disappeared, and the painting has become darker. The painting becomes almost abstract. But in front of the Water Lilies one loses all sense of canvas and of colours. The impression of sensing nature’s breath all around one is so intense that only an Impressionist could have produced it.
For Claude Monet the designation “Impressionist” always remained a source of pride. He chose a single genre for himself, landscape painting, and in that he achieved a degree of perfection none of his contemporaries managed to attain. Claude Monet loved Normandy passionately, and always considered it his true country. Yet he was born in Paris, on Rue Lafitte, and baptized Claude Oscar on 14 November 1840. In 1845, when Claude was five years old, his father opened a small store in Le Havre.
With his father’s consent Claude went to Paris for two months in 1854, and later extended his stay. The city fascinated him, the Louvre was inexhaustible, and the exhibits by modern painters stimulated his thinking about the future of art. Monet did not want to enrolled, ‘L’Académie Suisse’, on the Quai des Orfèvres. This was where Monet met the future Impressionist Camille Pissarro. But the stay in Paris was interrupted; the time for military service had come and he left for Algeria with the African regiment. Monet did not return from Algeria to his cherished Normandy until 1862.
Auguste Toulmouche, a Monet family relative thought it essential that Monet attend the free studio run by his own teacher, Charles Gleyre. It was there in Gleyre’s studio that Monet met Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. From the moment they met at Gleyre’s studio the young painters moved forward together, casting the weight of the classical tradition off their shoulders.
Life was hard for the young painters. Monet had the knack of persuading bourgeois Parisians to commission him and Renoir to do their portraits, and in this way he managed to pay for the group studio, the model, and coal for the heating. Fortunately one of their clients, a shopkeeper, paid them in groceries. A bag of beans was enough for about a month.
Luckily Frédéric Bazille was among them, and with the money his parents sent him he rented a studio for himself, Monet, Renoir, and Sisley. When Monet and Bazille had an apartment with a studio at Place Furstenburg, where Delacroix was living, Sisley and Renoir would come over at night. Pissarro brought Cézanne along with him. For some time this studio became their meeting place. They had stopped attending Gleyre’s studio, and together they now left to work in the region favoured by the Barbizon School painters, the Fontainebleau forest.
It was also at Chailly, in 1865, that Monet began to paint Luncheon on the Grass, inspired by Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass. This painting had little in common with Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, apart from the motif of a picnic on the grass and the charm of an authentic landscape painted directly from nature. Monet had not yet got past the profusion of detail characteristic of genre painting. But already there is something here that points towards Monet’s future: the sun, as it pierces through the greenery of the trees, fragments it into small, juxtaposed patches, and the coloured shadows on the women’s elegant dresses are painted with pure colours.
In 1866 Monet painted the portrait of Camille Doncieux, his future wife – Woman in the Green Dress. During the 1860s Monet occasionally visited his parents’ home in Normandy. His disagreements with his family were a source of continual distress for him. In 1867 Monet’s father ordered him to spend the summer at Sainte-Adresse under his aunt’s surveillance to keep him away from Camille, who was just about to give birth to their first son, Jean. His father threatened to withdraw financial support completely if he married. Monet was in despair, and in such a state of nervous agitation that he even began to lose his vision.
He painted a series of landscapes at Sainte-Adresse that brought him one step further towards Impressionism. Indeed, Regattas at Sainte-Adresse (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), Terrace at Sainte-Adresse, and Woman in the Garden (Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum) are all dated 1867. Monet painted a bright blue sea, rippling with tiny waves, with the vast Normandy sky as smooth as a mirror and sprinkled with clouds. Pure colours appear on his canvases, unmixed with one another. Red flowers shimmer in the green grass, coloured pennants flutter in the wind. Sunlight floods his paintings.
The close of the 1860s and the beginning of the 1870s were not an easy period for Claude Monet. In 1868 he finally married Camille Doncieux. Without his father’s support, life with his family was proving very difficult. During the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune he stayed in England. In London Monet met Pissarro and Charles-François Daubigny. Paul Durand-Ruel himself passed through London during the war period, and Daubigny introduced him to Monet. From that moment and for many years onward, Durand-Ruel would be Monet’s dealer and loyal supporter. When, at the end of 1871, Monet and his family returned to France, they moved to the banks of the Seine, at Argenteuil.
Regattas at Argenteuil (Paris, Musée d’Orsay), a not very large canvas with a dazzling blue sky, a red roof and white sails, became a veritable celebration of colour. It was already there – that truly open-air painting that would be designated “Impressionism” the following year. The little garden beside his house was the only motif he needed. Monet painted this garden from different angles, each time discovering something lovely and new there. Camille and their son Jean were his constant subjects, seated beneath the trees or walking along the country paths. But even when his wife or his son or one of his friends appeared in the painting, the painter was more interested in the atmospheric haze, or patches of sunlight on light-coloured dresses. The flowering beds of lilacs became Monet’s favourite motif in the garden (Lilacs in the Sun). The pale, purple-pink flowers become a source of light. Sunlight playing over the foliage throws a pink tint over Camille’s dress, which is hidden in the shadows. But most of all there is that hazy heat that no one, before Monet, had ever tried to render in a painting. It effaces all the edges, saps everything of its sharpness and definition, and produces that very “impression” which would later give this art form its name. One of the landscapes he painted at that time was a view of the port of Le Havre, composed after the Japanese system of perspective. The image fills the entire canvas just to the upper edge (The Grand Dock at Le Havre, Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum).
Claude Monet shared the general infatuation of that period with the Japanese masters, and was among the first to familiarize himself with their pictorial art. But in choosing the works for the exhibition Monet favoured the view from the hotel window, where the port could not be seen, and where the essential element was the veil of morning mist. This landscape, called Impression, sunrise would decide the fate of the exhibition’s participants. They became “Impressionists”, and Claude Monet was unanimously designated head of the group.
Another painting by Claude Monet was the revelation of the 1874 exhibit. It was his first urban landscape The Boulevard des Capucines, painted in 1873. It also had a prophetic character; it was there that, one year later, the famous exhibition would open. Two Parisians in top hats are looking out the second floor window of Nadar’s studio. There is practically no sky in this landscape: the new buildings and hotels rise to the upper limit of the canvas. Their shadow divides the space into night and day. The side lit by the sun is flooded with light, and the bare branches of the trees are nearly dissolved in it.
In 1877, at the Third Impressionist Exhibition, Renoir presented a whole panorama of over twenty paintings. They included landscapes created in Paris, on the Seine, outside the city and in Claude Monet’s garden; studies of women’s heads and bouquets of flowers; portraits of Sisley, the actress Jeanne Samary, the writer Alphonse Daudet and the politician Spuller; and also The Swing and Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre. The labels on some of the paintings indicated that they were already the property of Georges Charpentier. The artist’s friendship with the Charpentier family was to play a significant role in shaping his destiny.
Madame Charpentier’s salon was frequented by writers, actors, artists and politicians. Besides Maupassant, Zola, the Goncourts and Daudet, whom Georges Charpentier published, it was even possible to come across Victor Hugo and Ivan Turgenev there. Renoir was a constant caller at the house. He even signed some of his letters to Madame Charpentier, “your domestic artist”. His painting could be seen at the gallery called La Vie Moderne which Georges Charpentier founded. It was in this environment that he found new customers, such as the Bérards and Daudet, who went on to become his friends. Here too he found more models, the finest of whom was the Comédie-Française actress Jeanne Samary. Renoir was so fascinated with Jeanne, that he even became a frequent visitor to the Comédie-Française. In his depictions of the actress, Renoir achieved what was the finest quality of his portraits – complete naturalness. Renoir produced much work to commissions from the Charpentiers themselves. He painted two decorative panels on which he depicted the couple meeting guests at the entrance to their house and five portraits of members of the family, one of which was the Portrait of Madame Charpentier and her Children.
By 1882, Renoir really did have good cause to fear losing the success that he had achieved in the Salon. Now he had a wife to support. The story began a little earlier, in about 1880. Her name was Aline Charigot and in 1880 she was twenty-one years old. Renoir met her in Madame Camille’s dairy shop on the Rue Saint-Georges. She lived close by with her mother and earned her living by dressmaking. The mutual attraction between Renoir and Aline was impossible to overlook. In terms of outward appearance, Aline was a striking match for the female type which Renoir had created in his work. But in her Renoir found much more: simplicity and sincerity, which had not been lost in the move from her native village of Essoyes to Paris, calm, consideration and an understanding of the significance of the artist’s work, all of which he badly needed. In the period 1881–82 Renoir moved about many times from place to place, perpetuating them in his work mainly in the form of landscapes. He continued to paint on the Seine, at Chatou and Bougival. His habit of working in those places was so dear to him that he turned down the critic Théodore Duret’s invitation to make a trip to England. “The weather’s set fair and I have got models. That is my only excuse.” Perhaps the true reason was Aline – Renoir was just on the point of finishing Luncheon of the Boating Party where she appears: she is depicted in the bottom left-hand corner of the canvas, in a fanciful, fashionable hat, holding a Pekinese in her hands. Yet in that same year, 1881, Renoir (together with his friend Cordey) visited Algeria for the first time, bringing back Banana Plantation and Arab Holiday. After a short stay in Dieppe, he set off for Italy. He travelled through Milan, Venice and Florence.
In 1883 Durand-Ruel organized Renoir’s first one man show on the Boulevard de la Madeleine. It included seventy paintings. Although Durand-Ruel was not always successful in his attempts to sell the Impressionists’ paintings, he decided to open another gallery in New York. Finally, in the 1880s Renoir hit a “winning streak”. He was commissioned by rich financiers, the owner of the Grands Magasins du Louvre and Senator Goujon. His paintings were exhibited in London and Brussels, as well as at the Seventh International Exhibition held at Georges Petit’s in Paris in 1886. Renoir was never inclined to overestimate himself.
In the autumn 1884, the Renoirs travelled to Aline’s native village, Essoyes in Champagne. The artist frequently made sketches of his wife feeding their child. A year later he used these sketches to produce the painting Motherhood (Aline and Pierre). In Renoir’s creative life the 1880s were not so serene. It seemed to him that he did not know how to paint or to draw. In a state of depression, he destroyed a whole group of finished works.
In Renoir’s artistic biography, the 1880s are customarily called the Ingres period. A tendency to stricter draughtsmanship, precise line and clear form, and even to a greater use of local colour can be traced in all the paintings of that time. To some extent they can already be detected in Luncheon, and more so in Motherhood (Aline and Pierre) and The Umbrellas. This last work, painted in two stages – started in 1881 and completed in 1885 – is astonishing evidence of the way in which the artist’s manner of painting evolved. It is fairly soft and impressionistic on the right-hand side, it is far tougher and more laconic on the left. In Normandy in 1884, Renoir painted a portrait of Paul Bérard’s three daughters: Children’s Afternoon at Wargemon.
Pierre Auguste Renoir officially registered his marriage to Aline Charigot in the mairie of the 9th arrondissement on 14 April 1890. He installed his family high on the slope of the hill, in the house, which was known as the Château des Brouillards. This name preserved the memory of a long demolished eighteenth-century château on the site of which several houses had been built. Renoir’s three-storey house had an attic converted into a studio. Roses and a fruit tree grew in the garden. But the best thing about the place was the view. It was here, in 1894, that the future film director was born, the second son of Auguste and Aline Renoir.
Those last twenty years, most of them belonging to a new century, also brought great joys. In 1901, Aline gave Renoir a third son, Claude, who replaced the growing Jean as a model. Now little “Coco” was put in a red dress and Renoir painted his golden hair, while Jean’s eventually had to be cut to prevent boys making fun of him. A whole series of exhibitions were held in Paris, New York and London, turning into a real triumph for Renoir. The artist was especially delighted by a retrospective showing of his painting at the Second Salon d’Automne in 1904, where he was accorded an entire hall. The main idea running through the last years of Renoir’s work was the creation of a large painting with nude figures, coming close to a wall painting. As far back as 1887, he had painted The Large Bathers in the somewhat austere Ingres-inspired manner of those years. In 1908, at Les Collettes, he painted against the background of the evergreen olive trees his first version of The Judgement of Paris, a work which he subsequently not only repeated, but also turned into a relief with the help of sculptors.
In 1914 the Great War began and the artist’s two elder sons went off to the front. This event proved too much for Aline – she died within the year, leaving Renoir alone. Pierre and Jean came back wounded, but life, nonetheless, settled back into an established pattern. Renoir continued to work, but every day it became harder. He died of pneumonia at Les Collettes on 2 December 1919, after managing to finish his last work, a still life with anemones. All his life, he remained the way he had always been true to himself.
The first episode introduced the origin of the Impressionist movement, and here is the second episode: Pierre Auguste Renoir, a leading painter in the development of the Impressionist style.
Pierre Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges on 25 February 1841. He was the sixth child in the family of Léonard Renoir and Marguerite Merlet. Three years later, in 1844, the Renoirs moved to Paris. In 1848 Auguste began attending a school run by the Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes. Renoir excelled in musical theory and was soon accepted into the choir at the Église Saint-Eustache, directed by the composer Charles Gounod. Fate, however, decided otherwise. In 1854, the boy’s parents took him from school and found a place for him in the Lévy brothers’ workshop, where he was to learn to paint porcelain.
One of the Lévys’ workers, Émile Laporte, painted in oils in his spare time. He suggested Renoir make use of his canvases and paints. This offer resulted in the appearance of the first painting by the future Impressionist. It was solemnly presented for Laporte’s inspection at the Renoir’s home. Showing faith in their son, Auguste’s parents heeded Laporte’s advice. His mother only suggested saving some money first. The future artist’s parents knew how hard it was to make money – Léonard Renoir’s work as a tailor barely enabled him to keep his seven children – and could imagine that there was very little likelihood of making much in high art.
In 1858, Pierre Auguste Renoir turned seventeen years old and he left the Lévys’ workshop. Mechanical methods of reproducing a design on porcelain were being introduced in the larger firms and the Lévys had been driven out of business.
The geographical scope of Renoir’s movements at that time was not particularly large – he had no money to travel far – but there were attractive enough motifs in the area around Paris. The more so, since it was on them that the Barbizon school had developed and Renoir and his friends felt themselves to be its direct successors as landscape painters. The Forest of Fontainebleau provided an inexhaustible stock of subject matter. Sometimes they lived in the village of Chailly-en-Bière, at the inn run by Mère Anthony. About 1866 Renoir depicted that same inn in the striking painting At the Inn of Mother Anthony. The scene Renoir recreated on a large canvas, about two metres high, was not invented. That was how it was when they all gathered at Marlotte.
In 1870 Renoir painted Odalisque. He dressed Lise in fine silk and oriental brocade glittering with gold embroidery. He adorned her splendid black hair with an orange plume and surrounded her with magnificent carpets.
On 18 July 1870, normal life was interrupted when France declared war on Prussia. Fate decreed that Renoir, who did not know the first thing about horses, was sent to the cavalry. He found himself in Bordeaux, then Tarbes. Renoir fell seriously ill and the doctors in the Bordeaux hospital only just managed to save his life. In March 1871, he was demobilized and returned to Paris – to the Latin Quarter. It was there that he learned of Bazille’s death – a shock which affected him more deeply than the war itself. The story of Renoir the cavalryman had its continuation in his painting. In 1872 he produced Riders in the Bois deBoulogne. The woman who posed for the magnificent Amazon was Madame Darras, the wife of Captain Darras, whom Renoir had met through the Le Coeurs. The boy on the pony was Charles Le Coeur’s son. The painting’s enormous dimensions – each side of the almost square canvas extends to about two and a half metres – turn it into a monumental work.
Finally, the association of artists about which Bazille and Pissarro had already been dreaming in the late 1860s came about. Nevertheless, the organizers managed to bring together twenty-nine artists who presented 165 works. Renoir displayed six oil paintings and one pastel. Viewers’ attention was drawn by the large canvases: Dancer, Parisienne (or Lady in Blue) – for which Henriette Henriot, an actress at the Odéon Theatre, posed, and The Loge (which was also called L’Avant-Scène). For the first time in this painting, a wave of light, harmonious, unrestrained colour broke across Renoir’s canvas in conjunction with a composition worthy of the lessons provided by classical teachers.
The 1870s in Montmartre were possibly the happiest time in Renoir’s creative biography. The little neglected garden by the studio on the Rue Cortot that he began renting in 1875 became the plein-air setting which generated the finest paintings of this period. Here he worked on Summer House, The Swing and Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, Montmartre – one of the most important paintings he ever produced. Renoir found the subject for this last work right by his house in the restaurant called Le Moulin de la Galette. It is more of a motif than a subject: Renoir’s canvases never did have a subject as such, since any kind of narrative or descriptiveness in painting was repugnant to him. A certain Monsieur Debray turned the last windmill still standing on the hill into a restaurant. It got its name from the tasty galettes (flat cakes) which it served…
To be continued…Please keep up-to-date on the next part that will be published tomorrow (25/4).
The adventurers of art at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century; a saga that reads like a novel, the one of transgressions, the one of shape and colour.
Here is the first episode: it tells the story of the artists who rebelled against the establishment and initiated the Impressionism in painting.
Impression: Sunrise was the prescient title of one of Claude Monet’s paintings shown in 1874 in the first exhibition of the Impressionists, or as they called themselves then, the Société anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs (the Anonymous Society of Artist, Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers). Monet painted scenes of his childhood hometown of Le Havre to prepare for the event, eventually selecting his best Havre landscapes for display.
Edmond Renoir, journalist brother of Renoir the painter, compiled the catalogue. He criticized Monet for the uniform titles of his works, for the painter had not come up with anything more interesting than View of Le Havre. Among these Havre landscapes was a canvas painted in the early morning depicting a blue fog that seemed to transform the shapes of yachts into ghostly apparitions. The painting also depicted smaller boats gliding over the water in black silhouette, and above the horizon the flat, orange disk of the sun, its first rays casting an orange path across the sea. It was more like a rapid study than a painting, a spontaneous sketch done in oils – what better way to seize the fleeting moment when sea and sky coalesce before the blinding light of day? View of Le Havre was obviously an inappropriate title for this particular painting, as Le Havre was nowhere to be seen. “Write Impression,” Monet told Edmond Renoir, and in that moment began the story of Impressionism.
On 25 April 1874, the art critic Louis Leroy published a satirical piece in the journal Charivari that described a visit to the exhibition by an official artist. As he moves from one painting to the next, the artist slowly goes insane. He criticizes the surface of a painting by Camille Pissarro, describing the ploughed field as shavings from an artist’s palette carelessly deposited onto a soiled canvas. When looking at the painting he is unable to tell top from bottom, or one side from the other. He is horrified by Monet’s landscape entitled Boulevard des Capucines indeed, in Leroy’s satire, it is Monet’s work that pushes the academician over the edge.
Stopping in front of one of the Havre landscapes, he asks what Impression, Sunrise depicts. “Impression, of course,” mutters the academician. “I said so myself, too, because I am so impressed, there must be some impression in here… and what freedom, what technical ease!” At which point he begins to dance a jig in front of the paintings, exclaiming: “Hey! Ho! I’m a walking impression, I’m an avenging palette knife” (Charivari, 25 April 1874). Leroy called his article, “The Exhibition of the Impressionists.” With typical French finesse, he had adroitly coined a new word from the painting’s title, a word so fitting that it was destined to remain forever in the vocabulary of the history of art.
Responding to questions from a journalist in 1880, Monet said: “I’m the one who came up with the word, or who at least, through a painting that I had exhibited, provided some reporter from Le Figaro the opportunity to write that scathing article. It was a big hit, as you know.”
The story of dissident artists initiating the Impressionist movement achieved a spectacular success at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, marking an important milestone in the art industry and giving birth to later avant-garde art in Europe. If you are curious about the special features and the artists of this most popular movement, keep up-to-date in our next episode…