12 May 2015

Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durant-Ruel

In the 1860s art student Auguste Ren­oir started studying at Charles Gleyre's Paris stu­d­io, where he  met Baz­ille, Mon­et and Sisley. Soon Renoir and his friends met De­gas, Pissar­ro, Cezanne and Manet - through the friends of friends. These men socialis­ed together in coffee shops and slowly created a theory base for their impressionist style.

Renoir also met the art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel (1831–1922), during this time. It was a happy meeting because Durant-Ruel agreed to be Ren­oir's agent and Renoir always remained the agent’s favourite artist.

These young artists wanted to become an organised group. So Camille Pissarro prepared the group's written manifesto and went on to be the only artist to participate in all eight Impressionist exhibit­ions. At their very first exhibition in 1874, there were 30 artists. Held in the photographer Nadar's modern studio in Boulevard des Capucines, Pissarro showed five of his paintings, out of the 135 on display.

Even when Pissarro's work was finally beginning to attract buyers, a dealer’s support was always going to be critical. His paintings were some of the first Impressionist works purchased by Paul Durand-Ruel.

By 1876, it was clear the Salon jurors disliked the Impressionists’ way of painting and would not accommodate their paintings. So the young artists decided to get back together and rethink their plan. Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, Sisley and Pissarro remained at the core. And this time Jean-Baptiste Millet, Jean-François Millet's brother, joined in. Gustave Caillebotte, who started out as a collector, ended up half funding the project. They opened in April 1876 and took over three rooms in the Durand-Ruel Gallery on rue le Peletier, off Boulevard Haussman. The number of paintings on display rose to 252, but the number of artists declined to 19. The critics were rude. Again!

"Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market"
The catalogue cover shows Renoir's portrait of Adelphine Legrand, 1875

By the third exhibition, the cashed-up artist Gustave Caillebotte fully funded and organised the project, so planning began in his home in Rue Miromesnil. Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and Degas were, as usual, the steering commit­tee. Manet may have been in attendance too. But it was Caillebotte who risked not making a profit until money from the exhibition sales arrived. They rented a spacious apartment at 6 rue Le Peletier, not far from the second exhibition's locale at Durand-Ruel Gallery, and scheduled the time slot exactly one year after the 1876 exhibition: April 1877. The number of works remained about the same and again only 18 artists participated.

The other Impressionists were naturally not very pleased when Renoir went over to the Dark Side (the Official Salon), but they were thrilled when Renoir returned to the Impressionist exhib­itions in the 1880s. He submitted 25 of his paintings to the 7th Impress­ionist exhibition in 1882, held in the Durand-Ruel gal­l­­ery. The next year, Durand-Ruel gave Renoir his first maj­or one-man show, displaying 70 works! Once Durand-Ruel bought Renoir’s The Umbrellas and sold it to a collector, Renoir started to enjoy the pat­ron­age of weal­thy collectors and dealers.

But what a financial risk-taker Durand-Ruel was. For the 20 years from 1871-1890, he spent hundreds of thousands of francs on pictures by the unknown, unloved Impressionists. Even after, until 1922, he spent millions on 12,000 paintings, including 1,000 Monets, 1,500 Renoirs, 800 Pissarros, 400 each by Degas and Sisley, 200 Manets and almost 400 Mary Cassatts. Durand-Ruel made and lost fortunes!

And he was a moral risk-taker as well. Durant-Ruel was a devout Catholic who attended mass every day, an ardent monarchist who supported the Bourbon pretender to the throne in October 1873, and a virulent anti-Semite in the Dreyfus Affair, along side Degas and Renoir. Yet it didn't stop the dealer from establishing warm and close relations with the ardent republican Monet or the anarchist Pissarro. 

replica of Durand-Ruel's grand salon at Rue de Rome, Paris
photo credit: National Gallery, London

This is not to say that there were no other progressive, risk-taking art agents working in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Amboise Vollard (1867-1939) was one of the great art dealers of the late C19th and when he exhibited the Impressionists’ art, he raised the rep­utation of the individual artist and the Impressionist move­ment in general. Berthe Weill (1865–1951) and Paul Guill­aume (1891-1934) were two other important French art dealers. But the rest of the Paris-based dealers seemed to be German-raised and educated: Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979), who dealt mainly in Post-Impressionism; Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959) and his brother Leonce (1879-1947); Gaston and Jos Bernhein-Jeune were the children of a German art dealer; and art dealer-publisher Paul Cassirer who opened his Berlin art gallery in 1898, to specialise in French impressionist art.

Could the Impressionists have survived without Durand-Ruel? Probably not since he was not just an art dealer to them – he bought them groceries when their children were hungry, he introduced the artists to art collectors and he was their mentor, counsellor and banker. The UK’s first major show devoted to Paul Durand-Ruel, Inventing Impressionism, is on at the National Gallery in London until 31st May 2015. Durand-Ruel’s old living room in Paris is replicated in the exhibition, as seen in the photo. And the catalogue edited by Sylvie Patry, "Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market", is well worth buying.


I noted in an earlier post that Durand-Ruel was the first to bring beautiful Impressionist art to Britain, exhibiting at the Grafton Galleries in 1905. Although visitors to the gallery greatly admired the works, the paintings were not sold.  I don't understand why, since after the turn of the century, Impressionist art was no longer riske' or edgy. It took Roger Fry, Bloomsbury art critic extraordinaire, to successfully launch French Impressionist art into Britain in 1910 and 1912.


Art Lover said...

Berthe Weill was 30 years younger than Durand Ruel, so she wasn't there when the Impressionists were young. But from my reading, she was probably just as supportive and more maternal.

Hels said...

Art Lover

that is probably correct. The artists who used Berthe as their dealer called her La Mere Weill. They never called Durant-Ruel or Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler Le Père or L'Oncle.

That said, someone had to do the heavy lifting in the 1870s and 1880s and it was Durant-Ruel. By the time Weill was up and running in 1900, she was more involved in the next generation of artists - Picasso, de Vlaminck, Dufy, Derain, Braque etc.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, It is sheer irony that these impressionist masterpieces at their inception were unloved and unsold. We can fantasize about being at Durand-Ruel's salon, and seeing all those paintings for the first time (and presumably available for a song), but would we have been perspicacious enough to understand them, or have run right back to the official Paris Salon?

Durand-Ruel's story calls to mind authors' prefaces in which they spell out their gratitude to the good types of editors and publishers.

Hels said...


*nod* I think exactly the same thing, almost every time I see a new painting style, a new architectural era, a new type of literature. "How can people create that ugly, modern, soulless stuff?" "Why don't they honour the time-tested beauty of earlier generations?"

I suppose the best we can hope for is that we can learn to appreciate modernity and difference within a couple of years, rather than taking a full generation. Even if Durand-Ruel had a dealer's mind and appreciated modernity largely for the potential business it would bring him!

The New York Review said...

Your readers may like to read

"Paul Durand-Ruel: Memoirs of the First Impressionist Art Dealer 1831–1922" by Paul-Louis Durand-Ruel and Flavie Durand-Ruel, translated, Flammarion.

"Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market". Catalog of a recent exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg Paris, the National Gallery London and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, edited by Sylvie Patry, distributed by Yale University Press.

Colin B. Bailey
New York Review of Books, Dec 3 2015.

Hels said...


I had no idea Paul Durand-Ruel was so complex, politically and financially. I assumed the man loved modern art and either made heaps of money on his beloved young artists, or lost heaps of it. But clearly he had to deal with his strong religious values, committed political beliefs, the loss of his beloved wife during her sixth pregnancy, Gauguin's disgust, court cases and financial ruin.

Art and Artists said...

Beautiful paintings like Resting Harvesters 1875 and The Harvest at Montfoucault 1876 show Pissarro's socialist beliefs, I think. Hard working labourers tilled the land of wealthy farmers.


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