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'Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting' on view in Philadelphia
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Horses before the Stands, 1866-8. Oil on paper, glued onto canvas, 46 x 61 cm. Paris, Musée d'Orsay, bequeathed by Count Isaac de Camondo, 1911. RF 1981 © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- This summer, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presents a ground-breaking exhibition examining the early struggles and ultimate triumph of the artists who became known as the Impressionists and the role played by the visionary Parisian art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel in their success. Including masterworks by Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Mary Cassatt, Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting spans the period of 1865 through 1905. The exhibition begins when Durand-Ruel inherited his family’s art gallery and invested in the work of innovative painters such as Eugène Delacroix, Gustave Courbet, and Jean-François Millet. It then focuses on the decisive moment when he encountered the new and luminous paintings of the Impressionists that evoked a changing, modern world. It continues through the 1880s, when Durand-Ruel opened markets for the artists’ work in the United States, and the early 20th century, when the artistic genius of the Impressionists finally achieved international renown. It reunites for the first time key paintings from early Impressionist exhibitions, some of which have not been seen in the United States in decades, or ever before. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the exhibition’s only U.S. venue.

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 to explore a chapter in the history of art that still captures our imagination. It tells the fascinating story of an enterprising art dealer who made an early and daring investment in these young artists, and essentially created the modern art market in the face of bankruptcy and public ridicule. Many great Impressionist collections today, including those of the Musée d’Orsay and the National Gallery, London—our partners in the development of this exhibition—were formed with works that passed through his hands.”

Over a period of forty years, Durand-Ruel purchased around 12,000 pictures, including, roughly, 1,000 by Monet, 1,500 by Renoir, 400 each by Degas and Sisley, 800 by Pissarro, 200 by Manet, and 400 by Cassatt. He became a powerful driving force behind Impressionism, making it a household name. As Monet would recall in 1924, about two years after the dealer’s death, “Without Durand, we would have died of hunger, all us Impressionists.”

The art dealer was introduced to Monet and Pissarro in London in 1871, where he began to exhibit and acquire their work. Soon he was buying Impressionist paintings on an unprecedented scale. Discovering the Impressionists recreates 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’s Dance Foyer of the Opera at the rue Le Peletier (Musée d’Orsay).

The exhibition also restages the dramatic moment in 1872 when Durand-Ruel purchased twenty-six paintings by Manet, a visionary acquisition that marked a turning point in the career of this controversial and innovative artist. From that remarkable acquisition, Discovering the Impressionists reunites such major works as Moonlight at the Port of Boulogne (Musée d’Orsay), The Battle of the U.S.S. “Kearsarge” and the C.S.S. “Alabama” (Philadelphia Museum of Art), and The Salmon (Shelburne Museum). They are presented along with Boy with a Sword (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

The exhibition reassembles key paintings from the important Impressionist exhibition held at Durand-Ruel’s gallery in 1876, revealing how he advanced the artists’ careers and came into close contact with Berthe Morisot and others. Public response to that exhibition was deeply divided, with the press vociferously dismissing many of the works, while literary figures such as Henry James and Stéphane Mallarmé voiced support.

Discovering the Impressionists also focuses 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 are La Pointe de la Hève, Sainte-Adresse (National Gallery, London), Train in the Snow (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris), and Apple Galettes (Private Collection), a large-scale still-life depicting pastry tarts that is on view for the first time in the United States. From Monet’s famous 1892 exhibition of 15 paintings of poplar trees along the banks of a river near Giverny, six are reassembled from collections around the world to examine in depth the artist’s serial approach to this now celebrated subject.

In 1905, Durand-Ruel organized the largest exhibition of Impressionism ever, at the Grafton Galleries in London, including more than 300 works by Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, and others. Among the paintings reassembled in Philadelphia will be Manet’s Music in the Tuileries Gardens (National Gallery, London), Monet’s Coal Carriers (Musée d’Orsay), Pissarro’s Pont Boieldieu, Rouen, Rainy Weather (Art Gallery of Ontario), Degas’s Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando (National Gallery, London), and Renoir’s Cup of Chocolate (Private Collection), the last of which has not been seen in the United States since 1937. Reproductions of period photographs that convey the Grafton exhibition’s unrivaled scale and ambition will also be on display, underscoring this triumphal moment in Durand-Ruel’s career.

Beginning in 1883, while the Impressionists struggled for acceptance in Europe, Durand-Ruel took his artists’ works to the United States. Opening a gallery in New York in 1887, he began to play a pivotal role in the formation of American collections. Among the paintings he sold to collectors in this country are Degas’s The Ballet Class (Philadelphia Museum of Art) and Morisot’s Woman at Her Toilette (Art Institute of Chicago). Displayed together are Renoir’s large-scale Dance at Bougival (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Dance in the Country (Musée d’Orsay), and Dance in the City (Musée d’Orsay). Also included in this section is Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath (Art Institute of Chicago) and Sisley’s View of Saint-Mammès (Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh).

The final gallery of the exhibition is dedicated to Durand-Ruel’s personal collection, which was housed in the family’s apartment in Paris. It brings together an intimate arrangement of these works for the first time, including family portraits by Renoir, a sculpture in marble by Auguste Rodin, and a 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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