If you have never heard of Paul Durand-Ruel, you should have. Without him you may never have heard of the Impressionists. They may have been a failed sideline in art history. There is an amazing exhibition right now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art dedicated to this gentleman and the exhibit is well worth the price of admission.
Why? Because he was the first person to believe in the artists who became known as Impressionists and promote their work, an extremely large number of paintings went through his gallery and the paintings on display all were in his gallery at one time or another.
Why? Because museums around the world loaned paintings for this show and also private collectors. So some of the best impressionist paintings in the world are gathered under one roof so to speak and a number of the paintings that are in private collections have never been shown in public before.
Durand-Ruel’s father was an art dealer and gallery owner. Paul Durand-Ruel started working in the business and when his father died, he took over. The gallery dealt in the best establishment painters of the time. These were the painters who typically exhibited at the Salon, the large exhibit each year for the best painters in the country.
In the 1860s Durand-Ruel championed the works of a group called the School of the 1830s: Corot, Courbet, Daubing and Rousseau. Their work wasn’t yet accepted by the establishment.
Some of the Impressionists submitted paintings to the Salon, but were laughed at and rejected. Then in 1870-1 there was an uprising in Paris and Durand-Ruel took his family to London and opened a gallery there. In London he met Monet and Pissarro who were also avoiding the turmoil in Paris and France. He became convinced that they were on to something and that it was going to change the art world.
At this point, Durand-Ruel took a large risk. He agreed to buy all their current paintings and their future paintings. He also provided a number of them a stipend to live on so they could concentrate on their painting. When he got back to Paris in 1872 he also bought a lot of paintings of Sisley, Degas and Manet.
Since the establishment wouldn’t accept them, the Impressionists put on their own exhibition in 1874. The establishment came, but to laugh and ridicule. The term Impressionist was actually used at this time as a statement of derision and only later came to be seen in a positive way.
Durand-Ruel than took a very large gamble by organizing a second exhibition of Impressionist artists in 1876, but this time in his own gallery. Meaning he was now even more directly tied to this new art movement and the patrons who bought the more traditional art from his gallery could have stopped coming which would have ruined him financially. Few if any paintings sold from this second show
1883 Monet Show
In 1883 he hosted an exhibit of 60 Monet paintings and not one sold. On top of this, there was a financial downturn in France around this time and Duran-Ruel was on the brink of going under.
1886 – United States to the Rescue
Durand-Ruel was saved by art lovers in the United States. He did an exhibition in New York in 1886. It was so successful and he sold so many paintings that he immediately organized another one. He then opened a gallery in New York. Durand-Rule and the Impressionists had turned the corner and were heading for success.
1891 Monet Poplars
Durand-Ruel held an exhibit of 15 of Monet’s poplar paintings in 1891. This time, the French and European art world was beginning to appreciate this style of painting and all sold out.
The prices of the paintings were now beginning to rise and because Durand-Ruel had purchased them at low prices, he was now becoming wealthy and no longer had to worry about money. He could also control the market because he owned such a large percentage of the most important artist’s paintings. The artists could now make more money on their new paintings as well.
But, there are questions as well. This was the industrial age and these artists turned out art at an amazing rate. Durand-Ruel bought 1,500 Renoir’s, 1,000 Monet’s, 200 Manet’s, 800 Pissarro’s, and for Sisley, Degas and Cassatt, 400 each. While people consider the Impressionists to be romantic individualists, they were exceedingly productive in a way few artists are today. Plus, the works were of a size that met the demands of the time and maintained a style and were brandable.
This is one of the best exhibitions we have seen in quite a while. Go see it!