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Five not-so-famous things about the Impressionist movement

From wallpaper patterns to Monet's support for artists, here are five things you might know about the Impressionism movement

Published: Mar 26, 2024 05:26:00 PM IST
Updated: Mar 26, 2024 05:33:31 PM IST

Five not-so-famous things about the Impressionist movementParis's Orsay Museum is presenting an exhibit called "Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism." Image: Philippe Lopez / AFP©

As the art world marks 150 years since Impressionism burst onto the canvas in a blurry riot of colour, here are five little-known facts about the wildly popular movement.

'Wallpaper pattern'

"Impressionism" was never meant as a compliment.

While today works by artists such as Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas fetch eye-popping sums at auction, reviews after their inaugural 1874 exhibition in Paris were scathing.

"A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape," wrote critic Louis Leroy about Monet's "Impression. Sunrise".

It was Leroy who coined the name for the movement, intended as an insult.

But the epithet stuck, and came to represent a revolutionary movement that no longer set out to accurately depict the world but to offer fleeting impressions of its beauty.

Freedom in a tube

John Goffe Rand, a relatively obscure US painter, had a key influence on the movement when he had the idea of putting ready-to-use paint in small tin tubes.

It may seem obvious today but for artists in the mid-19th century, the innovation made it significantly easier to take painting outside the studio.

Before, artists seeking the great outdoors carried their paints in pig bladders sealed with string, which had the unfortunate tendency to burst.

Equipped with tubes, artists could sit for hours on the banks of the Seine, in a garden or a field and capture the fleeting plays of light and colour.

"Without tube painting, there would have been no Cezanne or Monet, Sisley or Pissarro," Renoir said at the end of his life.

Also read: Paul Cezanne and Auguste Renoir: Clash of the impressionism titans in Milan

Snapshots of life

The venue of the 1874 exhibition—in the studio of photographer Felix Nadar—reflected the strong influence cameras had on the movement.

Impressionism came of age at the same time as still photography, with tripods and cameras being set up next to painters' easels.

Some artists dabbled themselves. Degas was an amateur photographer and Paul Cezanne used photographs as studies for some of his works.

Monet's "Boulevard des Capucines" was painted from Nadar's balcony, with the blurred silhouettes of the crowd capturing the influence of early photographs.

The muse who painted

Impressionism was dominated by men but the inaugural 1874 "Anonymous Society of painters, sculptors, engravers, etc" included one woman -- Berthe Morisot.

Her paintings drew little attention at the time but Morisot—today celebrated as an artist in her own right—was a famous face on canvas, as the muse of her brother-in-law, Edouard Manet.

Manet, for his part, always refused to be identified with the Impressionist movement, though he had a huge influence on it and is widely considered one of its key painters.

Monet, artist and patron

Cezanne holds the record for the most expensive Impressionist painting ever sold at auction but in the beginning he struggled to shift any at all.

His luck changed at the 1874 exhibition, with his dark, tormented "The Hanged Man's House" finding a home.

Two decades later, when he had his first solo show in Paris, a curious thing happened—he sold three paintings before the gallery even opened.

A mysterious stranger turned up and asked if he could take a sneak peek.

After inspecting each piece closely, he picked three and handed over a wad of cash without haggling.

It was only after he had left that the buyer was revealed as Monet, not only an Impressionist star but also an early patron.

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