Sunday, 29 April 2018

Impressionists in London

A major exhibition currently open at Tate Britain highlights the London works of a group of (mainly) French painters living in London in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. Not all of the works on display are, in the strictest sense, "Impressionist:" there are Impressionist masterpieces by some of the best known figures of the movement, such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro; but there are also works by members of their extended social circle, such as James Tissot, who are not conventionally regarded as "Impressionists;" and works by non-French artists, such as the American, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who were, to a greater or lesser extent, influenced by the movement in general, and, more specifically, by their own social contacts with its key members. Together, these artists furnish us with a distinctive pictorial vision of late Victorian London, its outlying residential districts as well as the city's most prominent landmarks.

The Houses of Parliament, by Claude Monet, 1900-1901, Art Institute of Chicago (image is in the Public Domain).

The subtitle of the exhibition is "French Artists in Exile, 1870-1904," and its starting point is the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, which devastated much of France. The Siege of Paris, in particular, which lasted from September 1870 to January 1871, left large areas of the capital in ruins, and its population on the brink of starvation. Many French people, including the artists, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and James Tissot; together with the art-dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel (who sold many of their works to American collectors), found a welcome in London.

The devastated district of Saint-Cloud, Adolphe Braun (image is in the Public Domain).

Parisian restaurant menu for Christmas Day, 1870. Some of the meat had been procured from the city zoo, and delicacies available for those who could afford them included stuffed donkey head; elephant consume; rib of bear; and haunch of wolf.

The art-dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1910. 

The war itself was followed by a left-wing uprising, the Paris Commune, which was violently suppressed by the right wing government of the Third Republic. Some of the artists, including Tissot, had direct or indirect links to the uprising, and preferred exile to the reprisals that they feared at home. For its part, the British government and people seem to have had few concerns about the influx of refugees, welcoming the contributions that they made to the nation's cultural life, whilst keeping tabs on any who might be tempted to stir up political dissent within Britain.

Barricades in the Rue de Rivoli, Pierre-Ambroise Richebourg, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (284087 - licensed under CCA).

"Holyday," by James Tissot, 1876 (private collection, image is in the Public Domain). Tissot established a studio in fashionable Saint John's Wood, with iced Champagne available in the waiting room.

Bath Road, Chiswick, by Camille Pissarro, 1897, Ashmolean Museum (WA 1951.225.4 - image is in the Public Domain).

Old Chelsea Bridge (actually Battersea Bridge), by Camille Pissarro, Smith College Museum of Art (image is in the Public Domain). 

Nocturne in Blue and Gold, Battersea Bridge, by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Tate Collection (image is in the Public Domain).

Molesey Weir (near Hampton Court), by Alfred Sisley, National Gallery of Scotland (Na 2235 - image is in the Public Domain).

For many of the artists, their stay in London as refugees, however brief, was the beginning of a long association with Britain. Claude Monet's most famous images of the capital, for example, were created not by the penniless thirty-year-old refugee, but by the mature (and financially successful) artist, who returned three decades later, staying and dining in the luxury of the Savoy Hotel.

Charing Cross Bridge, by Claude Monet, 1899-1901, Saint Louis Art Museum (image is in the Public Domain).

Charing Cross Bridge, by Andre Derain, 1906 (image is in the Public Domain). Derain was set to London by his dealer, Ambroise Vollart, with a commission to produce thirty views of London, inspired by Monet's earlier works.

The paintings produced between 1870 and 1904 by French Impressionists; their compatriots; and their British and American admirers; placed London on the artistic map of Europe, the sweep of the Thames, and the distinctive buildings along it, as familiar as images of Paris or Rome, Florence or Venice, Vienna or Saint Petersburg.

The EY Exhibition, "Impressionists in London," is open at Tate Britain until the 7th May.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

1 comment:

  1. I envy those that get to this exhibition, but I appreciate reading about these artists and seeing some of their work here. Thanks, Mark.