Sunrise on Impressionism: 23 Paintings of the First Impressionist Exhibition

Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927), Sunset at Ivry (1873), oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last few months, I have surveyed the contemporary paintings of those artists who showed their work at the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, and some who perhaps should have. In this article I assemble those we’re fairly confident were hung on the walls of Nadar’s empty studio that April. Here are fifteen images of paintings by twelve artists, out of the total of 165 works by thirty.

Zacharie Astruc (1835-1907)

Zacharie Astruc (1835–1907), The Chinese Gifts (London) (before 1874), ?watercolour, dimensions not known, Private collection. By Rlbberlin, via Wikimedia Commons.

An early enthusiast for Asian art, Astruc was one of the driving forces behind Japonism, writing about the art of Japan from 1866 onwards. His first paintings to be exhibited at the Salon were accepted in 1869, and he continued to show paintings and sculptures there most years until after 1900.

Eugène Louis Boudin (1824–1898)

Eugène Boudin (1824–1898), Camaret, Le Toulinguet (c 1871), oil, 40 x 65.4 cm, Private collection. WikiArt.

A major influence over and mentor to Claude Monet, Boudin had little success exhibiting at the Salon until the 1880s. Despite his importance to the early years of Impressionism, and his wonderful skies, his paintings are often omitted completely from modern accounts of the movement.

Pierre-Isidore Bureau (1822/1827-1876)

Pierre-Isidore Bureau (1822/1827-1876), Moonlight on the Banks of the Oise (1867), oil on canvas, 33 x 41 cm, Musée Louis Senlecq à L’Isle Adam or Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Although Bureau was a core member of the French Impressionists, and specialised in nocturnes like this, he died shortly after the Second Impressionist Exhibition in 1876, and has been almost completely forgotten.

Adolphe-Félix Cals (1810–1880)

Adolphe-Félix Cals (1810–1880), Fisherman (1874), oil on canvas, 25 x 31 cm, Musée Eugène-Boudin de Honfleur, Honfleur, France. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Jean-Pierre Lagiewski.

One of the older and more established members of the movement, Cals played a similar role to Corot and Boudin in helping and encouraging its younger artists. Despite his paintings being collected at the time, and showing work at the first four Impressionist Exhibitions, his art slipped into oblivion early in the twentieth century.

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), A Modern Olympia (c 1873-74), oil on canvas, 46 x 55.5 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

At this time, Cézanne was learning alongside Pissarro and Renoir to paint Impressionist landscapes in front of the motif. It wasn’t until the 1880s that his style departed from mainstream Impressionism, and he created the paintings for which he is best known today. He’s now considered to have been one of the first to paint in Post-Impressionist style.

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), La Maison du pendu, Auvers-sur-Oise (The Hanged Man’s House) (c 1874), oil on canvas, 55.5 x 66.3 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Of all the paintings shown in Paris in 1874, Cézanne’s The Hanged Man’s House (1874) was among the most successful, as he sold it to the collector Count Doria for three hundred francs.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917)

Edgar Degas (1834–1917), The Dance Class (c 1873), oil on canvas, 47.6 × 62.2 cm, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Known as the odd man out among the French Impressionists, Degas had a classical training and started his career painting histories. At this time he had just become obsessed with painting the ballet at the Paris Opera, works which were to make up half his total output. While he did have phases of landscape painting, he was primarily a figurative painter. With his affluent background and different approach, he sometimes proved divisive to the movement.

Jean-Baptiste Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927)

Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927), Sunset at Ivry (1873), oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Guillaumin faced the same long struggle in poverty as most of the other French Impressionists, painted in company with Pissarro and Cézanne, and later mentored the young Paul Signac. His paintings finally became popular around the turn of the century, but he was mysteriously dropped from later accounts of Impressionism. While many of his paintings remain in major collections, they are seldom seen.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Claude Monet (1840–1926), Impression, Sunrise (1872), oil on canvas, 48 x 63 cm, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris. Wikimedia Commons.

Mentored by Boudin, Monet developed the central agenda for the movement, alongside Renoir and Pissarro, concentrating on landscape paintings at least started in front of the motif, even though many were finished in the studio. It was this view of Monet’s home port of Le Havre, Impression, Sunrise, that is credited with giving the movement its name. During the twentieth century he became adopted as the quintessential and leading French Impressionist, sometimes to the exclusion of most others.

Berthe Morisot (1841–1895)

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle (1872), oil on canvas, 56 x 46 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. WikiArt.
Berthe Morisot (1841–1895), The Cradle (1872), oil on canvas, 56 x 46 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. WikiArt.

At the time, Morisot was the only woman in the movement, although three more were to join later: Eva Gonzalès, Mary Cassatt and Marie Bracquemond. She was introduced through her friendship with Édouard Manet, and at the end of 1874 married his brother Eugène. A central figure in the group, she was also one the earliest to achieve recognition, although her painting of The Cradle failed to get the reception it deserved.

Berthe Morisot (1841–1895), Reading (The Green Umbrella) (1873), oil on fabric, 46 x 71.8 cm, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH. Wikimedia Commons.

Morisot’s importance as an artist and her role in the movement were revived in the late twentieth century.

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)

Camille Pissarro, Hoar frost at Ennery (1873), oil on canvas, 65 x 93 cm, Musée d'Orsay, Paris. WikiArt.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Hoar Frost at Ennery (1873), oil on canvas, 65 x 93 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. WikiArt.

As one of the movement’s most experienced landscape specialists, a former pupil of Camille Corot, and a friend of Charles Daubigny, Pissarro was a key member. Together with Monet, Renoir and Sisley, he developed their approach, technique and style. As with Sisley, his formative period was a visit to England, in his case during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71. His Hoar Frost at Ennery is one of many of his landscapes to have joined the Western canon.

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Chestnut Trees at Osny (c 1873), oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.
Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Chestnut Trees at Osny (c 1873), oil on canvas, 65 x 81 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

When he painted later in Neo-Impressionist or Pointillist style, he came close to leaving the movement, but returned to create major urban landscapes series late in the century.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), Danseuse (The Dancer) (1874), oil on canvas, 142.5 x 94.5 cm, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Renoir’s recent reputation for less Impressionist portraits and nudes overlooks his early role in the development of landscape painting alongside Monet and Pissarro, and his long friendship with Cézanne. With his classical training and modest success at the Salon, he was the earliest to realise a decent income from his art. But throughout his long career he continued to paint distinctive and innovative landscapes, which became sadly ignored during the twentieth century.

Stanislas-Henri Rouart (1833-1912)

Henri Rouart (1833–1912), The Terrace on the Bank of the Seine at Melun (1874), other details not known, Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski.

A lifelong friend of Degas, Rouart also came from an affluent family and is now generally seen as a patron and collector rather than the active artist that he was at this time. Although he ended his business involvement and concentrated on painting from 1883, few of his paintings are now in public collections, and they have been largely forgotten.

Looking at this small sample of survivors from the early days of French Impressionism, it’s clear how capricious art history can be. What has surprised me most is how coherent the style of these paintings is, although I suspect that this reflects the bias resulting from their survival.