History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 3

14 & 15 April 2021

The Impressionists and Money: New Art and the Birth of the Modern Art Market, 1874-1900

Catalog cover for the first Impressionist exhibition held in April/May 1874 at the former photographic studios of Félix Nadar (right) 35 boulevard des Capucines, Paris.

Barely sold for the price of the frame at the first Impressionist auction in 1875, Impressionist paintings, are now among the most expensive in the world, fetching over a hundred million euros.

 

We will see how Monet, Renoir, Degas and the others, despite their difficult beginnings, had in the end very successful careers. In order to emerge from the shadows, the artists had to dramatically modify the art world with the help of a few innovative art dealers and invent a new economic system that still exists today: the modern art market.

 

In France in the 19th century, it was impossible to make a career without the support of the all-powerful Académie des Beaux-Arts and its well-attended annual exhibition, the Salon. The Impressionists tried their luck there, and were sometimes exhibited, but their careers did not take off. This forced them to invent new commercial strategies. The first Impressionist exhibition was organized in 1874 primarily to take charge of the promotion and sale of their works. Though it helped to establish their notoriety, it was a dismal commercial failure.

 

Our lecture will focus on the role of the Impressionist exhibitions in the emergence of the new art market and also on the new conception of the modern artist, through the development of the individual careers of Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Cézanne.... We will study the strategies put in place by the artists and the first great Impressionist dealers: Paul Durand-Ruel (the first to have had the audacious idea of considering art works as an object of speculation!), Georges Petit and Ambroise Vollard. What relationships did they have with the artists? What impact did American collectors have on the Impressionists’ success? These are the questions we will try to answer.

Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party (1881) was bought by the great American collector Duncan Phillips from the Durand-Ruel Gallery in 1923.

Pictured at the back, wearing a top hat, is the famous French collector of Impressionist and Japanese art, Charles Ephrussi.