Inventing Impressionism, Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery, London, until 31st May 2015
“Without him”, said Monet, “We wouldn’t have survived.” In a way that is all that needs to be written about this wonderful exhibition.
The “him” is the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) who through his unflinching support of the Impressionist artists he discovered in the early 1870s – Monet, Pissarro, Degas and Renoir, can be seen as a founder of the international art market we know nowadays.
What makes this show is that a great many of the eighty-five works on view passed through Durand-Ruel’s hands as a dealer. He was certainly supportive of these artists in the early decades despite the opposition of the established art market.
His backing of them was not only as a dealer as he also collected and displayed the works in his home. This show takes us along the path he followed as a dealer and culminates in the 1905 exhibition in London’s Grafton Galleries which had a mind-blowing three hundred and fifteen paintings and remains the largest-ever Impressionist show. It bears witness to Durand-Ruel’s status in the art world and celebrates the hard work and energy he put into supporting the Impressionists.
I shall use the words of an 89 year old Durand-Ruel to finish: “At last the Impressionist masters triumphed … My madness had been wisdom. To think that, had I passed away at sixty, I would have died debt-ridden and bankrupt, surrounded by a wealth of underrated treasures…”
Thank goodness for his faith and vision!