EXH: Paris 1874 – Inventing impressionism (Musée d’Orsay, Paris, until 14 July 2024 / National Gallery Washington, 8 Sep 2024 – 20 Jan 2025)

Claude Monet (1840-1926), “Impression, Soleil Levant”, 1872 (Detail); Paris, Musée Marmottan Monet, Don Eugène et Victorine Donop de Monchy (donateurs)

150 years ago the first impressionist exhibition opened in Paris. “Hungry for independence”, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, Pissarro, Sisley and Cézanne finally decided to free themselves from the rules by holding their own exhibition, outside official channels: impressionism was born. To celebrate this anniversary, Musée d’Orsay is presenting some 130 works and bringing a fresh eye to bear on this key date, regarded as the day that launched the avant-gardes.

What exactly happened in Paris in that spring of 1874, and what sense should we make today of an exhibition that has become legendary? “Paris 1874. The Impressionist Moment” seeks to trace the advent of an artistic movement that emerged in a rapidly changing world.

“Paris 1874” reviews the circumstances that led these 31 artists (only seven of whom are well-known across the world today) to join forces and exhibit their works together. The period in question had a post-war climate, following two conflicts: the Franco-German War of 1870, and then a violent civil war. In this context of crisis, artists began to rethink their art and explore new directions. A little “clan of rebels” painted scenes of modern life, and landscapes sketched in the open air, in pale hues and with the lightest of touches. As one observer noted, “What they seem above all to be aiming at is an impression”.

In “Paris 1874”, a selection of works that featured in the 1874 impressionist exhibition is put into perspective with paintings and sculptures displayed at the official Salon the same year. This unprecedented confrontation will help recreate the visual shock caused by the works exhibited by the impressionists, as well as nuance it by unexpected parallels and overlaps between the first impressionist exhibition and the Salon.

The exhibition at Musée d’Orsay evidences the contradictions and infinite variety of contemporary creation in that spring of 1874, while highlighting the radical modernity of those young artists. “Good luck!” one critic encouraged them, “Innovations always lead to something.”This exhibition is organized by the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée de l’Orangerie and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where it will be presented from September 8, 2024 to January 20, 2025.

For additional information, visit: www.musee-orsay.fr/en/whats-on/exhibitions/paris-1874-inventing-impressionism