In a stunning tribute to the birth of modern art, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, in partnership with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, announces the groundbreaking exhibitions titled “Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism” – “Paris 1874 The Impressionist Moment” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. These events, marking the 150th anniversary of the first Impressionist exhibition, are set to revolutionize our understanding of this pivotal artistic movement.
Christophe Leribault, President of the Musée d’Orsay, revealed an ambitious program to commemorate this historic moment in art history. In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the exhibition showcases over 160 masterpieces, shining a light on artists who, despite their monumental contributions, have been somewhat overshadowed by history. The event features a dual exhibition and a series of immersive experiences that transport visitors to the heart of 19th-century Paris.
The year 1874 was pivotal in the art world, particularly in Paris, where the first Impressionist exhibition challenged the status quo. Spearheaded by iconic artists like Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas, this movement presented a radical departure from the traditional styles endorsed by the Paris Salon, the art establishment of the time. The Musée d’Orsay’s exhibition – and later at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, dubbed “Paris 1874 The Impressionist Moment” – delves deep into this historical context, juxtaposing works from the initial Impressionist showcase against those displayed at the official 1874 Salon.
This contrast narrates the tumultuous story of artists defying an academic system that often marginalized them. In the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War and the upheaval in French society, these artists sought new directions and voices, culminating in their independent exhibition at Nadar’s studio in Paris.
“Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism” – and “Paris 1874 The Impressionist Moment” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington – is a remarkable assemblage of over 160 works, celebrating not only the well-known figures of Monet, Degas, and Sisley but also reintroducing artists history has somewhat forgotten. This array of masterpieces, coupled with the inclusion of lesser-known impressionist and Salon artists, offers a nuanced perspective on the era and the birth of Impressionism.
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But the Musée d’Orsay’s initiative extends beyond the confines of its walls. In an unprecedented move, over 170 paintings will travel across France, gracing cultural centers from Ajaccio to Saint-Denis on Reunion Island. This national tour underscores the inclusive spirit of Impressionism, bringing masterpieces like Degas’s “Petite danseuse” to a broader audience.
In an innovative approach to art presentation, the Musée d’Orsay also introduces an immersive VR experience titled “An Evening with the Impressionists.” This experience, suitable for audiences as young as eight, offers a virtual reality dive into the historic opening night of the 1874 exhibition. Participants will find themselves amidst the vibrant atmosphere, early works of prodigious artists, and the critical commentary of the time.
Rima Abdul-Malak, the French Minister for Culture, comments on the significance of this endeavor, highlighting the crucial role museums play in cultural dissemination. This “tour de France of Impressionism” sees iconic works by Cézanne, Monet, and Van Gogh travel, some for the first time in over fifty years, bringing art directly to the people.
The 1874 exhibition at Nadar’s studio on Boulevard des Capucines, a defiant response to the Paris Salon, marked the inception of the Impressionist movement. This event, featuring Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, and others, symbolizes the birth of modernist painting. “Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism” revisits this key moment, juxtaposing works from the first Impressionist exhibition with those displayed at the 1874 Salon.
This comprehensive celebration of Impressionism offers an opportunity to revisit and reassess the movement’s radical origins and enduring influence. As Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery of Art, notes, this exhibition is not just a retrospective but an exploration of the roots of one of the most beloved movements in Western art.
These double exhibitions not only showcase the artistic divergence of the time but also delve into the socio-political backdrop of France post-Franco-Prussian War. They highlight the artists’ quest for autonomy, challenging the academic norms and presenting their art in an independent, innovative manner.
Furthermore, the exhibitions prompt visitors to ponder over what truly defines an Impressionist work. Louis Leroy’s sarcastic term “impressionist,” initially a critique, became the identifier for this revolutionary art form. Now, 150 years later, the Musée d’Orsay and the National Gallery of Art in Washington invite us to reassess the radicalism of Impressionism.
Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism
From 26 March to 14 July 2024
Esplanade Valéry Giscard d’Estaing
Paris 1874 The Impressionist Moment
September 8, 2024 – January 19, 2025
National Gallery of Art, Washington
West Building, Main Floor
Constitution Avenue, 4th Street or 7th Street