Monet’s lily pond, Degas’s dancers, Renoir’s girls are among the most familiar and popular images around.  Millions of mouse mats and mugs are adorned with them.  Yet time was that these images were revolutionary and laughed at by the Art Establishment.  Paul Durand-Ruel was the man whose money and tenacity ensured that the Impressionists were not ignored and forgotten. He started conventionally enough, entering the family art-dealing business but his fancy was taken a group of artists who took their easels and paints outside and depicted what they saw.

Inventing Impressionism

Paul Durand-Ruel by Pierre-Auguste Renoir 1910
© Archives Durand-Ruel © Durand-Ruel & Cie

Durand-Ruel not only bought and sold Impressionist paintings, he hung them on the walls of his home.  The first room of the exhibition is devoted to recreating the feel of his home with family portraits and an amazing door painted by Monet.  To add to the feeling of being in a nineteenth century salon, two armchairs are positioned in the middle of the room.  Opinion seemed divided on these when I had attended; one woman tripped over them and muttered dark things, whilst two others sat down and proceeded to chat. From his home we follow him to London, where he and several artists seeking refuge from the Franco-Prussian war met each other.  Among the scenes of London and her suburbs are a fine depiction of St Paul’s seen from the Surrey bank, barges bob around on the near shore in stark contrast to the opposite bank.

Inventing Impressionism

St Paul’s from the Surrey Side by Charles-François Daubigny
© The National Gallery, London

“Which picture would you like to take home?” is a game I like to play in galleries.  Inventing Impressionism makes the game very hard because so many of the paintings plead to be the one.  Look one way and you see a sequence of Poplar’s painted by Monet, each one subtly different, over there are Degas’s dancers with an elderly on looker asleep on a chair and round the corner Manet vies for attention.  Degas won, not his dancers but rather elegant racehorses most of which are stalking around but one skits around unwilling to enter the fray.

Inventing Impressionism

Horses before the Stands by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas
© RMN-Grand Palais (musée d’Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Coffee and indeed lunch can be had at the National Dining Rooms which offers fine views across Trafalgar Square but service can be a little slow.  For a speedier, less frustrating, beverage head to the basement Expresso Bar.  You don’t get a view but nor do you have to wait for ages to pay.  Inventing Impression is expected to be very popular and rightly so and entry tickets are timed. My Mother and I were glad of our height as we were there promptly on the hour as were most of the other ticket holders for our slot.  When we emerged at the other end an hour and a quarter later the first room was less crowded, so my top tip is not to go at the beginning of your slot but to loiter in the coffee shop for a few minutes later so the masses get a head start.  No guarantees though!

4 March – 31 May 2015
Open daily 10am – 6pm
Admission: Adults £18, Concession £14, under 12’s free.

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