Inventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market

The National Gallery, London

Marketing. PR. Spin. Nothing new here for those of us living and working in 2015. But in the early 1870s, when Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and friends were struggling in vain to sell their work, their encounter with the father of modern agents, art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, was to prove critical. Because as the National Gallery’s spring exhibition reveals, Durand-Ruel was a man who understood how to plug and to push a product. And for more than 40 years, he dedicated himself to the Impressionists who without him, in Monet’s words, might not have survived.

Paul Durand-Ruel, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1910, Private Collection, © Archives Durand-Ruel © Durand-Ruel & Cie

Paul Durand-Ruel, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1910, Private Collection, © Archives Durand-Ruel © Durand-Ruel & Cie

But who was this Paul Durand-Ruel? His parents owned an artists’ supply shop in Paris, which, over time, had morphed into a gallery where his father was a successful art dealer. As a boy, Durand-Ruel’s bedroom was strewn with paintings from his parents’ stock; and yet initially he showed no interest in joining the family business. Claiming a “great aversion to commerce”, buying and selling pictures did not appeal and in the early 1850s, he considered entering a monastery. But his was to be a short-lived rebellion: by 1855 Durand-Ruel was working with his father in the gallery and on his father’s death 10 years later, he took over the business.

The Thames below Westminster, Claude Mone, about 1871, The National Gallery, London, Bequeathed by Lord Astor of Hever, 1971, © The National Gallery, London

The Thames below Westminster, Claude Monet, about 1871, The National Gallery, London, Bequeathed by Lord Astor of Hever, 1971, © The National Gallery, London

Fox Hill, Upper Norwood, Camille Pissarro, 1870, The National Gallery, London, Presented by Viscount and Viscountess Radcliffe, 1964, © The National Gallery, London

Fox Hill, Upper Norwood, Camille Pissarro, 1870, The National Gallery, London, Presented by Viscount and Viscountess Radcliffe, 1964, © The National Gallery, London

For a man who was once so repelled by trade, he turned out to have quite the knack.   Continue reading

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Grand Designs: The Wallace Collection

If Sir Richard Wallace’s ghost passes through Hertford House’s Great Gallery on its nightly rounds, it must be feeling pleased.  Faded fabric walls have been replaced with a crimson silk damask, the ceiling – which was lowered in the 1970s to make space for air conditioning ducts – has been raised to allow in natural light again, gilded wainscot panelling now runs along the length of the walls and the old wood floor has been replaced with spanking new parquet.  Ghosts do not probably understand the need for air-conditioning, and although the 1970s Great Gallery revamp was seen as state-of-the-art at the time, Sir Richard may have wondered why his cleverly designed ceiling, which allowed daylight into the room, but only indirectly so as to protect the artworks, was ever removed.

Great Gallery, &copy The Wallace Collection

Great Gallery © The Wallace Collection

Over the past few years the Wallace Collection has played host to its fair share of workmen, and the Great Gallery refurbishment is but one of several major overhauls to take place in the gallery.   In May 2009, Lady Wallace’s Boudoir, the West Room and the Landing reopened; the Study, the Oval Drawing Room and the Small Drawing Room have been subject to an ongoing program of redecoration; in August 2010 the West Galleries I and II and the Nineteenth Century Gallery opened for business; and in March 2012, it was the East Galleries’ turn to show off their new look.   And although the unveiling of the Great Gallery in September 2014 may have marked the pinnacle of the Wallace Collection’s grand design, the workmen have not yet quit Manchester Square for good, with plans afoot to finish the refurbishment of the first floor galleries, as well as to reconfigure the museum’s lower ground floor to make space for a lunch area and film room.

West Gallery &copy Wallace Collection

West Room © The Wallace Collection

Richard Wallace was the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess of Hertford, and although when his father died in 1870 he did not get the title, he did get the house, even if he had to buy it from his cousin, the 5th Marquess.   The art and furniture at Hertford House is known today as the Wallace Collection, but it might just as well be called the Hertford Collection, for in large part it was acquired by the 3rd and 4th Marquesses during the mid-19th century.  Continue reading

All-weather Constable

Constable: The Making of a Master, Victoria and Albert Museum

Let’s hope John Constable had some decent waterproofs.  The Duke of Wellington’s boots did not catch on until the 1830s, and Mr Macintosh did not start mass-producing his coats until shortly before Constable’s death in 1836.  Umbrellas had been around for a while, but they were both expensive and difficult to fold until 1852 when someone thought to use steel ribs.   And so how did Constable and his materials stay dry in the rain?  Because there must have been rain: this was England and, as the Victoria and Albert’s current exhibition shows, Constable spent a lot of time outdoors.  The museum has picked for its poster backdrop, a scene of white clouds against clement blue sky; inside, however, there is drizzle, rain and storm aplenty.  But no snow.  Even Constable had his limits.

Down the road, Tate Britain has devoted its autumn show to the end of Turner’s career.  And although it would have been poetic if that exhibition had been countered by a V&A display dedicated to early Constable – and the name of the V&A show is open to (mis)interpretation – Constable: The Making of a Master, is not about the painter’s formative years.  Rather, this is full-on Constable, a display which includes examples of all types of his work, from all phases of his career.  The running theme? How Constable made his art; and if we are being picky, the show’s title might more accurately read, Constable: The Making of a Master’s Art.  But that does not have quite the same ring.

Study of Cirrus Clouds (1822), John Constable &copy V&A

Study of Cirrus Clouds (c.1822), John Constable, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Continue reading