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Impressionist Dealers and Collectors

Monet and Degas

The expanding capitalist economy of France in the second half of the nineteenth century led to an increase in bourgeois prosperity and leisure. The era of the railway, the department store and the seaside resort fostered a new consumerism and Paris gained a reputation as a capital for culture and luxury goods. This increased consumption had a significant effect on the art market and there was a boom in collecting and dealing because buying art was considered a sound investment with little or no risk. The Hotel Drouot opened in the early 1850s and was Paris's main auction house. It was in the same street as the major banks and close to the stock exchange. A number of Impressionist paintings were auctioned here in 1875. The art dealing firms, such as those of Paul Durand-Ruel, Adolphe Goupil and Louis Martinet, which came to prominence in the 1850s and 1860s were also to be found in the heart of Paris's financial district.

The dealer whose name is most closely linked with the Impressionists' fortunes is Paul Durand-Ruel. Durand-Ruel first met Monet and Pissarro in London in 1870 where all three had fled to escape the Franco-Prussian War. During the early 1870s Durand-Ruel bought large numbers of their paintings, some of which featured in the mixed shows of French art which he organised in London. Monet's Autumn Effect at Argenteuil was included in one such exhibition, which Durand-Ruel mounted at the Dowdeswell galleries in London in 1883. Autumn Effect at Argenteuil is a small, colourful landscape and was painted specifically for the art market. From around 1867 onwards, Monet could no longer afford to risk time and money producing large paintings for exhibition at the Salon when they could so easily be rejected or badly hung. The recognition that came from selling their works was vital to the Impressionists for both financial and professional reasons.

In 1874, Durand-Ruel organised the Ninth Exhibition of the Society of French Artists in which Degas's Two Dancers on the Stage (Courtauld Gallery) was exhibited and bought by the pioneering Degas collector, Captain Henry Hill of Brighton. This work, unusually highly finished for Degas, was the first painting by Degas that Henry Hill bought. Durand-Ruel selected and organised the seventh Impressionist group exhibition in 1882 and from 1883 began mounting individual shows of Impressionist artists work in recognition of their growing reputations. Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley were all favoured in this way. Durand-Ruel also organised the first American exhibition of Impressionist works in New York in 1886.

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