Timeline of Impressionism
Today impressionism is one of the most popular artistic genres. But in the 19th century the impressionists shocked the art world. It took over two decades for them to be recognised and appreciated. This page provides a chronology of how that happened.
The impressionists were born in the 1830s and early 1840s and had moved to Paris by 1860. They spent the 1860s battling for recognition in the Salon of the Academy des Beaux Arts (the Exhibition of the Fine Arts Academy), with very limited success.
The Prussian war of 1870/71 saw them disperse to places including southern France and London. But they returned to Paris, formed their own company, and held an independent exhibition in 1874. The reviews were incredibly hostile. Seven more exhibitions were to follow, with recognition finally coming, albeit slowly, in the 1880s.
Those of them who lived into the late 1880s held solo shows and lived to enjoy the financial and reputational success they deserved. Others were not so lucky: Bazille died in the Prussian war and Manet, who had given the group the courage to take on the establishment in the 1860s, died of syphilis in 1883.
Monet—the most famous of the impressionists today—outlived the rest of the group, passing away in 1926 at the age of 86. He spent the last 30 years of his life painting series of water lilies, haystacks, Rouen Cathedral and other subjects with remarkable industry.
1830-60: The impressionists are born and come to Paris
1830 Camille Pissarro is born in the United States Virgin Islands on 10 July. His father was a merchant who had moved to the Caribbean to take over the family hardware store.
1832 Edouard Manet is born in Paris on 23 January. His parents are wealthy: his father a senior civil servant and later a judge; his mother the goddaughter of the crown prince of Sweden.
1834 Edgar Degas is born in Paris on 19 July; his father is also wealthy, owning the De Gas bank.
1839 Paul Cezanne is born in Aix-en-Provence on 19 January; his father also owns a bank.
1840 Claude Monet is born in Paris on 14 November, the son of a Parisian shopkeeper.
1841 Pierre-Auguste Renoir is born in Limoges, France, on 25 February. The son of a tailor, Renoir (like Monet) did not have the advantage of family money to help his career.
1841 Frederic Bazille is born in Montpellier, France, on 6 December.
1850 Manet, whose father wants him to join the navy, sets sail on a merchant ship for Rio de Jainero. During the three-month crossing he resolves not to become a sailor.
1850-6 Manet studies at the studio of Thomas Couture, a landscapist; Couture encouraged Manet to develop his own style, though the two men sometimes quarrelled.
1859 Manet submits The Absinthe Drinker to the Salon of the Academy des Beaux Arts; it is rejected, with only one of the 12 jurors (Delacroix) voting in favour. Manet says: “So they’d prefer me to do a nude, would they? Fine, I’ll do them a nude.” The nudes he was contemplating arrived in 1863 and 1865 and shocked the art world.
1860-65: Manet throws down the gauntlet
1859-60 Monet comes to Paris and studies at Suisse's studio (where he meets Pissarro); he is then conscripted into the army, serves in Algeria, catches typhoid fever and returns to Le Havre. He finally returns to Paris to study at Gleyre's Studio (where he meets Renoir, Bazille and Sisley), and is provided with an allowance on the condition that he tries to obtain entry to the Ecole des Beaux Arts (the Fine Arts School).
1861 Manet submits two works to the Salon. The first, a portrait of his parents, was accepted but attracted critical reviews. But the second, a painting entitled The Spanish Singer, won an honourable mention. Manet was not to receive any further recognition from the Salon for 20 years.
1863 Manet submits Dejuner sur l'Herbe (Lunch on the Grass) to the Salon. It is rejected, but an alternative exhibition for rejected works is organised on the orders of Napoleon III (the Salon des Refuses). The work receives a hostile reaction from the public and critics alike. One critic says that it had been painted with a "floor mop"; another that it was Manet's idea of a practical joke.
1865 Manet submits Olympia to the Salon. It is, surprisingly, accepted by the jury. We say 'surprisingly' because Olympia is a painting of a naked, reclining prostitute looking brazenly at the viewer. The reaction from the public and critics alike is so hostile that Manet flees to Spain to escape. For example, one reviewer referred to Manet's model, Victorine Meurant, as a "female gorilla".
Monet has better luck: his two seascapes receive positive reviews and Manet is irked because he thinks Monet is trading off his name.
1865-71: Mixed results at the Salon and War
1866 Monet's work, Woman in the Green Dress, is accepted by the jury and receives positive reaction. Manet, reeling from the previous year's criticism, does not submit.
1867 Monet's work, Women in the Garden (pictured), is rejected by the Salon's jury. Monet first floats the idea of the impressionists exhibiting together, but the plan is taken no further due to a lack of funds.
Manet's submissions are also rejected. He erects a pavilion and holds his own solo exhibition to coincide with the World Exhibition being held in Paris that year, at a cost of 17,000 francs; but few people come.
1869 Monet's two submissions, The Magpie (one of Monet's best snowscapes now found in the Musee d'Orsay) and a seascape called Fishing Boats at Sea, are rejected by the Salon's jury.
March 1870 Monet's submission of a portrait of his son, entitled Jean Monet, is rejected by the Salon's jury.
19 July 1870 Napoleon III declares war on Prussia
19 September 1870 The Siege of Paris begins. Manet and Berthe Morisot stay in Paris to protect the city; Monet travels to London with Camille and his son Jean; Renoir and Pissarro also leave Paris; so too does Cezanne, who avoids conscription by hiding in a small village near his home town of Aix-en-Provence.
28 November 1870 Bazille is killed in fighting in the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande, a failed attempt to break or at least relieve the Siege of Paris.
28 January 1871 The Siege of Paris comes to an end, after over four months. Paris has been devastated by shelling and many have died of hunger or disease. Manet travels to the seaside town of Archachon to be reunited with his wife and son and to recuperate.
1874-79: The first four impressionist exhibitions
1873 Manet has a rare Salon success with his painting of a Parisian man smoking his pipe and drinking beer. The picture, called Le Bon Bock (the Good Beer), caught the public mood in the aftermath of the Prussian war and the fall of the Second Empire which followed it. This success may have convinced Manet not to participate in the first impressionist exhibition held the next year.
1874 The first impressionist exhibition is held. The main organisers were Monet, Pissarro and Degas, with additional exhibitors including Renoir, Cezanne and Berthe Morisot. Manet refused to take part, preferring to focus on conquering the Salon.
The exhibition was a major failure: the reviews were hostile. For example, Monet's Impression Sunrise was compared with wallpaper in a formative state. The company created to put on the exhibition was disbanded at the end of the year, having incurred a substantial loss (each exhibitor owed 278 francs!).
1876 The second impressionist exhibition is held. Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894, who was independently wealthy and had joined the group) provided the finance and attended to most of the organisation. Again, the main impressionists exhibited with the exception of Manet. And, again, the exhibition was a failure.
It is well-known for a review by Albert Woolf, calling the impressionist "lunatics" and "daubers" and comparing them to inmates in a Parisian asylum. There were, however, one or two small signs of encouragement: Henry James wrote a positive article for the New York Tribune and Monet sold his Japanese Girls for 2,000 francs.
1877 The third impressionist exhibition is held, at impressive premises on rue Le Peletier. It was organised and financed by Caillebotte. Exhibitors included Monet (with 30 works, including 17 of Gare Saint Lazare), Renoir (with 17 works), Cezanne (16 works), Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot and Caillebotte himself. But the reviews were again mainly hostile. For example, the Arts Chronicle said that "children entertaining themselves with paper and paints do better"; another said that the impressionist effect was similar to "worm-eaten Roquefort cheese".
1879 The fourth impressionist exhibition is held. Cezanne, Renoir and Morisot decline to participate. On the other hand, 15,000 people attend (almost four times the number that saw the first exhibition); Monet's Rue Montorgueil is the star of the show.
5 September 1879 Camille Monet, Monet's first wife, dies aged just 32, leaving Monet with two children to care for. Camille's death came during a terrible period for Monet: one of his main patrons, Ernest Horschede was declared bankrupt a few years earlier and the Monet and Horschede families had moved in together to economise. Monet was left sending scores of letters to friends and collectors begging for money.
1880-86: More exhibitions; glimmers of hope
1880 The fifth impressionist exhibition is held. Monet refuses to participate, preferring to give the Salon another go. His work, Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt (pictured), is accepted, but it is "skied" (i.e. placed near the ceiling so that it was difficult for visitors to see). Renoir, Sisley and Cezanne also decide not to participate.
1881 The sixth impressionist exhibition is held.
1881 Manet finally wins a medal at the Salon, awarded for a portrait of a political figure called Henri Rochefort. Whilst the medal is only second class, it provides some vindication for Manet's strategy of refusing to participate in the independent exhibitions. It also meant that Manet could participate in future Salons without having to have his works approved by the Jury. Later that year, Manet is awarded the legion d'honneur by the French state (thanks to his childhood friend Antonin Proust, who had become Minister for Fine Arts).
1882 The seventh impressionist exhibition is held.
1882 Manet's last major work, The Bar at the Folies Bergere, is exhibited at the Salon. The reviews are mainly negative.
1883 Manet dies of syphilis; Monet moves to Giverny; Monet's solo show at Durand-Ruel's Paris gallery produces favourable reviews. Durand-Ruel holds a number of other solo shows: Renoir (April); Pissarro (May); and Sisley (June).
1883 The first major exhibition of impressionist work is held in America. Over the next decades, America was the key market for the sale of impressionist works.
1884 A posthumous exhibition of Manet's works is held at the Louvre.
1886 The eighth and final impressionist exhibition is held. But Monet, Renoir and Sisley refuse to participate.
1887-1926: Gradual recognition
1890 Monet organises a collection to buy Manet's Olympia for the French state and raises almost 20,000 francs. But the authorities initially refuse to hang it in the Louvre, exhibiting it instead in the museum devoted to living artists: the Musee du Luxembourg.
1889-92 Monet paints his Haystacks series.
May 1891 Paul Durand-Ruel exhibits 15 versions of Monet's Haystacks. They sell within three days for prices of as much as 1000 francs. Monet uses the money raised to buy and extend the Giverny property that he is renting.
1892-3 Monet paints his Rouen Cathedral series. Despite calls for it to be purchased by the French state, the works are snapped up by foreign buyers at an 1895 exhibition and dispersed around the world (particularly to America).
1890s Monet starts work on his Water Lilies series, which would be the artistic focus of the rest of his life. In total, Monet painted over 250 versions of the Water Lilies. By this stage, demand for Monet's work and prices have skyrocketed. This trend has continued: two versions of the Water Lilies have been sold in the past decade for over $80 million.
1895 The art dealer Ambroise Vollard holds an exhibition of 152 of Cezanne's works. He sells a number of them, the first popular success enjoyed by Cezanne.
1895 Berthe Morisot, the leading female impressionist, dies aged 54.
1897 The Nationalgalerie in Berlin buys one of Cezanne's works.
1897 Monet returns to London, where he spent the Prussian war, and works on his Thames series (paintings of the Houses of Parliament and bridges over the Thames).
1899 Vollard holds another one-man show of Cezanne's work; a number of paintings fetch significant prices.
1906 Cezanne is caught in a storm whilst out painting, catches pneumonia and dies on 22 October.
1907 Manet's Olympia is finally hung in the Louvre.
1912 The American collector Louisine Havermeyer buys Degas' Dancers at the Barre for 478,500 francs, almost doubling the record price for a work by a living artist.
1914-1918 The First World War takes place. Monet refuses to leave Giverny, even though much of hte fighting is taking place less than 200 kilometres away.
1917 Degas dies.
1919 Renoir dies.
1922 Monet comes to an agreement with Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, for the donation of a number of his water lilies to the state on his death.
1922 Monet sells one of his Water Lily series to the Japanese collector Kojiro Matsukata for a reported price of 800,000 francs, smashing the record price for a work by a living artist set by Degas a decade previously.
1926 Monet dies. A collection of vast water lily canvasses are donated to the French state and are now found in the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris.
1990 Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette is sold at auction for $78 million, at that stage the second highest price ever paid for a work of art.
2002 One of Cezanne's The Card Players is sold for $259 million, at that stage the highest price ever paid for a painting (it is now third on a list headed by da Vinci's Salvator Mundi).