The ART of the Dealer – the True Believer

As it is believed behind every brilliant actor or musician there is a remarkable manager, it seems behind every great art movement there is an exceptional art dealer.

Renoir’s Dance at Bougival, 1883, is one of the masterworks that seduced Londoners in the famous show Durand-Ruel presented at the Grafton Galleries in 1905. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One of my favourite paintings: Renoir’s Dance at Bougival, 1883, is one of the masterworks that seduced Londoners in the famous show Durand-Ruel presented at the Grafton Galleries in 1905. Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

An important new exhibition at the PHILADELPHIA MUSEUM OF ART  (PMA) celebrates the keen eye of Paul Durand-Ruel, the Paris dealer who defied the scorn of critics to promote the raggedy brand of pioneering young painters we now know as the Impressionists.

An exhibition celebrating his brave achievement, “Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting,” is on view at the PMA through September 13th. It features scores of intoxicating canvases by Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, all beloved now, but in their own day savaged.

“Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting” features more than 90 intoxicating canvases by the movement’s masters. Photo by Graydon Wood

“Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting” features more than 90 intoxicating canvases by the movement’s masters.  Photo by Graydon Wood

The success of Impressionism was largely due to the intrepid zeal of Durand-Ruel. Or should one say survival? “Without Durand, we would have died of hunger, all of us Impressionists,” a grateful Claude Monet exclaimed shortly after the dealer’s death in 1922 at the age of 90.

A man of conviction, who went to mass every morning, Durand-Ruel never wavered in his belief in his artists. During his long life, he purchased approximately 1,000 Monets, 1,500 Renoirs, 200 Manets, 400 Degases and 800 Camille Pissarros. He once owned Eugène Delacroix’s epic Death of Sardanapalus, 1827, now in the Louvre, and Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81, one of the treasures of the Phillips Collection, along with other masterpieces that ended up in the PMA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery in London and Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

In 1851, when he was just 20 years old, Durand-Ruel joined his ailing father at his family’s picture gallery near the Place Vendôme, which over the next 70 years he would transform into an artist-promoting powerhouse. He had a discerning eye, trusted his instincts and was not afraid to sit on stock — or even purchase it back. He introduced such now standard practices as operating his gallery in several cities (London, Brussels and New York), mounting solo shows, sending work to international exhibitions, organizing public lectures, publishing exhibition catalogs, backing art magazines and giving his artists stipends.

The American expat Mary Cassatt was among the many painters Durand-Ruel discovered. She focused on domestic scenes like The Child’s Bath, 1893. Image courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago: Robert A. Waller Fund

The American expat Mary Cassatt was among the many painters Durand-Ruel discovered. She focused on domestic scenes like The Child’s Bath, 1893. Image courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago: Robert A. Waller Fund.

At last, in Philadelphia, Durand-Ruel is getting the credit he richly deserves for having put Impressionism on the map. We may be late to the party, but Renoir always knew this day would come. “Your love of art and your defense of living artists,” he presciently told Durand-Ruel in 1885, “will be your claim to fame.”

Source: title changed and condensed from an article written by Phyllis Tuchman for “Introspective Magazine”

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life – Pablo Picasso

This quote by Charles Dickens (Bleak House) best sums up giving credit where credit is due – “He didn’t at all see why the busy bee should be proposed as a model to him; he supposed the Bee liked to make honey, or he wouldn’t do it — nobody asked him. It was not necessary for the bee to make such a merit of his tastes.” – Dickens

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