Paris at the time of the Impressionists, 1848-1914. Masterpieces from the Musée d'Orsay at the Hôtel de Ville


Jean-Louis ForainAt the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
The new Paris, and the life it created, was at the centre of artistic preoccupations from 1850 to 1914. Haussmann's city provided artists with new motifs. It led them to a different view of urban life, expressed, by the greatest of them, through new and original methods of pictorial expression. Their perception and interpretation of the city changed: they depicted Paris as a fluid, shifting entity, abandoning their studies of monuments and events, and seeking out the "marvellous in modern life", that urban poetry proclaimed by Baudelaire. The transformation of the city turned the lives of its inhabitants upside-down; cafés and cafés-concerts, brasseries, dances, circuses, operas and theatres, parks and gardens and race meetings proliferated, providing many themes for artists in search of that "mysterious, involuntary beauty " left behind by people's lives...

Jongkind and Lépine, Manet and Degas, Monet and Renoir, Caillebotte and Pissarro were all passionate about Parisian life and about the city itself, highlighting its modernity. Gauguin and Van Gogh, Signac, Luce, and later Bonnard and Vuillard, also explored it, sometimes looking at life beneath the city as excavations for the first metro lines started in 1900. During the same period, other artists took an interest the social life of the upper classes in the gilded settings of their private mansions. The ballroom scenes and society portraits by Béraud, De Nittis, Boldini and Blanche thus provided a counterpoint to the images of working class favoured by the avant-garde movements of the time.


Caroline Mathieu, chief curator, Musée d'Orsay

12 April - 30 July 2011

Hôtel de Ville, Paris

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