"It has been my lifelong dream to paint walls", confided Degas. He was not the only Impressionist to have wanted to be involved in the vast decorative projects of the late 19th century. Although Manet and the Impressionists never received any official commissions, throughout their careers, from the late 1860s to the beginning of the 20th century, they produced decorative paintings and objects. They experimented with techniques while redefining, in their own way, the idea itself of “decorative”: a positive yet deprecatory paradoxical concept, at the heart of artistic practice, relating to the aesthetic and social ideas of the late 19th century.
And yet this aspect of Impressionism is little known today. However, the Water Lilies cycle at the Orangerie, which Monet called his "great decorations", was the culmination of over sixty years of forays into this domain. And if the paintings exhibited by the Impressionists caused outrage, it was also because they were seen as simple decorations, devoid of any meaning and devoted merely to the pleasure of the senses. Did not a critic write, in 1874, that what Monet was painting resembled "wallpaper"?
This exhibition, therefore, proposes to explore, for the first time, a different version of Impressionism and to reveal works by Cassatt, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro and Renoir, brought together from all over the world, some of which have rarely, if ever, been exhibited in France. With around eighty paintings, fans, ceramics and drawings, it will show how the Impressionists forged a new path inspired by the conviction that, to quote Renoir, art is made above all to "brighten up the walls".
CuratorsSylvie Patry, Director of Conservation and Collections at the Musée d'Orsay
Christopher Riopelle, The Neil Westreich Curator of Post 1800 Paintings, National Gallery, London
Anne Robbins, Associate Curator of Post 1800 Paintings, National Gallery, London
This exhibition has been organised with the National Gallery in London, where it will be presented from 11 September 2021 to 9 January 2022.