07 Sep Impressionists in London
The Impressionists are definitely at the centre of attention, at least at this point in time in Paris.
Indeed, after seeing them in relation to the American Action Painting movement on display at the Orangerie, a few steps away from the Tuilleries there is another exhibition on the same theme.
The theme is actually the same, i.e. the Impressionist movement, but the viewpoint is totally different. The Petit Palais is featuring “Les Impressionistes à Londres”. The focus here is not on the influence of Impressionism on subsequent art movements but rather the spotlight is on a specific period, namely the time spent by some French artists in the English capital.
This journey, made by Gustave Doré, James Tissot, Carpeaux, certainly cannot be called a Grand Tour, to the contrary as the sub-title tells us, it is about the “Artistes français en exil, 1870-1904”, and the reasons for this migration were associated with a dramatic event.
The first caption reads as follows: “On 19 July 1870 the French-Prussian war broke out that ended with the defeat of the French army at Sedan. Napoleon III was taken prisoner, Empress Eugenie and the “imperial prince” set sail for England.
What the caption refers to as “prince imperial” is Napoleon III’s son whose name was Napoleon Eugene Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte (actually there was not enough room in the caption for the whole name…).
The imperial family was compelled to seek shelter in England, but they were not the only ones to do so. Many people followed suit, and amongst them the artists whose works are impeccably on display at the Petit Palais in Paris until 14 October.
What is most striking about this exhibition is the impressive difference between the early paintings and the later ones. Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier e Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot show a Paris that is besieged, on its knees. The ruins left by the fire that burnt down the immense Palais des Tuileries, where Catherine de’ Medici had lived, is a perfect symbol of the situation.
Who would have ever thought that this fallen town was soon to rise again and become the centre of the world?
Who would have ever thought that only a few years later La Belle Epoque was to emerge, with its artists, the Can-can and all the mythology of the City of Lights?
But let us return to the exhibition; after a few rooms the atmosphere changes entirely; now the subject matter is no longer the desperate inhabitants of Paris, but the rising upper bourgeoisie of London in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution.
The paintings by James Tissot display an insouciance, a flaunted prosperity that outrivals the portraits of the 18th century nobility.
We obviously know that such affluence was reserved only for the happy few.
The army of deprived workers who crowded the shanty towns in the suburbs were the price to be paid for Progress.
But Tissot was not interested in all this and on the other hand he was more than justified.
Born in France, Jacques-Joseph Tissot (his name was anglicised to James Tissot) could not irritate his employers…
The exhibition is very interesting and even surprising, like the portrait of a young man by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
In this portrait he shows something that you never see in his other paintings which are magnificent but cold: here you see the soul, the feelings of the subject of the portrait. Indeed the young girl’s eyes seem to speak to us as we look at her.
In any case, at the risk of being considered biased I would say that the most beautiful painting of the exhibition is of an Italian painter. It is a magnificent almost crepuscular landscape by Giuseppe de Nittis that is of breathtaking beauty.
An exhibition you must not miss!