Written by Pippa Roberts | 7 July 2023

Impressionism, and its forward trajectory in to the 20th century, is enjoying a renewed interest in the public realm.

Major shows have recently opened at the National Gallery with After Impressionism: Inventing Modern Art, at Dulwich Picture Gallery Berthe Morisot: Shaping Impressionism, and coming up this November, at the Royal Academy with Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec.

In London's commercial galleries, Impressionism has always had its admirers and collectors.  We direct you to four excellent exhibitions currently on view for London Art Week, at dealerships that champion these artists of light and colour, captured in the moment.


Renoir & Pissarro | Different Views

Camille Pissaro (1830-1903),Le Père Melon au repos, c. 1879, oil on canvas 21 1/4 x 25 5/8 in, 54 x 65 cm. Courtesy Connaught Brown

Connaught Brown explores the work of two titans of Impressionism - Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This major exhibition, through their art, examines their views on society, subject matter, practice, and technique.

As the founders of Impressionism, alongside Monet and Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro are often associated with one another. They exhibited together at the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874 in Paris and at two of its subsequent editions.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Lavandières au bord du Loup, 1917, oil on canvas, 18 1/2 x 21 7/8 in, 47 x 55.6 cm. Courtesy Connaught Brown

Despite starting as friends, the right-wing Renoir became increasingly alienated from the left-wing Pissarro as the years went by. These ideologies separated the artists both personally and artistically. Within their paintings they differed on what they saw as of importance in their surroundings: Pissarro chose a form of realism, elevating a humble life, while Renoir favoured bucolic idealism.

The two artists also had opposing views on their role for the next generation of painters. Revered by artists such as Matisse, Valtat and Modigliani as a figure to be studied, Renoir saw his role as that of imparter of knowledge. In contrast, Pissarro had a more reciprocal relationship with the younger generation and both taught and learned from Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat and Cezanne.

Renoir & Pissarro | Different Views is a celebration of Renoir and Pissarro's similarities and differences. Examining what brings the artists together and drives them apart, this unique display delves into what has made these artists epoch-defining figures.

On display at Connaught Brown, Albemarle Street, Mayfair through 21 July.


French Masters on Paper, from Degas to Matisse

Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Portrait de femme, 1944, ink on paper 490 x 365 mm. Courtesy John Mitchell Fine Paintings

This exhibition brings together a collection of works on paper by some of the greatest French artists of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist era. The pictures included are from a single private collection and are being exhibited in public for the first time in over a generation.  Including works by Degas, Monet, Caillebotte, Vuillard and Matisse, the exhibition charts the rising status of works on paper in late 19th and early 20th century France, from preparatory studies for 'finished' paintings, to artworks in their own right.

The Impressionists, who held eight exhibitions between 1874 and 1886, sought to depict everyday life, as opposed to historical, religious or mythological subjects. The Post-Impressionists, who began to exhibit from the mid-1880s onwards, looked for less prosaic ways to describe reality and veered towards symbolism and the mythic. Though the two movements had different aims, they were united in their pursuit of a new visual language with which to express themselves. Inspiration had to be found outside of the ridged academic forms that had dominated French art until the mid-nineteenth century, and this extended to the physical materials they used.

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists continued to use drawing in the traditional way, as a preparation for finished paintings, but they also experimented using ink, watercolour, pastel, charcoal, conté crayon, gouache, and peinture à l'essence (oil paint diluted with turpentine) to make pictures destined for exhibition on their own. The modern style of painting was executed at speed and not highly finished, which meant that the visual gap between oil paintings and drawings had narrowed, making it easier to break down the existing hierarchies, and the subservience of drawing to painting. Intellectually, the less finished paint surface of the Impressionist style was understood to be more appropriate for capturing the essence of modern life, a fleeting glimpse into a passing moment, as seen in the many studies of ballerinas by Degas (see p. 14). For the Post Impressionist groups such as Les Nabis, whose central figure was Vuillard, mediums like pastel for example proved the ideal tool for creating strong atmosphere, while eschewing pictorial illusionism.

As the nineteenth century progressed the public's interest in drawings increased with dedicated exhibitions being held at the annual Salon at the Palais des Champs-Elysées, as well as displays of Old Master drawings at the Musée du Louvre and the École des Beaux-Arts. Major journals such as L'Art and La Vie Moderne commissioned drawings (see p. 6) and arranged and promoted exhibitions. The dealers of the age like Paul Durand-Ruel and Georges Petit were quick to capitalise on the public interest for drawings, encouraging their artists to concentrate on works on paper, which were less costly and time consuming to create than traditional easel paintings, and could be produced in greater volumes. Thus works on paper in their many forms became an essential component of the avant-garde movements at the turn of the twentieth century in France.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894), Baigneur s'apprêtant à plonger, 1878, Black pencil on paper, 400 x 260 mm. (15 ¾ x 10 ¼ in.). Courtesy John Mitchell Fine Paintings

The pictures in this exhibition cover the rise of Impressionism, with the earliest being a drawing by Caillebotte from 1878, through to the mature work of Matisse, with his exquisite ink portrait from 1944. The collection showcases the rising status of works on paper, as well as being testament to the refined taste and astute selectivity of the private collector who assembled them.

On display at John Mitchell Fine Paintings, Avery Row, Mayfair, through 7 July and thereafter by appointment.


British Impressionism

Whilst the origins of the Impressionist Movement in Britain are less easily delineated, the Post-Impressionists find their routes in the movement more directly associated with their European cousins.  In response to the heavy classicism of Victorian art and its education a number of young art students and artists abandoned formal British art schools in the late 1870's and continued their studies abroad in France or the Low Countries.

It was here that they encountered the paintings of Jean-François Millet and Jules Bastien-Lepage, social realists who, like the disillusioned Brits, abjured the artifice of highly-polished Salon paintings and devoted themselves instead to recording the reality of quotidian life.  Living within rural communities they painted completely 'en plein air' in the hope that they could speak with new authority about man and his environment.

The students were captivated by this idea and returning to Britain in the early 1880's a group which included Thomas Cooper Gotch (1854-1931), Stanhope Forbes RA (1857-1947), Frank Bramley RA (1857-1915) and Walter Langley (1852-1922) famously settled in Newlyn, Cornwall, putting into practice what they had learned in France.  Meanwhile, other coastal communities up and down the country became the centre of newly formed artist colonies and their unofficial leaders: Frederick William Jackson (1859-1918) and Rowland Henry Hill (1873-1952) in the northeast village of Staithes; Edward Atkinson Hornel (1864-1933) in Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway; and Samuel John Lamorna Birch (1869-1955) in Newlyn's neighbouring colony of Lamorna.

Ernest Rigg (1868-1947), Picking Blackberries at Hinderwell, c.1890, oil on canvas, 91 x 71 cm. Courtesy Messum Fine Art

At first the emphasis they placed on light reflecting tones rather than full colour, their liking for the soft, square brush and the starkness of their subjects aroused some criticism but they gained ground and before long were attracting more artists to join them, and by 1900 they had moved beyond the social realism of France to interpret plein-airism in the English idiom. A once singular vision, now shared by a multitude of artists, they had worked to transform the rigors of established taste, challenging the Royal Academy head on with the formation of the New English Art Club, and liberate arts education from the dogma of Victorian formalism.

On display at David Messum Fine Art, 12 Bury Street, St. James's, through Friday 28 July.


Dorothea Sharp

As part of their extensive summer exhibition (they are one of the largest fine art dealers in the UK), Haynes Fine Art includes a group of six works by the British Impressionist, Dorothea Sharp ROI, RBA, PSWA (1874-1955).  An extraordinarily talented artist, Sharp was considered to be one of Britain's greatest female painters during her lifetime.  A small inheritance at the age of twenty-one enabled her to study art, first in Richmond, then at the Regent Street Polytechnic.  It was in Paris, however, where she achieved her complete artistic development.  

Dorothea Sharp ROI, RBA, PSWA (1874-1955), Summer Holiday, St. Ives, oil on board, 30.5 x 40.6 cm. Courtesy Haynes Fine Art

The work of Claude Monet and the Impressionists had a profound and lasting effect on her, resulting in the highly impressionistic and spontaneous style that she went on to adopt for the rest of her life.  Her broad, luscious strokes, painted en plein air, reveal her mastery of Impressionism's bold and vivid brushwork and her masterful use of light and shade echoes the techniques of her French counterparts. 

In 1935, the editor of The Artist journal praised Dorothea Sharp as 'one of England's greatest living woman painters' and commented upon the particular attraction of her art: "No other woman artist gives us such joyful paintings as she.  Full of sunshine and luscious colour, her work is always lively harmonious and tremendously exhilarating..."  She held her first one-woman show at the Connell Gallery in 1933 which proved to be a great success.  Through subsequent art movements up until her death in 1955 Dorothea's paintings have succeeded in attracting an extensive following of admirers.

Dorothea Sharp ROI, RBA, PSWA (1874-1955), Summertime, Cornwall, Oil on canvas, 50.8 x 61 cm. Courtesy Haynes Fine Art

Dorothea exhibited regularly throughout her career at many institutions including The Royal Academy, The Royal Society of British Artists, The Royal Institute of Oil Painters and The Society of Women Artists, of which she acted as President for four years. 

Dorothea Sharp, RBA, ROI (British 1874-1955), Feeding the Ducks, oil on canvas, 28 x 35 inches. Courtesy Haynes Fine Art

Discover Sharp's works alongside many others in Haynes Fine Art's exhibition that hold true to their region and influences, shape their subjects with rich light, and that exhibit a freedom of touch that doesn't hold still the scene.

On display at Haynes Fine Art, 70 Pimlico Road, through Saturday 2 September.

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