The Avant-garde at the Musée du Luxembourg: From Realism to Impressionism

From Realism to Impressionism, Orsay Museum, Paris, France
From Realism to Impressionism, Orsay Museum, Paris, France

It was initially private generosity which enabled French museums to open their doors to the most innovative artists. Donated by the artist's sister, A Burial at Ornans by Courbet entered the Louvre in 1881. Next came Millet's Spring given by Mrs Hartmann in 1887 andGleaners by the same artist, donated by Mrs Pommery in 1890. Alfred Chauchard's rich collection brought a formidable ensemble of paintings by the Barbizon School, including Millet's famous Angelus, in 1909. But the second half of the 19th century was also characterised by the growing influence of art critics and dealers in the art world. The traditional system of the Salon and private patronage was poorly adapted to the expansion of the art market and artists' reputations increasingly depended on the opinions of critics and the choices made by art dealers.tableauE. ManetOlympiaThis change was conducive to the development and recognition of new schools. Thus, in 1890, a group of subscribers led by Monet managed to open the doors of the Luxembourg Museum to Manet'sOlympia even though the artist had died in 1883. However the change in mentality was not a smooth process as is shown by the episode of the Caillebotte bequest. Caillebotte was a friend and patron of the Impressionists and when he died in 1894 he bequeathed his collection to the state. It numbered over sixty paintings by Degas, Manet, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro and even Millet. Faced with a lukewarm reception from the administration of the Fine Arts Department, the trustees, including Renoir, were determined that Caillebotte's wishes would be honoured. Caillebotte wanted all the works in his bequest to be displayed and not relegated to the storerooms. Discussions dragged on for nearly two years before an agreement was signed in February 1896, under which the national museums kept only forty works but formally undertook to exhibit them. Despite these difficulties and the official protest lodged by the Academy of Fine Arts, the Caillebotte bequest swept the Impressionists into the Musée du Luxembourg.Pierre Puvis de Chavannes   (1824-1881)  Le pauvre pêcheur [The Poor Fisherman]  1881  Oil on canvas  H. 155.5; W. 192.5 cm  Paris, Musée d'OrsayPierre Puvis de ChavannesThe Poor Fisherman© RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé LewandowskiAt the same time the State began to buy the works of more modern artists. Examples include The Poor Fisherman by Puvis de Chavannes in 1887, A Studio at Les Batignolles by Fantin-Latour and Girls at the Piano by Renoir in 1892 as well as Carrière's The Artist's Family in 1896. In the years that followed, the Impressionist collection was enlarged through gifts from the artists' heirs or from major collectors. Between 1883 and 1927, Etienne Moreau-Nélaton made several gifts and bequests which brought the national collections paintings such as Manet's Lunch on the Grass. In 1911, Isaac de Camondo bequeathed a set of works including four of Monet's Cathedrals. French painting was not the only section to benefit from this development. In the late 19th century, the Musée du Luxembourg opened up to foreign schools, with in particular Summer Night by Winslow Homer and Whistler's Mother. The foreign section eventually became large enough to justify the creation of a separate museum in the Jeu de Paume in 1922. In 1929, the entire Impressionist section was transferred to the Louvre.

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