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Today impressionism is one of the most popular artistic genres.

But in the 19th century the impressionists shocked the art world. It took over two decades for them to be recognised and appreciated. This page explains how that happened.

The impressionists were born in the 1830s and early 1840s and had moved to Paris by 1860. They spent the 1860s battling for recognition in the Salon of the Academy des Beaux Arts (the Exhibition of the Fine Arts Academy), with very limited success.

The Prussian war of 1870/71 saw them disperse to places including southern France and London. But they returned to Paris, formed their own company, and held an independent exhibition in 1874. The reviews were incredibly hostile. Seven more exhibitions were to follow, with recognition finally coming, albeit slowly, in the 1880s.

Those of them who lived into the late 1880s held solo shows and lived to enjoy the financial and reputational success they deserved. Others were not so lucky: Bazille died in the Prussian war and Manet, who had given the group the courage to take on the establishment in the 1860s, died of syphilis in 1883.

Monet—the most famous impressionist today—outlived the rest of the group, passing away in 1926 at the age of 86. He spent the last 30 years of his life painting water lilies, haystacks, poplars, Rouen Cathedral and other subjects with remarkable industry.

Yet it was only in the last two decades of his life that the impressionist movement finally achieved the recognition it deserved from the French state. How things change. Today, impressionist works are often the most popular in the world's major art galleries, exchanging hands for tens of millions of dollars.

Read on for the chronology of how impressionism captured the world's imagination.

1. 1830-60: The impressionists are born and come to Paris

Edouard Manet in 1846, aged 14.
An early Monet work, from 1858, entitled View at Rouelles. This painting of a bucolic scene (nb the Poplars) is influenced by Courbet and Corot.
Manet's Absinthe Drinker was rejected by the jury for the 1859 Salon.

1830: Camille Pissarro is born on the Island of St Thomas in the Danish West Indies on 10 July. His father was a merchant who had moved to the Caribbean to take over the family hardware store.

1832: Edouard Manet is born in Paris on 23 January. His parents are wealthy: his father a senior civil servant and later a judge; his mother the goddaughter of the crown prince of Sweden.

1834: Edgar Degas is born in Paris on 19 July; his father is also wealthy, owning the De Gas bank.

1839: Paul Cezanne is born in Aix-en-Provence on 19 January; his father also owns a bank.

1840: Claude Monet is born in Paris on 14 November, the son of a Parisian shopkeeper.

1841: Pierre-Auguste Renoir is born in Limoges, France, on 25 February. The son of a tailor, Renoir (like Monet) did not have the advantage of family money to help his career.

1841: Frederic Bazille is born in Montpellier, France, on 6 December. Like Manet, Degas and Cezanne, he came from a wealthy family.

1841: American John Goffe Rand patents his invention for a collapsible metal paint tube. Up until now, paint was difficult to make (usually by turning a powdered pigment into paste) and transport (often in jars or bladders made from animal skin). Rand's invention made painting outside a practical proposition. As Renoir later said:

"Without colours in tubes, there would be no Cezanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, and no Impressionism."

Rand's collapsible paint tube

December 1848: The 16 year-old Manet, whose father wanted him to join the navy, sets sail on a merchant ship for Rio de Jainero. During the three-month crossing he resolves not to become a sailor.

Interesting fact...

Manet's voyage to Rio was certainly eventful: he was terribly seasick, attended the Rio Carnival, got bitten by a snake, and taught the crew how to draw!

1850-6: Manet studies at the studio of Thomas Couture, a landscapist. Couture encouraged Manet to develop his own style, though the two men sometimes quarrelled.

1859: Manet submits The Absinthe Drinker to the Salon of the Academy des Beaux Arts; it is rejected, with only one of the 12 jurors (the romantic painter, Delacroix) voting in favour. Manet said:

“So they’d prefer me to do a nude, would they? Fine, I’ll do them a nude.”

The nudes he was contemplating arrived in 1863 (Lunch on the Grass) and 1865 (Olympia) and shocked the art world - see below.

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2. 1860-65: Manet throws down the gauntlet

Manet achieved an honourable mention with The Spanish Singer, only his second Salon submission. But he would not obtain further recognition from the Salon for a further two decades.
Manet's Lunch on the Grass (Dejuner Sur l'Herbe) caused uproar when it was shown at the Salon des Refuses in 1863
Manet's Olympia was accepted by the Salon in 1865 and sparked uproar. See the defiant gaze of Olympia: she wasn't going to apologise for her way of life!

1859-60: Monet comes to Paris and studies at Suisse's studio (where he meets Pissarro); he is then conscripted into the army, serves in Algeria, catches typhoid fever and returns to Le Havre. He finally returns to Paris to study at Gleyre's Studio (where he meets Renoir, Bazille and Sisley), and is provided with an allowance on the condition that he tries to obtain entry to the Ecole des Beaux Arts (the Fine Arts School).

1861: Manet submits two works to the Salon. The first, a portrait of his parents, was accepted but attracted critical reviews. But the second, a painting entitled The Spanish Singer, won an honourable mention. Manet was not to receive any further recognition from the Salon for 20 years.

Manet's 1861 Salon submissions

1863: Manet submits Dejuner sur l'Herbe (Lunch on the Grass) to the Salon. It is rejected, but an alternative exhibition for rejected works is organised on the orders of Napoleon III (the Salon des Refuses, literally 'the Exhibition of the Rejected'). The work receives a hostile reaction from the public and critics alike. One critic says that it had been

"painted with a floor mop".

Another critic questioned whether the painting was Manet's idea of a practical joke.

Manet's two most controversial works: from 1863 and 1865

1865: Manet submits Olympia to the Salon. It is, surprisingly, accepted by the jury. We say 'surprisingly' because Olympia is a painting of a naked, reclining prostitute looking brazenly at the viewer.

The reaction from the public and critics alike is so hostile that Manet flees to Spain to escape. For example, one reviewer referred to Manet's model, Victorine Meurant, as a

"female gorilla".

Here's a cartoon from a French paper, ridiculing Olympia:

Cartoon of Olympia

Monet has better luck: his two seascapes receive positive reviews and Manet was irked because he thought that Monet was trading off his name.

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3. 1865-71: Mixed results at the Salon and War

Claude Monet won rave reviews for his 1866 Salon entry: Woman in the Green Dress.
In 1867 Monet submitted Women in the Garden. It was rightly rejected by the jury: check out the odd posture of the woman in the background.
Claude Monet's The Magpie, his best known snowscape, was rejected by the 1869 Salon Jury.

1866: Monet's work, Woman in the Green Dress, is accepted by the Salon's jury and receives positive reviews. Manet, still reeling from the previous year's criticisms, does not submit.

1867: Monet's work, Women in the Garden (pictured), is rejected by the Salon's jury. Monet first floats the idea of the impressionists exhibiting together, but the plan is taken no further due to a lack of funds.

Interesting fact...

Manet's submissions are also rejected. He erects a pavilion and holds his own solo exhibition to coincide with the World Exhibition being held in Paris that year, at a cost of 17,000 francs (advanced by Manet's mother out of his inheritance); but few people come and the project does little to enhance Manet's reputation.

1869: Monet's two submissions, The Magpie (one of Monet's best snowscapes now found in the Musee d'Orsay) and a seascape called Fishing Boats at Sea, are rejected by the Salon's jury.

March 1870: Monet's submission of a portrait of his son, entitled Jean Monet, is rejected by the Salon's jury.

19 July 1870: Napoleon III declares war on Prussia.

19 September 1870: The Siege of Paris begins. Manet and Berthe Morisot stay in Paris to protect the city; Monet travels to London with Camille (his new wife) and his son Jean; Pissarro also moves to London with his family; Renoir is conscripted into the army; and Cezanne avoids conscription by hiding in a small village near his home town of Aix-en-Provence.

28 November 1870: Bazille is killed in fighting in the Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande, a failed attempt to break or at least relieve the Siege of Paris.

28 January 1871: The Siege of Paris comes to an end, after over four months. Paris has been devastated by shelling and many have died of hunger or disease. Emperor Napoleon III abdicates with the loss of the war, goes into exile in England, and the Third Republic begins.

Manet travels to the seaside town of Archachon to be reunited with his wife and son, and to recuperate. He does not return to Paris, which is temporarily taken over by communists who briefly form a city-state known as the Commune, for several months.

1871: The art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, buys 23 of Manet's paintings for a whopping 35,000 francs, giving hope to the rest of the Impressionists.

Paul Durand-Ruel

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4. 1874-79: The first four impressionist exhibitions

Manet's Salon success with Le Bon Bock (The Good Beer) in 1873 may have been the reason he did not contribute to the first impressionist exhibition held the next year
Monet's impression sunrise was compared with wallpaper in its embryonic stages when critics reviewed the first impressionist exhibition.
In 1877 Monet decided to paint fog and tricked the director of the Gare Saint Lazare into thinking he was an important artist (which in those days he wasn't!)

1873: Manet has a rare Salon success with his painting of a Parisian man smoking his pipe and drinking beer. The picture, called Le Bon Bock (the Good Beer), caught the public mood in the aftermath of the Prussian war and the fall of the Second Empire which followed it. This success may have convinced Manet not to participate in the first impressionist exhibition held the next year.

1874: The first impressionist exhibition is held. The main organisers were Monet, Pissarro and Degas, with additional exhibitors including Renoir, Cezanne and Berthe Morisot. Manet refused to take part, preferring to focus on conquering the Salon.

Interesting fact...

The exhibition was a major failure. For one thing, the reviews were hostile. For example, Monet's Impression Sunrise was compared with wallpaper in a formative state. For another, the company created to put on the exhibition was disbanded at the end of the year, having incurred a substantial loss (each exhibitor owed 278 francs!). On the other hand, a negative review coined the term 'impressionism', which the group embraced within a few years.

23 March 1875: Four of the Impressionists (Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Morisot) decide to hold an auction of their works in the Hotel Drouot in Paris. Despite careful organisation, it turns into a farce: the day before the auction a newspaper critic wrote that the group's members painted like a "monkey with a box of paints". A large number of vocal protestors attended to jeer at the works, and the police had to be called.

1876: The second impressionist exhibition is held. Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894, who was independently wealthy and had joined the group) provided the finance and attended to most of the organisation. The main impressionists all exhibited with the exception of Manet. And, again, the exhibition was a failure: there were few sales and the reviews were terrible.

Interesting fact...

The second impressionist exhibition is well-known for a review by Albert Woolf, calling the impressionist "lunatics" and "daubers" and comparing them to inmates in a Parisian asylum. There were, however, one or two small signs of encouragement: Henry James wrote a positive article for the New York Tribune and Monet sold his Japanese Girl (La Japonaise) for 2,000 francs.

Monet's Japanese Girl

1877: The third impressionist exhibition is held, at impressive premises on rue Le Peletier. It was organised and financed by Caillebotte. Exhibitors included Monet (with 30 works, including 17 of Gare Saint Lazare), Renoir (with 17 works), Cezanne (16 works), Degas, Sisley, Berthe Morisot and Caillebotte himself.

But the reviews were again mainly hostile. For example, the Arts Chronicle said that

"children entertaining themselves with paper and paints do better"

Another said that the impressionist effect was similar to "worm-eaten Roquefort cheese".

1879: The fourth impressionist exhibition is held. Cezanne, Renoir and Morisot decline to participate. On the other hand, 15,000 people attend (almost four times the number that saw the first exhibition); Monet's Rue Montorgueil is the star of the show. And American impressionist Mary Cassatt paticipates for the first time.

Monet's Rue Montorgueil

5 September 1879: Camille Monet, Monet's first wife, dies aged just 32, leaving Monet with two children to care for. Camille's death came during a terrible period for Monet: one of his main patrons, Ernest Horschede, was declared bankrupt a few years earlier and the Monet and Horschede families had moved in together to economise. Monet was left sending scores of letters to friends and collectors begging for money. He also painted a famous - and haunting - picture of Camille on her death bed.

Camille Monet on her death bed

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5. 1880-86: More exhibitions; glimmers of hope

Claude Monet's Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt
Manet finally achieved the Salon recognition he craved in 1881, winning a second class medal for this portrait of Henri Rochefort
Manet submitted Bar at the Folies Bergere to the 1882 Salon; it received largely negative reviews.

1880: The fifth impressionist exhibition is held. Monet refuses to participate, preferring to give the Salon another go. His work, Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt (pictured), is accepted, but it is "skied" (i.e. placed near the ceiling so that it was difficult for visitors to see). Renoir, Sisley and Cezanne also decide not to participate.

Auguste Rodin, who is rightly considered an impressionist sculptor, is commissioned to produce the Gates of Hell.

1881: The sixth impressionist exhibition is held. It marked a low point for the cohesion of the impressionist movement. Degas assumed command and insisted on (1) excluding artists who also wanted to show their works at the Salon and (2) including many of his artist friends even though they weren't impressionists. As a result, the only core impressionists who exhibited were Pissarro, Morisot and Degas himself. On the other hand, Pissarro received positive reviews, Degas unveiled his first sculpture of a ballerina, and Mary Cassatt burnished her reputation.

Degas' Little Dancer

1881: Manet finally wins a medal at the Salon, awarded for a portrait of a political figure called Henri Rochefort (pictured). Whilst the medal is only second class, it provides some vindication for Manet's strategy of refusing to participate in the independent exhibitions. It also meant that Manet could participate in future Salons without having to have his works approved by the Jury. Later that year, Manet is awarded the legion d'honneur by the French state (thanks to his childhood friend Antonin Proust, who had become Minister for Fine Arts).

1882: The seventh impressionist exhibition is held. Monet, Renoir and Sisley all participate, largely at the insistence of Paul Durand-Ruel (who had fallen on hard times). Degas refuses to participate because the other artist's insist that the seventh exhibition should be for impressionists only. Pissarro and Morisot participate as usual. The exhibition is a success, resulting in positive reviews and sales. The most famous work displayed was Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Luncheon of the Boating Party

1882: Manet's last major work, The Bar at the Folies Bergere, is exhibited at the Salon. The reviews are mainly negative.

1883: Manet dies of syphilis; Monet moves to Giverny; and Monet's solo show at Durand-Ruel's Paris gallery produces favourable reviews. As a result, Durand-Ruel holds a number of further solo shows: Renoir (April); Pissarro (May); and Sisley (June).

1883: The first major exhibition of impressionist work is held in America. Over the next decades, America was the key market for the sale of impressionist works.

1884: A posthumous exhibition of Manet's works is held at the Louvre.

1886: The eighth and final impressionist exhibition is held. But Monet, Renoir and Sisley refuse to participate. As such, the final exhibition is not a glorious fanfare to a decade of independent exhibitions - though Morisot and Pissarro exhibit as usual. The most famous work to be shown was Georges Seurat's La Grande Jatte.

Seurat's La Grande Jatte

1886-8: Vincent van Gogh, the leading post-impressionist and perhaps the most famous painter of all time, spends time with Pissarro, Gauguin and Seurat in Paris. This results in him lightning his palette from the earthy tones that are used in early van Goghs such as the Potato Eaters. Van Gogh also organises the Impressionists du Petit Boulevard exhibition, showing works alongside Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters

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6. 1887-1926: Gradual recognition

Monet painted a number of versions of Haystacks, at different times of the day and year.
Paul Cezanne is best known for his series of Card Players, one of which was achieved a world record price of $269 million
Monet's water lilies are perhaps the most famous impressionist work

1888-90: Van Gogh moves to Arles in the south of France and Gaugin later moves in with him. The next two years were tumultuous: van Gogh produced many of his most famous works; but he sliced off his left ear in December 1888 (following an argument with Gauguin) and gave the bloody flesh to a brothel worker; van Gogh continued to struggle with his mental health until he committed suicide in July 1890.

1890: Monet organises a collection to buy Manet's Olympia from Manet's widow for the French state. He raises almost 20,000 francs. But the authorities initially refuse to hang it in the Louvre, exhibiting it instead in the museum devoted to living artists: the Musee du Luxembourg.

1889-92: Monet paints his Haystacks series.

May 1891: Paul Durand-Ruel exhibits 15 versions of Monet's Haystacks. They sell within three days for prices of as much as 1000 francs. Monet uses the money to buy and extend the Giverny property that he is renting.

1890-95: Cezanne produces the five versions of his Card Players. One of the set holds the world record price for an impressionist work: it was sold in 2011 for $259 million.

1892-3: Monet paints his Rouen Cathedral series. Despite calls for it to be purchased by the French state, the works are snapped up by foreign buyers at an 1895 exhibition and dispersed around the world (particularly to America).

Rouen Cathedral in the Morning Sun

1890s: Monet starts work on his Water Lilies series, which would be the artistic focus of the rest of his life. In total, Monet painted over 250 versions of the Water Lilies. By this stage, demand for Monet's work and prices have skyrocketed. This trend has continued: two versions of the Water Lilies have been sold in the past decade for over $80 million.

1895: The art dealer Ambroise Vollard holds an exhibition of 152 of Cezanne's works. He sells a number of them, the first popular success enjoyed by Cezanne.

1895: Berthe Morisot, the leading female impressionist, dies aged 54.

1897: The Nationalgalerie in Berlin buys one of Cezanne's works.

1897: Monet returns to London, where he spent the Prussian war, and works on his Thames series (paintings of the Houses of Parliament and bridges over the Thames).

One of Monet's Houses of Parliament

1899: Vollard holds another one-man show of Cezanne's work; a number of paintings fetch significant prices.

1900: The World Exhibition is held in Paris. The Arts Pavilion is filled with works from other 19th century French artists, including Ingres, Delacroix and Corot. But only two impressionist works feature: Manet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe and a Monet Water Lily.

1906: Cezanne is caught in a storm whilst out painting, catches pneumonia and dies on 22 October.

1907: Manet's Olympia is finally hung in the Louvre.

1909: An exhibition is held in Paris of 48 of Monet's Water Lilies. Sales are fantastic, with the Gazette des Beaux-Arts declaring that:

"For as long as mankind has been around, and for as long as artists have painted, no one has ever painted better than this."

1912: The American collector Louisine Havermeyer buys Degas' Dancers at the Barre for 478,500 francs, almost doubling the record price for a work by a living artist.

June 1914: Fourteen of Monet's works are hung in the Louvre. This was the rarest of honours for a living artist. The works were left to the Louvre by Count Isaac de Camondo and were hung in an impressionist room which already included works by Manet and Cezanne. They included Monet's paintings of Hornfleur, Rouen Cathedral and his Giverny Water Lilies.

1914-1918: The First World War takes place. Monet refuses to leave Giverny, even though much of the fighting is taking place less than 200 kilometres away.

1917: Degas dies.

1919: Renoir dies.

1922: Monet comes to an agreement with Georges Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, for the donation of a number of his water lilies to the state on his death. They are now held in a purpose-built museum in Paris called the Musée de l'Orangerie.

1922: Monet sells one of his Water Lily series to the Japanese collector Kojiro Matsukata for a reported price of 800,000 francs, smashing the record price for a work by a living artist set by Degas a decade previously.

1926: Monet dies. A collection of vast water lily canvasses are donated to the French state and are now found in the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris.

Monet's Water Lilies - Clouds, now found in the Musee de l'Orangerie

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7. 1927-2023: The Rise and Rise of Impressionism

One of the five versions of Cezanne's Card Players
Monet's Houses of Parliament
Pissarro's Boulevard Montmartre at Night

The last century has seen the rise and rise of impressionism.

It is now the world's most popular art movement, with pieces by the core members of the impressionist group regularly selling for tens of millions of dollars.

May 1927: The Musee de l'Orangerie opens its doors. But initially attendance is poor, and the space is re-purposed for other exhibitions and even a dog show! It does not become truly popular until the 1960s. But it is now recognised as one of the four meccas of impressionism - the others being Giverny, the Musee Marmottan Monet, and the Musee d'Orsay.

1980: The Foundation Monet opens Monet's Giverny house and gardens to the public for the first time.

1986: The Musee d'Orsay opens its doors. Housed in a grand converted railway station, the collection focuses on French art between 1848 and 1914. The museum holds the most extensive collection of impressionist works in the world, including Manet's Dejeuner sur l'Herbe and Olympia, Renoir's Moulin de la Galette, scores of Monets and van Gogh's Starry Night over the Rhone.

The impressive Musee d'Orsay

1990: Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette is sold at auction for $78 million, at that stage the second highest price ever paid for a work of art.

2002: One of Cezanne's The Card Players is sold for $259 million, at that stage the highest price ever paid for a painting (it is now third on a list headed by da Vinci's Salvator Mundi).

June 2008: One of Monet's Waterlilies is sold by Christie's London for £40.9 million, giving it an adjusted price of $113 million.

May 2009: One of Monet's Haystacks is sold by Christie's New York for $110.7 million. It turned out to be quite the investment: it was bought in 1986 for just $2.5 million!

October 2022: the Louvre Abu Dhabi hosts its Impressionism: Pathways to Modernity exhibition. One of the most eagerly anticipated exhibitions of all time, the museum has collected together over 150 key impressionist works.

March 2024: the Musee d'Orsay opens its Paris 1874 Inventing impressionism exhibition, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the First Impressionist Exhibition. It displayed over 130 works from 31 artists, including the seven famous impressionists who participated (Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, Pissarro and Sisley). They are juxtaposed with works from the official Paris Salon from the same year, to demonstrate why the new painting style caused such a hostile critical and public reaction.

Learn More

Learn more on this website, perhaps starting with our Top 10 Paintings page.

Reckon you know your Manet from your Monet? Why not try our Impressionism Quiz?

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