Impressionists in London – Tate Britain

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Following the Franco-Prussian war of the early 1870’s, the French were offered and accepted a very humiliating peace treaty. Following this, riots happened in Paris, resulting in a period of extreme social repression. As a result, the Paris National Guard ceased to wear their uniforms or obey the orders of the French government. Socialists and anarchists elected a commune that destroyed many public buildings, like the Tuileries Palace. The government retaliated by killing thousands of Communards, a massacre in which women and children were not spared. The paintings and photographs in Room I “Introductory Room: ‘The Terrible Year’: The Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune” of the Impressionists in London exhibition, current at Tate Britain, commemorate this.

Always a haven for immigrants, French refugees flooded into London. Among the throng were artists Claude Monet and Camille Pissaro, Alfred Sisley and James Tissot. On arrival, they did what artists have always done, begin painting because they had to make a living, and network among each other and with outside forces.

Claude Monet’s Meditation (Madame Monet on the Sofa) 1871, depicts his wife looking melancholy while seated on the sofa of their High Street Kensington flat, sparsely furnished by the standards of the time. Initially, Monet could not find a buyer for his painting. Privation notwithstanding, the Monets were still able to hang lush, lace curtains on their windows, judging by the impasto-ed reproductions in the image.

James Tissot (1836-1902), who arrived following the fall of the commune, was friends with wealthy banker, Thomas Gibson Bowles, and used this connection to gain commissions in high society. One of these is Too Early (1873), an evocation of an elegant, Mayfair saloon. Sculptor Jules Dalou was a convicted criminal who made use of the lack of an extradition between France and England to travel to London without restraint. Many of his sculptures and drawings are on display, including his terracotta statue, Peasant Woman Nursing a Baby (1873).

Camille Pissarro - Saint Anne's Church at Kew, London, 1892

Camille Pissarro – Saint Anne’s Church at Kew, London, 1892


Camille Pissaro, meanwhile, settled in south London and marvelled at the English freedom to walk across grass in public parks and gardens, a matter forbidden in France. His paintings, Bank Holiday in Kew (1892), Saint Anne’s Church at Kew (1892) and Kew Gardens, Rhododendron Dell (1892) are on display. The paintings show the gardens as a lush Eden, compose of layer upon layer of green and pink paints, the blossoms and foliage as rich and dense as if they had been created of stitched-on fabrics. In Room 6A, you can see “Monet’s Thames Series: Exploring Sensations from the Past”, a series of paintings executed later in the artist’s life, on his return to the capital. The works include views of London places, like Charing Cross and Leicester Square in various lights, for example, Houses of Parliament, Sunset (1904). And there is so much more to see at this exhibition, which is open until April 22, 2018.

(Mary Phelan, 2017)

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