The funny carriage of April 15, 1874

Everyone, or almost everyone, knows that Monet exhibited at the famous event which was held from April 15 to May 15, 1874, on Boulevard des Capucines. The leader of this informal group was accompanied by eminent colleagues, also soon promised great success: Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Berthe Morisot.

This troupe of young talents was surrounded by personalities close artistically, but a little less famous, such as Eugène Boudin and Giuseppe De Nittis. But also, we often ignore it, a host of artists who are now totally forgotten. And often unexpected. The largest exhibitor in terms of number of pieces presented is not a painter, but Félix Bracquemont (1833-1914), who sent around thirty engravings and drawings to the event. Friend of several members of the original core, this talented etcher played a leading role in the revival of this art and in the interest shown in it by Degas in particular. An important figure in the Parisian cultural landscape, he is also considered a pioneer of Japonism. He actively participated in the craze for the aesthetics of the Land of the Rising Sun, by massively introducing his codes into the decorative arts.

There are also many atypical personalities in this astonishing team which formed the ranks of the 1874 exhibition. This is the case of Zacharie Astruc (1833-1907). An honest painter and sculptor, his drawing talents seem to have won over his contemporaries, even if he is today better known for his pen. A journalist, he went down in history for having written reviews in support of Manet, Fantin-Latour and of course the Impressionists.

The personalities who played a supporting role are in fact numerous in this first collective exhibition; like Louis Latouche (1829-1883). Although he presents his work as a painter – he is in fact one of four artists to sell a painting – Latouche is in fact best known for another role. Framer, seller of colors and paintings, he was an unconditional supporter of the members of the group. One of the first to exhibit them in his shop on the grand boulevards, where artists came to obtain materials. He also helped them financially by purchasing their works very early on. His shop was considered one of the headquarters of the movement, in which the idea of ​​organizing a private salon was catalyzed.

“Come out of the woods, you too are a realist”

“When we analyze the 1874 exhibition, we realize that we are far from the mythologized image of a group exclusively united around an aesthetic program and common values, confirms Sylvie Patry, one of the curators of “Paris 1874. Inventing Impressionism”. It is a group that comes together according to circumstances, friendships and opportunities. Those we call “impressionists” were in reality a very minority, they were only 7 out of the 31 artists. » The rest of the troops were made up of more conventional painters, present either to increase their visibility or through a network. Even though others, although aesthetically close, do not participate. The most striking example is obviously that of Édouard Manet, who stays away from this initiative because he aims for official recognition and does not want to be associated with a marginal demonstration. His colleagues also make fun of the attitude of the one who would nourish the dream “of Garibaldi-style glory”. Degas, who tried to win him over to their cause, also tried to win over James Tissot (1836-1902). “ Come out of the woods, you too are a realist”, he pleads in his letters. Degas will in fact be one of the most active members of the group and the most involved in the organization. Because far from being an impulse, this project has been thought through for a long time by its protagonists. “We know from their correspondence that they had been thinking about it for a long time, at least since 1867says Anne Robbins, curator at the Musée d'Orsay and curator of the exhibition. That year, the painter Frédéric Bazille wrote it to his parents. Then the idea began to take hold, and if it took several years to come to fruition, it was because of the Franco-Prussian War which interrupted this momentum. In 1873, an article by Paul Alexis in The National Future relaunches the project: he invites these young artists to come together to exhibit together. Monet responds to him in an open forum. » That year, the cooperative limited company with variable capital of painters, sculptors and engravers was founded. Although its leadership is egalitarian in principle, some will occupy a more important place than others. Pissarro will notably play a crucial role at the start, because he is the president of the board of directors. Degas will then be in charge, playing a fundamental role in swelling the ranks of the group in order to maximize the hoped-for gains. The father of the dancers is certainly the one who has the most interpersonal skills and is best introduced into the artistic and social world.

Other forgotten artists not at all associated with this movement also played an unsuspected role in the enterprise. “It seems, for example, that Auguste Ottin (1811-1890) was one of the important links in the limited company in the preparation of the exhibition”says Anne Robbins. “Yet this academic sculptor had very little in common with the Impressionists. He was much older than them since he had won the Prix de Rome in the 1830s.. This sculptor who had a most official career also participated in the Salon in 1874. “A third of the artists in the Impressionist exhibition are actually participating in the Salon at the same time”.

The official event included, among others: Zacharie Astruc, Eugène Boudin, Louis Latouche, Stanislas Lépine, and Giuseppe De Nittis. This surprising situation will, however, be a unique case. The exhibitions will then be more exclusive and everyone will be asked to choose their side, participation in the Show being equivalent to non-participation in the association. “The heterogeneity of the group is particularly marked for the first exhibition, summarizes Anne Robbins. It will be, of the eight impressionist exhibitions, the most diverse in terms of generations of artists, profiles and types of works exhibited. » More than a model, the 1874 initiative is more like a laboratory.

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