In 1874 French artists Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were among the founding members of the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, Etc., an artist cooperative dissatisfied with the conservative annual state-sanctioned art exhibition known as the Salon. The independent-minded collective—the Impressionists—defied academic tradition with their innovative artistic practices as well as their public presentation strategies.
Prints and drawings made up nearly half of the works included in the eight Impressionist exhibitions—a series of independent, artist-organized events held in Paris between 1874 and 1886—that defined the movement. Today Impressionism is usually understood as celebrating the primacy of oil painting rather than the drawn or printed line. The Impressionist Line challenges this perception, exploring the Impressionists’ substantial—and often experimental—contributions to the graphic arts. The works on view span from the precursors of Impressionism such as Charles-François Daubigny and Constantin Guys to the Impressionists Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, and conclude with Post-Impressionists Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
This exhibition also reveals how Impressionist works on paper were directly connected to public and commercial ventures, such as fine art publications, subscription-based print albums, and galleries. Many of the works presented demonstrate not only the artists’ embrace of modern subjects, but also their enthusiasm for new materials and technologies. Printmaking techniques such as etching and lithography allowed the Impressionists’ work to travel in wider circles through the creation of multiples, while photomechanical means of reproduction ensured increased publicity in art journals and the popular press.
(Photo: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Englishman at the Moulin Rouge, 1892, lithograph, Clark Art Institute, 1968)