Forever de Young: Impressions of a San Francisco Impressionist Exhibition

“I don’t really care for the Impressionists,” my luncheon companion told me, in world-weary tones, after my visit to the Impressionists on the Water exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum’s Legion of Honor. She added, disdainfully, “They’re too bourgeois.”

Irony of ironies: today, 150 years after appearing on the scene, the Impressionists, perhaps art’s greatest rebel force, have become what they despised. Dorm room kitsch. Visual Muzak.

Pierre-Auguste and Claude, say it ain’t so.

Today, Impressionist painting is a little like Beethoven: even people who aren’t aficionados recognize the name, but few understand what a revolutionary force the name represents. In the mid-19th century Parisian art world, the only way you made serious coin as a painter was to have your work accepted by the Salon, the exhibition that was the arbiter of taste for the haut monde, or upper class of Paris. Painting your way into the

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