Inventing Impressionism’ might be the best exhib-ition of Impressionist paintings held in London since the landmark show of 1905 at the Grafton Galleries. That one, staged by the charismatic and bold Parisian art dealer-entrepreneur Paul Durand-Ruel (1831–1922), was the first major exhibition of Impressionist paintings in Britain and was huge: 315 paintings by Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Manet, Cézanne and others.
The pictures did not sell particularly well. (It would be Roger Fry’s lesser show there in 1910 that opened British eyes to Impressionism.) This one, opening today at the National Gallery, is all about Durand-Ruel himself. There won’t be anything for sale, but it will have queues round the block. And this is why. For the Impressionist painters, DurandRuel was their mentor, showman and lifeblood.
Renoir called him their ‘missionary’. Monet said: ‘Without Durand we would have died of starvation, all of us impressionists. We owe him everything.’ Durand-Ruel bel-ieved passionately