The Eight Impressionist Exhibitions, 1874-1886

Artists Went Rogue to Display Their Impressionist Paintings

In 1874, the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc. exhibited their works together for the first time. The exhibition took place at the former studio of the photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, 1820–1910) at 35 Boulevard des Capucines in Paris. Dubbed the Impressionists by the critics that year, the group did not adopt the name until 1877.

The idea of exhibiting independent from a formal gallery was radical. No group of artists had organized a self-promoted show outside of the official French Academy's annual Salon.

Their first exhibition marks the turning point for art marketing in the modern era. Between 1874 and 1886 the group held eight major exhibits that included some of the best-known work of the time.​

1874: The First Impressionist Exhibition

Public Domain photograph
Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926). Impression, Sunrise, 1873. Oil on canvas. 48 x 63 cm (18 7/8 x 24 13/16 in.). © Musée Marmottan, Paris

The first Impressionist exhibition took place between in April and May of 1874. The show was led by Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot. In total, 165 pieces of work by 30 artists were included.

The artwork on display included Cezanne's "A Modern Olympia" (1870), Renoir's "The Dancer" (1874, National Gallery of Art) and Monet's "Impression, Sunrise" (1873, Musée Marmottan, Paris).

  • Title: The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc.
  • Location: 35 Boulevard des Capucines, Paris, France
  • Dates: April 15–May 15; 10 am–6 pm and 8 pm–10 pm
  • Entrance fee: 1 franc

1876: The Second Impressionist Exhibition

Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum; used with permission
Gustave Caillebotte (French, 1848–1894). The Floor Scrapers, 1876. Oil on canvas. 31 1/2 x 39 3/8 in. (80 x 100 cm). Private Collection

The reason the Impressionists went solo was that the jury at the Salon would not accept their new style of work. This continued to be an issue in 1876, so the artists turned a one-off show to make money into a reoccurring event.

The second exhibition moved to three rooms in the Durand-Ruel Gallery on rue le Peletier, off of the Boulevard Haussman. Fewer artists were involved and only 20 participated but the work increased significantly to include 252 pieces.

  • Title: Exhibition of Painting
  • Location: 11 rue le Peletier, Paris
  • Dates: April 1–30; 10 am–5 pm
  • Entrance fee: 1 franc

1877: The Third Impressionist Exhibition

Image © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; used with permission
Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906). Landscape near Paris, ca. 1876. Oil on canvas. 19 3/4 x 23 5/8 in. (50.2 x 60 cm). Chester Dale Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Image © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Prior to the third exhibition, the group was known as the "Independents" or the "Intransigents" by critics. Yet, in the first exhibit, Monet's piece led one critic to use the term "Impressionists." By 1877, the group accepted this title for themselves. 

This exhibit took place in the same gallery as the second. It was headed by Gustave Caillebotte, a relative newcomer who had some capital to back up the show. Apparently, he also had the temperament to quell disputes between the strong personalities involved.

In this show, a total of 241 pieces of work went on display by 18 painters. Monet included his "St Lazare Train Station" paintings, Degas exhibited "Women in Front of a Café" (1877, Musée d'Orsay, Paris), and Renoir debuted "Le bal du moulin de la Galette" (1876, Musée d'Orsay, Paris)

  • TItle: Exhibition of Painting
  • Location: 6 rue le Peletier, Paris
  • Dates: April 1–30; 10 am–5 pm
  • Entrance fee: 1 franc

1879: The Fourth Impressionist Exhibition

© National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; used with permission
Mary Stevenson Cassatt (American, 1844-1926). Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878. Oil on canvas. Overall: 89.5 x 129.8 cm (35 1/4 x51 1/8 in.). Collection of Mr. And Mrs. Paul Mellon. 1983.1.18. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. © National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The 1879 exhibit lacked several notable names like Cezanne, Renoir, Morisot, Guillaumin, and Sisley, but it brought in over 15,000 people (the first had just 4,000). It did, however, bring in new talent, including Marie Braquemond, Paul Gauguin, and the Italian Frederico Zandomeneghi.

The fourth exhibition included 16 artists, though only 14 were listed in the catalog as Gauguin and Ludovic Piette were last minute additions. The work totaled 246 pieces, including an older piece by Monet "Garden at St. Adresse" (1867). It also showed his famous "Rue Montogrueil, 30th of June 1878" (1878, Musée d'Orsay Paris) with its plethora of French flags surrounding the crowded boulevard.

  • Title: Exhibition of Independent Artists
  • Location: 28 Avenue de l’Opéra, Paris
  • Dates: April 10–May 11; 10 am–6 pm
  • Entrance fee: 1 franc

1880: The Fifth Impressionist Exhibition

© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; used with permission
Mary Stevenson Cassatt (American, 1844-1926). The Tea (Le Thé), about 1880. Oil on canvas. 64.77 x 92.07 cm (25 1/2 x36 1/4 in.). M. Theresa B. Hopkins Fund, 1942. 42.178. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Much to the dismay of Degas, the poster for the fifth Impressionist exhibition omitted the names of the women artists: Marie Braquemond, Mary Cassatt, and Berthe Morisot. Only the 16 men were listed and it did not sit well with the painter who complained that it was "idiotic."

This was the first year that Monet did not participate. He had instead tried his luck at the Salon, but Impressionism still had not gained enough notoriety, so only his "Lavacourt" (1880) was accepted.

What was included in this exhibition were 232 pieces by 19 artists. Notable among them was Cassatt's "Five O'Clock Tea" (1880, Museum of Fine Art, Boston) and Gauguin's debut sculpture, a marble bust of his wife Mette (1877, Courtauld Institute, London). Additionally, Morisot exhibited "Summer" (1878, Musée Fabre) and "Woman at her Toilette" (1875, Art Institute of Chicago).

  • Title: Exhibition of Painting
  • Location: 10 rue des Pyramides (at the corner of rue la Sainte-Honoré), Paris
  • Dates: April 1–30; 10 am–6 pm
  • Entrance fee: 1 franc

1881: The Sixth Impressionist Exhibition

Image provided by Sotheby's; used with permission
Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917) Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1880-81, cast ca. 1922 Painted bronze with muslin and silk Object: 98.4 x 41.9 x 36.5 cm Private Collection. Image provided by Sotheby's

The 1881 exhibition was decidedly Degas' show as many of the other big names had stepped down over the years. The show represented his taste, both in the artists invited and in the vision. He was certainly open to new interpretations and a broader definition of Impressionism.

The exhibit returned to Nadar's former studio, taking up five smaller rooms rather than the large studio space. Just 13 artists displayed 170 works, a sign that the group had just a few years left. 

The most notable piece was Degas' debut of "Little Fourteen-Year Dancer" (ca. 1881, National Gallery of Art), an unconventional approach to sculpture.

  • Title: Exhibition of Painting
  • Location: 35 Boulevard des Capucines, Paris
  • Dates: April 2–May 1; 10 am–6 pm
  • Entrance fee: 1 franc

1882: The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition

Photo © RBA, Köln; used with permission
Berthe Morisot (French, 1841-1895). The Harbor at Nice, 1881-82. Oil on canvas. 41.4 cm x 55.3 cm (16 1/4 x 21 3/4 in.). Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Köln. Photo © RBA, Köln

The seventh Impressionist exhibition saw the return of Monet, Sisley, and Caillebotte. It also saw Degas, Cassatt, Raffaëlli, Forain, and Zandomeneghi drop out.

It was another sign of transition in the art movement as artists began to move on to other techniques. Pissarro debuted pieces of country folk like "Study of a Washerwoman" (1880, Metropolitan Museum of Art) that contrasted with his older studies of lighting across the countryside.

Renoir debuted "The Luncheon of the Boating Party" (1880-81, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC), which included his future wife as well as Caillebotte. Monet brought "Sunset on the Seine, Winter Effect" (1880, Petit Palais, Paris), with a noticeable difference from his first submission, "Impression, Sunrise."

The exhibit included 203 works by just nine artists who were holding onto Impressionism. It took place in a gallery commemorating the French defeat during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71). The nationalism and avante-garde juxtaposition did not go unnoticed by critics.

  • Title: Exhibition of Independent Artists
  • Location: 251, rue Saint-Honoré, Paris (Salon du Panorama du Reichenshoffen)
  • Dates: March 1–31; 10 am–6 pm
  • Entrance fee: 1 franc

1886: The Eighth Impressionist Exhibition

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Georges-Pierre Seurat (French, 1859-1891). Study for "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte," 1884-85. Oil on canvas. 27 3/4 x 41 in. (70.5 x 104.1 cm). Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The eighth and final exhibition of the Impressionists took place as commercial galleries grew in number and began to dominate the art market. It reunited many of the artists that had come and gone in previous years.

Degas, Cassatt, Zandomeneghi, ​Forain, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro all exhibited. Pissarro's son, Lucien joined in, and Marie Braquemond showed a portrait of her husband who did not exhibit this year. It was one last hurrah for the group.

Neo-Impressionism made a debut as well thanks to Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte" (1884-86, The Art Institute of Chicago) marked the onset of the Post-Impressionist era.

The biggest splash may have been made when the exhibit coincided with that year's Salon. Rue Laffitte, where it took place, would come to be a row of galleries in the future. One can't help but think that this show of 246 pieces by 17 extremely talented artists may have influenced that.

  • Title: Exhibition of Painting
  • Location: 1 rue Lafitte (at the corner of the Boulevard des Italiens), Paris
  • Dates: May 15 - June 15; 10 am - 6 pm
  • Entrance fee: 1 franc


Moffett, C, et al. "The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886."
San Francisco, CA: The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; 1986.