How the First Impressionist Exhibition Came to Be

In 1874, a movement got its start

San Giorgio Maggiore By Twilight', 1908.
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The first Impressionist exhibition took place from April 15–May 15, 1874. It was led by French artists Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Berthe Morisot. At the time, they called themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc., but that would soon change.

At 35 Boulevard des Capucines in Paris, the former studio of photographer Nadar, 30 artists displayed more than 200 works. The building was modern and the paintings were modern—pictures of contemporary life painted in a technique that looked unfinished to both art critics and the general public. The works of art could be purchased during the duration of the show.

In one sense, the exhibition was a bit of a bust. Art critics did not take the show seriously, as they were not interested in the new ideas being put forward. Meanwhile, though it was well-attended by the public, much of the audience was made up of people ready to insult and make fun of the work. In fact, the exhibition closed with each artist having to pay a share for the losses incurred. The group was forced to temporarily disband until their next exhibition two years later.

There was a bright spot in this showing, however. Louis Leroy, a critic for Le Charivari, called his nasty, satirical review of the event "Exhibition of Impressionists," which was inspired by Claude Monet's painting "Impression: Sunrise" (1873). Leroy meant to discredit their work; instead, he invented their identity.

Still, the group did not call themselves "Impressionists" until 1877 during their third show (Degas never approved of the name at all). Other suggestions included Independents, Naturalists, and Intransigents (which implied political activism), but it was Leroy's failed insult that won out.

Participants in the First Impressionist Exhibition

  • Zacharie Astruc
  • Antoine-Ferdinand Attendu
  • Édouard Béliard
  • Eugène Boudin
  • Félix Braquemond
  • Édouard Brandon
  • Pierre-Isidore Bureau
  • Adolphe-Félix Cals
  • Paul Cézanne
  • Gustave Colin
  • Louis Debras
  • Edgar Degas
  • Jean-Baptiste Armand Guillaumin
  • Louis LaTouche
  • Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic
  • Stanislas Lepine
  • Jean-Baptiste-Léopold Levert
  • Alfred Meyer
  • Auguste De Molins
  • Claude Monet
  • Mademoiselle Berthe Morisot
  • Mulot-Durivage
  • Joseph DeNittis
  • Auguste-Louis-Marie Ottin
  • Léon-Auguste Ottin
  • Camille Pissarro
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • Stanislas-Henri Rouart
  • Léopold Robert
  • Alfred Sisley