8th Impressionist Exhibition
To examine whether or not the exhibition of 1886 was in fact an end to impressionism
it is helpful first to note a distinction between impressionism as a style and impressionism
as a movement. 1886 may indeed have been marked as an end to impressionism as a
dominant movement of allied artists at the time, however impressionism as a style which
has a distinctive manner continued after 1886, albeit it mainly by the longstanding
‘true’ impressionists. New movements and artistic endeavors did start to surface after
To say that the impressionist style had certain quintessential traits we would consider
different factors such as the style, technique and subject matter of the artist as well as the
meaning of their work. Taking these aspects into consideration clarifies the implications
of the word ‘impressionism’. And we can then examine whether or not these traits
became obsolete after 1886.
When considering the demise of impressionism in 1886 one cannot overlook bold facts.
Simply the reality that 1886 was the last exclusive impressionist exhibition as well as the
fact that only half of the major impressionist artists submitted paintings supports the
argument. Monet, along with Renoir did not participate likewise with Caillbotte, and
RaffaÃ«lli. Monet participated along with Renoir and RaffaÃ«lli in Petit’s Exposotion
Internationale. So the final exhibition saw the fervent impressionists pursuing different
exhibitions, and later on even a return to the Salon in Monet’s case, saying it was the
“high stakes he would play” for commercial reasons. Because so many of the original
players were absconding the word ‘impressionist’ was again dropped from the title also
Degas felt some of the new artists had little artistic affinity with the originals. The
current was changing now the title of ‘impressionistic’ must be guarded. Figures spoke
for themselves. At the first impressionist exhibition 165 works were displayed by 30
artists contrasting with this final exhibition which saw the number of individual artists
participating decreasing dramatically to 17, who display a higher 230 works.
Secondly by 1886, the unofficial ‘leader’ Manet had been dead for three years and the
solidarity of the impressionist group looked grim, they were bickering among themselves
‘with a passion worthy of a nobler aim’ according to Van Gogh . There were changes in
power which saw a shift from Monet as central leader to Degas who was seen to be
leading the ‘little church’ of impressionism down a questionable path. This power shift
which caused disharmony uprooted impressionism as a group venture and couldn’t have
been helped by such occurrences as Degas insisting the exhibition be held between the
15th of May and the 15th of June to coincide with the opening of the Salon . Adding to
this support from Zola could no longer be counted on and the group suffered from the
death of the eloquent Duranty in 1880.
An important aspect to note is that 1886 and the following years saw a decline in
aspects which defined the impressionistic style, The styles of Gaugin, Van Gogh and
Cezanne, among others, were a driving force in this. However it was Seurat who in 1886
became the “messiah of a new art” an art which made an even clearer break from
impressionist style in favor of the new type of ‘divisionism’, unlike impressionism it
emphasized discipline, structure and harmony. This new style strays from the spontaneity
of impressionist technique where paint applied in short, thick sketch-like ‘taches’. This
new revelation, coined by critic FÃ©lix FÃ©nÃ©on of pointillism was a more painstaking
practice where pigment was applied in atomic dots resembling terresae of mosaic from
which the whole would be constructed.
Furthermore what the impressionists began in terms of optical mixing was taken to
another level by the neo-impressionists. It was done instinctively by the impressionists
however the new breed logically executed this ‘chromo-luminarism’, as Seurat called it.
Essentially it was a systemization of impressionist practice; pointillism saw a type of
methodical exploration of scientific ways to capture the blaze of light and colour, Seurat
read Ogden Rood’s ‘Modern Chromatics’ in an effort to find a rational basis for his new
What was impulsive about compositions in the impressionist’s paintings was replaced
by a certain order in works by neo- impressionists, like Seurat who was perhaps
influenced by Puvis de Chavanne’s compositions which were especially organized having
figures and landscape aligned in the simplest relationship of parallels and perpendiculars
and of profile and frontal views.
However everything taken together there were still similarities between the two styles,
that being a joined rejection of perspective systems and importantly an insistent on
surface pattern in which visible brushstrokes play a major role so to does light and colour.
In 1886 there was a turn away from the bourgeois subject matter to favour perhaps the
more urban and working class. The eight exhibition saw Pissarro revealing a strong
understanding of the peasant with “The Potato Harvest”. Furthermore the triviality of the
subject matter of the ‘vie moderne’ of Parisian life which took centre stage in
impressionist works became a problem for the new generation.
Degas in 1886 exhibited “Morning Toilet” and “After the Bath” who’s subject
matter had a distinct voyeuristic element. Huysmans jugged them as a product of
“attentive cruelty & a patient hatred” . The women portrayed according to Degas “as if
you looked at them through a keyhole” were far from openly capturing the ‘joie de vivre’
of bourgeois life.
What evolved after 1886 outside of the devote impressionists was a return to paintings
that had some form of ‘meaning’. Renoir once said of impressionism that it “freed
painting from the importance of the subject” however this became restrictive especially
for the neo-impressionists. It could be argued that the very meaning of impressionism
was the technique it cultivated as the tool used to capture ‘la vÃ©ritÃ©’, to capture the truth
of nature and its most fleeting effects. This idea is supported by Castagnary’s comment
that “Impressionism should be noted for its material means and not its doctrines.”
However artists such as Seurat were discontented and indeed after 1886 Gauguin too
struck out against this absence of meaning inherent in impressionistic paintings.
The only artist who participated in all eight exhibitions was Pissarro, now he was
looking to the upcoming generation to lend impressionism a new lease of life with the
help of Seurat and Signac. This is confirmed in a letter he wrote to his son Lucien
regarding Seurat stating that he was “personally convinced of the progressive character of
his art” This view was reiterated by the critic Paul Adam when commenting in 1886
that “this exhibition initiates us into a new art” . Pissarro himself exhibited among others
‘The Apple Pickers’ which shows clear pointillist influence. Even the resolute
impressionist Monet latter in 1888 experimented with this new current in his ‘Bend on
the Epte River’.
Inclusion of artists of Degas’ followers such as Cassatt who exhibited “Children on the
Shore” saw a side step from true impressionist style and also mainly focused on figural
work. Monet spoke out against their inclusion stating that the church had “opened its
doors to the first dauber who happens to come along”.
Seurat’s piece which dominated the 1886 exhibition ‘Grand Jatte’ in many respects
could be said to embody one side of the dislocation from Impressionism. Firstly it
abandons the much encouraged concept of the ‘ein-plein air’ technique, it was based on
numerous sketches but painted methodically in the studio. The sharp edges of Seurat’s
figures contrast with the undefined and sometimes confused outlines of impressionist
works. In essence the “evanescent atmospheric imprecision of impressionist paintings”
gave way to a more defined effect to the extent that Seurat’s figures are reminiscent of
robots. Flattened into frontal and profile silhouettes they are far from a figure of flesh and
blood such as Renoir’s “Diana the Huntress” All in all this new more ‘finished’ technique
could be described as ‘tableaux’ as apposed to the ‘etudies’ of impressionism.
Structure is achieved by the definite right to left gaze of the figures in the foreground
and is far from the turbulent and varied compositions of such works as Renoirs “Bal du
Moulin de la Galette” of 1876. Seurat’s paintings became an “enclosed system of
clockwork intricacy” . The same is true of Signac’s work described as ‘artistic smallpox’
“The Milliners”, pointillist in technique it had the same complete and unified
composition contrary to impressionist painting.
Regarding Seurat’s subject matter, he did follow the lead of Manet and Monet and
painted elegant Parisians in chic modern clothing out for a day of official pageantry.
However never before had there being a mixing of social classes as is seen here.
Having outlined a work which clearly flew in the face of impressionistic ideals it is
important to note that Morisot, Guillaumin and Gaugin submitted paintings which
displayed aspects of impressionism in its original form, such as Gaugin’s ‘Near the
Farm”, Guillaumin’s “Twilight at Damiette” and Morisot’s “Little Maid Servant” and
“Summers Day”. So as I said before it is only impressionism as a movement which ended
in 1886 as the technique of impressionism lived on in these artists and others, most
notably Monet. Although he didn’t exhibit in 1886 he flew the flag for impressionism for
the rest of his career. The next step in his career were his series paintings, an attempt as
he called it to attain ‘instantaneity’. He held his first narrowly thematic exhibition with
the help of Theo Van Gogh showing two views of Antibes in 1888 and later exhibiting
his haystacks at Durand – Ruel in 1891. Renoir did stray from impressionism
determined to return to drawing as displayed in his ‘Bathers’.
Monets views of Antibes bring to light another important point- that being the influence
that Japanese prints were having at this time. This influence was to change some
exemplary aspects of impressionistic painting to favour aspects such as flatter images &
asymmetry to name but a few.
This Japanese influence was also played out by artists like CÃ©zanne, Gauguin, Seurat
and Van Gogh who owed their eventual achievements to impressionism.
They were not true impressionists but they all had their impressionistic experiences
influenced by their forerunners who broke down countless prejudices and opened the
road for steadily increasing boldness of technique, colour, and abstraction.
Although Gaugin was said to be one of those who represented the impressionist
aesthetic in 1886 the bold, flat colours in his “Still- Life with Profile of Laval” could not
be described as ‘impressionistic’ indeed it was such flat colours in his paintings which
later prompted by the critic Albert Aurier caused him to question how appropriate the
term ‘impressionistic’ was concerning his work. He too was to stray impressionist aspects
and enjoying colour “not just in terms of decorative effect.”
1886, although not in the exhibition, saw the emergence of Van Gogh who was said to
be an impressionist with a difference. Inspired by what he saw in Paris in 1886 he tried to
adopt the style the impressionists had cultivated yet admittedly was not “one of the
club” Van Gogh redirected aspects of impressionism to what has been described by
some as expressionism. He used colour to express himself ‘forcibly’. Looking at ‘Night
CafÃ©’ we see he expressed the “terrible passions of humanity by means of red and
green” . What was of interest to impressionists in terms of colour was transformed into a
necessity for Van Gogh. Dabbling with Gaugin’s suggestion to paint ‘from memory’ we
see Van Gogh abandon a convention at the heart of impressionism ‘en pein air’.
Cezanne described as the ‘Poussin of Impressionism’ sought to make something
concrete of impressionism and his combination of style and sensibility was said to
overcome it. He was in Ambroise Vollard’s show of 1895 and was praised by Monet,
Renoir and Degas not as one of their own but as the future- this praise in a sense
acknowledges that the hay-day of Impressionisms had come and gone.
To conclude I would like to return to the exhibition of 1886 and to a completely new
type of movement which emerged which in a way validates the argument that the 1886
exhibition was the end of the impressionistic movement. Odilion Rendon exhibited
fifteen charcoal drawings of bizarre subject matter which heralded a new current of
symbolism which through “emotional signs suggest to us the precise sensation of
visions” ‘Cactus Man’ and ‘Death: my Irony Surpasses all Others’ sees heavy, dark
lines both outline and emphasize basic shapes and communicate feelings of loss and
despair. They represented, according to Huysmans a “very special fantasy of sickness and
delirium” an inner world of dreams, and emotion, rather than the surface realities of daily
life an intellectual art as apposed art of sensation. In short completely different to all
ideals of impressionism.
To Armand Silvestre the word ‘impressionism’ represents “a perfectly determined
order of things… a certain community of aspirations and ideals and a certain aesthetic” .
The 1886 exhibition saw new trends evolving and perhaps ones which propelled the
future of impressionism but at the same time blocking any return. Although there was a
certain solidarity in the ‘Impressionist dinners’ held between 1890 and 1894 at the CafÃ©
Riche hope for a group reunion was bleak and indeed it was Monet in 1890 who was
arguing with Durand- Ruel that any attempt to revive the group shows would meet his
By 1892 Lecomte’s book ‘L’Art Impressionniste’ announced that the impressionists
have “already made their way…and honoured their country” .