Early Impressionism and the French State (1866-1874) / Impressionism: Reflections and Perceptions / Degas: Beyond Impressionism

Article excerpt


Early Impressionism and the French State (1866-1874)

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 318 pp.; 153 b/w. $60.00


Impressionism: Reflections and Perceptions

New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1997. 359 pp.; 106 color ills., 37 b/w. $50.00


Degas: Beyond Impressionism

London: National Gallery Publications and Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1996. 324 pp.; 171 color ills., 138 b/w. $50.00

Both individually and collectively, the artists of the Impressionist circle have been the subjects of numerous monographs and exhibitions, especially in the past decade. The major museums in this country and abroad, almost without interruption, have organized exhibitions on all aspects of the work and interests of these artists. Witness in the last year, for example, the Kimbell Art Museum's Monet and the Mediterranean, the University of Michigan Museum of Art's Monet at Vetheuil: The Turning Point, the Jewish Museum's Camille Pissarro in the Caribbean, 1850-1855: Drawings from the Collection at Olana, the National Gallery of Canada's Renoir's Portraits: Impressions of an Age, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's sumptuous The Private Collection of Edgar Degas, to name only a few. With such attention, it might seem difficult to imagine that any subjects remain unstudied. Three recently published books contribute handily, however, to the larger understanding of the antecedents, cardinal years, and aftermath of the artists associated with Impressionism. In different ways, each yields important new information as well as avenues for exploration, and each author proposes new ways to think about this already well-known field.

Jane Mayo Roos's Early Impressionism and the French State (1866-1874) provides a crucial reassessment of the reception of modernist painting at the Paris Salon in the years leading up to the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, who soon became known as the Impressionists. While acknowledging her debt to John Rewald's pioneering book The History of Impressionism and to Patricia Mainardi's more recent scholarship on the practices of governmentally sanctioned artists during the Second Empire and early years of the Third Republic, Roos stakes out important new territory in her focus on the Salon paintings of the modernists and their troubled relationships to France's fine-arts administration.1 In this careful and well-documented analysis of the Salons of the last years of the Second Empire and the beginning of the Third Republic, Roos demonstrates the intricate nature of the politics of the art administration and its effects on the mid-to-late careers of Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet, as well as the debuts of Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, and others. Roos's analysis of the modernist submissions to the Salons between 1866 and 1874 demonstrates that the now traditional notion that Courbet's art became depoliticized during this period and that Manet "court[ed] the Salon's juries to satisfy a need for recognition and praise" (p. xv) does not tell the full story of either painter's career.2

Divided into twelve chapters, Roos's book is both an institutional history of the Salons of this period and a rereading of that history. She begins with an analysis of the regulations of the Salon of 1866 from which all other discussions of the shifting statutes will emerge. Surveying a period that spans three art administrations, Roos examines throughout the book the shifting political sands as they pertained to the arts, in addition to discussing the policy differences between the almost liberal AlfredEmilien Nieuwerkerke, the authoritarian Charles Blanc, and the antirepublican bias under Philippe de Chennevieres. She impressively rereads many of the works submitted to the Salons by modernist artists. …