In the spring of 1874 a group of young painters defied the official Salon in Paris and organized an exhibition of its own. While this was in itself a break with established customs, the works which these men showed seemed at first glance even more revolutionary. The reaction of visitors and critics was by no means friendly; they accused the artists of painting differently from the accepted methods simply to gain attention or pull the legs of honest folk. It took years of bitter struggle before the members of the little group were able to convince the public of their sincerity, not to mention their talent.
This group included Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas, Cézanne, and Berthe Morisot. They were not only of diverse characters and gifts, but also, to a certain extent, of differing conceptions and tendencies. Yet born almost within the same decade, they all went through similar experiences and fought against the same opposition. Thrown together more or less by chance, they accepted their common fate and eventually adopted the designation of "impressionists," a word coined in derision by a satirical journalist.
When the impressionists organized their first group exhibition, they were no longer awkward beginners; all of them were over thirty and had been working ardently for fifteen years and more. They had studied -- or tried to study -- at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, gone to the older generation for advice, discussed and absorbed the various currents in the arts of their time. Some even had obtained a certain success at different Salons before the Franco-Prussian War. But they had declined to follow blindly the methods of the acclaimed masters and pseudo-masters of the day. Instead, they had derived new concepts from the lessons of the past and the present, developing an art entirely their own. This independence had brought them into repeated conflicts with the reactionary jury of the Salon, to the extent that to show their works outside of the official exhibitions seemed to be the only means left them to approach the general public.
Although their canvases shocked their contemporaries as being brazen, they represented in fact the true continuation of the endeavors and theories of their predecessors. Thus the new phase in the history of art inaugurated by the impressionist exhibition of 1874 was not a sudden outbreak of iconoclastic tendencies; it was the culmination of a slow and consistent evolution.
The impressionist movement, therefore, did not begin with the year 1874. While all the great artists of the past contributed their share to the development of impressionist principles, the immediate roots of the movement can be most clearly discovered in the twenty years preceding the historic exhibition of 1874. Those were . . .