The Birth of Avant-Garde

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The Birth of Avant-Garde: The Original Impressionist Exhibition of 1874

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first Impressionist Exhibition held in Paris in 1874, a momentous occasion that launched the avant-garde movement and forever changed the landscape of art. The exhibition featured the works of renowned artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot.

United by their shared desire to break free from the constraints of academic painting and capture the fleeting effects of light and colour, these artists presented a radical departure from the prevailing artistic conventions of the time. Their focus on conveying the essence of a moment, rather than meticulous detail, gave rise to the term "Impressionism."

The term "Impressionism" itself was derived from a derogatory remark made by the critic Louis Leroy in response to Monet's painting "Impression, Sunrise." (Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver) In his scathing review, Leroy dismissed the work as mere "impressionism," intending to belittle its apparent lack of detail and finish. Little did he know that this offhand remark would go on to define one of the most influential art movements in history.

In celebration of this historic event, the Musée d’Orsay is hosting the exhibition "Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism," offering a retrospective look at the groundbreaking works displayed at the original exhibition. This exhibition not only pays homage to the pioneering spirit of the Impressionists but also highlights their enduring legacy in the world of art.

As we reflect on the 150th anniversary of the original Impressionist Exhibition, we are reminded of its significance as a declaration of artistic independence—a day that launched the avant-gardes and ignited a revolution in art that continues to resonate today.