Durand-Ruel walked past Agnès, Café Guerbois’s attentive head waitress, and sat down in the chair that Manet had vacated.
‘We have come a long way, non?’ he said, looking over the table to Monet. ‘We have, Paul, we have. Do you remember that time in London when we first met: you and me and Camille …’ ‘And Charles,’ Durand-Ruel interjected. ‘Of course,’ said Monet. ‘And Charles.’
That had been back in 1870, when France was at war with Prussia and Durand-Ruel had left Paris for the sanctuary of London. The thirty-nine-year-old art dealer was in his prime: ambitious and energetic.
He saw his London sojourn as an opportunity to expand the commercial art gallery business that he had inherited in 1865 from his father beyond its base in Paris.
He was also keen to broaden the gallery’s product range, concerned that it was over-reliant on the paintings of the Barbizon School – a mid-nineteenth-century group of like-minded landscape artists that had made the small village of Barbizon (about thirty miles south-east of Paris) their professional base.
His father had built the gallery and its reputation on selling the group’s naturalistic landscape paintings of rural scenes in and around the tranquil forest of Fontainebleau.
Members of the group such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875) and Jean-François Millet (1814–75) had developed a modern style of landscape painting – partly inspired by John Constable’s non-idealized canvases depicting the English countryside – that concentrated on the accurate rendering of natural light and colour.
They were pioneers of painting en plein air, in front of the subject, which as we know was made possible by the recent invention of portable tubes for oil paint.
Much thanks to Will Gompertz’s book What Are You Looking At….some of the blog is directly taken from this fantastic book.