The Impressionists — And the Man Who Made Them is a documentary film about a man who was smitten by a radical new form of painting and his determination to support and promote it. That new form of painting was called Impressionism and the man who supported it was a Parisian art dealer named Paul Durand-Ruel.
When Impressionist painters first began showing their works in the 1870s, they were greeted with derision by the French public and art critics. Up until that time, art was officially supported by the French government, and art that was accepted for display in its annual salons had to meet the standards of the jury of the French Academy of Fine Art. Art produced by graduates of the academy was characterized by its highly polished, finished style. The general public, accustomed to academic art, viewed the new “intransigent” art (later called “impressionism”) as crude and unfinished. People would go to galleries where these paintings were displayed not to ponder over them as works of art, but rather to laugh at them.
Paul Durand-Ruel was acutely aware of the public’s intense negative reaction to Impressionism, but he was determined to invest time, energy, and money in promoting the art and its artists until the paintings achieved the value that he thought they were worth. The process would take twenty years and bring the visionary art dealer close to bankruptcy on several occasions.
The Impressionists — And the Man Who Made Them traces the history of Durand-Ruel’s struggle to make Impressionism acceptable. Phil Grabsky, a British documentary film maker, takes us into the Luxembourg Museum in Paris where an exhibit that treated the same subject was being installed. During the film, we see Durand-Ruel’s great grandson, great-great grand daughter, and other art curators talk about his unstinting support for the new painting and its artists. We are also treated to sumptuous close-up views of a number of the paintings, whose colors and textures appear with stunning exactitude on the wide screen of a movie theater. Enchanting piano music inspired by melodies of the period interweaves throughout the film, transforming it into a compelling story.
The Impressionists will be released in the United States on July 18. And the Luxembourg Museum exhibit that inspired the documentary has already moved to the United States, opening at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on June 24. Entitled “Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting,” it runs until September 13.