La peinture impressionniste et la décoration dans les années 1870
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Throughout their careers the Impressionists demonstrated a strong, but rarely examined, interest for decoration. A careful examination of both archival material and well-known artworks produced between 1870 and 1895 shows that Pissarro, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Morisot and Caillebotte never ceased to explore the values of decoration and the decorative. Set in the context of the Third Republic’s passion for monumental decoration and deep interest in the decorative arts, the Impressionists’ experiments range from ceilings to ceramic tiles, and from never achieved projects to ambitious realisations (although none remain in their original location). One painter among those surveyed also engaged with theoretical thinking: Renoir wrote for the press and drew up the drafts of a Grammar mainly focused on the decorative arts. Along with a number of artworks explicitly designated as decorative that were predominantly exhibited at the Impressionist shows, the Impressionists further produced more than twenty decorative ensembles made for the interiors of amateurs who then became patrons. Renoir, who started his career as a painter on porcelain, worked in the 1870s for the Parisian homes of a Romanian aristocrat, prince Bibesco, and of a leading publisher, Georges Charpentier, but also for the country house of Paul Berard. Monet, in a similar fashion, painted for the department store magnate Ernest Hoschedé in his property of Montgeron. Initially publicised by the painters in the 1870s, the decade on which this thesis focuses, the Impressionists’ decorative works were subsequently undertaken more quietly though continuously. Morisot painted a chimney trumeau for her own salon, to which Monet gave a pendant (they were eventually used as overdoor panels). Monet and Renoir also painted door-panels for Durand-Ruel. None of these later schemes were actually promoted towards a wide public, showing how the Impressionists’ commitment to painting decorations went from a strategic (and partly commercial) vision to embody a deeper reflection on the essence of painting and its relation to the wall – a reflection that the larger dissertation submitted to the Université de Bourgogne embraces. The critics’ attention, however, went the opposite way. It grew from a relative but highly meaningful disinterest to making the decorative key to their approach at the turn of the century, but in all situations, mocking or praising, their comments shed a crucial light on the Impressionist’s enterprises and their relations to the society’s concerns. An analysis of the Impressionists’ decorative experiments and their critical reception encourages, as this thesis aims to demonstrate, a reconsideration of our vision of Impressionism, for its development drew much more from the decorative than has so far been discussed.