Never has an exhibition been interested in the question of the decorative in the production of Impressionist painters. Thanks to the evidence brought to the Musée de l’Orangerie, it is possible to admire magnificent examples.

impressionists painting in the musée de l'orangerie
copyright Musée de l’Orangerie

A field of experimentation

Impressionism is rarely associated with the term decoration. No more to the walls, to the objects, fans, ceramics and other bas-reliefs. However, Impressionist works regarded today as easel paintings – landscapes, flowers or scenes of modern life – were first conceived as decorations. Concerned about the place of beauty in daily life, the Impressionist artists made it a field of experimentation, venturing into a variety of media, exploring all the possibilities. Although Manet and the Impressionists did not receive official commissions, they produced paintings and decorative objects throughout their careers. They experimented with many techniques while redefining in their own way the very idea of ​​”decorative”, a paradoxical notion, both positive and derogatory, at the heart of artistic practice, aesthetic and social reflection at the end of the 19th century.

claude monet painting musée de l'orangerie
Copyright Musée de l’Orangerie

Seen as simple decorations

This aspect of Impressionism is little known today. However, the cycle of Water Lilies in the Orangery, which Monet called his “great decorations”, comes to crown more than sixty years of forays into this field. And if the paintings exhibited by the Impressionists shocked, it is also because they were seen as simple decorations, devoid of meaning and dedicated solely to the pleasure of the senses. Didn’t a critic write in 1874 that what Monet painted was akin to “wallpaper”? This exhibition therefore invites for the first time to explore another history of Impressionism with works by Cassatt, Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro and Renoir, coming from all over the world, for some rarely or never presented in France. . It shows how, through some eighty paintings, fans, ceramics or drawings, the Impressionists traced a new path, with the conviction that, to quote Renoir, art is made above all to “enliven the walls”.

Musée de l’Orangerie

Jardin Tuileries, 75001 Paris

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