Programme de Recherche International
Paris Île de France


The very nature of a collection is never to be completed. Its existence, featuring purchases, resales, exchanges and gifts, is often intense, and mobilizes an entire network of artists, art dealers, experts and friends (be they collectors or not). The complexity of this network will be highlighted using the example of the 4th group exhibition in 1879 and the Ephrussi collection, as well as through the “system of objects” concept applied to auctions.

Sara Tas

Amsterdam, Van Gogh museum

Why collecting Impressionism? The Keen Eye and Eclectiv Taste of Charles Ephrussi

Why collecting Impressionism? Charles Ephrussi (1849-1905) came from a wealthy Jewish family of bankers. He settled in Paris in 1871 and from that point on he devoted his life completely to the arts. He wrote for the renowned art journal the Gazette des beaux-arts and became its co-owner in 1885 and director from 1894. In 1878 he wrote for the first time about the Impressionists. Although he was still a bit hesitant about whether this new group of painters was serious enough, he had already started to collect their works. Ephrussi was not only involved as a collector but also organized exhibitions and played a key role in the development of the career of for example Renoir. At the same time, and like other collectors of impressionism, he never exclusively concentrated on this new painting movement. His eclectic taste made him buy many other art styles as well. By looking more closely into Charles Ephrussi’s collection and his taste for contemporary painting we try to understand better what his relation to this new movement was. What were his motivations for buying works of the impressionists and how does this relate to other collectors in the 1880s?

Léa Saint-Raymond

Ecole normale supérieure de la rue d’Ulm-PSL

Impressionism in the collected “system of objects”

The aim of this presentation is to put Impressionism back into the "system of collected objects". In other words, it seeks to analyze the other artworks that the impressionist lovers collected and to characterize their tastes in the broadest sense. Were there any regularities of preferences among these collectors, and if so, how were these systems of preferences structured, both in time and in social space? Did the impressionist collectors form a homogeneous and singular group in relation to other collectors, and how did the system of collected objects position itself within the much larger field of collections in general? Two sources were mobilized in order to broaden the focus as much as possible and to allow a comparative and quantitative approach for three years of interest: the minutes of the Parisian auctioneers and the directories of collectors. The quantitative analysis of this double corpus, through auction sales and directories, allows identifying an evolution in the system of collected objects. In 1875, Impressionism was collected by amateurs whose tastes were mainly towards the "modern" paintings of the 1830 school and who also defended other young artists who were selling their own works at Parisian auction - notably those who made up the "Société des Dix". In 1900, Impressionism, then consecrated, seemed to have become part of the average collection of modern paintings, joining the first base formed by the 1830 school; it no longer allowed for any real differentiation in the field of collectors. In 1925, impressionist enthusiasts collected “Old Masters” artworks, and no longer just "modern" works, and showed a greater eclecticism. Nevertheless, as in 1900, the taste for impressionism was not a distinctive and singular feature in the collectors' space.

Catherine Meneux

Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne University

A relative independence: the decisive role of collectors during the fourth “Impressionist” exhibition of 1879

In this paper, I would like to explore the place and role of collectors at the 4th "Impressionist" exhibition in 1879. This exhibition is indeed an intriguing case study, since nearly 37% of the works belonged to various owners, and it differs from the eight other "impressionist" exhibitions in the high number of works on loan and mentioned as such in the catalogue. Among the forty or so lenders identified, we find well-known personalities such as Georges de Bellio, Théodore Duret, Ernest May or Eugène Murer, as well as artist-collectors such as Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Gauguin and Henri Rouart. Among the artists, Edgar Degas, Jean-Louis Forain, Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro were the ones who mostly called on collectors and, in their cases, a large part of their works were not for sale. In this communication, I would like to explain the alliance of these artists with a heterogeneous group of collectors who have enabled them to exist on the art scene and to create a new market. Very little mentioned in the press, these collectors appeared only on a discreet mode. But the questions about them remain numerous: did they have any links with each other? How was their support at the 1879 exhibition crucial? Did their participation in the exhibition as lenders stimulate their desire to buy and direct them towards artists they had not previously collected? By precisely analysing their careers, as well as the specificity of the 4th painting exhibition, I will try to answer these questions, which help to revalue the role of collectors and the public at the end of the 1870s. From then on, I will approach them not from a monographic and diachronic angle, but in a synchronic and systemic way, since I will study a given moment, that of the 4th painting exhibition which took place between April 10 and May 10, 1879, and an ecosystem, understood here as a community of artists and collectors linked by a project and acting in an interdependent way.

Managing the collection

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