During his lifetime, Paul DURAND-RUEL (31 October 1831 – 5 February 1922) profoundly altered the traditional role of the art dealer with his unwavering and absolute dedication to his artists, both financially and morally. A determined and ambitious entrepreneur, Paul Durand- Ruel became a precursor on the international art market, establishing a network of galleries in Paris, London, Brussels and New York and organising numerous international exhibitions. Completely convinced by the talent of the artists he promoted and confident in his role as the defender of their art, Paul Durand-Ruel was able to secure a legacy for the Barbizon school and, above all, the Impressionists.
31st October 1831: Paul Durand-Ruel is born in Paris. His father, Jean Durand, and his mother, Marie Ruel, own a paper-shop Durand-Ruel in Paris in which pictures by artists such as Géricault or Delacroix are exhibited. Jean sells and rents pictures. Their shop rapidly becomes a meeting point for artists and collectors, and transforms itself into a gallery.
1839: The gallery moves to the very elegant neighbourhood of Paris, 103 rue des Petits Champs, next to the Place Vendôme.
1848: The February Revolution interrupts the expanding business.
1851: Admitted to the Military Academy of Saint Cyr, Paul Durand-Ruel resigns from the army to be able to assist his father. During the following years, he travels extensively in France and in Europe.
1855: Paul Durand-Ruel, already familiar with and appreciative of Delacroix 's work, is mesmerized before the numerous pictures the artist exhibited during the Universal Exhibition.
1862: Paul Durand-Ruel marries Eva Lafon with whom he will have five children.
1863: Napoleon III offers a Salon des Refusés, which permits the rejected artists to exhibit their pictures and allows the public to make its own opinion.
Paul Durand-Ruel, then 32 years old, assumes for the first time his role as an expert during an auction, next to the auctioneer.
1865: Jean Durand-Ruel dies. Paul progressively establishes his personal and professional philosophy based on a few key principles exceptionally innovating:
- Protect and defend art above all else
- The exclusivity of the artists’ production
- Individual Exhibitions
- A network of international galleries
- Free access to his galleries and to his apartment
- Promote the artists’ work via the press
- Associate the art world with the finance world
1865-1874: Paul Durand-Ruel supports Delacroix, and the artits of the School of 1830: Corot, Daubigny, Diaz de la Pena, Jules Dupré, Millet, Théodore Rousseau...; as well as Daumier and Courbet; and his role is essential for their recognition.
1870-1871: Paul Durand-Ruel opens a gallery in London, and in Brussels.
1871: Eva, Paul Durand-Ruel's wife, dies at 30, leaving him with 5 young children.
1871-1873: Paul Durand-Ruel discovers the work of Boudin, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas, Renoir, Manet, Puvis de Chavannes, and later Morisot and Cassatt.
1874: These artists exhibit for the first time collectively in the studio of the photographer Nadar, and they are ironically named "the Impressionists", referring to Monet's Impression: Sunrise. Durand-Ruel encounters serious financial difficulties.
1876: Paul Durand-Ruel organizes the second exhibition of the Impressionist artists in his gallery. Overwhelmingly rejected, this exhibition and his gallery were declared an “insane asylum”.
1878: Paul Durand-Ruel organizes a major exhibition of the artists of the Barbizon school, in reaction to the Salon which has refused their works of art that same year.
1880-1886: Paul Durand-Ruel morally and financially supports the Impressionist artists. He is the only one who regularly purchases and promotes their pictures, despite a new financial crisis he must overcome in 1883-84.
1883: Paul Durand-Ruel organizes, without much success, exhibitions in Berlin, London, Boston and Rotterdam. In Paris, he organizes the first individual exhibitions by Boudin, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Sisley.
1886: Paul Durand-Ruel is practically bankrupt. James Sutton and the American Art Association invite Paul to organize an exhibition in New York: It is a success and becomes the first official recognition of the Impressionist artist. It is also the beginning of Paul Durand-Ruel’s implantation in New York and in the United States.
1890-1893: The Paris gallery's activity recovers following Renoir’s and Pissarro’s recognition, and the confirmation of Monet’s success.
1890-1914: Paul Durand-Ruel organizes exhibitions worldwide and in more than ten German cities, marking the beginning of the Impressionist’s collections in Germany.
1905: Paul Durand-Ruel organizes a very important exhibition in London with close to 300 Impressionist pictures at the Grafton Galleries. It is probably the most exceptional Impressionist exhibition ever held.
1910: After more than thirty years of friendship, Renoir immortalizes his friend and art-dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, by painting his portrait.
5th February 1922: Paul Durand-Ruel dies. Two years before his death, Paul Durand-Ruel is rewarded with the Légion d’Honneur but, ironically, not for his contribution to Fine Arts, but to Foreign Trade.
Between 1891 and 1922, Paul Durand-Ruel purchases close to 12,000 pictures, including more than 1,000 Monets, approximately 1,500 Renoirs, more than 400 by Degas and as many Sisleys and Boudins, about 800 Pissarros, close to 200 Manets and close to 400 Mary Cassatts.
Paul Durand-Ruel is 89 years-old when he déclares: «At last the Impressionist masters triumphed just as the generation of 1830 had. My madness had been wisdom. To think that, had I passed away at sixty, I would have died debt-ridden and bankrupt, surrounded by a wealth of underrated treasures…»
Georges CLEMENCEAU writes in 1928: (…) so many worries from which Durand-Ruel spared Monet, allowed Monet to be and remain himself despite all the undistinguished conspiracies! All thanks to Paul Durand-Ruel.
Eugène BOUDIN to Durand-Ruel: Deauville, 2nd October 1885: (…) I would be so happy to see you overcome your difficulties and bring the hard venture you have undertaken to a successful end, which is to bring new talents to light and make the harsh public appreciate our art. We would all be very ungrateful to fail to recognize the services you render to us and the efforts you attempt for our common interest.
Claude MONET tells René Gimpel in November 1918: (…) There is only one person to whom I owe something; it is to Durand-Ruel who was described as a crazy man and because of us was almost ruined. (…)
Claude MONET tells Marc Elder in 1924 : Without Durand, we would have died of starvation, all of us the impressionists. We owe him everything. Il s’est entêté, acharné, il a risqué vingt fois la faillite pour nous soutenir. La critique nous traînait dans la boue ; mais lui, c’est bien pis ! On écrivait : Ces gens sont fous, mais il y a plus fou qu’eux, c’est un marchand qui les achète !
Camille PISSARRO, wrote to his niece Esther Isaacson, from Paris, on 4th January 1881: (…) Durand-Ruel, one of the great Parisian art-dealers, came to see me and has taken a great part of my pictures and watercolours, and has proposed to buy every work of art that I will create. It brings peace of mind for some time and the means to create important art pieces.
Auguste RENOIR, one of Paul Durand-Ruel’s closest friends, writes to him in November 1885: (…) Whatever they [the public, press and dealers] do, they will not kill your true quality: the love of the art and the defence of the artists before their death. In the future, this will be your legacy.