Paul Durand Ruel was the first art dealer to give consistent support to the impressionists. He was introduced to Monet by the artist Daubigny while in England during the Franco-Prussian war and became the sole financial backer of a number of the Impressionist artists. In 1886 he achieved a breakthrough with an exhibition of impressionist works in New York. In 1905 his exhibition of hundreds of paintings brought the artist’s work to London. Monet’s international acclaim was entirely due to the support and investment of Durand Ruel during the 1870s.
However it was in France with the Impressionists after 1870 that dealers started to play a pivotal role in the distribution of works of art. Having learnt their lesson from the Salon des Refuses of 1863, at which their work had been subjected to visitors’ gibes, the group made up of Manet, Monet and others decided, as Courbet had done, to use a dealer as a way of introducing their work to the public under conditions which they could control. The identification of their art with a single dealer helped the Impressionists to convey a sense of their distinctiveness while their dealer’s personal contacts with critics and members of the public allowed people to be won over slowly to works whose stark originality had the power to shock. Paul Durand-Ruel formed an essential link between the artist and the bourgeoisie public. In France the first open access galleries – where the public could simply walk in and wander around freely in order to view and buy works of art – opened in the capital around the middle of the century. The most popular location for these galleries was the Rue Lafitte, which became the centre of the Parisian art market for a number of years. Eventually the circle of art lovers, critics and buyers that the dealer was able to introduce to the artists constituted a not inconsiderable social base. As the art historians H and C White noted, ‘a painter was no longer a nobody if he could count on the support of figures such as Durand Ruel, Zola, the publisher Charpentier – and the financier Hoschede as well as less well known but nonetheless faithful friends like Choquet’.
The expansion of the art market and the liberal government policies of the early Third Republic encouraged a remarkable proliferation of ‘independent’ exhibitions in Paris, shows that were mounted separately from the huge State-sponsored jamboree, the annual Salon.1 Both the dealers and groups like the Impressionists sought out new venues and experimented with instillations so as to present their works in the best circumstances. While the dealer and critic system’ expanded rapidly, artists also increasingly took the initiative for their own promotion, and Salon organisers began to adopt practices for the private domain. The distinction between public and private proved to be chronically unstable and required constant renegotiation with the actual conditions of