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In this series, we're going to be looking
at some of the greatest art ever painted and the greatest painters.
Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin.
The story of Impressionism is their story.
'It's a story of rebellion and courage.
'Monet painted some of art's bravest pictures.
'Renoir, some of the liveliest.
'Degas unleashed the ballet.
'Seurat unleashed the dot.
'Van Gogh, well, he unleashed colour.
'I think it's the most exciting mutiny in art.
'The days when everything changed.'
# And it hardly looked like a novel at all
# And the city treats me It treats me to you
# And a cup of coffee for you
# I should learn its language And speak it to you
# And 70 million should be in the know
# And 70 million don't go out at all
# And 70 million wouldn't walk this street
# And 70 million would run to a hole
# And 70 million would be wrong, wrong, wrong
# And 70 million never see at all
# And 70 million haven't tasted snow. #
-Good morning, sir.
-Good morning, Dick.
-Good morning, sir.
-Good morning, Harry.
-Good morning, sir.
This is the room that Monet,
the most famous of the Impressionists,
actually used to stay in when he came to London.
He used to paint the Thames
from this very window.
In those days, of course, Monet wasn't as famous as he is today.
These days, Monet and the Impressionists are everywhere.
Terribly popular, terribly familiar, terribly commercialised.
I have been Impressionist shopping and look what I've got.
Impressionist umbrellas, Impressionist pen,
Impressionist bag, Impressionist jigsaw,
this fine Impressionist shirt
and, above all, Impressionist chocolate.
Boxes and boxes of chocolates.
'When you're looking for art to put on a chocolate box,
'you turn to the Impressionists, don't you?
'Because these days their art seems so sweet and pleasant.'
But what if the Impressionism never was this charming,
sugary art movement we like to imagine?
What if the real story of Impressionism
was the story of a revolution, an overthrow,
artistically dangerous and hardcore?
What if the art of the Impressionists belongs not on a box of chocolates...
..but on a case of dynamite?
'The Impressionists never really had a plan.
'That wasn't how it happened.
'History threw them together to change art.
'Some contributed more than others
'and they're the ones we need to follow.
'If their story began anywhere, it was here,
'St Thomas, in the Virgin Islands,
'where the painter Camille Pissarro was born
'on July 10th, 1830.
'Pissarro isn't the best loved of the Impressionists.'
He's not the best known or the most popular.
Monet is more famous than him, and so is Renoir,
but none of them could've got together and did what they did without him.
Pissarro was the glue that held Impressionism together.
'The Impressionists had eight exhibitions, and that's it.
'Eight shows that changed art.
'And the only artist who appeared in all of them was Pissarro.'
'The Pissarro family ran a hardware store in the High Street,
'supplying useful stuff for the boats coming in and out of here.
'As far as art is concerned, however,
'the most interesting thing about them is that they were Jewish.'
If I were to ask you to name me a great Jewish artist before Pissarro,
you couldn't, because there weren't any.
Plenty after him, of course. Rothko, Modigliani, Soutine, but none before.
'Because the Jewish religion forbids the making of art.
"You shall not make for yourself any likeness
"of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below,"
'says the second commandment firmly.
'That's why there are no paintings or sculptures in synagogues.'
Pissarro's family were orthodox enough to follow most of the observances of their religion,
but they also had reason to challenge it and turn against it.
'Pissarro's father, Frederick Pissarro,
'had been sent to St Thomas to take over his uncle's business when the uncle died.
'To everyone's horror, he quickly started a relationship'
with his uncle's widow, Rachel Pissarro.
And even though she already had four children,
they got together and had four more, including Camille Pissarro.
'The synagogue disapproved - how could it not?
'Nephews shouldn't father their auntie's children.
'The marriage was never accepted,
'and a crack appeared in the ancient relationship
'between the Pissarros and their faith.'
Whether he was supposed to or not, Pissarro drew all the time.
He was always at it.
'Down on the docks, watching the fishermen.
'Out in the fields with the working women.
'It seems so modest, this Impressionism-to-be,
'so sensitive, so quiet.
'But don't let this quietude fool you.
'Powerful sins are being committed here.
'A Jewish boy is breaking an ancient taboo.'
Not just any Jewish boy, either,
but a Jewish boy stuck 4,500 miles away from Paris,
in the Virgin Islands,
just about as far away from the story of art as you can get.
'If Pissarro had been alive in any other era,
'there would've been no chance of him becoming a painter.
'Not only was it a religious no-no,
'but the practical difficulties were immense.'
Where around here would he have got materials he needed
to become an artist?
In those days, painters needed so much stuff
and the colours they used were so complicated to prepare.
This is lapis lazuli, semi-precious stone.
Incredibly expensive, it comes from Afghanistan,
but the best blues were made from this.
First, though, you needed to crack it
and crunch it and grind it and turn it into paint.
And when all the grinding and oiling was done,
how do you actually carry around this paint that you've made?
In those days, you shovelled it into pigs' bladders.
Yes, pigs' bladders.
'So at the beginning of the 19th century,'
painters needed all this to make art.
But then, in 1841 in England,
an American called John G Rand,
working for good old Winsor & Newton...
..invented something remarkable,
something brilliant and inspired.
..came up with this little beauty here.
The paint tube.
The impact of the paint tube on art can't be overestimated.
It changed everything.
This freed art.
It freed Pissarro and made Impressionism possible.
The new paint tubes were spectacularly portable,
so easy to carry wherever you went.
Squeezed quickly out of its quick new tube,
the new paint could capture quick new movement.
All sorts of elusive light effects were now easier to record and enjoy.
It had a liberating effect too and seemed to free the spirit,
as it definitely freed Pissarro's.
None of this had happened yet, of course.
All of it was now possible.
First, though, Pissarro had to get out of the Virgin Islands
and into Paris where the quick new paint was particularly useful.
But when he finally got here in 1855,
Pissarro found a city fast forwarding crazily into the future.
What was happening to Paris was scary.
The city was in the middle of a huge transformation.
Everything was changing.
The old Paris was being knocked down
and a new one was being rushed up in its place.
Pretty much all of the Paris that we love today, the boulevards,
the parks, the big vistas,
all that was created now.
And it was happening at breakneck speed.
Paris was now moving to a new rhythm.
And that rhythm got into its art.
It had to, didn't it?
Renoir, the second of the great pioneering Impressionists,
actually grew up next to the Louvre
on what is now the famous Rue de Rivoli.
This is it today.
One of the poshest and most fashionable addresses in Paris.
But when it Renoir grew up here, the Rue de Rivoli didn't even exist
and this bit of Paris didn't look anything like this.
It was more like this.
A wobbly medieval ghost ride of spooky streets and twisted alleys.
Infested with rats, sewage slopping in the streets,
the old Paris had barely changed since the Middle Ages.
It was a superb home for the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
But not for an Impressionist.
So why the big rebuild?
Why start Paris from scratch?
Because France had a new emperor, Napoleon III,
nephew of the first Napoleon.
And when a Napoleons take over, they change things.
For the citizens of Paris, turfed out, moved on,
these were terrible times.
An era of disruption.
But for the Impressionists, the conditions were perfect.
A city was changing beyond recognition.
So its art needed to change as well.
Renoir's father was a tailor
and apparently little Renoir learned to draw by using his father's chalks on the floor.
You know, those tailor's chalks they used to mark out their designs.
But the most interesting part of his education came in his teens
when he started to work for a posh manufacturer of luxury porcelain,
churning out of vases and teacups and plates.
Napoleon and his lackeys liked eating, drinking
and commemorating their achievements,
so they needed lots of posh plates to dine on.
Renoir was 14 when he was sent to work at Levy & Sons
as an apprentice porcelain painter.
Renoir was so good, so quick, at painting flowers on plates,
that he soon made enough money to buy his family a house.
And it obviously influenced him, too.
Look at the way people paint these plates.
The tiny brushes,
dabbing on pretty little effects, so decorative,
-What is the difference between painting porcelain
and painting pictures?
TRANSLATION: With porcelain painting the painter has to work horizontally,
with the elbow locked and the hand locked so they don't shake.
We work on things that are very fine and delicate,
and you have to learn to control your movement
so that it is only the wrist that moves.
The colours are very decorative, like this blue.
You don't find THAT in paintings.
This blue is cobalt blue.
It has been used since antiquity by the Chinese.
The speciality at Sevres is to apply it in many layers
to create a depth of colour that isn't found anywhere else.
C'est vraiment magnifique.
The mark of Sevres is cobalt blue.
If we jump ahead a few short years
and look at what Renoir went on to paint
when he became an Impressionist,
we can surely recognise the ceramic origins
of his feathery, flickery, decadent touch.
Painting pots made Renoir different from everyone around him.
These really were crazy times.
Here's an amazing statistic.
In 1850, there were a million people in Paris.
By the 1870s, there were two million!
Paris doubled in size in a couple of decades.
And these mad decades are exactly the decades
in which Impressionism was born.
The new Paris was packed with temptations.
One third of all the babies born here in Impressionist times
Poor old Pissarro, thrown into the deep end of this cauldron of change,
couldn't have known what had hit him.
He was just too sensitive, and well brought up,
for what was going on here.
Here's this small-town Jewish boy from the West Indies
suddenly finding himself in the wildest
and most sinful city on God's earth.
Do you know what a lorette is?
It's a French word.
A piece of 19th century Parisian slang,
which means a pretty girl.
A girl with loose morals.
You find them all over Impressionist pictures.
giggling, giving you the eye.
They're the new woman, the woman of today,
enjoying freedoms they'd never had before.
Lorettes are the kinds of girls respectable men stay away from.
And they are called lorettes because most of them lived around here,
la Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette.
And so too,
at number 49, did Pissarro.
Pissarro's mother came to Paris too to keep an eye on him.
So did his stepsister, Emma, and her five children.
There was a cook as well, a maid,
and a black slave brought back from Saint Thomas.
So that's five women, five children, plus Pissarro.
All crammed into there.
Small wonder his earliest Paris paintings
try so hard to get away from it all.
These quiet landscapes, painted on day trips out of the city,
are the works of a man from the Tropics, who is in love with light.
In all its varieties.
On that corner there, where the Gothic building is,
there used to be a beaten-up painting studio.
The Academie Suisse.
It was what they called a free studio,
meaning nobody actually taught you anything in there.
You decided for yourself what you wanted to paint.
Pissarro, who had strong anarchist tendencies from the start,
enrolled at the Academie Suisse as soon as he got to Paris.
One day a new student turned up at the studio,
a handsome young chap, a bit of a dandy,
who cut quite a dash
with his lacy cuffs
and his Antonio Banderas hair.
Pissarro got on very well with him.
This new chap also enjoyed painting outdoors.
The lorettes, they liked him too,
which they made pretty clear.
"I only sleep with maids and duchesses,"
replied this new chap haughtily.
"Preferably duchesses' maids."
That was Monet.
Claude Oscar Monet was from Le Havre,
a busy industrial port on the Normandy coast,
whose watery textures he was instinctively quick at capturing.
Monet was so talented
and the first unmistakable signs of this talent
appeared when he was 14 or 15,
and began drawing cartoons and caricatures
of Le Havre's most prominent citizens.
The prominent citizens loved these jokey portraits of themselves.
Monet was soon churning them out
and making so much money from his comic drawings
that he started to dream of becoming a proper artist.
A serious landscape painter,
quick enough and skilled enough to capture
the shimmering, changeable sights that surrounded him.
First, though, there were hoops to jump through.
To make it in the Parisian art world, you needed to show your work
at the infamous Paris Salon,
the most prestigious art exhibition in the world,
where every year, some of the world's most pompous pictures
were proudly selected and displayed.
This is the enemy.
This is what Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, all of them,
were up against,
the official art of the era.
The surface of a typical Salon picture
is as smooth and shiny as the paintwork on a new car.
Glistening, perfect, that's how they wanted it.
To make it in the Paris art world, this is the game you had to play.
Everything was controlled from here.
The Institute de France, created by a gang of Freemasons in 1795.
In here is the Academie de peinture et de sculpture.
The Academie appointed the teachers who taught here
at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
To get into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts,
you needed first to pass some exams.
Judged, of course, by the Academicians.
The Academicians also made sure your work was accepted
for the Paris Salon,
because they were the jury for it.
If you did well at the Salon,
the state, advised by the Academicians, naturally,
gave you a prestigious commission.
Like these ones here at the Pantheon.
After a few prestigious state commissions,
you too could now become an Academician
and teach at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts
where you passed on your methods to your students
and the whole rotten process could begin again.
So that is what the Impressionists were up against.
That is what they had to get away from.
That is why they happened.
Churning out Venuses was not the career that Monet wanted.
His guilty pleasure was the real world.
This is the biggest Monet exhibition of recent years.
It's at the Grand Palais in Paris,
a magnificent display of everything that Monet achieved.
There's the beaches near Le Havre where he grow up.
And here are the forests
he sneaked off to paint with Pissarro.
And then, at the other end of his life,
look at these outrageously brave and inventive water lilies.
I mean, how adventurous is that?
All that happens later, of course.
But I've brought you here now because I wanted to give you
an important tip for looking at Impressionist art.
If ever an Impressionist picture begins to look predictable or boring,
like you've seen it before,
another seascape, another riverside view,
what you need to do is get closer.
Shuffle right up to it, as close as you can.
If you are in a museum, get as close as they'll let you.
And really look at what's happening in an Impressionist picture.
Notice the brushstrokes, look how brave they are,
how cocky and adventurous.
A new language is being invented to convey new sensations.
The closer you get to an Impressionist picture,
the easier it is to feel the spirit of the revolution.
To beat the Salon system,
various private art schools had opened up in Paris.
This one here, down this secret alley...
..was run by an old boy called Charles Gleyre.
Gleyre had been a Salon painter in the past,
specialising in doomy mythologies.
But he was of a liberal bent,
so the students he had were more progressive than most.
Renoir was here already, and known to be something of a slacker.
"Young man," said Gleyre to him one day,
"you're very talented, very gifted,
"but it looks as if you took up painting to amuse yourself."
So Gleyre was an insightful old bird.
Renoir had a nose for pleasure.
And it led him to the Seine,
which he liked to explore with his new painting buddy,
Monet and Renoir would spend their summers sniffing out modern places by the river,
where modern people were having fun in modern ways.
That's how they found a notorious riverside hot spot
called La Grenouillere, which means "the frog pond".
La Grenouillere was a floating bar or on the river
where people came on Sundays for a bit of swimming and a lot of a flirting.
So infamous La Grenouillere that even the Emperor and his wife
turned up here in 1869 to see for themselves if all the stories were true.
In that same summer, 1869,
Monet and Renoir turned up as well to change the story of art.
The two painting buddies, that's Monet on the right,
Renoir or on the left,
set out to capture the interaction of people and light and water.
To do that, Monet and Renoir needed this little beauty here.
It doesn't look like much,
but this shiny piece of metal made Impressionism possible.
It's called a ferrule.
It is a tiny tin sheath that appeared on the ends of paintbrushes
halfway through the 19th century.
Before these metal ferrules were invented,
all brushes were basically round.
The clusters of hairs would be tied to the shaft
with string or binding.
Being able to use a flat brush like that
instead of a round brush like that, revolutionised art.
It completely changed the story of painting.
The brush strokes you can make with a flat brush
are much more expressive.
They're better for capturing the choppiness of the water,
the ripples, the flicker of the light on the surface.
And you can cover much more of the canvas quickly.
If you're in a hurry to record an elusive effect before it disappears,
as the Impressionists often were, what you need is one of these.
The paintings they made here are the first raw attempts at Impressionism.
Quick, fidgety, responsive.
It's not just the look of La Grenouillere
that's being captured here, but also its spirit.
It's all changed now, the Seine was re routed
and what was previously river, is now dry land.
You can still see this little island that Renoir and Monet painted.
It was called the Camembert because it was round and small.
It's all gone now, thank God Monet and Renoir
and their new types of brush came here
and painted it before it disappeared.
Before you can paint a riverside pleasure den,
you need to get to it.
That hadn't previously been easy.
Particularly for those old-fashioned painters
who still relied on old-fashioned painting equipment.
This is a typical studio easel of the time.
What most painters were using before the Impressionists.
As you can see, it takes two big blokes to manoeuvre it in.
Painting outdoors with this would have been impossible.
What you need instead is one of these.
The new, portable, fold away, easy to use
travelling easel with built-in painting kit.
With one of these, getting to La Grenouillere was a doddle.
You just hopped on board one of these new-fangled iron horses
that had recently appeared in France and you steamed there at speed.
The various design subtleties in these new, portable easels
made them the perfect tool for outdoor painting.
So practical, so easy to use.
The flat brushes, the ones with those new ferrules,
they all went in there.
Tubes of paint had replaced the big pigs bladders, they all go there.
There's a handy, fold away palette on top.
Just a few clicks of the box and you're a fully prepared,
outdoor Impressionist, ready for any landscape the train can take you to.
Sundays at La Grenouillere were exciting and fun.
The train was always heaving with eager pleasure-seekers.
Not all the crucial pioneering of the Impressionists
was undertaken on Paris's doorstep.
Sometimes, the iron horse needed to make a longer journey.
Montpellier in the south of France.
Classy, civilised, conservative,
and a long way from Paris.
Montpellier is famous for its ancient university,
and for these sun-drenched lovelies.
Southern grapes grown by the barrel-load
for producing the cheap and cheerful local wine.
Among Montpellier's richest wine families there were the Bazilles.
Who ran this posh establishment, the Domaine de Meric.
The Bazilles had a son, Frederic Bazille who was exceptionally tall,
exceptionally shy and exceptionally talented.
So talented, that he might have become the greatest
of all the Impressionists if the Germans hadn't killed him first.
Bazille is the fourth of the key Impressionist Musketeers.
Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Bazille.
He died in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian war.
Too young to see through the Impressionist revolution,
but he was there at the beginning and he was crucial.
The Bazilles wanted Frederic to become a doctor.
But he failed all the exams and ended up instead
with Monet and Renoir at the Academy Gleyre.
His parents were generous enough to give him a full allowance
which his fellow students were happy to help him spend.
But what is fascinating about Bazille, what makes him stand out,
apart from the fact he was nearly seven foot tall,
his most interesting pictures weren't printed in Paris
with Monet and Renoir around, but here in Montpellier,
outdoors in this hot, dry luminous landscape.
This is his masterpiece.
A haunting picture showing the whole of his family arranged
on a terrace at the Domaine de Meric.
Mum and dad, sisters, cousins and their beaus.
With Bazille himself squashed uncomfortably into the corner.
They're supposed to be looking relaxed and informal.
They've all come together on a sunny Montpellier terrace
for a quiet afternoon of family bonding.
So why do they all look so stiff and anxious?
Because Bazille is more interested in capturing the light of the south
than in being nice to his family.
Bazille and Monet were close. Bazille had money, Monet didn't.
So, it was useful for Monet and Renoir
to use Bazille's studio.
And occasionally to move in there, rent free.
One day, Bazille suggested they should form
a group of artists with similar ideas.
Monet agreed and then forgot about it for a while,
as students do.
It was also Bazille who suggested painting some life-size figures
in the most difficult place there is for figure painting,
outdoors, in the sunshine with the figures in front of you.
Bazille himself never tried it,
but Monet did, in fact, he decided to paint an outdoor scene
in which the figures were double life-size.
It was the height of a London bus.
And most of the width of one, as well.
In the past, pictures of this huge historic size had always shown us
events of huge historic importance - wars, coronations, massacres.
But all Monet shows us is a group of his friends on a picnic,
having fun outdoors.
Monet's mistress, Camille,
posed for all these interestingly backlit women.
Bazille is all the chaps in bowler hats.
It was so expensive to paint that Monet ran out of money
and couldn't pay his rent.
The landlord kicked him out and kept the giant painting as security.
When Monet finally got it back much of it had rotted away.
He could only saved two big bits.
Since the whopper hadn't worked out, the following summer,
in 1866, Monet decided to have another go.
Sensibly, the new picture was going to be much smaller,
only around 8ft tall this time.
But his chief ambition - to paint a scene of everyday life
out in the open air, in the sunshine - that ambition remained.
He painted some women in a garden, lounging around in the sunshine,
wearing lovely dresses and not doing much.
Painting outdoors is difficult for all sorts of reasons,
particularly if you're painting a whopper.
How, for instance, do you paint the top of a picture
that's much bigger than you?
Monet's solution was to dig a trench in the garden
and to have the canvas lowered into it on pulleys.
But the biggest challenge he set himself was to paint sunlight
directly, exactly as it was.
It's actually one of the hardest tasks in art -
combining strong sunshine with strong shadows.
Have you watched one of those games of football on the TV
when the sun's shining and throwing big black shadows on the pitch?
The camera just can't handle it, the contrasts are too great.
But the human eye can.
No one in art had previously painted sunshine as bright as this.
He nearly gets it right, but not quite.
Some of the passages of painting and women in the garden are stunning.
Look at the way he's captured the light on that white dress.
But overall, there's a strange air of unreality to the picture.
It's got a frozen quality, as if all these modern people have been
preserved for posterity in a very sunny ice cube.
Unreality was never an issue with Pissarro.
He was too poor to be unreal.
I know artists always go on about how tough things were for them
in their youth, before they were discovered,
but in Pissarro's case, the hardships were never exaggerated.
He really was exceptionally poor and put-upon for most of his career.
It made him extra sensitive to little things,
to places the rest of us might walk past,
to people the rest of us might ignore.
Where the other painters in his gang were attracted to the countryside
for the lunching and the boating, Pissarro avoided all that.
His countryside is somewhere you grow things and work hard,
connect to the earth and do your bit.
So why was he so poor, so put-upon?
I'm afraid it was that old devil love that brought him down.
Pissarro's mistake was to fall in love with one of his mother's servants, the cook's assistant.
Julie, she was called.
This Julie turned out to be one of the great artist's wives -
loyal, dogged, resourceful.
But she wasn't Jewish.
She was his mother's servant, a practising Christian,
and pretty quickly she got pregnant by him,
none of which went down well with the family.
Pissarro's mother, who controlled the purse-strings, wrapped her fingers tightly around them
and ensured that Pissarro, Julie and their quickly multiplying number of offspring
would never be comfortable and often poor.
They moved out here to Louveciennes on the outskirts of Paris,
not because the river out here is especially pretty
or any of the usual Impressionist reasons but because, in those days,
the rents here were much lower than they were in the city.
They rented the cheapest house they could get, and while Julie -
who was born in the country and who was excellently practical
and resourceful - grew what she could in the garden,
Pissarro continued to paint his sensitive landscapes
and set about fathering enough children
to populate several families.
I don't usually come south of the river in London -
it's not my manor.
But when you tread in the footsteps of the Impressionists
you end up in some unlikely places.
Welcome to Upper Norwood,
where the suburbs of London turn into more suburbs.
I could have put this sign up in Croydon or in Dulwich,
or Sydenham because Pissarro painted in all of them.
Amazingly, South London was a crucial location in the story of Impressionism.
Important things happened here at a very important time.
In 1870, France started a war with Prussia.
The Prussians charged across Europe and quickly surrounded Paris.
A few brave Frenchmen fought back, but most of them didn't.
Monet and Pissarro, both of whom had children and mistresses to look after,
fled here to London,
where they soon settled into a modest but fruitful lifestyle.
London inspired Monet to paint the Thames on a warm summer night
with the Houses of Parliament looming in the distance,
looking mysterious and misty.
Pissarro, however, avoided the obvious landmarks
and sniffed out a London that was quiet, modest, suburban,
a London that struck a chord with him.
Pissarro painted this view.
This one, too.
And this one.
It isn't dramatic art but it is sensitive and responsive.
These quiet English greys,
the sooty air, the damp joylessness of living here.
It takes great sensitivity to enjoy a place as ordinary as this,
and great pictorial talent to paint it.
Something else happened in London which, in the end,
was absolutely crucial, because it was here in London that Monet
and Pissarro discovered Turner.
Britain's finest landscapist was to play a big role
in the creation of Impressionism.
It's an easy fact to prove.
Here is a typical Turner.
And here a typical Monet.
Weirdly though, for some complex French reason,
Monet would later insist that Turner had no influence on him at all.
"I never looked at Turner," he said.
Even though the two of them
traipsed keenly round the London galleries examining the art.
And Pissarro's name was actually in the visitors' book
at Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Of course, Turner influenced and inspired the Impressionists.
It could hardly be more obvious.
And when the Franco-Prussian war was over,
and Monet and Pissarro scuttled back to France.
They took back with them Turner's glorious certainty
that landscape was a route to the emotions.
Whether it was noisy or it was subtle,
it always spoke to the heart.
Une baguette. Merci...
You know what the French are like about bread,
the entire country runs on baguettes.
This crusty little beastie has played a key role
in the creation of the French identity.
Bread played a big role too in the story of the Impressionists.
When Pissarro returned to France from England,
he found the invading Prussians had turned his house into a stable
and spread his pictures across the muddy ground,
so their horses wouldn't get their hooves wet.
Disillusioned, traumatised, Pissarro decided to move
and to start again here in Pontoise in 1872.
He began to think seriously as well about that idea
that Bazille had had a few years earlier -
to assemble a group of like-minded artists,
an association of some sort, to work together and beat the system.
Pissarro looked at various options
before setting up his new organisation.
In the end, the rules for the new group of painters
were based on the Charter of the Bakers' Union here in Pontoise.
Mind you, this wasn't any old Bakers' Union,
this was the oldest Bakers' Union in the world.
The Bakers of Pontoise
were granted their charter by Louis VII as long ago as 1162.
So they had a particularly long history of making trouble.
Remember, bread in France is powerful stuff.
The French Revolution was triggered by bread strikes,
so was the Paris Commune of 1871,
the world's first workers' takeover.
So by using the Bakers' Union as the model for this new group of artists,
Pissarro was hoping that they'd inherit
some of the revolutionary fire of these dangerous bakers.
By the winter of 1873, the plans were complete.
15 artists would form a joint stock company, a co-operative of equals.
Their plan was to operate entirely outside the salon system.
No academies, no prizes, just the art itself.
Degas, who we haven't talked about yet
but who we're talking about a lot later in the series,
wanted to call the group "La Capucine", The Nasturtium,
after that bright red flower that Monet planted in his gardens.
"We could put nasturtiums on the posters," he said.
But he was overruled.
Instead, the new gang lumbered itself with
the long and unsnappy name of
the Societe Anonyme Des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs,
which doesn't trip off the tongue, does it?
So they had the organisation, they had the name,
but where were they going to show?
Monet knew the photographer Nadar,
the most fashionable photographer in Paris,
who had recently moved out of his studio
in the glamorous Boulevard des Capucines.
So it was empty, and he offered it to Pissarro and his friends for free.
So this is where they had their show,
in Nadar's chic studio at 35 Boulevard des Capucines.
It opened on April 15th, 1874, and changed art forever.
What you're about to see is revolutionary, too.
I've been trying to get in here for three decades.
It might be the most famous art exhibition of all time,
but these days, they prefer to keep the doors closed.
Pissarro and Monet rounded up all their friends
and persuaded them to join.
They were a higgledy-piggledy bunch.
The one thing that united everyone here
was a shared hatred of the salon system.
Although this was a photography studio, do you know,
not a single picture has survived of the first Impressionist exhibition.
All we know is that Nadar had painted the walls
a tasteful blood red...
..which has survived.
And that Renoir, who did all the hanging, arranged all the pictures.
There were 165 of them, by 30 artists, in two democratic rows,
small ones at the bottom, big ones on top.
Renoir showed seven pictures
and found his Venus in a box at the theatre,
with his brother, Edmond, at the back, getting an even better look.
Pissarro had five pictures,
all of them devoted in a quiet but revolutionary fashion
to real places and real sunshine.
Degas, meanwhile, painted the ballet.
No one had ever done that before.
There was a woman artist too - Berthe Morisot.
How about this for a brush stroke?
Monet showed four paintings, one of which was actually painted from up here,
from Nadar's balcony.
The shimmering view of the Boulevard des Capucines in action,
teeming with modern life.
But it was the darkest Monet in the show that had the biggest impact.
It was painted in Le Havre, in the harbour,
in misty and mysterious conditions.
A glowing red sun hovering over a black sea,
casting a mysterious orange reflection.
Renoir's brother, Edmond, who was editing the catalogue,
pushed Monet to come up with a catchy title for it.
Monet casually suggested Impression Sunrise,
and thought no more of it.
But a waspish little art critic called Louis Leroy
was much amused by this deliberately ambiguous title.
In a nasty review of the show,
Leroy giggled that this new gang of painters were just impressionists.
He was trying to be sarcastic, but the insult stuck.
From now on, Monet, Pissarro and the gang
would always be known as the Impressionists.
In the next film, the revolution continues,
with some of the most famous outdoor art ever painted.
And with me half killing myself trying to find out how it was done.
So you think you know the Impressionists?
Well, here's 100 Francs that says you don't.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Art writer Waldemar Januszczak explores the revolutionary achievements of the Impressionists. In the first episode, Waldemar delves into the back stories of four of the most influential Impressionists - Pissarro, Monet, Renoir and Bazille - who together laid the foundations of the artistic movement. He finds out what social and cultural influences drove them to their style of painting, how they were united and how ultimately they challenged and changed art forever.
Waldemar journeys from the shores of the West Indies, to the progressive city of Paris to the suburbs of South London, where these four artists drew inspiration from the cities and towns in which they lived. Whether it be the infamous spot on the river Seine - La Grenouillere - where Monet and Renoir beautifully captured animated people, iridescent light and undulating water or the minimalist, non-sensationalised illustrations of Pissarro's coarse countryside paintings, Waldemar discovers how the Impressionists broke conventions by depicting every day encounters within the unpredictable and ever changing sights around them.