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How to make a living?


The ‘impressionist’ expositions were (also) held by the artistst to make themselves known and to sell their art-works. It is known that several of them have gone through periods of (severe) poverty. Others were well to do and even could support their colleagues. Others were ‘amateur’ painters in the sense they had a job. What did people need in those days to make a living? What were average wages? What were the revenues from sales of art-works? What expenses did an artist make? On this page we will try to find answers on these questions. The problem is that the information given is very fragmented. Often it is not indicated to what year(s) this information applies. I have no inside in inflation in France in the second half of the 19th century, but I assume that the Franco-Prussian war in 1870/71, the economic resessions in the early 1870s and 1880s had influence on how much a franc was worth and how many francs you needed to make a living. So I will render the fragmented information from my sources and try to draw some conclusions.


Poor ‘impressionists’:
Several partakers of the ‘impressionist’ expositions have gone through periods of (severe) poverty. Who were they? When did they suffer poverty?
Monet, Camille Pissarro, Lucien Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley all knew for years financial difficulties.
But how poor, were these ‘poor impressionists’? In 1914 Lucien Pissarro reacts on an article on the poverty of Monet in his early life (late 1860s): … the Monets seemed to me quite bourgeois compared to us. Little Jean Monet had a cupboard dull of the most magnificent toys. That does not sound like living on potatoes! (…) And the large 1870 picture in the exhibiton, the portrait of Mme Monet in a black silk dress, does not resemble poverty. But it does make good business when it seems you are starving of hunger!’ Still, Monet recalled to Lucien that sometimes he had no money to eat (…) and that he was kept from starving by the bread which Renoir stole for him from his mother’s table. (R312,p143/4)
For Lucien Pissarro money was never plentiful. (R312,p97) Still, living in England he made many trips to Paris and Eragny.


Many of the partakers of the ‘impressionist’ expositions that couldn’t make a sufficient income for themselves received an allowance from their parents or others. How high were these allowences?
In 1894 Camille Pissarro sent his son Lucien 200fr a month, which was enough to live on (R312,p76).


Amateur painters:
Some partakers of the ‘impressionist’ expositions did paint in their free time next to their jobs.
In 1868 Pissarro and Guillaumin painted blinds and shop signs (R116,p124;R312,p22).


Well to do ‘impressionists’:
Some ‘impressionists’ were quite well to do and didn’t have to sell their art-works. Some could live on the returns on family capital.
Later in his life Monet was quite well to do. In 1892 he lend money to Camille Pissarro and in 1906 to Lucien Pissarro. In 1900 he owned a car. In 1919 he had 5 gardeners working for him. (R312,p67+100+105+167)


Wages in other professions:
What did people in those days earn in other professions?
Workers at stone quarries earned around 3 1/2 francs a day, which was about three times higher than the average rate for manuel labour (R59,p157). So this makes about 18 francs a week, 72 francs a month and 864 francs a year for a stone quarries worker. And 6 a week, 24 a month and 288 francs a year for a manuel labour.
Around 1859 a young man could live from 125 francs a month (1500 francs a year) (R22, p25).
Around 1887 an unskilled workman earned 60 centimes an hour (R312,p45)


Revenues from sales:
An artist had to sell his art-works to make a living. What were the revenues they received from their sales?
At the late 60s Père Martin gave Pissarro 20fr for a small and 40fr for a large painting (R312,p22).
Late 1870 Durand-Ruel payed 400fr to Pissarro for 2 paintings (R312,p24)
Around 1886 Monet charged 1200fr for his paintings for his dealers (R1,p532)
In 1889 Lucien Pissarro sold to Goupil 25 prints of his wood engravings at 5fr each (R312,p46)
1890: paintings of Camille Pissarro were sold for 2100 and 1400fr (R312,p46).
In 1891 Camille Pissarro received 3000 à 4000fr for his paintings (R312,p62).


Expenses as an artist:
As an artist you hade to buy canvases, paint and so on. You also travelled to other interesting places to paint and had to pay for lodgings. Income is revenues from sales minus expenses. So what were these expenses?
In 1863 Monet had to pay 3,75 francs for a full-pension at the Inn ‘Cheval-Blanc’ (R22,p49), This makes 112,50 a month.
1865: about 2/3 of the population paid less than 250 francs a month rent in Paris, the rest paid between 250 and 1500 francs (iR3).
1887: Lucien Pissarro could take lunch in a cheap restaurant for 1 franc (R312,p44).
Around 1910 Lucien Pissarro paind 3 francs a day for a full pension in a hotel (R312,p119).



Meadmore (1962=R312). For other general references (=R) see. For other references to internet sites (=iR) see. See links for practical hints and abbreviations and for the subscription of the paintings.