Identification of paintings



Impressionism, a historical reconstruction:

Identification of paintings


Of many of the exhibited works at the 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions it is uncertain or even unknown what painting or other art-work was shown. How come? What helps with the identification of the art-works that were exhibited by the partakers of the 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions (and other exhibitions)?

Catalogue Raisonné:
For the identification it helps when there is a Catalogue Raisonné (=CR) of an artist (see intro of the general references). Here you will find an overview of the known pictures of an artist. On each work it renders information on dating, when it was owned by whom (=provenance), when it was (probably) exhibited, where it was painted and what it depicts. Of many unknown artists there is no Catalogue Raisonné. And the Catalogues Raisonné of the more known artists only or namely render oil paintings. So, this makes indentification of drawings and also watercolours and pastels harder.

Identification is easier when the provenance is known and also when the work exhibited was a loan (indicated by ‘appartient à …’). Several art-works were loans by art-collectors or art-dealers. Also the partakers did own and loan each others art-works. Sometimes the loaner is only indicated with initials. Berson (1996) renders an overview of the lenders and often identifies the loaner behind the initials (R90II,p285-294). Per year I also render an overview of the loanders, see 1874, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886. Many of these collections are (posthumously) auctioned at Hôtel Drouot and at the galleries of Durand-Ruel and Georges Petit. Of many of these auctions the catalogues can still be found, namely on (=iR19) and (=iR40). In many of these catalogues you will not only find the title of the art-works, but also information on the size, the signature (and other inscriptions on the art-work), the former owner, when it was exhibited (namely at the Salon and the Exposition Universelle). Sometimes also a description is given of what the picture depicts. (Note: not always it is indicated if the size is with or without frame.) See for example the 1912 auction of the collection of Henri Rouart. The provenance can also be derived from the archives of art-dealers such as Durand-Ruel or from surviving notes of the artist itself (see for example CR362 sold 1878/06/19 by Monet to Dr. de Bellio; R22). Several sources render the provenance of an art-work, namely a catalogue raisonné (=CR) of an artist, Musea and auction houses as Christies (iR15) and Sothebys (iR14). But often there is no Catalogue Raisonné of an (unknown) artist and many works are in a private collection.
Note: often it is not clear when exactly an art-work was bought by an art-collector. We must be aware of circle reasoning: a made-up example is when the posthumous auction catalogue of the art-collector X contained an autumn landscape by Monet and this same X did also lend an autumn landscape in 1876, we assume that he had it in his possession in 1876 and that assumption makes it a very plausible suggestion for the work exhibited in 1876. We always must be open minded that X did lend another autumn landscape in 1876.

Dated art-works:
The dating of an art-work helps with the identification. Mostly it is an indication that a work was meant for an exhibition or a sale. Mostly an art-work exhibited was made shortly before it was exhibited (unless it was more a retrospective exhibition). Several artists dated just a small number of works. This makes identifaction very hard. Sometimes an artist later reworked a work a bit and than dated it. Than it is still a possibility that the art-work was exhibited before this date. Sometimes the dating is hard to read. Sometimes a significant development in the painting style can help with the identification (R2,p22), but when not many works are known and not many works are dated, such a development is hard to discern. Namely drawings, but also watercolours and pastels are not dated, this makes their identification harder.

Identification is easier when a painting is signed by the artist. When not, it needs more research to identificate who the artist was. It is known that Pissarro, Cézanne, Guillaumin, Cordey and Vignon painted together in Pontoise and surroundings and painted the same motives. The identification of several paintings was hard to make. Several artists more than once didn’t sign their art-works. Sometimes this makes attribution doubtfull, see for example Marie Bracquemond. Namely drawings, but also watercolours and pastels are not signed, this makes their identification harder.

The uniqueness of the title:
The more unique a title is, the easier it is to identify. Identification is harder when an artist painted two or more paintings with the same theme or even the same title. It took a long time to indicate that Monet’s ‘Boulevard des Capucines’ (1IE-1874-97) was the one now in the Pushkin Museum (R22, CR292) and not the one in Kansas City (R22, CR293; R2,p23). Several times more than one option is given, see for example 2IE-1876-150 of Monet and the discussion on the paintings rendering the Saint-Lazare station in 1877, see also the account. It helps when there is a catalogue raisonné (=CR) of an artist, where you can check in an overview of titles and/or motives.
Identification is harder when the name of a work is very common.
When we look at the same catalogue of 1874 we see that Attendu exhibited under number 11 (and 12) ‘nature morte: cuisine’. Attendu painted many kitchen still lives, so that makes it hard to identify. Additionally it is indicated that it were aquarelles and that they belonged to M.J.D. Sometimes through this ownership (provenance) a work is better to be traced, but as Attendu disappeared in oblivion in this case it doesn’t work. In my thematical overview of his paintings you will find several kitchen still-lifes; it will give you an impression of what Attendu could have exhibited in 1874.
Brettell writes: ’the paintings by Cézanne in the (3th) exhibition (in 1877) were titled so generically (three were entitled ‘nature morte’, two ‘étude de fleurs’ and four ‘paysage: ‘étude d’après nature’), and so few descriptions of them exist in the criticism, that precise identification has eluded all scholars.’ (R2,p195). Still scholars give (not fully certain) suggestions, which I follow, indication also that there are several other options (see account).
Sometimes a title of an art-work changes at successive auctions and than ends with a title that is similar to an exhibited work, like 4IE-1879-205 of Rouart.

Description by art-critics:
Identification is easier when a work was clearly described by contemporary art-critics. It is harder when they don’t mention the work at all, or render just a more common review.

Personal notes of the artist:
Sometimes there is a writing known of the artist in which it is indicated which works were exhibited. Sometimes an artist refers to a work (to be exhibited) or describes it in a letter. This helps with the identification. But of more unknown artists, no such notes or letters are known.


Identification of engravings:
The identification of engravings mostly is easier. Of one etch multiple prints are made. This increases the chances that at least one print has been preserved somewhere. Prints are also good catalogued. Beraldi already catalogued etching between 1895-92. Delteil did the same between 1906-1923 and later. Delteil dealt with a smaller amount of engravers, but also rendered pictures and detailed information. There are also catalogues of individual engravers. Such as that of Clément-Janin rendering many etchings of Desboutin in his biography (1922=R158=aR12=iR19).

Just an impression:
In the catalogue of the 8th ‘impressionist’ exposition (for example) you will find many titles which are very common, like ‘portrait’, ‘landscape’, ‘fan’, ‘head of a woman’. When there is no or only a vague description of the showed work by art-critics, the painter himself and his acquaintances, the identification is very hard. Even when there are no indications, I also try to render a suggestion. When we see for example the catalogue of the first ‘impressionist’ exposition of 1874, we see under number 99 that Monet showed ‘deux croquis’ which means two studies. Numbers 100 and 101 have the same title. The only additional information is that these were pastels. These works were not reviewed. Even the Catalogue Raisonné of Wildenstein (R22) doesn’t give an indication of what works Monet did exhibit under these numbers. because it were pastels. Still I will render some pastels just to give an impression of what Monet did exhibit and to emphasize that Monet also did exhibit 7 pastels, something that is mostly not mentioned (see).

General account:
In my choices I mostly follow the suggestions of Moffett (=R2), Berson (=R90), Dayez (=87) and (indirectly) the Catalogue Raisonné of an artist (if there is one). But these sources, which I highly respect, often don’t give suggestions for works that can not be identified with some certainty. Especially of the less known partakers. My main goal with this website is to give an impression of what could have been exhibited. So I more freely combine the titles in the ‘impressionist’ catalogues and the titles / paintings that are now known. Sometimes I give to compare another picture that probably resembles the picture that was exhibited.
I hope that my suggestions are of use for the ungoing identification of what art-works were exhibited at the 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions.


Recommanded citation: “The identification of paintings exhibited at the ‘impressionist’ expositions (1874-86). Last modified 2023/11/25.”