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 was shown. How come?

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.

Identification is easier when the provenance is known and also when the work exhibited was a loan (indicated by ‘appartient à …’). The provenance of a painting is mostly mentioned in a Catalogue Raisonné of a painter and by the museum in which the painting is exhibited. But often there is no Catalogue Raisonné of an (unknow) painter and many works are in a private collection.

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. And also when it is not mentioned by the artist or others in a letter or something like that.

When a work is not dated and when there is no significant development in the painting style the identification is also hardened. (R2,p22)

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).

Identification is harder when the name of a work is very common.
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. 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).
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.
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. As 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).

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 2021/05/21.