THE ART OF THE DEAL – PART 1

Paul Durand-Ruel

Who was Paul Durand-Ruel?

Paul Durand-Ruel was an art dealer and collector instrumental in the development of the group of painters known as the Impressionists.

Durand–Ruel is credited as being the reason this group of painters are as famous as they are today due to his support and promotions throughout the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.

How did he help them?

He really was the corner stone of their development.

He convinced them not only to have group shows together but one man solo exhibitions too. Moreover, he encouraged this young group by buying their works for his personal collection or by acting as their dealer and selling works on their behalf.

He also actively looked to promote the group outside of Paris when the French found, the then group of young painters known as the Impressionist, to be an abomination to the French Art world.

How quickly tides do turn, eh?


Was he a dealer before the Impressionists?

YES – he is credited for the success of a group of artist in the 1830s in Paris called the Fine School of Painting – which included the likes of History of Art elite Eugène Delacroix.

He also worked with artist such as Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet to name drop a few. So yeah, he had tried his hand at dealing before.

As a dealer, how has he effected how the art world works today?

They may seem like such normal, run of the mill things today, but Durand –Ruel really did invent some monumentally key things in the art world. Brace yourself - this list is impressive:

1. Exclusive representation of an artist

Before Durand-Ruel, artists were in a bit of a free for all – with many not represented continuously by the one dealer or gallery, if they were represented at all. Durand-Ruel changed this.

2. Financial backing from independent sources

Finding financial backers to help support the artist’s shows and expenses was unheard off – until Ruel. With borrowed capital or invested capital, it allowed Ruel to promote shows and hire large venues as and when needed.

3. He gave his artists a monthly stipend

It’s true – it was only a small amount of money, but this went towards studio costs such as rent and materials, sometimes things were so bad for some of his artists sale wise, Ruel’s stipend made sure the artists were eating!

4. Publishing of Art Reviews

Yes – he pushed for reviews of art exhibitions to happen – he even published his own journal which featured reviews of his artists’ works so people who were not based in Paris or unable to get to shows could see the works and find about the latest shows happening in Paris. This was so art could be openly and widely discussed, before this, there was no such thing.

5. One man shows!

Yip – one man shows – before Durand -Ruel is was a case of safety in numbers and group shows were seen as the right and proper way of showing an artist’s work. A solo exhibition was practically unheard of – another cornerstone art world phenomenon Ruel invented.

How did they meet?

In 1870, Durand-Ruel fled Paris during the Franco Prussian War, taking with him his entire stock from his Paris Gallery. He set himself up on New Bond Street and was introduced to Claude Monet and Pissarro as they too were in London working having fled France for the same reasons.

In 1871, Durand-Ruel returned to Paris and met Degas, Sisley and Renoir. Upon meeting Renoir in his Parisian studio, Durand-Ruel was so taken by his work, he famously purchased his entire studio – which at that time contained 23 paintings.

Durand-Ruel began representing the artists and initiated trying to promote and sell their works through shows and art reviews which he published himself.

He also knew the major art dealers across Europe and with their help and recommendations, would show works in hotels where he would rent space to push their names across Europe.

By 1883, Ruel was still trying to push the Impressionist but was at the brink of financial ruin. He began looking at International markets to see if this would help and in 1883 – organised successive solo exhibitions and showed their works in Germany, The United Kingdom and Boston, USA. Alas, these were not a success.

Despite this, Ruel continued to support and push the Impressionists.

What was the turning point in the representation?

After trying to push the Impressionists in France, and Durand-Ruel now financially struggling, he STILL looked to seek approval on an international stage.

In 1886, the Director of the American Association of Art in New York, James Sutton approached the dealer asking if he would like to stage an exhibition of works there. Ruel had near enough trashed his reputation in France trying to push the Impressionists and was considered mad for trying to sell what was seen at the time to be degenerate art – so he really had nothing left to lose, and seized the opportunity with both hands.

Asking the Impressionists to loan him their works, which, although hesitant, they agreed; he arranged an exhibition in New York.

The American Association of Art agreed to finance all transport, insurance, installation costs and arrange for the 30% import tax only to be applied to works which sold in the states. Durand-Ruel set sail for New York with 300 works by the Impressionists in March in 1886.

What happened in New York?

Exactly what Durand-Ruel hoped would happen – SUCCESS – although small at first.

Originally shown in the American Art Galleries, the show was so popular, it was decided it would continue at the National Academy of Design in New York. It was the first time an Impressionist show was warmly received.

Durand-Ruel praised the Americans for being: ‘Less bound by routine and less ignorant than our French collectors.’

New York newspaper, The Critic, stated: ‘New York has never seen a more interrupting exhibition than this.’

Commercially, the success was small to begin with, but the show was deemed so successful Sutton and Durand-Ruel arranged a new show for the following year in 1887, and 225 paintings sold at the National Academy of Design.

Even by today’s standards, that selling rate of an exhibition is UNHEARD of.

Durand-Ruel set up a permanent space in New York in 1887 due to the success of the second show and began setting up auctions where people could collect a piece from the ‘Durand-Ruel School of French Painting.‘

After his success in New York he then tried his hand dealing in Germany, as he identified this as the main art market in Europe. Although he was not financially able to set up as space, it took 10 more years of pushing before works began getting purchased by German museums and high net worth collectors.

Did he try selling in London again after finding success in the USA?

OF COURSE HE DID!

And to this day, London is where art historians consider the most important Impressionist Exhibition ever to be held happened.

This took place in 1905 at the Grafton Gallery where Durand-Ruel showed 315 works by his Impressionist painters.

When did he stop Dealing?

Paul Durand-Ruel retired after a long and successful career in 1910, leaving his galleries to his sons.


To me, I find it completely baffling that Durhand-Ruel is not a household name like the Impressionist as, regardless of the fact he was not an artist himself, he was the driving force behind a group of artist who arguably could have sizzled out had he not believed in their potential so much.

Without Durand-Ruel, the Impressionists works would not have travelled internationally, sparking such a high demand for them abroad and spreading awareness of the group and widely as what Durand-Ruel did.


He is a perfect introductory example of what a dealer has the power to achieve for artists and stands as a shining example of, when it is done right, how the effects are long felt even after the dealer and artists are long gone.

What I admire about Paul Durand-Ruel is his sheer determination and drive to success and push a group of artists who he knows had something special, even if their country of origin did not. He was resourceful and adapted his methods of promotion and selling to suit any new environment he entered into and that to me is one of the key aspects in the art of the deal..

Further Materials

There is an incredible lecture by the Frink Collection on Youtube if you have a spare 35 minutes and want to learn a little more about the dealer and his success in America.

It’s called ‘Paul Durand-Ruel: Promoting Impressionists Abroad’ and can be viewed via this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRZjQfz8xGQ

Please note this is not sponsored, this is a personal recommendation, like all links in my blog.

Furthermore, there are several books written on the dealer should you wish to invest some more time learning about him. These can be found on Amazon, ebay or any good online retailer.

If you have enjoyed the blog, look out for part 2 coming Monday August 24th, 2020, when I launch part 2 of the ‘Art of the Deal’ series, all about the amazing, Sir Joseph Duveen!

I’m very excited about the next in the series!

Jo McLaughlin July 2020

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