Impressionists (2006)




Director:     Tim Dunn. 

Starring:     Sebastian Armesto (Art Critic),  Richard Armitage (Young Claude Monet),  Crispin Bonham-Carter (Ambroise Vollard),  Anthony Calf (Emile Zola),  Charlie Condou (Renoir),  Michael Culver (Czanne's father),  Aden Gillett (Degas),  Julian Glover (Claude Monet - Older),  Andrew Havill (Manet),  Sophie Holden (Girl in Caf),  Will Keen (Czanne),  Ella Kenion (Suzanne Monet),  Tommy Knight (Paul Cezanne Junior),  James Lance (Bazille), Jo McInnes (Hortense),  Clive Merrison (Charles Gleyre),  Iain Mitchell (Judge 1),  Michael Mller (Thiebault-Sisson),  Ellie Piercy (Victorine),  Isobel Pravda (Camille Monet),  Crispin Redman (Marquis de ChenneviPres),  Neil Roberts (Durranty),  Amanda Root (Alice Hosched). 

story of artist painter Monet and the creation of Impressionism which began in 1860s among Paris-based artists

TV mini-series


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 


Part I. 

Flashback.  Claude Monet travels on a steam engine train to Paris.  He knocks on the door of an apartment and introduces himself. 

Back to the present.  Giverny, France 1920.  A reporter from the newspapers comes to interview old man Monet about his life.  Monet says:  Journalists.  "They all want to know me now."  He is a Impressionist emphasizing water, light and color.  He says that the Impressionists were of our time and yet beyond. 

Flashback.  This is a true Story. 

Paris 1862.  Monet attends an art academy to study painting.  The fellow in charge tells him that a beginner first must learn drawing.  Monet is impatient to paint and the master does not like this about him. 

Back to the present.  Monet tells the journalist that his studio is out there, in nature.  He was fortunate to make two good friends at the academy: Renoir and Bazille; friends that he would never lose sight of.

Flashback.   Monet tells his two fiends that his father wants him to be a grocer, but he is not interested.  Even as a child he would go to the beach instead of to school, which he could not tolerate. 

Back to the Present.    Monet tells the journalist that he took his inspiration from nature.  The newspaperman asks Monet who kept him going.  He answers:  Renoir and Bazille.  And Eduardo Manet.  Everything new started with Manet, he says.  Manet's great muse was a pretty woman model named Victorine. 

Flashback.  Manet tells Victorine that he wants her to look at him straight ahead, which models never did at the time.  His wife Suzanne was his anchor.  He married her around this time. 

Salon, Paris 1863.  The Salon was the state run art exhibition.  The emphasis was on history painting, especially paintings to help French Emperor Louis Napoleon.  The Salon was the only source of money and support for the new nature-inspired painters, but their painting were undervalued or out-right rejected.  The Marquis de ChenneviPres was the man in charge of judging the paintings.  His "dead" hand passed over all the canvases in the competition.  Looking at a Manet painting a judge says that the "painter is a degenerate."  "Refused!"

There were so many paintings that were rejected by the Salon and so many complaints from artists that the French Emperor announced an exhibition of all the rejected works. 

The Salon de Refuses. May 15, 1863.  Manet's painting of a nude woman with men in black suits looking straight at the viewer (Le dejeuner sur l'herbe) attracted a great many viewers.  The painters all came to see the nude woman.  (This proved be a great inspiration to a lot of young painters.)

Still much affected by the negative criticism he has received, Manet tells his friend:  "Paris is full of asses who won't let me paint what I see." 

In the academy the master tells Monet the current orthodoxy about painting.  He says always think of the antique; nobody is interested in nature; style is what matters; and reality has no place in his studio.  This infuriates Monet who leaves followed by Bazille and Renoir.  Monet tells them:  ""I can't stay there. . . . We will never, ever go back there."

Back to the present.  Monet tells the journalist:  "But I did go back if only to complete what I was working on."

Flashback.  1863, Fontainebleau Forest.  Monet is penniless, but wants to hurl himself into the open air to paint.  He, Bazille and Renoir hike out into the forest to paint.  No one has ever started and completed a painting out doors.  One of the fellows says he misses people, but Monet says:  "People are too distracting."  He wants only nature.  But there were hidden dangers in the forest.  An English discus throwing champion throws a discus and it strikes Monet in the shin.  But all three men did finish their paintings from that Fontainebleau Forest trip.  Monet has to remain in bed.  Bazille takes advantage of the situation and paints Monet in bed.  Monet comments that he nearly lost his leg. 

Manet is arranging Victorine for a painting.  Renoir and Monet move in with Bazille who is happy to have them.  Monet looks out the window, sees something and runs downstairs.  The other two artists look out the window and see not Monet approaching a beautiful woman.  Manet paints a picture of a naked woman lying on a bed.  He calls the woman Olympia.  But she is a modern Olympia, not an Olympia of myth or history.  The art establishment is shocked at the painting.  Some people try to destroy the painting with their umbrellas, but are stopped by the guards.  The many insults upset Manet a great deal.  Victorine tries to soothe him with a kiss. 

Back to the present.  Monet becomes very angry telling the story.  He resents the fact that the establishment drove Manet out of the country and into Spain.  The journalist tries to say Manet went to Spain to study the Spanish painters.  This make Monet even madder and he tells the newspaperman that if he wants to tell Monet's story himself, he will not waste his time telling his own version.  The reporter is upset that he made Monet so angry. 

Flashback.  Monet is stretched out on the floor.  The Salon deadline is only four days away and he has nothing to enter.  Bazille brings in a very green dress that he wants to give to one of the ladies he knows.  The color gives Monet an inspiration.  The pretty lady he met comes over to be his model.  She puts on the green dress and stands still.

Back to the present.  Monet makes up with the reporter with the help of some homemade plum brandy. 

Flashback.  Monet is in bed with his model.  Bazille comes in telling Monet that the Salon has accepted his painting of the woman in the green dress.  Bazille is stopped short when he sees the model appear from under the bed covers: "Oh!  Sorry."   Monet only says:  "Yes!!!!"

Manet visits the Salon exhibition.  Some people looking at a painting tell him congratulations.  He has produced a masterpiece.  But it is not Manet's painting.  He does not have a painting in this year's exhibit.  The painting in not by Manet but Monet and it is the painting of the woman in the green dress.  The year is 1866.  Manet is very angry because he thinks the painting is some sort of hoax.  He asks who is this Monet who is taking advantage of Manet's fame.  Monet learns about the misunderstanding and is upset that he made Manet so "desperately unhappy".   Manet is so angry that he takes his anger out on some of the journalists.   He berates Durranty for not praising his work (even though the man used neutral comments).  Durranty responds that he has supported Manet's work:  "There is no need to take offense."  But Manet just strikes him across the face.  Since Manet won't apologize, the men meet in a fencing duel.  Manet is like a man possessed and he wrestles Durranty to the ground.  Then he retrieves his sword and swipes at the journalist, cutting his right arm.  Manet is immediately sorry and apologizes to the journalist.  The honors of both men are saved. 

At a gathering of many of the young generation of painters, Manet comes in.  Monet is afraid of an unpleasant confrontation, but by now Manet is not mad at all.  He even asks if he can join them in their drinking

Monet receives some difficult news.  His model girlfriend Camille is pregnant.  She wants Monet to accept the child as his, but Monet is afraid that his father will cut him out of any financial support.  And Monet needs money.  Camille gets very upset at him and leaves.  Monet returns home to spend some time with his father.  He paints the picture:  "The Beach at Sainte-Adresse." 

Back in Paris, Bazille asks Monet about what he would do if Camille dies.  Monet responds:  "My father has asked me to abandon her."  And it's impossible for Monet without his father's money.  Bazille then has a suggestion:  "What if I buy one of your paintings?"  He will pay in installments and this will give Monet a little regular income.  Monet is very grateful to his friend.  And this allows Monet to do the right thing.  He goes to Camille and apologizes.  She says:  "You've come back."  They kiss.  Monet says it was the best and worst thing he could have done.  His father cuts his allowance.

Camille gives birth to a beautiful boy named Jean.  Monet can not afford to live in Paris so he and his family drift about relying only on the small bit of money from Bazille.  The financial difficulties make Camille very sad at times and she cries. 

The artist Paul Cezanne comes in to the tavern and speaks with the others artists.  Manet is critical of Cezanne's art.  Monet says that they continued to paint real life in the open air, partly sustained by each other's enthusiasm. 

La Grenouillere, 1869.  Renoir and Monet take the train out into the country.  They visit a lake with quite a few bathers in the water.  Renoir says he sees life, people and their stories, while Monet says he sees the colors of nature. 

Back to the present.  Monet says that time in La Grenouillere was when he "saw nature as it was for the very first time."  There he painted "Bather at La Grenouillere."  Renoir painted "La Grenouillere".  Monet adds:  "We captured the world." 

Flashback.  Manet is very angry about the execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico by the Mexicans.  He thinks that it was really the French government that was the real executioner of the Emperor.  He paints a painting of Maximilian and two others being executed.  Monet says they censored him completely. 

The young painters want their own exhibition.  Bazille suggests that they rent a studio to display their own works. 

1870.  Monet marries Camille in June.  They go on a honeymoon and then the Franco-Prussian War begins. 

Bazille wants to fight.  Renoir tries to dissuade him from signing up, but it is useless.  Soon Paris is under siege.  Manet and his friend Degas enlist as gunners in the National Guard.  The situation is desperate for the Parisians.  Both men regret that they are now sending French boys into battle.  Manet's friend tells him that from the butchers he got some rat to eat. 

Monet goes to England for the summer.  He says he just wants to look after his family.  He paints some pictures of London by the Thames River.  Renoir is conscripted and becomes very ill with dysentery.  Bazille is posted to Burgundy where he is shot by four German soldiers, May 28, 1870.  His father finds his son's corpse in a ditch, age 29. 

Back to the present.  Monet tells the journalist that Bizelle would have made a name for himself.  He adds that for years they struggled for something, then just when they thought that their time was coming, it seemed they had even farther to go. 


Part II. 

Monet travels again on a train.  He remembers that after the Franco-Prussian War, Camille and he were afraid of what they might find as they returned to Paris. 

Back to the present.  Giverny, France, 1920.  Many of the buildings in Paris were rubble.  Many others were pockmarked by rifle bullets.  The reporter is surprised that Monet spent the entire war in England.  Monet says he already did his service ten years earlier. 

Monet says the Salon was still their battle ground.  The new Minister of Art was a fierce enemy.  The Minister of Art pushed the idea that it would be patriotic for artists to paint art for France. 

Flashback.  Paris, 1871.  The Salon is in no mood to accept paintings by Renoir. 

Opera House, Paris, 1872.  Edgar Degas loves the ballet.  He and other men take advantage of the young dancers from poor backgrounds.  Degas especially likes to paint dancers in back stage scenes.  Renoir loves painting women.  Monet sees Manet and tells him that he has sold three of his paintings.  Degas paints his father's portrait.  The Marquis de ChenneviPres does not like Renoir's portrait of a woman on a horse.  Degas's eye sight, never good, worsens. 

Le Havre, 1873.  But the sun is Monet's muse.  He wants to capture the moment in the moment.  He paints "Impression: Sunrise."

Back to the present.  The journalist asks Monet if he realized that the painting of the sunrise would be considered a masterpiece.  Monet replies that it was just one painting of many that he could not sell. 

Flashback.   Degas makes fun of the fleetingness of Monet's art.  His father is not pleased by the negativity and says:  "And you wonder why you have no wife."  Monet says that Degas was always different from those in the group.  He was part of the movement, but somehow was outside of it.  Manet arrives with some bad news.  The group's favorite art dealer has too many pictures and he is no longer buying.  Monet says:  "I say we start a fire."  They should organize an exhibition for themselves  -- an exhibition of realists.  But the struggle was about to become much harder, especially for Degas.  Degas's father dies.

Argenteuil, 1873.  Monet paints a picture of his son and wife in a field.  He paints them near the bottom of the hill and then again near the top of the hill on the same painting called "Poppies at Argenteuil."

Manet visits with Degas and tells him he is sorry about the death of his father.  Degas says his father left him with a lot of loose ends to tie up.  When Degas becomes part of the exhibition of the Impressionists, the Marquis de ChenneviPres says that the man is "utterly mad" and that "Degas will never sell another painting."  In the days before the exhibition, Monet and his friends work harder than ever to capture their new world.  A model for Renoir asks him who suggested the idea of the exhibition.  As Renoir remembers Bazille, tears come to his eyes.  He says of him:  "The idiot!  He enlisted!"

1874.  The small photography studio on the Boulevard de Capucines is the site of the most modern exhibition of painting Paris had ever seen.  The problem is that there are not that many visitors.  Monet thinks the exhibition is a disaster.  Degas is still hopeful.  But everyday the number of visitors drops, starting from 174 and heading downward to 54.  A visitor to the exhibition is very rude to Monet and his painting.  Monet insists that the man and his girl leave the studio.  The critics declare that the exhibition was the artists' declaration of war on beauty.  But at least from an insult came the name Impressionism. 

Manet visits Renoir and Monet.  He loved the exhibition even if the critics did not.  Manet says that Degas owes a fortune to creditors. 

Hosched Residence, 1876.  Alice Hosched greets Monet.  She wants him to paint some pictures on her estate.  She says that Monet's work is great.  But Monet wants to paint where he wants to paint and starts to leave.  Alice asks him to please give her some time:  "Whatever you paint here I shall learn to cherish."  Monet relents.  At the railway station, Monet sees the colors of the smoke and the sleek lines of the locomotive engine.  At home his wife tells him that the butcher will not give them any more credit.  His wife appears a bit ill. 

Degas explains to one of his models that painting is a matter of trickery and vice.  Monet comments that each of us had to find our own way out of that dreadful exhibition.  Monet goes to the railroad station master and asks for permission to paint inside the station.  Permission granted, he stages his painting sessions.  He produces "Gare Saint-Lazare". 

One of Degas's model is uncomfortable in her posing and asks the painter:  "Do you like women?"  Degas never married and there were strange rumors.  But Degas painted women in never before seen positions  -- real women doing real things.  Monet needed Alice Hosched to keep buying his work.  He visits her to ask that his earnings be paid in cash.  Alice suddenly breaks down and confesses to Monet that her husband owes a lot of money to a lot of people.  Her husband can't pay Monet.  Monet only says to tell her husband not to sell his paintings. 

Back to the present.  Monet tells the journalist that in 1877 the Impressionists had their third exhibition.  The tide had started to turn in their direction, but it was still very slow.  One or two art critics began to get it.  The journalist asks Monet if he had any idea what Degas was working on.  Yes, his private collection.  He painted quite a few paintings of brothels, madams and prostitutes in very realistic poses. 

Monet and his wife take in Mrs. Hosched, her husband and their six children.  Monet receives a letter from Manet containing some money.  The Monets need the money.  Going on a picnic Camille collapses.  She spends days and nights screaming: Monet comments:  "No one should suffer like that!"  Monet paints his dead wife in her bed.  He was obsessed with the succession of colors that death imposed on her face.  Monet cries thinking about it and leaves to take a little air.  The journalist joins him. 

Flashback.  Degas tells Manet that the Marquis de ChenneviPres finally lost his position as the Minister of Art.  A new fellow takes the position.  When Degas leaves, Manet collapses on his couch.  At the time none of the others knew how bad off Manet was.  Degas starts scheming to control Impressionism and the group of Impressionists.  Monet gets a painting chosen by the Salon.  Degas feels that he has sold out and puts a false claim in the newspaper spreading gossip about Monet's relationship with Alice.  Monet confronts Degas and tells him that one day his cronies will leave him and he will live alone and die alone.  Monet says:  "He made enemies of us all." 


Part III. 

1881.  Degas hosts a banquet for the Impressionists.  He says:  "We are here to salute our tower of strength, our friend  -- Manet."  Manet speaks and refers to himself as a failure.  When he ends he calls the attendees:  "My friends, my dear, dear friends."  Little did they know at the time that the group was about to go its separate ways.  It was never going to be the same again.  At home Manet takes his left sock off to reveal a terribly infected foot.  The painter has syphilis and the condition crept up on him. 

Yes, the tide was beginning to turn, but for Monet it still felt like he was swimming upstream.  He now has a household containing his two boys and Alice and her six children. 

Monet says that Paul Czanne was a pioneer.  He was a one-man revolution who would take Impressionism in a totally different direction.  His work appeared rough as if unfinished.  When Renoir calls Czanne an Impressionist, the man becomes very insulted and says he is not an Impressionist.  He says he is doing something completely different.  Czanne's position was complicated by all the rejection he faced in his life, further complicated by rejection by Zola, the famous French writer.  Czanne and Zola had grown up together.  They were known as the "inseparables".  When Czanne visits his father he asks him if he has had any sales.  No is the answer.  Dad adds:  "Perhaps you're just not good enough."  This makes Czanne mad and he replies:  "Perhaps I'm too good."

Monet is in love with Alice, but she keeps telling him that she cannot divorce her husband (even though they are separated) because she is a Catholic.  Czanne had a secret mistress named Hortense and a secret child named Paul.  He would at times paint his son and wife.  Monet visits Manet and asks if there is any news.  Manet tells him to tell the fellows that he feels better.  (But because of the syphilis, his leg was removed below the knee."   Monet goes on a trip to paint different scenes.  Zola gives Czanne some money.  The author wants the painter to be more practical, but Czanne hates this notion.  He says:  "I paint for myself, not to amuse other people."  Monet and Renoir visit Czanne in Provence, 1883.  Renoir wonders if there is any Impressionism any more.   

Paris, May 1883.  Manet dies.  Many of the Impressionists attend the funeral. 

Back to the present.  Monet asks the journalist to excuse him and goes outside.  When the journalist comes out Monet tells him that he had seen this rambling farm house from the train.  The rent was low and so he and his family moved in. 

Flashback.  Czanne arranges apples on the kitchen table telling his son:  "I'm going to astonish Paris with an apple."  He paints "Still Life of Apples and Biscuits."  Czanne's father receives a letter that is addressed to a peasant girl that he knows.  The father begins to realize that his son has a peasant mistress and a boy.  He comes right out and asks his son about the boy.  Czanne tells his father that his grandson is 11 years of age and is named Paul.  Dad is not happy.  Monet says that he himself was chasing the moment.  And to catch the moment he was always traveling.  He described himself as a "hunter".  Even though he was traveling a lot, he says that without Alice nothing mattered, not even his painting. 

Zola is working on a novel, the fourteenth in a series.  It is all about passion and creation.  He tells Czanne that he wants to give him a copy when it comes out.  Now Czanne starts to travel to paint new scenes.  Along the way he visits his father.  His fathers tells him that he would like to meet his grandson.  Czanne arranges the meeting between his father and Alice and Paul.  Then the painter returns to his traveling.  He falls in love with a small mountain and paints it some 60 times. 

Zola writes in his new book that there is no future in Impressionism  He also refers to Czanne and his lack of genius.  Zola calls the painter "a splendid failure".  Czanne writes a short letter to Zola referring negatively to his book.  The two men never met again.  Monet says that Zola declared Impressionism a failure.  They were all in Zola's new book.  Czanne finally marries Hortense.  His father dies leaving him a lot of money.  Hortense goes with Paul Jr. to Paris, while Czanne remains behind in his father's mansion. 

Paris 1889.  Monet and other Impressionists strike back at Zola.  Directed by Monet, they contribute money to a fund to buy Manet's "Olympia" painting.  They buy the painting and get it hung in the Louvre. 

Monet starts painting three different versions of haystacks in a field.  He paints fifteen pictures of the same thing and they all sell.  The world had definitely changed for Monet.  This was the beginning of his series paintings.  He did 30 paintings of the Cathedral at Rouen. 

Alice's husband dies and Monet tells her that at last there are no obstacles in their path.  They marry in July 1892.    He buys the farm house.  On May 19, 1910 his wife dies of leukemia.  After that he hardly picks up a brush for three  years.

Czanne struggled on alone.  He was the last of the Impressionists to be recognized by the world.  One day an art dealer named Ambroise Vollard comes to see Czanne.  He tells the disinterested painter that he wants to arrange an art exhibition of his work.  Vollard says that Czanne must do it or die forgotten. 

Monet says:  "I stopped hunting nature and invited her in."  He learned to enjoy what lay at his own two feet.  He diverted a stream on his property and made a lake and filled it with water lilies. He painted quite a few paintings of the blooming water lilies.   

Czanne agrees to the exhibition of his work.  He tells Vollard that he has 152 paintings available to be shown.  This blows the art dealer's mind a bit, but he takes all the paintings.  Czanne paints a portrait of Vollard.  While sitting for the portrait he falls asleep and falls to the ground.  Czanne shouts at him:  "You clumsy fool.  I told you to stay still."  When Zola does not come to the exhibition, Czanne is upset, saying:  "If only he had come." 

Czanne becomes famous.  He is introduced the sculptor Rodin.  Monet praises Czanne and says a new era of art is opening.  And it is Czanne who has shown them the future.  The shy painter came to influence Picasso and Matisse.  Monet tells the journalist that Czanne died fifteen years ago.

Paris 1900.  The Impressionists had a room of their own at the Great Exhibition.  Degas struggled on into the 1880s.  Renoir was famous all around the world and died last year, 1919. 

Back to the present.  Monet tells the reporter:  "It is nearly finished.  I shall die without knowing." 

The reporter says that Monet had outlived them all; he the Father of Impressionism.  Monet (1840-1926). 


Good mini-series.  You learn a lot about the artists known as the Impressionists and a few others on the borderline.  It was not easy to be recognized by the French art establishment.  It took them many years of suffering and starving to become famous in the art world.  They sacrificed to paint the way they wanted to paint, not the way French society wanted them to paint.  Whenever people are involved there is jealousy and pettiness creating resistance against the new ideas of the next generation trying to move forward.  The powerful don't like moving over to make room for others because they fear the loss of their position, power, money and influence.  It's an old story, but still an interesting one. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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