There can be few movements in art to have suffered such dramatic reversals as Impressionism. Initially it shocked conservative tastes not just for the political radicalism of its focus on the seamier side of Parisian life and leisure—sexuality, prostitution, drink—where the bourgeoisie and lower classes got adulterated, but also for the way its programmatic immediacy and rapidity issued in works that to viewers accustomed to realism seemed like scandalously unfinished sketches. The movement famously got its name in 1874 when, during its first group show, the critic Louis Leroy scoffed at Monet’s “Impression: Sunrise,” titling his review in Le Charivari “The Exhibition of the Impressionists.” But the group liked the term, and adopted it. When young Henry James saw their second show in Paris two years later, he was comparably unimpressed: “To embrace [these artists] you must be provided with a plentiful absence of...

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