Impressionists in London; Monochrome: Painting in Black and White – review

By Laura Cumming

Tate Britain; National Gallery, London
One glowing gallery of the artist's Thames paintings is the sole highlight of Tate Britain's latest show. Elsewhere, things aren't as colourless as they seem…

Reader beware. Impressionists in London is a blatant misnomer. I have never seen a show with a more misleading title. Many of the works here are not by impressionists; some precede or postdate impressionism; still others are pedestrian or bafflingly irrelevant. London may be the defined location, with familiar views of Hyde Park, Piccadilly and Leicester Square throughout, but the art itself is all over the place.

It opens with a thunderclap: Paris in the last days of the Commune and the Franco-Prussian war. Doré paints the scene in 1871 – starvation, blood in the snow, bodies heaped in alleys as the capital burns. Manet draws dead fighters in the boulevards. Tissot captures the casual execution of communards, tossed into death pits like dolls. It is from this horror that several French painters, notably Monet and Pissarro, escape to England.

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