In 1969, the artist Takis yanked his work from an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, saying he had not agreed for it to be shown in that context. More recently, the artist Cady Noland has asked dealers to display wall texts when she has not personally approved presentations of her work. But disputes about who is allowed to show what art dates back far before the present moment.
In a 1888 letter to his fellow artist Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet expressed his vexation with his French dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, who was planning to show some of his work in an exhibition of Impressionism at his New York gallery without the painter’s permission. “I am going to oppose this by every means at my disposal,” a quite-incensed Monet wrote.
That handwritten note is included in Artists’ Letters, a compilation of such writings put together by the art historian Michael Bird that is due out via White Lion Publishing in October. Discussing the piece, Bird writes that the artist was particularly worked up because he wanted to show instead with Durand-Ruel’s bitter rival, Georges Petit. If you obscure the names in the piece, it could be mistaken for a contemporary issue. Monet’s letter follows in full below, courtesy White Lion.
I have not yet been able to come to see you since my return, having gone to Paris only yesterday, and for only a few hours, during which I was busy with previous engagements.
You have heard about all the trouble we had with Petit. After working so hard it is not pleasant to be treated in this way. There was talk about an exhibition at Durand’s; this project was not at all to my liking, and on reaching Paris I gave it up at once for many reasons that it would take too long to go into.
But this morning Renoir tells me that this exhibition is taking place, indeed that it opens on Saturday, and that the young Durand, without even having consulted me, proposes to put in pictures of mine owned by him and by various collectors. Considering that I am going to oppose this by every means at my disposal, since this is my right if it is a paying exhibition, I think it is my duty to let you know this in advance, not in order to influence you in any way, but because I don’t want you to be surprised and to believe that I am a quitter, as they will certainly say. I have given evidence of my good intentions, and I have proved to you that my greatest wish was to exhibit with you.
I expect to visit you as soon as I come to Paris for a day or two, and I hope that you will be kind enough to come to Giverny one day.
Be assured, you and M. Manet, of my friendship,
Adapted from the forthcoming book Artists’ Letters by Michael Bird. Page 72 Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, France/Bridgeman Images, translation by Michael Bird.