The front of London's National Gallery

US cultural group teaches hundreds London’s impressionist heritage in virtual National Gallery tour

A US-based cultural group taught London’s little-known impressionist heritage to over 600 people worldwide during a virtual tour of Westminster’s National Gallery on Friday.

The Zoom event ran from 8–9:30pm UK time and saw non-profit Washington, DC History & Culture (WDCHC) founder and director Robert Kelleman, 53, remotely showcase selected paintings held at the iconic art museum.

Attendees from the US, UK, Tajikistan, Belgium and beyond learned of London’s part in the impressionist movement of 1860 to 1886, despite the bulk of the light and motion-focused current’s art having been created in France.

“If you were to look at this painting and not know anything about it, you’d think, ‘That’s a nice painting of France,” Kelleman said of Danish-French artist Camille Pissarro’s 1871 work The Avenue, Sydenham.

“But no, that’s London.”

The Avenue, Syndenham, by impressionist painter Camille Pissarro.
A LOOK BACK IN TIME: How many horses would you find here now? Image credit: Camille Pissarro, The Avenue, Sydenham, 1871 © The National Gallery, London

Kelleman, who hosted the same tour for over 500 people the Friday prior, showed attendees an image of the area today, giving them its contemporary address in Lawrie Park Avenue, Lewisham.

Though the road doesn’t look completely different in 2022, he said the area has become much more urbanised in the past 150 years.

Kelleman, who has British ancestry, joked: “Pissaro didn’t have to worry about getting run over by cars or mopeds.”

The talk also featured impressionist giant Claude Monet, whose painting The Thames below Westminster, created in around 1871, depicts Parliament and Big Ben from the water.

While Monet’s paintings of the Houses of Parliament are relatively well known, the rest were created about 30 years later, making the painting the National Gallery holds unique.

Other impressionists covered on the tour include Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and post-impressionists Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.

“I sometimes joke these programmes are kinda like a first trip to the buffet, and you’re gonna go up and sample a few things,” Kelleman told South West Londoner on Sunday.

“And then, maybe when you’re done you can go off on your own and go back for seconds.”

Another painter part of the programme was Berthe Morisot, one of a few women impressionists.

PERFECT TIMING: Berthe Morisot’s birthday was the same day as the virtual tour, though she died in 1895

Though artist and educator Furrah Syed, 53, from Southgate, didn’t attend Saturday’s tour and hadn’t initially heard of Morisot, she felt her inclusion was valuable.

After researching the French impressionist, Syed said: “Morisot’s backstory is fascinating and empowering for women.

“She managed to navigate stifling societal norms which women endured and went on to thrive in a male-dominated art industry.”

Syed praised Morisot’s use of watercolours instead of oils and called her work atmospheric and beautiful.

She continued: “Morisot’s work should be given not just more exposure but a long-overdue celebration!”

Diane Boulavsky, 68, is a retiree living in Arlington, Virginia, around three miles from Washington.

Impressionism is her favourite art genre, and she has been going to in-person and virtual events with WDCHC since 2016.

Boulavsky said: “After attending Saturday’s programme, I would definitely visit the UK’s National Gallery if I get another chance to visit London.”

The former paralegal, whose husband is also retired, is on a budget and said it was important Saturday’s session was free.

She added: “I would not have survived the isolation of COVID without Robert’s programmes.”

WDCHC, which opened a London sister group in January 2021, will hold a tour of the National Gallery’s non-impressionist works sometime in the future.

More information on the group can be found on Facebook and Meetup.

Featured image credit: Anas Miah via Unsplash

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