He was dubbed Van Gogh’s twin because of his uncanny resemblance to the Dutch painter.
But even if Scottish art dealer, Alexander Reid fell out with the troubled artist, their early friendship and his own commercial intuition, helped rescue the multi-million pound Impressionist movement from near certain obscurity when it was being rubbished by the establishment.
Reid’s absolute conviction in the works of Van Gogh’s contemporaries including, Monet, Degas, Pissarro, Manet and Sisley, very likely also spawned the subsequent French obsessions and styles of the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists and anchored all their work in the collections of wealthy industrialists.
These are the opinions of film director, Philip Grabsky, whose ‘The Impressionists and the Man Who Made Them,’ explores the life of Reid’s Parisian counterpart, Paul Durand-Ruel, who was swimming even harder against the tide to get their unorthodox works recognised in England.
Speaking before the release of his film, based on the Inventing Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery in London, Grabsky was vociferous about the role Reid and Scotland played in saving the Impressionists as the traditional sensibilities of the English Royal Academy and the Salon in Paris dismissed the new genre as unfinished trash.
Comparing Reid to Charles Saatchi, who’s championing of Young British Artists (YBAs) put them on the map, he said: “Without Alex Reid, Impressionism may not have happened or would likely have disappeared as a genre. The Scots and the Americans really paved the way – they were much less hamstrung by tradition than the English and French.”
Reid, who was born in Glasgow, lived and worked for a spell in Paris with Vincent Van Gogh and his dealer brother, Theo. They famously fell-out - Vincent in particular found Reid ‘difficult’ - but not before the brothers introduced him to the Impressionist pack whose paintings beguiled him.
The businessman was so convinced the genre would work, he set himself up as ‘directeur’ of La Societe des Beaux Arts in 1889 in Glasgow which attracted the new industrial moneyed classes and experimenting artists.
This was after Durand-Ruel, who had fled Paris along with artists like Monet during the Franco-Prussian war had already been ridiculed for fan-faring them. Reviewing his 1876 London exhibition of Impressionism, Albert Wolff of Figaro wrote: “Five or six lunatics, of whom one is a woman, [Berthe Morisot], have chosen to exhibit their works. There are people who burst into laughter in front of these objects….”
Grabsky said Reid and Durand-Ruel provided crucial financial props and gave the artists needed exposure: “These artists were aware they needed to paint for commercial reasons or they were suffering because they were not selling. People thought their art appalling. They needed newly wealthy people like the industrialists in Scotland willing to put it on their walls.”
Reid stuck with the genre even when Durand-Ruel became overwhelmed by British indifference and shipped the painters’ work to America where it received a much warmer reception. The Scot continued selling in Scotland and London.
When the market dropped Reid’s son held out with Impressionism until the 1920s post-war boom when its popularity picked up.
Dr Frances Fowle, senior curator of French art at the National Gallery of Scotland and author of Van Gogh’s Twin: The Scottish Dealer Alexander Reid, added:
“The Scottish collectors were amongst the first to buy Impressionist art in Britain. We have quite a few in our collection that came through Alex Reid including Monet’s Poplars.”
She added: “Vincent Van Gogh was keen that Impressionists and Post-Impressionists should be exhibited in France and abroad and as a result of this Reid began to take an interest in their work. Before that there was no Impressionism in Scotland. He understood them when others didn’t.”
Now many of these works fetch millions internationally. Grabsky added: “The Impressionists would have been amazed.”
The first of Reid’s acquisitions was L’Absinthe by Degas. He is also credited with building up the Sir William Burrell collection which holds 22 works by that painter. The National Galleries of Scotland has about 25 Impressionist paintings, about a third introduced by Reid.
The Impressionists And The Man Who Made Them is in cinemas from May 26. Van Gogh’s Twin: The Scottish Dealer Alexander Reid is available at the National Galleries book shop priced £19.95.
Pictured: Monet's "Haystacks: Snow Effect 1891" which is part of the free permanent display at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh.