Impressionism is 150 years old – this is the anniversary show to see

The time that elapsed between the fall of the Paris Commune and the opening of the first proper impressionist exhibition amounted to less than three years. Over the course of that period, the city had witnessed the collapse of the Second Empire, suffered a siege at the hands of the Prussian army and seen vicious house-to-house fighting between the troops of the Versailles government and thescrappy citizen-army of Paris proper. All Parisians would recall the rivers of blood running down the city’s ritziest shopping streets, zoo animals being butchered for restaurant fodder, and the mass slaughter of rebel prisoners across the public squares of the city’s eastern faubourgs. Given that

Surreal visions: the best of this year’s art books reviewed

Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas first met in a gallery at the Louvre. Degas was standing, etching plate in hand, copying a picture. How audacious, Manet exclaimed, to work without a preliminary drawing. ‘I would not dare to do the same.’ And thus he revealed the essential difference between the two. Degas was a supreme exponent of drawing, while Manet was a magician of the brushstroke. In many ways they moved on parallel tracks, each interested in subjects from contemporary life, both at odds with academic convention. But their talents were at a tangent. Famously, they fell out after Degas painted a double portrait of his friend and his wife.

Birmingham barbershop meets the Folies-Bergère: Hurvin Anderson’s Salon Paintings, at the Hepworth Wakefield, reviewed

There’s a nice irony to the title Salon Paintings when the salon in question is a barbershop, an irony that won’t be lost on Hurvin Anderson. Born to Jamaican parents in Birmingham in 1965 and trained at Wimbledon and the Royal College at a time when the Euston Road School discipline of measured observation was still being taught in English art schools, Anderson is steeped in the European painting tradition. Explaining the fascination of the mirrored interior of the Birmingham barbershop that first inspired the series of paintings in his exhibition at the Hepworth Wakefield – begun in 2006 and completed this year – he compares it to Manet’s ‘Bar

Artistic achievements that changed the world

‘Astonish me!’ was the celebrated demand that the impresario Sergei Diaghilev made of Jean Cocteau when he was devising Erik Satie’s ballet Parade. Dominic Dromgoole has taken it as the title for a collection of essays on a series of seismic first nights, ranging across different public art forms. It is a celebration of the artistic achievements that overcame the odds to change the story of culture, and whose effects rippled out to change the world. The author is a distinguished theatre director, and his focus is on performance. He is at pains to reject the notion of the solitary artist and argues that, from the dawn of history, the

Seeing and being seen: Wet Paint, by Chloë Ashby, reviewed

In this arresting debut novel we follow 26-year-old Eve as she tries to come to terms with the loss of her best friend Grace. Flashbacks punctuate the present day of Eve’s London life, gradually revealing her role in the grim circumstances of Grace’s death. Eve lives in a flatshare with a patronisingly well-meaning couple who give her cheap rent in exchange for cleaning. The awkward dynamic is made worse by Eve’s casual kleptomania (helping herself to Karina’s lipstick, necklace, gloves and dressing gown) and by the inappropriate leers of Bill ‘who likes to start conversations when I’m wrapped in a towel’. At the restaurant where she works as a waitress,

How good is he? Pissarro: Father of Impressionism, at the Ashmolean Museum, reviewed

Two markers: ‘Cottages at Auvers-sur-Oise’ (c.1873) is a sweet especial rural scene of faintly slovenly thatched cottages with, at its centre, an outside privy, its door modestly shut. A discreet little detail. Second, early in the exhibition, Corot’s ‘Duck-Pond’ (1855–60), an indicator of the tradition to which Pissarro belongs — a world of unconsidered trifles, granted a quiet importance. Linda Whiteley’s excellent, informative catalogue essay quotes Pissarro on Corot: ‘Happy are those who see beauty in modest places where others see nothing. Everything is beautiful, the whole secret lies in knowing how to interpret.’ He is writing this credo to his son Lucien in 1893. Later, Cézanne described Pissarro as

The art of the asparagus

Manet’s ‘Botte d’asperges’ are probably the most famous asparagus in the world. The artist painted the delicious white- and lilac-tinged spears for the collector Charles Ephrussi in 1880 before invoicing him for 800 francs. Ephrussi was so delighted with them that he paid Manet 1,000 instead, to which Manet responded by sending a second picture. ‘One appears to have escaped your bunch,’ the painter quipped in his accompanying note. The new canvas featured a single asparagus. Manet was in the last decade of his life when he began sending small paintings of fruit and flowers to his friends. While Ephrussi received asparagus, the muse Méry Laurent got apples, and artist