Impressionism 1870 - 1890
Impressionism, which can be considered to be the first of the Modern Art movements, had its immediate roots in the traditions of Realism. Realist painters such as Courbet, Millet and Corot were capturing scenes from the ‘natural’ world and people going about their everyday lives, particularly in the countryside.
The Impressionists also developed an interest in contemporary subject matter, but of an informal and pleasurable kind, especially aspects of the social life of Paris and its surrounds.
A key difference in style between the Realists and Impressionists was that whilst the Realists focused more on the detail of their subject matter, the Impressionists were intent on capturing the most fleeting aspects of nature – especially the changing light of the sun. Most Realist artists made sketches or studies to be completed back in the studio, and often used models and other props to help them finalise their works.
The Impressionists also went out into the countryside but chose to paint outdoors (en plein air), often returning to the same spot on several occasions, at the same time of the day, to complete their work. This was made possible because of the increasing number of train routes from Paris to the nearby countryside, and new inventions such as portable and collapsible easels, paint in tubes, a greater range of colours and paintbrushes which were stronger and thicker.
Mary Cassatt, Young Lady in a Loge Gazing to the Right, 1880.
The term Impressionism was derived from a painting by Claude Monet, Impression: Sunrise, 1872 which was a view of the port of Le Havre in the mist. Monet probably intended the title to refer to the sketchy, unfinished look of the work, similar to receiving an impression of something on the basis of an exposure that is partially obscured and incomplete in its detail. The term was quickly taken up by critics, who used it to mean the impression stamped on the senses by a visual experience that is rapid and transitory, associated with a particular moment in time. However, the term gained favour with the public.
The formal name initially used by the group was the Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc.
Impressionism can be identified by the following features:
Contemporary social life of a middle class in the cities and suburbs usually at leisure as the main subject;
Painting in the evening to get effets de soir - the shadowy effects of the light in the evening or twilight.
The composition implies a glimpse or fleeting impression of a scene;
Painters experimented with varying elements such as light and viewpoint;
Painters observed nature in natural light;
Figures and objects have no outlines, contast of colour and value create shapes instead;
Compositions are cropped, partial figures, unusual points of view above or below the scene, awkward poses suggesting imminent movement;
In paintings made en plein air (outdoors), shadows are boldly painted with the blue of the sky as it is reflected onto surfaces, giving a sense of freshness and openness that was not captured in painting previously. (Blue shadows on snow inspired the technique.)
The Impressionists relaxed the boundary between subject and background so that the effect of an Impressionist painting often resembles a snapshot, a part of a larger reality captured as if by chance.
Short, thick strokes of paint are used to quickly capture the essence of the subject, rather than its details. The paint is often applied impasto. (Paint is laid on an area of the surface (or the entire canvas) very thickly, usually thickly enough that the brush or painting-knife strokes are visible. Paint can also be mixed right on the canvas. When dry, impasto provides texture, the paint coming out of the canvas.)
Colours are applied side-by-side with as little mixing as possible, creating a vibrant surface. The optical mixing of colours occurs in the eye of the viewer.
Grays and dark tones are produced by mixing complementary colours. In pure Impressionism the use of black paint is avoided.
Wet paint is placed into wet paint without waiting for successive applications to dry, producing softer edges and an intermingling of colour.
Impressionist paintings do not exploit the transparency of thin paint films (glazes) which earlier artists built up carefully to produce effects. The surface of an Impressionist painting is typically opaque.
The play of natural light is emphasized. Close attention is paid to the reflection of colours from object to object.
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Artists from this period include:
Claude Monet 1840-1926
Pierre Auguste Renoir 1841-1914
Camille Pissarro 1830–1903
Alfred Sisley 1839–1899
Berthe Morisot 1841–1895
Armand Guillaumin 1841–1927
Edgar Degas 1834–1917
Édouard Manet 1832–1883
Frédéric Bazille 1841–1870
Gustave Caillebotte 1848–1894
Paul Cézanne 1839–1906
Mary Cassatt 1844–1926
Eva Gonzalés 1849-1883
Marie Bracquemond 1840-1916
Key artists who influenced Impressionism
Artists with a strong influence on the Impressionist style included Édouard Manet, Eugéne Delacroix and English painter J. M. W. Turner.
Édouard Manet was developing a new approach to painting, with innovations in both colour and brushwork.
Traditionally artists had begun painting their canvases with a layer of dark paint and then built lighter layers of paint on top, waiting for each layer to dry before adding the next one. Finally, they glazed the painting to give the surface a smooth finish. The whole process could take weeks or months.
Manet preferred to complete his portraiture paintings in one sitting whilst his models were sitting in front of him. He did this by painting in a single layer and leaving the final product unglazed. When he made a mistake, he scraped off the paint down to the bare canvas, and then repainted that area.
Manet also painted in patches of colour to make sharper contrasts. Instead of painting a range of progressively lighter or darker shades of an object to indicate how close it was to a light source, he would simply apply a patch of pure colour.
The Impressionists adopted and modified Manet’s alla prima (at once) painting technique to enable them to capture the shifting effects of light, and also modified his method of applying colour patches by breaking them up into much tinier patches, flecks, and dabs of colour. Impressionists also “loaded” the paint on the surface, when the accepted tradition of the time was to paint shadows thinly. They also used white, or very lightly tinted colours, to add to brilliance of colour and luminosity to their work.
The Impressionists were also indebted to Romanticist Eugéne Delacroix for his use of intense colours and pure undiluted pigment. He had also begun placing pure colours next to each other noticing they would mix in the eye.
J.M.H.Turner’s abstract portrayal of light and the elemental forces of nature also laid the ground work for impressionism. Several of the Impressionists travelled to London, where they had the opportunity to view his work.
19th Century painting Inventions
Like many artists, John G Rand, an American portrait painter living in London during the 1800s, struggled to keep his oil paints from drying out before he could use them. At the time, the best paint storage was a pig’s bladder sealed with string. An artist would have to prick the bladder with a tack to get at the paint, but there was no way to completely plug the hole afterward. Unfortunately bladders didn’t travel well, frequently bursting open. To overcome this problem Rand invented the paint tube, in 1841. Made from tin and sealed with a screw cap, Rand’s collapsible tube gave paint a long shelf life, didn’t leak and could be repeatedly opened and closed.
Rand’s tubes carried inside them another crucial element as well: new colours. Paint pigments had remained almost unchanged since the Renaissance. Since oil paints were time-consuming to produce and quick to dry out, artists prepared only a few colours to work with during a painting session and would fill in just one coloured section of a canvas at a time. Rand’s tin tubes enabled the Impressionists to take full advantage of new pigments, such as chrome yellow and emerald green, that had been invented by industrial chemists during the 19th century. See http://pigmenthistory.blogspot.com.au/ and webexhibits for more information.
Hog hair Brushes were also introduced in the 19th century.The durability and thickness of hog hair was perfect for moving thick viscous oil paint. Large amounts of thick paint (that placed a relatively large amount of weight on the brush) could be easily supported by hog hair brushes. This allowed Impressionists to easily create the impasto effect. Additionally, the pointed wooden end of the paint brushed dueled as a sgraffito tool, which Impressionists used to scratch their paintings and create broken colour effects.
Trade catalogue for paint brushes c. 1886.
Another important development was the change in brush ferrules from quill, thread, or wire-bound brushes to metal ferrules, making paint brushes sturdier and less subject to damage. The metal ferrule gained popularity in the 19th century when mechanization eliminated the time-consuming and expensive operation of binding the hair to the handle by hand. The development of the crimp, the indentation in the ferrule that secures it to the handle,allowed for the manufacture of flat bristle brushes instead of rounds. Artists, especially the French Impressionists, used these flat brushes to create a new paint stroke called the tache, a broad, flat, even stroke. Journal of the American Institute of Conservation
With the opportunity to travel out of Paris , and other major cities, with the expansion of the railway network, artists were able to pack new portable easels so that they could easily paint in outdoor locations.
Canvas stools and umbrellas were also available, and it also became possible to purchase pre-stretched canvases.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Monet painting in his garden in Argenteuil, 1873
Impressionist Painting Techniques
In attempting to capture the momentary effects of light the Impressionists moved away from the earthy mixed palettes of the previous generation and used purer, intense colours and smaller fragmented brushstrokes, so that they could work more quickly.
To achieve the appearance of spontaneity, impressionist painters used broken brushstrokes of bright, often unmixed colours. This practice produced loose or densely textured surfaces rather than the carefully blended colours and smooth surfaces favoured by most artists of the time.
The colours in impressionist paintings have an overall luminosity because the painters generally avoided blacks and earth colours. The impressionists also simplified their compositions, omitting detail to achieve a striking overall effect.
However, as art historian John Rewald commented "Since nobody had ever done what the Impressionists set out to do, they had to invent a new 'language', a new brushwork adapted to their unorthodox concepts. But each of them had to elaborate had test for [themselves] the techniques best suited to [their] intentions.
Despite the many things that bound them together, the Impressionists were individualists. It is not surprising, therefore, that their brushwork should reflect both their personalities and their incessant search for improved means of expression." source: John Rewald, The Impressionist Brush, Thames and Hudson, 1985.
Perhaps one of the most daring of the Impressionists was Claude Monet, and some of his techniques are shown below.
Influence of Photography
The rise of Impressionism can be seen in part as a response by artists to the newly established medium of photography. In the same way that the Realist artists focused on everyday life, photography also influenced the Impressionists’ interest in capturing a ‘snapshot’ of ordinary people doing everyday things.
The taking of fixed or still images provided a new medium with which to capture reality, and changed the way people in general, and artists in particular, saw the world, and created new artistic opportunities.
Learning from the science of photography, artists developed a range of new painting techniques. And, rather than compete with the ability of the photograph to record ‘a moment of truth’ the Impressionists, such as Monet, felt free to represent what they saw in an entirely different way – focusing more on light, colour and movement in a way that was not possible with photography.
Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise, 1872
In 1839, Daguerre’s disclosure of the secret process he used to record an image onto a silvered sheet of copper, which was the first workable and permanent method to achieve this (known as the Daguerreotype), led to the invention of the photograph, which was to become one of the most popular inventions of the century.
Daguerre, historic photograph from 1837, two years before he shared his technique
early photograph of the Louvre, Paris
By 1849, some 100,000 Parisians* were having their pictures taken every year.
(Interestingly, in the same way we use Photoshop today, customers often requested that their photograph be re-touched to hide perceived faults, or to add colour.)
Daguerreotypes were unique and non-replicable, but with the introduction of the carte de visite (visiting or calling card) in the 1850s photographic images could be produced cheaply and easily distributed. Cartes de visite were prints, usually, albumen, affixed to a card measuring about 6 x 10cm. This standard format was patented by a French photographer, Andre Adolphe Disderi, in 1854. Through the use of a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses, eight negatives could be taken on a single 8" x 10" glass plate, which allowed eight prints to be made every time the negative was printed.
Cartes de visite were most popular from the 1860s to the 1890s, largely coinciding with Impressionism.
Influence on artists
Some artists found they lost commissions to paint small intricate portraits in favour of people preferring to have studio photographs taken. However, for others it became an inspiration for new ways of not only composing their artworks but also painting using more experimental techniques.
Photographs (as they do today) assisted in the portraiture painting process. Many artists found that they could do away with tedious sittings of models and instead use both shorter sittings, and photographs, to paint portraits. Portable cameras could also be taken outdoors to record landscapes – enabling the painting process to be completed in the studio.
In the early stages of camera development, long exposures with a camera were required to capture the image, which created ‘shutter-drag’, allowing for beautiful fluid movement and gracefully blurred selections. Some artists, such as Degas, sought to recreate this effect to soften the overall painting.
The pose and elusive expression of a widely circulated photograph of Princess Metternich reappear in a Degas portrait.
One of the most famous photographers from the mid 1800s was Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon) who established the most fashionable portrait studio in Paris – it was here that the Impressionists held their first exhibition in 1874.
Nadar's studio was the site for the first Impressionist in 1874.
Nadar and his wife with a studio shot of hot air balloon (In 1856 he did actually go aloft in a balloon over Paris and took the world's first aerial photograph)
As the medium developed, photographers like Eadweard Muybridge experimented with the camera's stilled, or stopped, movement.
Stopping action was a fascinating new concept. Before photographic stop-action, it was difficult to capture a muscle in a state of tension, or the gait of a horse in mid-step, for example.
Eadweard Muybridge, The Horse in Motion, 1878
Edgar Degas, photograph
Eadweard Muybridge, The Horse in Motion, 1878, with a sketch by Degas of the second image
Edgar Degas was one Impressionist who was so intrigued with this new ability to capture a moment in time that he also pursued photography as a creative outlet.
There are a number of examples of how he used his knowledge of photography in his art, which you can see in his sketches and paintings of race horses. For example, he was amazed that Muybridge's photos proved that a horse's feet leave the ground in a rolling sequence, not in the "hobbyhorse" pairs that most artists favoured.
In the above paintings by Degas, the use of cropping in a photograph, that is selecting only part of a subject to be included in the picture plane, allowed for a more intimate connection with the viewer, as if they were part of the scene.
Photography, far from limiting the appeal of paintings, provided artists with new points of view, and encouraged then to translate photographic techniques in their work, enabling them to capture everyday life with a greater sense of vitality and intimacy.
* Pierre Schneider, The World of Manet, 1832-1883, Time Life Books, 1968
Markwood, Jill (2010) "Photography’s Influence on Painting," Agora: Vol. 19 , Article 8.
The key features of Ukiyo-e prints were that they:
had limited depth (flattened picture plane)
used a dark outline
generally had asymmetrical composition
used flat areas of colour (ie, not modulated or varied)
had little or no use of strong contrasts between light and dark (chiaroscuro)
could have unusual viewpoints
often used a diagonal emphasis in composition
focused on everyday subject matter
often includes calligraphy
were identified by the artist’s stamp
had quite large production runs (100+)
A major influence on Impressionism was Japanese art prints (Japonisme).
The term Japonisme was coined by the French journalist and art critic Philippe Burty in an article published in 1876 to describe the strong interest for Japanese artworks and decorative items.
After Japanese ports reopened to trade with the West in 1854, shiploads of oriental bric-a brac began pouring into France. In 1862, a Far Eastern curio shop called Le Porte Chinoise opened near the Louvre Museum, attracting artists visiting the gallery. It sold fans, kimonos, lacquered boxes, hanging scrolls, ceramics, bronze statuary and other items.
In 1867, Japan held its first formal arts and crafts exhibition at the Paris Exposition Universelle. The exhibition attracted a great deal of interest and resulted in all things Japanese becoming stylish and fashionable. Shops selling Japanese woodblock prints, kimonos, fans and antiquities popped up in Paris like mushrooms.
In the images below, you’ll see paintings by Edouard Manet and James Tissot, indicating that artists visited the 1867 and later expositions, as well as the shops selling Japanese items.
On the crest of this wave were woodcut prints by masters of the Ukiyo-e ‘Floating World’ school of printmaking. The subject matter of the Ukiyo-e in 18th-19th Century was drawn from everyday life, non-heroic and based on the notion that all is transient. These prints were mass-produced as woodcuts, cheap enough for the average Japanese person to afford.
These prints transformed Impressionist art by demonstrating that simple, transitory, everyday subjects could be presented in appealingly decorative ways. The Impressionists (and Post-Impressionists) admired these prints’ flat, decorative shapes, bright colours, and asymmetrical compositions.
Like photography, the style of these prints also contributed significantly to the “snapshot” angles and unconventional compositions which would become characteristic of this movement.
Japonisme also influenced the rise of printmaking in Europe, with a number of artists emulating the Ukiyo-e style.
Examples of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works
Édouard Manet was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life, and a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His early works, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) and Olympia, both 1863, caused great controversy and served as rallying points for young painters who would introduce Impressionism. Today, these are considered watershed paintings that mark the genesis of modern art.
Manet put great emphasis on Salon acceptance. In fact, he believed that success as an artist could only be obtained through recognition at the Salon. Spanish Guitar Player, painted in 1862, reflected the Parisian love of "all things Spanish" and was one of Manet's first works to be accepted by the Salon, however it was not this painting which brought his much sought after recognition (notoriety) but the rejected Dejeuner sur l'herbe.
He became friends with the Impressionists Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro through another painter, Berthe Morisot, who was a member of the group and drew him into their activities. She is credited with convincing Manet to attempt plein air painting, which she had been practicing since she was introduced to it by another friend of hers, Camille Corot.
Although his own work influenced and anticipated the Impressionist style, he resisted involvement in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because he didn't wish to be seen as the representative of a group identity, and partly because he wanted the prestige of exhibiting at the Salon.
He was influenced by other Impressionists, especially Monet and Morisot. Their influence is seen in Manet's use of lighter colours, but he retained his distinctive use of black, uncharacteristic of Impressionist painting. He painted many outdoor (plein air) pieces, but always returned to what he considered the serious work of the studio.
Some of Manet’s best-loved works are his cafe scenes. His completed paintings were often based on small sketches he made while out socializing. These works, including At the Cafe, The Beer Drinkers and The Cafe Concert, amongst others, depict 19th-century Paris. He sought to illuminate the rituals of both common and bourgeoisie French people. His subjects are reading, waiting for friends, drinking and working. In stark contrast to his cafe scenes, Manet also painted the tragedies and triumphs of war.
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Édouard Manet - Olympia, 1863
As he had in Luncheon on the Grass, Manet again used paintings by respected artists as a basis for the painting Olympia, 1863. The painting was a nude in a style not unlike early studio photographs, but the pose was modelled on Titian's Venus of Urbino, 1538. The painting is also reminiscent of Francisco Goya's painting The Nude Maja, 1800, and Ingres' La Grand Odalisque, 1814. Olympia was described as “Venus with a Cat” by some critics.
Manet began the work after being challenged by the Paris Salon to submit a nude painting. His depiction of a self-assured prostitute was accepted by the Salon in 1865, but it created a scandal. According to French journalist and politician Antonin Proust, "only the precautions taken by the administration prevented the painting being punctured and torn" by offended viewers.
The painting was controversial partly because the nude is wearing some small items such as an orchid in her hair, a bracelet, a ribbon around her neck, and slippers - all of which accentuate her nakedness, sexuality, and comfortable courtesan lifestyle. The orchid, upswept hair, black cat, and bouquet of flowers were all recognised symbols of sexuality at the time. However, this modern Venus is thin, which was counter to prevailing standards, and so the painting's lack of idealism rankled viewers.
The painting's flatness, inspired by Japanese wood block art, serves to make the nude more human and less voluptuous. Olympia's body, as well as her gaze, is unabashedly confrontational. She defiantly looks out to the viewer as her maid offers flowers from one of her male suitors. Although her hand rests on her leg, hiding her pubic area, the reference to traditional female virtue is ironic; a notion of modesty is notoriously absent in this work.
A critic denounced Olympia's "shamelessly flexed" left hand, which seemed to him a mockery of the relaxed, shielding hand of Titian's Venus. Similarly, the alert black cat at the foot of the bed strikes a sexually rebellious note in contrast to that of the sleeping dog in Titian's portrayal of the goddess in his Venus of Urbino.
As with Luncheon on the Grass, the painting raised the issue of prostitution within contemporary France and the roles of women within society.
Olympia was the subject of caricatures in the popular press, but was championed by the French avant-garde community, and the painting's significance was appreciated by artists such as Gustave Courbet, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and later Paul Gauguin.
What reaction do you have this painting, when compared with earlier works of similar subjects?
For more information about Venus in the history of painting, see
Edgar Degas, La Classe de Danse, 1874
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Edgar Degas was both an avid photographer and a collector of Japanese prints and his The Dance Class (La Classe de Danse) of 1874 shows influences of both. From the 1870s until his death, Degas's favourite subjects were ballerinas at work, in rehearsal or at rest, and he tirelessly explored the theme with many variations in posture and gesture.
Degas regularly went to the Paris opera house, not only as a member of the audience, but also as a visitor backstage and to the dance studio, where he was introduced by a friend who played in the orchestra.
More than the stage performance, it was the training and rehearsals that interested him.
Degas closely observed the most spontaneous, natural, ordinary gestures, the pauses when concentration is relaxed and the body slumps after the exhausting effort of practising and the implacable rigour of the class.
In The Dance Class the class is coming to an end – the pupils are exhausted, they are stretching, twisting to scratch their backs, adjusting their hair or clothes, an earring, or a ribbon, paying little heed to the inflexible teacher, Jules Perrot.
In its asymmetrical composition the dancers are seemingly caught off guard in various awkward poses, leaving an expanse of empty floor space in the lower right quadrant.
The slightly raised viewpoint looking diagonally across the studio accentuates the vanishing perspective of floor boards.
You can see the influence of photography and Japonisme in this painting. The scene (image) appears to be cropped - we know that there is more to the musical instrument on the left and more dancers on the right. It doesn't appear posed, rather just a scene from a normal day in the life of dancer at reheasal, and we sense that this is just a snapshot in time.
There are also large areas of similar colour, the floor, the dancers' tutus, the walls, and the ceilings. He's relieved these colours with splashes of red and brown, so that the painting doesn't lose interest.
In both his studies of the movement of dancers and horses in particular, Degas introduced the additional elements of photography and Japonisme to his Impressionist works.
Claude Monet - working with light and shadows
Claude Monet was a successful caricaturist in his native Le Havre in France, but after studying plein-air painting, he moved to Paris in 1859, where he soon met other artists including Camille Pissarro and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Renoir and Monet began painting outdoors together in the late 1860s, laying the foundations of Impressionism with the painting discoveries they made. In 1874, with other key artists, Monet helped organise the group's formal exhibitions.
During the 1870s Monet developed his technique for rendering atmospheric outdoor light, using broken, rhythmic brushwork, which was in part influenced by the work of W.H.M. Turner, whose work in he in London when he and Pissaro fled the Franco-Prussian war in Paris. He had already abandoned the use of dark colours and worked from a palette limited to pure light colours. He wrote in a letter to G. Durand-Ruel in Giverny, in 1905 "As for the colours I use, what's so interesting about that? I don't think one could paint better or more brightly with another palette. The most important thing is to know how to use the colours. Their choice is a matter of habit. In short, I use white lead, cadmium yellow, vermilion, madder, cobalt blue, chrome green. That's all."
A technical analysis of Monet's Bathers at La Grenouillére in a paper by The National Gallery in London also identifies the use of Cobalt Violet, Viridian and Lemon Yellow.
Claude Monet, Woman with Parasol, 1875
Monet also used other colours during his career, but these were the main colours he preferred. As he grew more interested in capturing light and showing the real colours of shadows, he ceased to use black.
Monet was particularly interested in the effect of putting complimentary colours next to each other, which in part was influenced by a system of complementary colours developed by Chevreul in 1864.
He found that putting complementary colours next to each other made them each appear brighter. (Van Gogh also used this technique very successfully.) You'll see in Nympheas how rather than mix colours, he has placed them side by side in small dabs so that the viewers' eyes would mix them, especially from a distance.
He also discovered that the shadows of an object are not black or grey as we might think, but are the complementary colour (direct opposite on the colour wheel) of the light that throws them, so that a yellow sunlight throws a violet shadow, and the same object painted at a different time of the day, or during a different season, will cast a different coloured shadow.
This is one of the reasons why he painted some scenes, such as waterlilies and haystakes, on so many occasions. In 1890 he began creating paintings in series, depicting the same subject under various conditions and at different times of day.
Chevreul, Colour Wheel, 1864.
Claude Monet, Nympheas, 1897-1898
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1916
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1922
Monet and Renoir - La Grenouillere (the Frog Pond)
Details from Renoir's works
Renoir painted huddles of people on the camembert, experimenting with little patches or taches which were indistinct wiggling strokes which he applied by putting one mark next to another, creating subtle colour variations. He also dashed off bright white impasto (thick paint straight out of the tube) across the water, suggesting reflections of bright light and the movement of the water created by the bathers and the boats.
Details from Monet's works
Monet was also experimenting with new ways of reflecting water - using huge broad strokes of brown, white and blue. His preference for treating forms in bold masses, juxtaposing patches of colour and suppressing unnecessary detail echoed Japanese (Hiroshige) woodcuts.
(It appears that he began collecting Japanese woodblock prints as early as 1864–65 and owned volumes of work by Hokusai.)
Monet may have incorporated the innovations into his paintings the most boldly, but it is not possible to say who was the key initiator of the changes they made to their painting styles. However, the discoveries they made that summer from painting together and sharing ideas, and the techniques they developed, clearly influenced the evolving Impressionist style.
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Analysis of Monet's Bathers at La Grenouillére, published by the National Gallery, London
In the summer of 1869 Monet was living in conditions of extreme hardship with his family at Saint-Michel, a hamlet near near Bouvical, west of Paris. The two works he had submitted to the Paris Salon that year (The Magpie and Fishing Boats at Sea) had been rejected, and he was keen to paint a 'tableau' (living picture) to submit to the Salon in 1870 that might find fresh mass appeal.
Renoir, also desperately poor at the time, was staying in the vicinity with his parents, and he and Monet painted together at La Grenouillére (The Frog Pond) a popular meeting place on the river near Bougal , which was easily accessible by train. Here people met to swim, dance and drink.
The restaurant at La Grenouillére, which was located on a barge, was a fashionable place for the emerging middle class to enjoy the new pleasures of suburban Paris. The small island next to the restaurant, with a weeping willow at its centre, was known as Pot de Fluers (flowerpot) or The Camembert. Accessible by gang planks, people would meet and talk before progressing to the bar of La Grenouillére.
The name La Grenouillére was based on its double meaning. It's not only the French term for frog pond, but it was also used colloquially to describe women who were, as Renoir’s son in his memoir of his father put it, "not exactly prostitutes, but a class of unattached young women, characteristic of the Parisian scene [at the time], changing lovers easily, satisfying any whim, going nonchalantly from a mansion on the Champs-Elyseés to a garret in the Batignolles".
He continued, “Among that group Renoir got a great many of his volunteer models. According to him, the grenouilles, or ‘frogs’ were often ‘very good sorts’. Because the French people love a medley of classes, actresses, society women and respectable middle-class also patronised the… restaurant”.
Both Monet and Renoir were living a 'hand to mouth existence'. Monet would literally paint until he ran out of colour, then take up sketching in preparation for the next time he could pull together a few francs from his friends in order to continue. Renoir was being supported by his family. Thankfully the owner of La Grenouillére, Monsieur Fournaise, accepted some of their paintings in exchange for food.
They painted scenes of boats and swimmers and of couples strolling along the water's edge or crossing the gangplanks. Painting many views of the same scene quickly, they captured the changes in light and atmosphere as the day progressed. In their surviving works from that summer, it is clear that they usually painted alongside each other.
In experimenting with techniques for painting outdoors, they developed a method for capturing the play of light on water. They painted rapidly with short, comma like brushstrokes, and they juxtaposed sharply contrasting, unmixed colours which brought a shimmering life to water. It enabled them to portray the transitory effects of light and atmosphere - goals they had been pursuing for years. Both came to value the sketchy, unfinished quality of the work.
Closely examine the works of Monet and Renoir at La Grenouillére and paint two artworks which you think most closely resembles their form and style.
Pissarro and Sisley
Camille Pissarro was instrumental in establishing the Impressionists, holding the group together and encouraging individual members. He was the only painter of the group who participated in all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions held in Paris between 1874 and 1886.
It was Pissarro who drafted the convention for the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) and who was the principal organiser of their first joint exhibition. Consequently, he was regarded as a central figure of the group. Although he was the oldest of the Impressionists, Pissarro never ceased assimilating the work of others and developing his artistic style.
In his early career Pissarro was strongly attracted to the paintings of Realist Camille Corot which he had seen on display at Paris’s Universal Exposition in 1855. Corot also taught him informally, urging him to paint from nature.
He then studied at various academic institutions, including the École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Suisse, here he met future Impressionists Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Armand Guillaumin. Through Monet, he also met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley.His work was exhibited at the Paris Salon throughout the 1860s until 1870, although in 1863 he participated in the Salon des Refusés with Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and others. During the Franco-Prussian War, Pissarro fled to London where he lived between 1870–71. There he met Paul Durand-Ruel, the Parisian dealer who would become an ardent supporter of Pissarro and his fellow Impressionists. On his return to France, Pissarro discovered that much of the work in his studio had been destroyed by Prussian soldiers.
Like his fellow Impressionists, Pissarro painted both urban and rural French life, particularly landscapes in and around Pontoise, as well as scenes from Montmartre, and his mature work displayed an empathy with peasants and labourers. Working closely en plein air with Monet, Renoir, and Sisley, he revised his method of landscape painting (from his earlier Realist influences), changing the way in which he used colour and applied patches of paint.
Pissarro was also a strong influence on other artists. He was an astute judge of young talent and in 1872 gathered a small circle of painters around him, demonstrating his method of painting patiently from nature. Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Signac and Matisse all benefited from his generous encouragement and advice. (Pissarro also later adopted the pointillist style of Seurat.) These sessions caused Cézanne to change his entire approach to art. In 1902 he said of his mentor “As for old Pissarro, he was a father to me, a man to consult and something like the good Lord". Renoir referred to his work as "revolutionary", through his artistic portrayals of the "common man", as Pissarro insisted on painting individuals in natural settings without "artifice or grandeur".
Art historian John Rewald called Pissarro the "Dean of the Impressionist painters ... by virtue of his wisdom and his balanced, kind, and warmhearted personality".
Alfred Sisley's English heritage and Parisian upbringing served him well as one of most typical Impressionist landscape artists. He spent four years in London studying J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. Like Pissarro, Camille Corot's Realist landscape paintings also strongly influenced his style. (When he first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1867 it was as the pupil of Corot.) Through Corot's influence he retained a passionate interest in the sky, which nearly always dominated his paintings, and also in the effects of snow which he combined to create strongly dramatic effects. His early style was also deeply influenced by Courbet and Daubigny.
From 1862, he studied at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts (at the studio of Charles Gleyr) where he met Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. These artists often met at Café Guerbois on the Grande rue des Batignolles, where they met Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and others who were part of, or sympathetic to, the Impressionists movement.
Sisley spent some time painting in Fontainebleau southeast of Paris, at Chailly with Monet, Bazille and Renoir, and later at Marlotte with Renoir. He moved his family to Moret-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau, in 1880 and remained close to the area for the rest of his life. (He died from throat cancer at the age of 59 in 1899.) Fontainebleau was a source of unusual natural scenes that he would revisit many time on canvas, or occasionally with a camera, for despite his devotion to painting in the open air, Sisley seems to have worked from photographs at times.
He concentrated on landscape more consistently than any other Impressionist painter and his paintings always demonstrated an orthodox approach to early Impressionism that Monet, Renoir and Pissarro developed away from over time. Sisley celebrated the intimate qualities of the places he lived in, exploring the effects of changing light and weather and mapping scenes from a variety of viewpoints in different seasons.
Sisley also fled to London during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune in the early 1870s. Pissarro introduced him to art dealer Duand-Ruel, and he also became part of that dealer's stable.
The war caused him a severe reversal of fortune: most of his paintings were either lost or destroyed, and his father, who had been supporting Sisley, lost his fortune. Reduced to extreme poverty, Sisley had to support himself and his family through modest sales of his work.
Described by art historian Robert Rosenblum as having "almost a generic character, an impersonal textbook idea of a perfect Impressionist painting", his work strongly invokes atmosphere, and his skies are always impressive.
Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt
One of the most well known female Impressionists is Berthe Morisot. After receiving private art tuition, and copying artworks from the Louvre, she registered as a copyist with the Louvre, where she met Realist painter Camille Corot, who encouraged her to paint en plein air. In 1864 two of her landscape paintings were exhibited at the Salon de Paris, and she subsequently showed regularly at the Salon until the Impressionist exhibitions.
In 1868 Morisot became friends with Édouard Manet, who painted several portraits of her, and who is also regarded as having a strong influence on her work. In return, Manet appreciated Morisot’s distinctive original style and compositions, some of which he incorporated into his own work, and it was Morisot who persuaded him to attempt plein air painting. It was also Morisot who introduced Manet to the Impressionist circle of painters, where she was one of the most prolific artists.
She was the only woman to exhibit in the first Impressionist exhibition (in 1874), and then continued to show in the next seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions (only missing the exhibition the year when her daughter was born, in 1878). Also unusual for her time, Morisot continued to paint professionally after her marriage (to Manet’s brother) and the birth of her only child. Her daughter Julie was the subject of many of her artworks.
During her early Impressionist period her works were almost always small in scale. She worked in oil paint, watercolours, or pastel, and sketched using various drawing media. From about 1880, when her brushstrokes became looser, she evoked a greater sense of freedom in her works. She was also known for creating a sense of space and depth through her use of colour, albeit with a limited colour palette.
Like most woman artists of her time, her subject matter generally reflected the cultural restrictions on her gender and she often painted domestic scenes.
Her subjects were often posed outdoors, enveloped by sunlight. She insisted on the “interiority” of her images and refused to include the intrusion of background detail into the very private and intimate study she was portraying. Morisot was concerned with “self” not the interaction of “self” and its environment. The outer edges of her paintings were often left unfinished, allowing the canvas to show through and increasing the sense of spontaneity.
As one critic noted at the time, “Her painting has all the frankness of improvisation; it truly is the impression caught by a sincere eye and accurately rendered by a hand that does not cheat.”
Known for her perceptive depictions of women and children, Mary Cassatt was one of the few American artists in France in the 1800s. She began to show regularly at the Paris Salon in 1868 – with her first work exhibited being a Realist work, The Mandolin Player.
After several tours to Europe, she settled permanently in Paris In 1874. As women weren’t then accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, it is believed that she studied privately with Jean-Leon Gerome, a teacher from the school. Cassatt also attended classes by Charles Chaplin and Thomas Couture and, like Berthe Morisot, she also regularly copied masters at the Louvre.
In 1875 she saw the pastel work of Edgar Degas in a gallery window. Years later, Cassatt described the importance of this experience, “I used to go and flatten my nose against the window and absorb all I could of his art. It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it.” She became extremely proficient in the use of pastels, eventually creating many of her most important works in this medium. Degas also introduced her to etching, of which he was a recognised master at the time.
In 1877, Degas invited her to join the Impressionists and a close working relationship developed between them. From similar upper-class backgrounds, the two painters enjoyed a friendship based on common artistic sensibilities and interests in bold compositional structure, the asymmetry and high vantage point of Japanese prints, and contemporary subject matter. Their admiration and support for each other endured long after their art began to head in different directions.
Cassatt exhibited in four of the eight Impressionist exhibitions; in 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1886. During this period she revised her technique, composition, and use of colour and light from the earlier and darker Realist works.
In April 1890, an exhibition of Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris inspired Cassatt to begin experimenting with different print techniques. However, she blended the Japanese design with that of the Impressionists. Impressionists didn’t use black so she used light pastel colours instead. (Some art historians believe her blending of the two styles made a lasting contribution to the graphic arts.)
Also, she chose not to employ the woodblock process, instead using aquatint, drypoint, etching, and hand-colouring. She made bold compositional choices—flattening forms and perspective, cropping compositions, contrasting decorative patterns and introducing broad planes of colour. Between 1890-91 she executed a series of ten prints that explored the private activities of women. After painstakingly overseeing the execution of each print, Cassatt exhibited the resulting series at the Durand Ruel Gallery in Paris. Together, the prints combined the spare beauty of Japanese woodcut designs with innovative colour patterns and finely tuned drawing.
The Bath was Cassatt’s first effort in the series, and the only one, according to her, in which she truly tried to imitate Japanese design. She produced seventeen different states for The Bath, more than for any other print in the series. Here she was still mastering the technical difficulties of translating woodcuts into intaglio prints. In The Bath, colour is used very simply for the blue tub, the yellow in woman’s dress and the soft background.
The subject, a mother and child, is a favourite of Cassatt’s, and in the series as a whole, she opens a window on women’s private lives in the nineteenth century.
Mary Cassatt, who chose her independence and a painting career over being married and having a family, continued painting until 1915, when she became virtually blind.
Cassatt and Morisot's favourite subjects were female, but they had a very different way of expressing the independence of women. Cassatt's In the Loge, 1879 announces the arrival of a new kind of woman who looks different and deserves to be looked at in a different manner. The lady in the loge, who appears to be alone, confidently leans forward to get a better look at the people around her, through her opera glasses. Her gaze is openly inquisitive and she doesn't appear at all intimidated by her surroundings, a fact underlined by her purposeful pose. The male interest, in the form of the man sitting far off to the right with his opera glasses trained toward the viewer, is introduced purely as a secondary item. His gaze sweeps the room and maybe takes in the presence of this independent woman. He is perhaps only important in so far as he conveys Cassatt's opinion that male approval of females is no longer of primary interest. Women are no longer ornamental, decorative possessions to be worn on a man's arm but free, independent, and totally self-reliant people, like Cassatt herself.
Morisot's women tend to be more difficult to understand or decode than Cassatt's. Using the example of Morisot's Woman with a Muff, 1880, we notice first of all that there is no interaction of the subject with her surroundings, as in Cassatt's work. Morisot insists on the "interiority" of her images and refuses to include the intrusion of background detail into the very private and intimate study she is portraying. Morisot was concerned with "self" not the interaction of "self" and its environment. Cassatt was more interested in women as "subjects, not objects".
Eva Gonzalès was the daughter of a Spanish writer and a Belgian musician. She was just 17 when she joined Charles Chaplin’s studio in Paris as a pupil in 1866, but within three years she became Edouárd Manet’s only formal pupil.
Although Gonzalès is classified as an Impressionist artist, she, like Manet, didn’t participate in any of their group exhibitions. Instead, with Manet’s encouragement she preferred to show at the Paris Salon, exhibiting there between 1870 and 1882-3, and at the Salon de Refusés in 1873.
Unfortunately, at her debut showing in 1870, where she exhibited three paintings, her work was overshadowed by Manet’s own submission of a portrait of Gonzalés as a dark haired fashionable model. As a result, she wasn’t considered by the critics to be a serious artist in her own right.
Her major submission was the life-sized Little Soldier, which was an unmistakable reference to Manet’s Fife Player of 1866. However, in her painting Gonzalés transformed the figure of a small boy into a three-dimensional figure with a slightly turned pose, softer focus and extended shadows, unlike Manet’s more flattened two-dimensional painting. She continued to work in the realistic style of Manet’s earlier Spanish period and began to have some success.
In the early 1870s she painted a number of Impressionist plein air landscape studies using the ‘bird’s eye’ viewpoint, flattened perspective and sunlit palette which Monet characterised in his views of Sainte-Adresse during the ’60s.
In her later works she frequently portrayed women (in particular her sister Jeanne, also an accomplished artist) and domestic scenes. Her pastels, for which she is most well known, have a light and delicate touch. Her small pastel domestic scene The Nest which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1873 met with acclaim, but the reviews refer to her ‘feminine technique’. In contrast, her other submission that year was a large realist painting Loge at the Theatre des Italians. This painting was rejected by the critics for its ‘masculine vigour’ because of the strong brushwork and allusion to erotic symbolism through the inclusion of a sumptuous bouquet of flowers.
By the late 1870s her assured pastel portraits demonstrated that she had found her true style, which can be compared with Degas and other Impressionists.
Overall, her life’s work was small (the catalogue raisonné of her works lists a total of 124 works) as she died within days of giving birth in 1883.
Born Marie Quiveron, Marie Braquemond was one of the four key women associated with the Impressionists. She was included in their exhibitions three times; in 1879, 1880 and 1886.
As a young woman she was admitted to Ingres’s studio and worked with two of his students. Although, according to Bracquemond, Ingres “doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting … [and] … would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes…”, her work was accepted at the Paris Salon from 1857 (when she was only 17).
She began receiving commissions, including one from the court of Empress Eugenie, the Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III. Bracquemond was also commissioned by Count de Nieuwerkerke, the Director-General of French museums, to copy more important paintings in the Louvre.
It was here she met her husband, Félix Bracquemond. He introduced Marie to his artist friends, such as Millet, Corot, Degas, and Rodin and through them she received more commissions. She also became involved in his work for the Haviland Limoges factory, where he was artistic director. Marie designed plates for dinner services and executed large Faience (tin-glazed earthenware ) tile panels entitled The Muses, which were shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1878. The preliminary sketch used for the design was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879, and Edgar Degas was among its greatest admirers.
From the late 1870s Bracquemond’s style had began to change. Her canvases grew larger and her colours intensified. She began sketching and painting en plein air, and Monet, Renoir and Degas became her mentors. Her fascination with the colouristic effects on sunlight on white resulted in paintings such as Woman in White and the more fully realised On the Terrace at Sévres, both of which appeared in the 1880 exhibition. (The “woman in white”, which was captured outdoors in a garden or at the seashore, soon became an archetypal Impressionist motif around the world. Many artists found it a perfect vehicle for the investigation of the formal properties of reflected light and colour.) She also experimented with different light effects, moving from work which explored natural daylight, such as Tea Time, to paintings under artificial light, such as Under the Lamp.
In 1886, Félix met Paul Gauguin through Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley, and brought the impoverished artist home. Gauguin had a decisive influence on Marie and he taught her how to prepare canvases. Unlike many of her Impressionist contemporaries, Bracquemond spent a great deal of effort planning her pieces. Even though many of her works have a spontaneous feel, she prepared them in a traditional way through sketches and drawings before starting on the canvas.
Bracquemond was an artist who is considered to have approached the interpretation of her human subjects with particular empathy for their individuality. Her models were usually family members, such as her son, sister and close friends, including Sisley and his wife.
The greatest challenge in her career proved to be the discouragement of her husband, and by 1890 the domestic conflict that her painting provoked led her to giving up paintings almost completely. Her son Pierre recorded in La vie de Félix and Marie Bracquemond the pain and difficulties that his mother suffered and his father’s jealousy of her talent.
However, she remained a fervent defender of Impressionism “Impressionism has produced… not only a new, but a very useful way of looking at things. It is as if all at once a window opens and the sun and air enter your house in torrents“.
Monet, Sisley, Morisot, and Pissarro may be considered the "purest" Impressionists, in their consistent pursuit of an art of spontaneity, sunlight, and colour. Degas rejected much of this, as he believed in the primacy of drawing over colour and belittled the practice of painting outdoors. Renoir turned away from Impressionism for a time during the 1880s, and never entirely regained his commitment to its ideas.
Édouard Manet, although regarded by the Impressionists as their leader because of his personal style and amiability, never abandoned his liberal use of black as a colour, and never participated in the Impressionist exhibitions. He continued to submit his works to the Salon, where his painting Spanish Singer had won a 2nd class medal in 1861, and he urged the others to do likewise, arguing that "the Salon is the real field of battle" where a reputation could be made.
The work of these artists was frequently rejected by the Salon jury in Paris. When Édouard Manet submitted Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe to the jury in 1863 and it was rejected disgruntled artists appealed to the Emperor of France, Napoleon III, who gave permission for an exhibition of the rejected paintings and sculptures at the Salon des Refuses.
However, many of the entries in the Salon des Refuses were indistinguishable from that in the official Salon-worthy but uninspired landscapes, portraits and figure subjects, painted for the most part in rather dark, dull colours. As a result, a number of artists considered holding their own exhibition, to attract a new audience and make private sales.
The independent collective which initially called itself the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers etc had a fluid membership over the course of the eight exhibitions it organized between 1874 and 1886, with the number of participating artists ranging from nine to thirty, each hoping to sell their works. Pissarro, the eldest, was the only artist who exhibited in all eight shows, while Morisot participated in seven.
Ideas for an independent exhibition had been discussed as early as 1867, but the Franco-Prussian War and Commune intervened. The painter Frédéric Bazille, who had been leading the efforts, was killed in the war. Subsequent exhibitions were headed by different artists. Philosophical and political differences among the artists led to heated disputes and fractures, causing fluctuations in the contributors. The exhibitions included the works of more conservative artists who refused to submit their work to the Salon jury. Also participating in the independent exhibitions were Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin, whose later styles grew out of their early work with the Impressionists. Dealer Durand-Ruel was a strong supporter of the Impressionists, purchasing many of their works, and mounting exhibitions in the U.S. Caillebotte also contibuted to the funding of later joint exhibitions.
By 1884 Georges Seurat and Paul Signac had introduced their Post-Impressionist method of painting with tiny clusters of dots. Also known as Pointillism or Divisionism, this highly disciplined approach to Impressionism signalled the onset of the Post-Impressionist era. Seurat's famous Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grande Jatte, 1884-86 made its debut.
After holding a number of exhibitions, by the early 1880s the feeling of cohesiveness that had originally brought the impressionists together had begun to dissolve under the pressure of factions and rivalries. The sense of a shared approach to nature among the landscape painters had also dissolved by then, so that the artists increasingly took their own individual directions. The last joint exhibition was held in 1886. However, by this time, Impressionism was beginning to have an impact both on French painting generally and also on the art of other countries which continued well into the 20th century.
Impressionism influenced modern art through the loosening up of brushwork, which ended the traditional distinction between the finished painting and the preliminary sketch or study; a concern for the two-dimensional surface of a painting, which is defined by the patterns and feeling of movement of the paint on the ground; and a use of pure, bright colours.
First Impressionist exhibition at the photographer Nadar's former studio at 35 Boulevard des Capucines, 1874
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