In her book, “The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique & the Making of Modernity” Anthea Callen described the cultural zeitgeist in Paris that paved the way for Impressionism, saying:
“The nineteenth history is characterized in art history as an era of innovation....Science and technology provided painters with a greatly extended range of artists’ materials and pigments, and colour merchants retailed a burgeoning selection of ready-made equipment. It is essential to consider not only the relationship between technological change ad artists’ techniques, but also the new age of which both were a product.”
She goes on to describe how painting outside became possible with inventions that made it easier to transport easels and paint, which, in turn, aligned with a feeling of egalitarianism and increased democratization of art and of being an artist; the French national motto now is ’Liberté, égalité, fraternité’, meaning "Liberty, equality, fraternity (brotherhood)”. This motto, though adopted in the late 19th century, was coined during the French revolution, which by Degas’ time, had had almost 100 years to seep into the collective French conscience. These ideals of overturning monarchy and rejecting hierarchal authority would parallel the perceived headbutting of Impressionist painters against the Academie des Beaux-Arts, the judging body that dominated over who and what style of painting could be shown publicly. The Academie held annual art exhibits that only featured paintings that conformed to its standards. For struggling artists, getting theirs works exhibited gave them a chance at exposure to patrons of the art and could make or break a reputation, start a career, and win admirers as well as fame. Parisian critics of the time largely aligned themselves with the Academie, and were preoccupied with keeping art within a strict and narrow set of guidelines. Anthea goes on to note the power of the art critics of the late 18th century in helping to shape public perception of paintings, stating: “...The written language of the criticism had the power to interpret the new artistic trends...to a a nineteenth century public both visually untutored and suspicious of change. Therefore art critics, by mediating the meaning of paintings, could successfully defuse the threat of the genuinely radical pictorial statement, disarming it’s political force...” Originally, even the term “Impressionism” was invented in a critique by then-columnist and art critic Louis Leroy. His first article with the term for the new painting style appeared in the Le Charivari newspaper and used the word “Impressionist” from Claude Monet’s painting entitled “Impression Sunrise” (In french, “Impression, Soleil Levant”). In the article, he made fun of the new style of painting he was unaccustomed to, and sarcastically compared them to wallpaper and mere unfinished sketches. He wrote:
“Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it ... and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.” In 1874, Parisian artists from the Cooperative and Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers staged an exhibit at the studio of photographer and journalist Felix Nadar.
A group of artists composed of Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, and a few others organized the original group of paintings to be shown and were eventually joined by Paul Cezanne, Auguste Renoir and others. The exhibit was an open rebellion against the established artistic standards of the Academie des Beaux-Arts, and featured paintings that directly flouted the conventions of the period. The new style of painting, which featured unusual composition, bright paint colors, and prominent, noticeable brush strokes went against almost everything that the Academie stood for. Degas’ “The Dance Class” is a perfect example of this...
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