Western Civilization 1
April 10, 2008
The Impressionist Movement
Impressionism, French Impressionnisme, is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as “a theory or style of painting originating and developed in France during the 1870s, characterized by concentration on the immediate visual impression produced by a scene and by the use of unmixed primary colors and small strokes to simulate actual reflected light.” Impressionist painting comprises the works of art produced between about 1867 and 1886 by a group of artists that shared related techniques and approaches to art. The title ‘Impressionism’ originated from the influence of Claude Monet and his famous painting, Impression Sunrise. This movement caused a great impact; however critics at the time did not accept such works and did not consider them to be art. The characteristics of impressionism stand out in their own genre and each great artist has his own style. The most conspicuous characteristic of Impressionism was the attempt to accurately portray visual realities in terms of transient effects of light and color. Some of the main artists of this movement include Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas. Impressionistic art gave a new perspective on human experiences.
Impressionism had a rough beginning in the 19th century. Napoleon had rebuilt Paris and had waged war all over Europe, and the Académie des Beaux Arts subjugated the art scene in France. The Académie held the standards for French paintings both for style and content. The Académie valued works that were carefully finished and that had images which showed reality when they were examined closely. There was an annual art show, the Salon de Paris that was represented by the highly polished works. In 1863, The Luncheon on the Grass by Manet was rejected by the jury because it portrayed nude women and clothed men at a picnic. While nudes were generally accepted however it was only in reference to historical or allegorical paintings or events. Because of the jury’s harshly worded rejection of the painting, along with the unusually large number of rejected works that year, set off a storm among the community of French artists. After this Napoleon decreed that the public should be allowed to judge the artwork themselves and so the Solon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) was organized. This drew attention to the existence of a new trend in art and attracted more visitors than the regular Salon. Artists’ petitions requesting a new Salon des Refusés in 1867 and 1872 were refused. So, in the April of 1874 a group of artists consisting of Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne, Morisot, and Degas organized their own exhibition at the studio of a photographer named Nadar. They invited some other progressive artists to exhibit with them. There were a total of thirty artists that participated in the exhibition, and was the first of eight that the group presented between the years 1874 and 1886. The response of critics was mixed and Monet and Cézanne had to bear the harshest attacks. The critic and humorist Louis Leroy wrote a contemptuous review in the Le Charivari newspaper that made a play on words with the title of Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, and he gave the artists their name that became the way they were known. He titled the article The Exhibition of the Impressionists. The term “Impressionists” swiftly gained favor with the public and was also accepted by the artists themselves even though they were a diverse group, unified by their spirit of rebellion and independence. Monet, Sisley, Morisot, and Pissarro are many times considered the “purest” Impressionists because of their spontaneity, sunlight, and color. Degas, however, rejected much of this and believed in the primacy of drawing over color and he didn’t like the practice of painting outdoors. Renoir turned against Impressionism for awhile in the 1880s and never really regained him commitment to Impressionistic ideas. And...