Impressionism

The name of the art period ‘Impressionism’ derives from the name of a painting by Monet: Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression,Sunrise). It started inParis, where a group of young artists was fed up with the traditional style favored by theFrenchAcademyof Fine Arts. They were much more interested in bright colors, landscapes and scenes of daily life than well-composed recreations of historical scenes. They really just took realism a bit further and let themselves be inspired by upcoming photography. But as always when the establishment feels threatened by something new, they were rejected.

It was Napoleon III who decreed that the public should judge the new style by themselves. An exhibition, called the Salon of the Refused, was organized. While many just came to laugh about the young and wild, this exhibition attracted more visitors than the regular one from the Academy. We write the year 1863 and Impressionism had gained the attention of the public. It was there to stay until 1890.

The new style took advantage of the mid-century introduction of premixed paints in lead tubes (resembling modern toothpaste tubes), which allowed artists to work more spontaneously, both outdoors and indoors. Previously, painters made their own paints individually, by grinding and mixing dry pigment powders with linseed oil, which were then stored in animal bladders. This put limits to any spontaneity and made the paint a hustle to transport.

Impressionism is characterized by thin, small yet visible brush strokes. Paintings are constructed from freely set strokes that took precedence over lines and contours. The compositions are open and use unusual visual angles. Impressionists chose realistic scenes of modern life which they painted outside their studios. While at it they portrayed visual effects instead of details. They tried to capture a moment and the ongoing movement as the perception of movement was seen as a crucial human experience. Their emphasis was on the accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities. And with the latest findings in color perception and optics in mind, Impressionists tried to recreate the sensation of viewing in the eye.

Technique:

–         short, thick strokes quickly applied often impasto to capture the essence rather than the detail

–         colors applied side-by-side with as less mixing as possible to create the vivid vibrations

–         grays and dark shades are produced by mixing complementary colors, black is avoided

–         twilight painting for the light effects

–         no glazes, surface is typically opaque

–         emphasis on natural light and reflections

–         boldly painted shadows with the blue of the sky reflecting on surfaces giving the scenes an up to then unknown freshness

–         relaxation of boundaries between subject and background, paintings seemed – inspired by upcoming photography – like they were snapshots

–         expression of perception rather than recreation of reality; depiction is influenced by taste and conscience -> subjective alternative to photography

–         influence of Japanese art prints (Japonism) with their unusual compositions

Central figures:

Frederic Bazille, Gustave Caillebotte, Mary Cassat, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Armand Guillaumin, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley

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