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Impressionism and Modern Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Impressionists

In 1874, a group of artists called the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. organized an exhibition in Paris that launched the movement called Impressionism. Its founding members included Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro, among others. The group was unified only by its independence from the official annual Salon, for which a jury of artists from the Académie des Beaux-Arts selected artworks and awarded medals. The independent artists, despite their diverse approaches to painting, appeared to contemporaries as a group. While conservative ...

 
: critics panned their work for its unfinished, sketchlike appearance, more progressive writers praised it for its depiction of modern life. Edmond Duranty, for example, in his 1876 essay La Nouvelle Peinture (The New Painting), wrote of their depiction of contemporary subject matter in a suitably innovative style as a revolution in painting. The exhibiting collective avoided choosing a title that would imply a unified movement or school, although some of them subsequently adopted the name by which they would eventually be known, the Impressionists. Their work is recognized today for its modernity, embodied in its rejection of established styles, its incorporation of new technology and ideas, and its depiction of ...
 
: modern life.

Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris) exhibited in 1874, gave the Impressionist movement its name when the critic Louis Leroy accused it of being a sketch or "impression," not a finished painting. It demonstrates the techniques many of the independent artists adopted: short, broken brushstrokes that barely convey forms, pure unblended colors, and an emphasis on the effects of light. Rather than neutral white, grays, and blacks, Impressionists often rendered shadows and highlights in color. The artists' loose brushwork gives an effect of spontaneity and ...

 
: effortlessness that masks their often carefully constructed compositions, such as in Alfred Sisley's 1878 Allée of Chestnut Trees (1975.1.211). This seemingly casual style became widely accepted, even in the official Salon, as the new language with which to depict modern life.

In addition to their radical technique, the bright colors of Impressionist canvases were shocking for eyes accustomed to the more sober colors of Academic painting. Many of the independent artists chose not to apply the thick golden varnish that painters customarily used to tone down their works. The paints themselves were more vivid as well. The nineteenth century saw the development of ...

 
: synthetic pigments for artists' paints, providing vibrant shades of blue, green, and yellow that painters had never used before. Édouard Manet's 1874 Boating (29.100.115), for example, features an expanse of the new Cerulean blue and synthetic ultramarine. Depicted in a radically cropped, Japanese-inspired composition, the fashionable boater and his companion embody modernity in their form, their subject matter, and the very materials used to paint them.

Such images of suburban and rural leisure outside of Paris were a popular subject for the Impressionists, notably Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Several of them lived in the country for ...

 
: part or all of the year. New railway lines radiating out from the city made travel so convenient that Parisians virtually flooded into the countryside every weekend. While some of the Impressionists, such as Pissarro, focused on the daily life of local villagers in Pontoise, most preferred to depict the vacationers' rural pastimes. The boating and bathing establishments that flourished in these regions became favorite motifs. In his 1869 La Grenouillère (29.100.112), for example, Monet's characteristically loose painting style complements the leisure activities he portrays. Landscapes, which figure prominently in Impressionist art, were also brought up to date with innovative compositions, light effects, and use ...
 
: of color. Monet in particular emphasized the modernization of the landscape by including railways and factories, signs of encroaching industrialization that would have seemed inappropriate to the Barbizon artists of the previous generation.

Perhaps the prime site of modernity in the late nineteenth century was the city of Paris itself, renovated between 1853 and 1870 under Emperor Napoleon III. His prefect, Baron Haussmann, laid the plans, tearing down old buildings to create more open space for a cleaner, safer city. Also contributing to its new look was the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), ...

 
: which required reconstructing the parts of the city that had been destroyed. Impressionists such as Pissarro and Gustave Caillebotte enthusiastically painted the renovated city, employing their new style to depict its wide boulevards, public gardens, and grand buildings. While some focused on the cityscapes, others turned their sights to the city's inhabitants. The Paris population explosion after the Franco-Prussian War gave them a tremendous amount of material for their scenes of urban life. Characteristic of these scenes was the mixing of social classes that took place in public settings. Degas and Caillebotte focused on working people, including singers and dancers, as well as workmen. Others, including Berthe Morisot and Mary ...
 
: Cassatt, depicted the privileged classes. The Impressionists also painted new forms of leisure, including theatrical entertainment (such as Cassatt's 1878 In the Loge [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]), cafés, popular concerts, and dances. Taking an approach similar to Naturalist writers such as Émile Zola, the painters of urban scenes depicted fleeting yet typical moments in the lives of characters they observed. Caillebotte's 1877 Paris Street, Rainy Day (Art Institute, Chicago) exemplifies how these artists abandoned sentimental depictions and explicit narratives, adopting instead a detached, objective view that merely suggests what is going on. ...
 
: When Aya was twelve years old she stood for a family photo. Her mother Caroline had straight dirty blond hair and a wide impish grin. Aya was tall for her age, and Caroline was quite tall, and her father Sadayuki was a towering man. Wide grapeleaves hung off of vines and bobbed and patted Aya on the head when the air moved. The camera man snapped the photo, and Aya slipped away.

She played attackers and defenders with the other kids. She and Goodluck shared their sight and thoughts, and moved with perfect coordination, catching attackers one after the other. "You're cheating!" the other team shouted. "They're cheating!" ...