Nov 6, 2017 in Informative

Impressionism as a Revolutionary Art

Destroying classical foundation, the freshness of Impressionist color palette and their revolutionary painting technique made a crucial breakthrough in the art of the 19th century. The group of unknown young artists challenged traditional trends, arising brisk debates over their creativity, named as Impressionism. Highly appreciated nowadays their masterpieces were not accepted by critics one century ago, originally becoming the laughing-stock of Paris.

Impressionism is a style of painting originated in France in the 19th century. Being initiated by the group of young students, including Claude Monet, Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Impressionism became a revolutionary era in the development of European art, replacing the classical stage (Brodskaia 20-26). The impressionists cannot be considered a formal group as a whole. It is remarkable to note that the future impressionists did not even choose the name of their innovative trend and never planned to represent a radical revolutionary movement in painting. “What they had in common was that they were all in Paris in the early 1860s… and realized that they shared desire to paint the landscape, cityscape, and modern life in new ways” (Katz and Dars 9). Robert Katz and Celestine Dars note that the first significant exhibition was held due to the fact that nobody of the future impressionists was successful at the official Salon, the key place in Paris for the artists (Katz and Dars 9). Though this exhibition of 1874 did not bring success to the young painters, it was noticed by a hostile journalist and critic Louis Leroy who described the exhibition, his feelings and attitude towards the painting “Impression: Sunrise” in his article “The Exhibition of the Impressionists”, occasionally giving the name to the innovative trend in the art. Since that moment, the term “Impressionism” has become widely known due to Louis Leroy. Nevertheless, the art was not accepted by critics, disapproving “scraped dried paint from the palette thrown onto a dirty canvas” (Brodskaia 14). The satiated public was shocked by the revolutionary technique and technology of painting, an unusual “approach to color and a range of subject matter, making the … exhibition the laughing-stock of Paris” (Katz and Dars 11). Despite Louis Leroy’s version of Paris scene “Boulevard des Capucines” by Claude Manet, famous French writers Baudelaire and Zola highly appreciated the innovative trend and “saw in their work an important advancement of art into the modern era” (Katz and Dars 9).

The Impressionist Painting Technique

The impressionists gave their preference to the effect of light on an object rather than the exact depiction of its form. Therefore, their paintings seemed to be much brighter than the works of their contemporaries. On some canvas, certain details are not noticed at once, being muffled with the violence of color. In fact, the representatives of impressionist school applied revolutionary achievements in color theory, transferring unique effects of color and light in nature. The adherents of this trend rejected the traditional concept, claiming that the shadow of a depicted object required its original color with the mix of a brown or black scale. To render the shadow of an object, the artists used dashes of colors, different in nature, but together forming an attractive combination instead. To illustrate, depicted by impressionists, an orange may cast a shadow with blue strokes.

Impressionists intended to express the unique feeling of a morning, afternoon or evening, to render the peculiarities of diverse weather conditions on the rural background. To achieve this effect, the artists had to work fast and , therefore, they “applied their paint in small brightly color strokes which meant sacrificing much of the outline and detail of their subject” (“Impressionism and the French Impressionists”). This style of painting became the subject to severe theoretic conflicts between the impressionists and the conservative Academie of the French artistic establishment, highly appreciating traditional colors and attentively painted details. The impressionists’ composition technique irritated the adherents of the Academie, who insisted on the traditionally depicted “lines, shapes, tones and colors… arranged in a way that led the eye to the focal point of the work” (“Impressionism and the French Impressionists”). The advocates of the conservative trend regarded the background and outside limits of the painting detracted from the focal point to be a failure. Therefore, these critics did not accept impressionists who did not follow the classical traditions.

Impressionism was a developing phenomenon, being under the influence of existing trends. For instance, certain elements of photography composition techniques such as cropping were adopted by the revolutionary artists. To illustrate,“Four Dancers’ by Degas caused a huge wave of criticism because of its asymmetrical effects of cropping (“Impressionism and the French Impressionists”). To a certain degree, the impressionist style was influenced by Japanese woodblock prints. For example, the work “The 53 station of the Tokaido” demonstrates “asymetrical  arrangements, contrasting large areas of flat color with patches of intricate pattern” (“Impressionism and the French Impressionists”).

The next reason to regard Impressionism as revolutionary art, is the fact that this trend was the first style to accept the technique of painting outside. In some way, this feature was stipulated by the invention of paint in tubes that gave artists the opportunity to involve all their equipment during their work outside the studio. Painting landscapes, impressionists rendered unique effects of light on color on their canvas. Over time, town and rural landscapes became the distinctive feature of Impressionism (“Impressionism and the French Impressionists”).

Despite their great interest to landscapes, many impressionists mastered other painting genres. Such representatives of Impressionism as Renoir, Degas, Lautrec gave their preference to portraits. For instance, “At the Moulein Rouge” by Lautrec is a classical example of the impressionists’ approach to this trend. Though still life was not common among their works, there are several brilliant masterpieces of it such as “Fruits of the Midi” by Pierre Auguste Renoir (“Impressionism and the French Impressionists”).

Revolutionary Breakthrough in Art

Living in the period of the struggle between modernity and classical order, the impressionists made a significant breakthrough in the art. The famous painting “Luncheon on the Grass” by Monet is considered to be a revolutionary manifesto of freedom, when painters can represent elements peculiar to different trends. In the above-mentioned masterpiece, Claude Monet depicted a nude young girl near two gentlemen in frocks. Imitating the famous scene of outdoor concert by Titan that had impressed the artist in Louvre in his youth, Monet’s painting was considered to be offensive for the existing morality of those days. The critics blamed the artist for showing nude figures in an outdoor background without allegorical context, understanding that “ Luncheon on the grass” became the refined parody of classical art traditions. Following natural laws that contradicted everyday reality, the advocates of classical trend in art were involved in brisk controversies between progressives and conservatives. The key points of their debates were stated in the doctrine of Art for Art’s Sake. Despite Monet’s evading such public discussions, his paintings “shows his lifelong devotion to pure painting” (Janson and Janson 21-22).

During the period of 1860s-1870s, Monet together with August Renoir combined their efforts and promoted a new, revolutionary style with the flat brush strokes transformed into flecks of paint to depict an unexpected scale of visual effects. Nevertheless, critics note that impressionism remained to be obtained by using feelings rather than considering the facts. Soon, other participants of the impressionist group started to use Monet and Renoir’s style of painting. Inspired with the new trend, Camille Pissarro created “The Cote des Bocufs at l‘Hermitage, near Pontoise”. Rural landscapes with “the majestic procession of trees and blocklike buildings, establish a clear structure that gives the picture a timeless quality” (Janson and Janson 24).

The Impressionist Group

  • Claude Monet. Claude Monet is considered to be a founder of French Impressionism. One of his masterpices “Impression: Sunrise” gave its name to the entire imressionist trend. The most famous Monet’s works are “La Gare Saint-Lazare”, “Rue Saint-Denis”, “Festivities of 30 June, 1878”, landscapes in series “The Rocks of Bell-Ile”, “Cliffs at Belle-Ille”, “Poplars on the Bank of the River Epte”. Nevertheless, his paintings were not popular, starting to draw public attention only in 1880s. In his paintings, light is of vital importance. In fact, Monet has succeeded in depicting the same objects under various types of light, namely in the morning, afternoon, and evening. To illustrate, the painter has created a series of the canvases, differring from each other only in the violence of color (“Claude Monet”). In his paintings, Claude Monet appriciates the intimate and everyday, highlights the picturesque moments and poetry of events. He focuses on “the interaction between the figure and the surrounding nature in scene set in the open air, the play of patches of light on clothes, ignoring small peculiarities of people’s faces” (Brodskaia 13).
  • Frederic Bazille. Frederic Bazille is the next representative of the impressionist group. His famous works include “Family Reunion” and “Summer Scene (Bathers)”. In ”Family Reunion”, Frederic Bazil depicts his family on the rural background. Peculiarities of his color scale and the way of painting people are typical for Impressionism. Creating “Summer Scene (Bathers)”, Frederic Bazille replaces his models to an outdoor setting, successfully rendering the beauty of the countryside. On the canvas, the audience can view young men in swimming suits, having a rest near the river (“Frederic Bazille: Biography”).
  • Alfred Sisley. His brilliant works include “Avenue of Chestnut Trees near La Celle Saint-Cloud (Southampton)”, “Autumn: Banks of the Seine near Bougival”, “Molesey Weir”, and “Hampton Court”. In his creativity, Sisley gave preference to the pure depiction of landscapes. Approximately 900 oil paintings belong to his brush, nevertheless, there are about a dozen still lives and several genre scenes in his heritage (“Alfred Sisley: Bibliography”).
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Renoir’s style is remarkable for its bright painting scale, cheerful character, and strong clear lines. His famous canvases are ‘The Large Bathers”, ”Luncheon of the Boating Party”, “Dance at le Moulin de la Gallette”. At the beginning of his career as a painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted portraits and real life descriptions, succeeding in rendering facial expressions. He is well-recognized for his unique technique of broken brush strokes, skillfully rendering effects of lighting and movement. Being a great admirer of female models, Pierre-Auguste Renoir achieved significant results in bringing together several figures on one canvas, that makes his works rather comlex. In his middle years, Renoir is considered to use only five colors in his palette. Over time, his canvases developed into more linear. Pierre-Auguste Renoir has created his own unique style, implementing a more traditional approach. In his advanced years, Renoir returned to impressionism, preferring brush strokes. During this time, the painter focused on epic nudes and domestic scenes. Being extremely diverse, Renoir’s heritage includes “open-air landscapes, family scenes, and monumental portraits such as “The Luncheon of the Boating Party”” (“Pierre-Auguste Renoir Style and Technique”).
  • Camille Pissarro. “For Pissarro, a convinced and professing anarchist, Impressionism was the natural concomitant of social progress, political radicalism, belief in science rather than superstition” (Lloyd). Pissorro was extremely skillful in the depiction of nature, agriculture, and human beings on the rural background. His famous works include ”Railway bridge at Ponoise” and “Donkey ride at la Roche-Guyan”. Camille Pissarro actively used softly applied patches of color in his paintings, adopting from Monet. Pissarro’s work impress the audience with solidity and consonance of composition, while Monet promoted peculiar effects in light and water. On his canvases, Pissarro preferred depicting human figures, peasant women, particularly, on the rural backgrounds (“Camille Pissarro”).
  • Degas. Degas experimented with new techniques of painting, skillfully rendering the violence of colors. In his early years, Degas painted “portraits, self-portraits, genre paintings, copies of frescos and old masters” (“Edgar Degas”). While impressionists were invoved in landscape painting, Degas did not show any special interest in it. Nevertheless, his landscapes of 1860s are gentle and embrace the muffled tones. In 1890s, Degas prefferred imaginary and completely abstract landscapes (“Edgar Degas”). Degas’ famous canvases are “The Bellini Family”, “A woman seated beside a vase of flowers”, “Dancers practicing at the bar”, “Dancers, Pink and Green”, and “Duchessa di Montejasi with her daughters, Elena and Camilla”.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Impressionism is truly considered to be a revolutionary art. Being originated in France in the 19th century by a group of young students, Impressionism became a revolutionary era in the development of European art, replacing the classical stage. The bright representatives of the impressionist group are considered to be Claude Monet, Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir. The term “Impressionism” was brought to the new trend by a hostile critic Louis Leroy. The satiated public did not accept the revolutionary art, making it the laughing-stock of Paris. The young adopted the best traditions of classicism in art. Nevertheless, looking into the core of the subject, the audience accepted the new trend as a mockery of traditional approach.

The impressionist painting technique is considered to be revolutionary. Developing their skills intuitively, impressionists gave their preference to the effect of light on an object rather than the exact depiction of its form. On their canvases, certain details are not noticed at once, being muffled with the violence of color. In fact, the representatives of impressionist school applied revolutionary achievements in color theory, transferring unique effects of color and light in nature. To render the shadow of an object, the artists used dashes of colors, different in nature, but together forming an attractive combination. This style of painting became the subject to severe theoretic conflicts between the impressionists and the conservative Academie of the French artistic establishment, highly appreciating traditional colors and attentively painted details. The advocates of the conservative trend regarded the background and outside limits of the painting detracted from the focal point to be a failure. Impressionism developed under the influence of existing tends such as photograghy and Japanese woodblock prints. Nevertheless, it can be regarded as truly revolutionary art, having brought the new perception of reality. 

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