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Impression
, sunrise
C. MONET

Biographies(click name of painter )

French version
Museums Exhibitions

IMPRESSIONISM,

MODERNITY and TRADITION

Neo- Impressionism

Impressionist painting remains the most attractive period in the history of modern art and the most appreciated by the public . Series of exhibitions, an abundant literature and record sales give evidence of today's extraordinary resonance of works of the Impressionist painters, of which a number are engraved on our artistic conscience .

At their time, Impressionist works appeared to be so outrageously modern, that it took their contemporaries more than thirty years to finally admit them - if not to like them -.

92 x 73 cm
By the sea
Auguste RENOIR, 1883
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

However, as the years go by, Impressionism, seems to us nowadays, much more to maintain close links with tradition, and to constitute the esthetic achievement of an artistic creation related to realistic representation.

This link, a long time considered as the most normal thing in the world, to which impressionism had given a new definition based on "impression", will thereafter lose its compulsory character with the evolution of fine arts in XXth century.

Isn't the durable success of Impressionism due to the fact that we are sensitive to its modernity and to its traditionalism?

Of course, Impressionism cannot be reduced to this unique aspect, it is also a bias to paint cheerful reality, that of leisures and beauty of nature, an endless search for natural light... in a word, a certain art of living which fits in with many aspirations of our society.

This site in homage to the Impressionist painters attempts to present the history of the Impressionist Movement as well as the routes of each great painter whose name is indissociable of Impressionism.

Musics : DEBUSSY - Reverie (1890)

Impressionist Map

HISTORY OF

THE IMPRESSIONIST MOVEMENT

PREDECESSORS

Between 1820 and 1850, prestigious artistic movements would come up in French Painting. First the romantic revolution ( Géricault , Delacroix ), then the realistic movement ( Courbet , Millet ) where naturalist painters of "The Barbizon School" ( Daubigny , Rousseau , Troyon , Corot ) played a great role.

Under the influence of british landscape painters such as Bonington, Constable, Turner, landscape painting would become a fully recognized genre in French Painting, of which Corot will be the most famous representative.

Courbet , Corot and Delacroix, then represent the avant-garde of French Painting, and will constitute the models which all the Impressionists will take as a starting point at their beginnings.

Biography of Joseph Mallord William TURNER

The ERA : SECOND EMPIRE and ACADEMIC ART

The future Impressionists will grow in a country governed by authoritarian Napoleon III, whose cultural policy entirely centered on the greatness of the Empire was hostile to them.

 

The advent of the Second Empire (1852-70) was to mark a rupture in the artistic history of the XIXth century in France, between official art on one side, and independent art on the other side.

The cultural policy of Napoleon encenses an insipid academic art (the so called "pompier" style) best represented by Meissonnier, Cabanel and Bouguereau, covered with honors by the political power and ruling over the Academy of Fine Arts, and disparages a realistic art, often very pauper, illustrated by Courbet, Millet, Daubigny, Rousseau...

 

This rupture will appear on multiple levels:

- political : most realistic or naturalist painters are republican and disagree with the Coup d'etat of Napoleon III.

- esthetic : they hate the great historical or mythological "machines" of the academic painters, and wish to express the simple beauties of nature, the life of their humblest contemporaries.

- sociological : the new painters come from the working classes and are not related any more to aristocracy

- geographical : they are in search of sites protected from industrialization (Barbizon, Normandy)

 


Huile sur bois 29.8 x 41 cm
Calvary on The Côte de Grâce,
Honfleur

Camille COROT, 1829-30
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

This policy will not prevent the belated fame of Corot (1796-1875) from growing up. Corot, whose work comes to an end when Impressionist painters appear on the scene, is already a modern painter and can be seen as a precursor of Impressionists .

He excels in "plein-air"(outdoor) landscape painting, and his portraits are every bit as good as his landscapes for they release so much expressiveness. The Impressionists and many great painters after them will make of Corot a source of inspiration, and will dedicate him an immense admiration. Moreover they will try without success to obtain his participation in their 1st group exhibition in 1874.

see Jean-Baptiste Camille COROT

 

 

A NEW CONTEMPORARY REALISTIC PAINTING

A new style of painting, that will take the name of Impressionism in the year 1874, will develop in France between 1860 and 1890. This evolution in painting history is not an isolated movement, for independent pictorial art will evolve everywhere in Europe in the second half of the XIXth century towards a much more modern painting that better correspond to industrial progress acceleration , and changes in the way of life .

Painters which will be named, depending on time and context, "Independents", "Intransigents" or "Batignolles Group ", at last "Impressionnists", will be engaged in a struggle, begun with Manet in 1860, against an old and dusty workshop painting art with established conventions that had become too restrictive for modern time, in order to have their new realistic way of painting recognized.

This new painting will be the result of a series of reflexions and intentions which preceded it, that of Barbizon School's painters, and that of neo-impressionist painters of the Meetings of Saint-Siméon in Honfleur ( Boudin, Jongkind, Dubourg... ) that Monet attended as a young painter.

The new realism of the Impressionists definitively rejects the classical research of an ideal of beauty and an eternal essence of things, and postulates instead as preponderant the real vision compared to any learned conventional theory. The work that results from this vision is claimed to be relative : relative to the conditions under which the same scene can be observed (lights, skies, colors...), and relative to the painter himself.

75,8 x 102,5 cm
Beach at Sainte-Adresse
Claude MONET, 1867

Art Institute of Chicago

   

 

Manet's formula : "I paint what I see, and not what others like to see", summarizes this claim of the artist to give his personal vision , that of his own subjectivity.

Their great concern about giving representations translating the artist's real vision with its immediate nuances, will lead them to undertake multiple pictorial researches and to forsake a number of rules which then passed for immutable in painting : precise drawing and contours, use of flat colors with attenuated variations, light and shade convention...

By doing so, the future Impressionists will introduce a number of new pictorial processes : use of light tones, division of tones (an orange is represented by juxtaposition of two pure colors, red and yellow), form and volume resulting from colored brushworks instead of drawing-contour, thickness of paint ...

The Impressionist movement is thus well at the origin of a great artistic revolution , today still the object of studies and analysis, which will be put at the service of a new conception about the role and place of painting in society.


 

Forsaking historical or mythological subjects, Impressionist painters will deeply renew painting themes to better picture their contemporary world .

They seek their subjects in the eternal world of nature as well as in their daily world , each painter developing his own set of themes. For them, a subject is worth another , which counts being more their vision and their pictorial search to paint it.

The Impressionist step aiming at representing a surrounding reality which is relevant only at one moment and under given conditions , the execution of a painting is fast , close to the draft. It acts of a one moment painting, of a fugitive impression.

Last point, the act to paint is asserted as a personal pleasure , as well as an autonomous spiritual value . In this conception of art for art , the artist is free of his personal creation.

 

 

92,5 x 74 cm
A woman ironing
Edgar DEGAS, 1869

Neue Pinakothek
Munich, Germany

If Impressionist masters are now at the firmament of painting, it is important to recall to which extent their painting was misunderstood and rejected at their time . Let us quote their contemporary Theodore Duret (Art critic 1838-1927) in his " History of the Impressionist painters " : "It should be said, in homage to these men, that contempt, opprobrium, poverty, never led them to deviate at any time of their way. They held on with their so detested way of painting, without considering, even for one moment, to modify it in any way in order to be accepted of the public. They waited, during many years, all the time necessary for the public to come to them and that a change of opinion occurred, supported by their confidence in the principles and the value of their art . "

Over twenty-five years, from 1860 to 1886, in the century where photography was invented, Impressionist painting was going to leave strictly figurative representation, to invent a new style of artistic representation which was going to mark the beginning of nonfigurative modern painting . One knows today how far that was going to lead.

One can consider that in 1886 , year of their last group show in Paris and of the first exhibition of their works in the United States , successfully organized by art dealer Durand-Ruel , the Impressionists had achieved their goal and were at last recognized. Impressionism will then quickly find a broad echo in Europe and North America.

 

 

MANET REREADS CLASSICS

 

Manet opened the way to Impressionism while rebelling, using the exact means of traditional pictorial representation that he had so thoroughly learned , against academic conventions that had become so rigid that they prohibited painting contemporary subjects.

Thus, after other works like " The absinthe drinker " - 1858, his " Luncheon on the grass " (1863) or his " Olympia " (1863) are classically written subjects reactualized with genius in contemporary world, with so realistic transpositions - in particular the nudes - that they would cause scandal and be violently attacked by critics of that time.

But, even if with " The music at the Tuileries " - 1862 , Manet already prefigures Impressionist painting - of which he will be subject to influence in return -, he never truly belonged to the Impressionist movement, and appears on the other hand as the one who did allow its birth.

 
208 x 264,5 cm

Luncheon on the grass
Edouard MANET, 1863

Musée d'Orsay, Paris

 

Indeed, because of the scandals he caused, and due to his immense talent as a painter, Manet quickly gained notoriety , and from 1864 will become the leader of a quarrel opposing the old ones and the modern ones. For the future Impressionists, he will become, after Corot and Courbet, an example of a new manner of painting, and a new guide, around whom they will naturally gather and, through whom, for some of them, they will meet.

From 1865, famous writer Emile Zola, a school fellow of Cézanne in Aix, will defend Manet's cause and his new painting in "The Event", and become the supporter and historian of the arising movement . Painting started an all-out revolution concerning not only painting themes, but also soon its pictorial means .

 

 

ART MARKET BEGINNINGS

 
 

 

While economic development changes society, painting is subject to a great liberal evolution, in the sense that it will no longer be, as in the past, the fact of "court painters " working at the service of some princes or temporal powers which order works to them, but more and more the fact of independent artists selling their paintings to buyers .

Art will go from now on, as well as any other product, into a market logic. In order to find a public and purchasers, it was a necessity for the artist to be able to exhibit his works, which became the first and existential concern for this new generation of artists.

66 x 81 cm
 

La Grenouillère
Auguste RENOIR, 1869

Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

 

 

THE STATE-RUN "PARIS SALON" ART SHOW

If some art dealers, such as "Le Père Martin" , Durand-Ruel and later Petit start playing an active role in art market, their shops or the exhibitions which they organize give quite modest possibilities for the artists to get known compared to the large national window which constitutes the " Official Salon " of Paris. It is there that successes and prices of art works are decided.

In 1863 , the Salon becomes annual and a jury made up of members of the Academy of Fine Arts and preceeding medal-holders of the Salon selects works to be exhibited. For the only year 1863, 4000 works were refused out of 5000 paintings presented by some 3000 artists, which led to the creation of the " Salon des Refusés", inaugurated by Napoleon III in 1863.

Surprisingly, most future Impressionists quickly obtained their first admission to the Salon, but will thereafter frequently be refused . If Pissarro, Bazille and Degas (continuously from 1865 to 1870), were best accepted at the Salon, Cézanne, will obtain , in spite of his protests, only one and single participation at the Salon in 1882!

If the Impressionist movement certainly is a group of painters having in common artistic ideas and researches, it also is on a more basic level a movement of painters refused at the Salon and trying to exhibit their works.

 

A NEW GENERATION OF PAINTERS

Pissarro is the senior of the Impressionists. At the Academy Suisse (a workshop which provided models to young painters), he meets Monet in 1859, then Guillaumin and Cézanne in 1861.

In 1862, Monet enrolled at the famous "École des Beaux-Arts" (School of Fine Arts) where he will meet Renoir, Bazille and Sisley .

Through Manet , with whom he get acquainted as early as 1862, Degas will later meet Monet and Renoir in 1866 at the famous Café Guerbois located in the Batignolles Street, where the painters of the "Group of Batignolles" (as one designated the future Impressionists at that time) used to meet.


These artists are all aged between 20 and 30 , and will weave between them multiple links. The strongest relationships will be those of Monet with his friends, Renoir, Bazille, Sisley, quartet which appears to be the founding members of the Impressionist group.

     

After they left the Fine Arts School, during the years between the Salon des Refusés (1863) and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, they will experience alternately successes and failures at the Salon , while at the same time anxiously searching their artistic personality. In the heart of their concerns:

  • to take on and develop the Realism of Courbet and the painters of Barbizon practicing outdoor painting, with a specific research about light and color effects

  • to paint and develop new themes in art that relate to new aspects of modern life

  • to work out a new style of vision and a pictorial representation allowing to better account for movement and permanent change of their time.

74,6 x 99,7 cm
   

 

La grenouillère
Claude MONET, 1869

Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York

By 1869 , Monet and Renoir as they were executing side by side a series of paintings in a leisure place on the Seine River called "La Grenouillère" frequented by Parisian middle-class people, would depict the agitation of this place with small fast brushworks, characters at the state of draft, mobile reflections on water... thus rendering the "impression" which emerges from this place rather than details. This word will give its name to the new movement only five years later.

 

1874 - THE FIRST IMPRESSIONIST GROUP SHOW

 

After the war of 1870, and the civil war "The Commune" which followed in 1871, the Impressionists were going to continue to work with a great enthusiasm in the direction which they had taken. From now on, they were certain of their way of seeing , and, relieved from the yoke of the cultural policy of the Second Empire, they expected an increased recognition and an increase in their sales.

They were going to be terribly disappointed, and knew still more failures at the Salon than before war.

 

The young IIIth Republic is then unstable, and the deep shock undergone by french society with the Commune in 1871 will generate an intellectual climate of distrust towards any innovation or artistic revolution.

Little by little the idea that they could just as well do without the Salon get installed in their mind, strengthened by art dealer Durand-Ruel . December 27, 1873, they deposited the statutes of a "Limited company of the artist-painters, sculptors".

The first show of the Impressionists took place in April 1874, Boulevard des Capucines, in an apartment lent by photographer Félix Nadar , with 31 participants , the painting by Monet entitled " Impression, sunrise " (1872-73) giving its name to the Movement.

 

48 x 63 cm
Impression, sunrise
Claude MONET, 1873

Musée Marmottan, Paris

It counted 3500 visitors , against 400 000 for the Official Salon, and was held without Manet for whom the Salon was to remain predominant.

The IMPRESSIONIST MOVEMENT and ITS PAINTERS

   

Pissarro meets Monet at the Academy Suisse in 1859, then, in 1861, Guillaumin and Cézanne with whom he was to work later at Pontoise

Monet , Renoir , Sisley , Bazille met at the Fine Arts School in 1862, while studying in Charles Gleyre' workshop, and constituted the core of the movement. Bazille will be killed at Franco-Prussian war of 1870

Degas meets Manet in 1862 (" Portrait of Manet" - 1864 ), before meeting Monet and Renoir in 1866 at the café Guerbois. He will have as a follower, since 1877, Mary Cassatt (1845-1926)

From 1868, Manet will have as pupils Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), who will become his sister-in-law by marrying his brother Eugen, and Eva Gonzales (1849-1883)

Caillebotte meets Degas, Monet and Renoir in 1873, and helps them to organize the 1st exhibition of the Impressionist group in 1874, before becoming co-organizer and co-financial of most of the following ones. Manet and Corot decline the invitation to take part in this exhibition

Gauguin, at his beginnings as a painter, meets Pissarro in 1875 and becomes his pupil, then takes part from 1879 on in the Impressionist shows

Van Gogh will arrive in Paris in March 1886, where he will discover and integrate Impressionism.

 

Catalog of the 4th Impressionist Show
1879

The Impressionists do not have truly represented a school, such as, for instance, the School of Barbizon, installed in the forest of Fontainebleau between 1830 and 1860.

Works of great painters known as Impressionists are actually diverse and quite different between them. If there is indeed an " Impressionist " style - of which Pissarro, Monet and Sisley are the most typical representatives -, each painter follows his own research, his own individual advance.

No school thus which would have codified a single style of painting, but as many singular works which will be worked out, for a time at least, within the "Impressionist Movement" . This Movement can be seen more like that of a "group of painters", with distinct artistic personalities, having in common their refusal of official painting and sharing their researches about a new manner of representing the real world. They will stick together in their fight against exclusion of which they will be the victims, on behalf of the institutions - Academy of Fine Arts and Jury of the Salon -, and of the majority of art critics.

This lack of recognition will lead them to organize, over a period of 12 years, from 1874 to 1886 , their own exhibitions (8 on the whole), fact which constitutes the first and outstanding originality of the movement.

 

 

One still discusses today to know whether Degas, or Cézanne who appears much more as a precursor of XXth century painting, are true Impressionist painters... This question is not new since Monet will write little time before his death : "... I remain sorry to have been the cause of the name given to a group the majority of which did not have anything Impressionist ".

The routes of the painters of the Impressionist group must thus well be considered individually and remain dominating.

Moreover, the history of the Impressionist movement was relatively short, and some of the painters who accompanied this movement as of its beginning, such as Renoir, Cézanne, Degas, Guillaumin , will evolve later on in a definitely distinct way. This is even truer for Gauguin and Van Gogh, two great meteors whose road crossed for a short moment the Impressionist movement, .

 

65,5 x 81 cm
The Sainte-Victoire Mountain,
seen from Bellevue
Paul CEZANNE, vers 1882-85

Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York

 

 

Jean-Baptiste Camille COROT (1796-1875)
Joseph Mallord William TURNER (1775-1851)
Johan-Barthold JONGKIND (1819-1891)

 

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