# IMPRESSIONISTS: THE BRIDGE BETWEEN THE PAST AND THE FUTURE One critic described Impressionist painting as tak [ing] a piece of canvas, colour and brush, daub [ing] a few patches of paint on it at random, and sign the whole thing with their name. Manet, although never truly an Impressionist by style, he led artists including Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pisarro, Sisley and Cezanne, in a new artistic direction. This young group of artists, who had no real connection to each other until one critic lumped them together as Impressionists, banded in a time when their country was in turmoil and would leave the world the greatest collection of artwork. Through times of favour and denunciation, friendship and animosity, the pastiche of artists were both a culmination of a an art period and a bridge to the next artistic discovery. The France that most of the Impressionist artists were born into had experienced a recent history... as dramatic and changeable as the era the painters were about to live through (The Impressionists Handbook 12). By 1851 Emperor Napoleon was firmly entrenched as a ruler of France.
As a sign of his power, Napoleon began his reign with press subjugation and a political assimilation. In juxtaposition to this harshness, he was also regulating bread prices and endorsing industrial and commercial growth in France in order for the country to follow the rest of Europe into the Industrial Revolution. Although traipsing behind most of the other surrounding countries, Napoleon brought the development of banking institutions, railways and factories (Handbook 13) into France. Along with this new industrial growth came many sacrifices and gains for the people. With the steam engine and new modes of transportation, the power to work faster increased yet along with that increase the work day grew longer as well; as long as sixteen hours a day with very # little personal time. Products were revolutionized and capitalism could thrive yet the workers role continued to diminish to a point where they were no longer an important person, simply a body to push along the industrial revolution.
With these new technologies were new exploitation and a diminishing worker-employee relationship. The 1861 American Civil War that led to the emancipation of slaves in the United States had a ripple effect from across the ocean. This would eventually cause the Second Republic to declare the proclamation of Universal Suffrage and the Abolition of Slavery. In 1853, Napoleon appointed Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann to design the reconstruction of Paris (Jordan 25). The goal was to transform the ancient city of narrow streets and medieval spaces in to a modern European capital city (Jordan 25). Haussmann built eighty-five miles of new roads, including the Rue de Rivoli and the Boulevard Saint-Michel (Jordan 32).
Along these new streets modern architecture was soon developed in accordance to the Emperors authority. This Haussmanization created a city that became the centre of the bourgeoisie, although the poor were not easily discarded and would soon reappear in the city in even more cloistered and squalid areas (Jordan 50). For the advancement of France, Napoleon launched a successful military campaign against Austria, Russia and China (Honour and Fleming 668). However soon after the Exposition Universelle's in Paris, Napoleon cursed ancestry caught up with him (Honour and Fleming 668). He miscalculated his countrys battle readiness and saw Paris fall to the Prussians in September of 1870 and soon saw his own empire fall shortly thereafter (Honour and Fleming 669). War continued to rage in Paris when the city erupted in revolution of the Commune of 1871.
Victor Hugo called it the an nee terrible, deservedly so as 20,000 Parisians were slain within a # week and civil war broke out on the streets. (Honour and Fleming 670). The streets of Paris were stripped of trees that had been used for firewood, the animals in the zoos and the racehorses were slaughtered to feed the besieged city (Honour and Fleming 670). The bloody revolution of the Commune soon ended, closing the era of the Second Empire. After the destruction of 1870-71 was disposed of, Paris reclaimed its status as the ville lumiere, as it had been in the Second Empire (Honour and Fleming 670).
In just four years, Paris civil war memories were dimming and economic growth was being established once again, as Paris reclaimed its place as the centre of European art (Honour and Fleming 670). In this time of bloody revolutions, science was evolving to new heights. With scientific advancements, society would change to make room for these discoveries. The 1859 Origin of Species by Darwin revolutionized the way we think about evolution and human placement in the universe.
New modes of surgery lowered mortality rates and new ways of food preservation helped ensure a better diet. Science was investigating how everything worked, developing new theories of atoms, electricity and optics which would effect the way everyone would live and exist in the centuries to come. This was a time of incredible change, that would continue for years afterwards. However looking at an Impressionist painting, we feel none of the turmoil of the Commune, none of the other revolutions occurring in other areas of society. As it was commonly said at the time, Plus ca change plus cest la meme chose (Honour and Fleming 656). Named in criticism, the Impressionists was a catch all for a fragile movement of men and women briefly united in their belief that the time had come for a new art to be # seen and appreciated (Handbook 15).
Coming from diverse social backgrounds, they were all living in Paris and working together in a pivotal period of French history. They lived in an age of struggle between modernity and a traditional order (Handbook 15). While some, like Monet, Sisley and Pisarro, were drawn to the outdoors and landscapes others, such as Degas, Renoir and Manet, were interested with human figures, city and suburban life. Whether or not they were revolutionary in their art is a longstanding debate with no real answer. The one area indisputable when talking about the legacy of the Impressionist movement is their technique of using bold applications of paint to capture the light of a landscape at a particular moment (Willard 18). A proponent of Impressionism, Jules Castagnary described the artists as Impressionists in the sense that they render not the landscape but the sensation produced by the landscape (Handbook 96).
Characteristically Impressionist painting depicts what we actually see not what our brain processes as the object. This idea came from the advances in optical science that were discovering how they human eye and brain worked together and separately to allow us to see the images in our head. To mimic this way of seeing, the artists used tints blended together, mixing colours in a hazy and sketchy manner. Therefore up close your eye can only distinguish the patches of colour but when pulled back your brain will aid in distinguishing the colour patches into shapes and known objects to tell you what the painting is of. With such a diverse group of artists, it is nearly impossible to define them with precision or clarity for patrons unfamiliar to their work.
Many artists considered part of the Impressionist movement did not adhere to the principles throughout their entire careers (Impressionism 16). Very few of the original Impressionist artists can be considered pure Impressionist painters. Most developed different artistic views but # were once united by their strong desire to exhibit their work and by several common theories on painting (Impressionism 16). In order to properly give some sense of what Impressionist art is, their principles should be viewed as a succession of concepts rather than strict adherence to a set of rules.
One of the main contentions of the group was a strong denial of academic learning in the art school despite the fact that Renoir, Degas and Manet all had rigorous academic backgrounds (Impressionism 17). They collectively opposed the Romantic notion of artistic expression as the subjective manifestation of the artists feelings (Impressionism 17). The Impressionists felt that imagination in the arts should be superseded with vis a vis encounters wit h the models, landscapes or sites to be painted. This real-life approach included an adherence to the objective and scientific realm of artistic principles (Impressionism 17). For the Impressionists, Realism was to be heralded for its analysis of reality, of life as it really was, without deference to the social, political or economic impact. Although they had this reverence for the realistic, a greater emphasis was placed on the realistic portrayal of light as the subject of their painting rather than the object itself (Handbook 97).
This was pursued with the use of a myriad of techniques and theories for the analysis of light and shadow that broke from the traditional black and white in favour of a technicolor palette (Willard 18). What Impressionism is can be summarized in six essential, if not strict, characters. First, classical and religious scenes were abhorred. They were looking for what everyday life; Scenes of what past artists would have considered mundane, like Camille Pisarro Child with Branch (1881). Second, There was a sketchiness and spontaneity to the work, as in Monets Water Lilies (c.
1899). Third, was the use of pure, vibrant colours, as in Van Goghs Van Goghs Room at Arles (1888). Fourth, the subject of the paining should be the light. Light was not to be used as emphasis but # rather the concentration as in Monets Rouen Cathedral, Morning Sun (1893). Fifth is a lack of emotions, Cezanne would accomplish this in his Rocks in the Woods (1894-98).
Finally, the visible and prominent brushstrokes so that the viewer may see where the artists brush dragged along the canvas as in Boulevard des Capucines (1873) by Monet. As the Impressionists innovations grew out of the paintings of Courbet, Corot and Constable, so did the movements that succeeded the Impressionist era. After the impressive art work left to us by the Impressionist, their greatest legacy to art history was what developed after it. Beginning with the Impressionists revolution, the avant-garde was born in their spirit. Following the 1870's and the dwindling Impressionist collaboration, avant-garde artists launched a multitude of movements that would eventually overlap and intertwine including the Post-Impressionists (1880), Fauvism (1905), Symbolism (1905), Expressionism (1905), Cubism (1907), Suprematism (1915) and Surrealism (1920).
As each movement emerged into the light, theories and aesthetic positions were developed to justify the artistic evolution and antagonism towards the preceding avant-garde movement. Impressionism was characterized by strong individualism of the members, as the group fragmented into their own artistic views, artistic reaction to Impressionism created many trends that were both a reaction to and consequence of the Impressionist work. As impressionism evolved it eventually subdivided into a number of streams throughout Europe and America. In Germany in 1911 Expressionism, evolving from Van Goghs work, was developing as the Fauve movement took hold in France and Norway.
Cezanne patchwork quilt technique would eventually inspire Picasso to develop the cubist style that became the first forage into abstract art. # Working as a close group of artists trying to move the art of painting in a new direction, the impact of the Impressionist group can still be felt today, whether it is at an exhibit or on a coffee mug. These Romantic heroes of the 19th century basked in their social deviancy. They may not have been as revolutionary as they would have like to believe yet still managed to alter the art world and place it on a new path for future artists. Even though the group itself began to disband in the 1880's as Neo and Post-Impressionism were evolving, the artists maintained their radical social position into the 1900's (Handbook 16). Although brief in time, the Impressionists would become like a bridge in a Monet painting connecting the past to the future in art history.
63d David, Jordan. Transforming Paris: the life and labors of Baron Hausmann. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1996.
Honour, Hugh and John Fleming. A World of Art History. London: Laurence King Publishing, 1995. The Impressionists Handbook. Leicester: Abbey dale Press, 1999. El Impresionismo [Impressionism] Barcelona: Parra mon Ediciones, 1996/ New York: Barrons Educational Series inc., 1997.
Lewis, Anne-Marie. Realism and Impressionism. Lecture to INFO 2900, York University. Toronto. March 8, 2000 Willard, Christopher. Make a Big Impression with impressionist Techniques American Artist Oct. 1999: 18.