Impressionism

Allee of Chestnut Trees

Allée of Chestnut Trees, Alfred Sisley (English)          Oil on canvas

Formally founded in 1874, Impressionism was a painting form established by a Paris-based artist group known as The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers (Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc.) [1] and first revealed to the public during an exhibit at Felix Nadar’s studio. The paintings on display were unlike anything anyone had seen before, and to most appeared as nothing more than incomplete sketchings. In fact, one reporter – Louis Leroy of the Le Charivari newspaper – wrote an article of his impression on Claude Monet’s Impression Sunrise, and stated:

Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it … and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape. – Leroy, 25 April 1874 [2]

Not all reviews were bad, though, and it seemed that once people had truly let this new style soak in to their hearts, true appreciation began to develop for Impressionism. In fact, another paper – Le Siècle – published an article merely a few days later, praising the odd and unique style:

“The shared point of view that makes them a group with a collective force of its own… is their decision not to strive for detailed finished, but to go no further than a certain overall aspect. Once the impression has been discerned and set down, they declare their task finished. …If we are to describe them with a single word, we must invent the new term Impressionists. They are Impressionists in the sense that they depict not the landscape but the sensation produced by the landscape.” – Jules Castagnary, 29 April 1874 [3]

Impression Sunrise

Impression Sunrise, Claude Monet 1872                      Oil on canvas

Through the years, Impressionism has maintained a wide range of artists and appreciative spectators alike, with galleries worldwide housing both classic and modern depictions on a variety of subjects. The style (as many before its time) hasn’t died out through the years, and still stands strong today. In fact, if you have some cash to throw around and wish to own a piece of Impressionist artwork for yourself, there are auction companies which regularly sell off pieces, original and new alike.

The Author’s Impressions on Impressionist Work

I have to say, Impressionism was an acquired taste for me. Much like that first cup of coffee you try, the style left an odd and strong taste in my mouth. At first glance, it seemed to be nothing more than splotches of colour thrown on a canvas and – as many before have said – seemed to be nothing more than incomplete works of art. Again, as with many styles I’ve exposed myself to through the years, I found myself wondering if the art world hadn’t gone off its rocker by regarding such paintings as real pieces. And yet, just as one continues exposing oneself to coffee in order to appreciate the taste, I continued researching a variety of painters in order to broaden the scope I had on this area of art. What I found were quite fantastic and powerful pieces which changed my mind immensely.

Though the style is one of rough brushstrokes and sometimes shocking colours, the overall unity of Impressionist pieces is quite – well – impressive. Days of visual arts before this movement hearkened to the physics of realistic caricature  and placed heavy emphasis on refined technique. For example, the Northern Renaissance saw a movement of art influenced somewhat by Italian Mannerism, where lines were crisp and bodies well-defined. The movement had its roots in Biblical origins, where most paintings were created for religion’s sake and often commissioned as pieces to decorate a number of churches across Europe. They told stories and taught the public (most of whom were illiterate) how to understand the main points of the Bible. Perhaps the most famous piece of this time was the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, commissioned by Pope Julius II and painted by Michelangelo. The piece depicts a number of stories from the Bible and is truly a wonder to behold. The size of the piece is in itself quite a spectacle, but the technical detail and number of people that the artist painted are enough to make one gape in complete awe.

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Michelangelo 1508-1512

But you’d never find loose brushstrokes and unfinished paintings during this time. No, the Renaissance era would reel in horror at such ideals. Yet there’s something about the freedom of being unrealistic or of maintaining an unfinished air which is just as spectacular as the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. These paintings evoke so much more than the awe of how well-painted they are. They show how the world looked for a particular moment through an artist’s eye and leave many emotional impressions upon the viewer. Unlike the artwork of the Renaissance, Impressionist pieces are inspired by realism and depict much more than simple a still life. Their hectic use of bold colour and unbridled strokes of the brush, overuse of paint, and vague texture leaves me enjoying the complex simplicity of Impressionist artwork over most earlier styles of art. Freedom and expression are far more important on leaving a lasting impression upon a person’s heart than attention to detail.

Mgarr Harbor: Malta

Mgarr Harbor: Malta, Marcus Krackowizer, 2011

Sources

1. “Impressionism: Art and Modernity.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Ed. Teresa Lai. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/imml/hd_imml.htm&gt;.

2. “L’Exposition des Impressionnistes” by Louis Leroy, Le Charivari, 25 April 1874, Paris. Translated by John Rewald in The History of Impressionism, Moma, 1946, p256-61.

3. “Exposition du Boulevard des Capucines: Les Impressionnistes” by Jules Castagnary, Le Siècle, 29 April 1874, Paris.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Impressionism

  1. Very inspiring and well thought out post! I really like your reference to acquired taste as in coffee. I have recently started to drink wine and develop a taste for it. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m starting to warm up to it. Impressionism might grow on me as it has on you. I would love to be able to appreciate it like you.

    You made an excellent, stark comparison between Impressionism and Renaissance paintings. The Sistine chapel is a perfect example of how far art had come in a few hundred years. You also cited all your work very well.

    I love Allée of Chestnut Trees, the shadows on the path, the sky—it is so calming. I think I really could develop a taste for Impressionism. Thank you for opening my eyes. Do you know of any more paintings like Sisley’s style?

    I also like how you described Impressionist paintings as “complex simplicity.” I think that just about sums it up.

  2. This was a very informative post. I was intrigued to find out if you had acquired the taste for Impressionism or not! It sounds like like you went from a harsh critic to a strong supporter during your exploration of this style. I also appreciate the painting styles that invoke my imagination. The colors that are used in Impressionism and post-Impressionism are so bright and alive and really add to the experience. You said that you prefer Impressionism over “most” earlier styles, are there any styles you prefer over Impressionism? How do you feel about post-Impressionism?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s