Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Review of Impressionist Art

The impressionist art movement emerged during a time when all of Paris was undergoing sweeping change. Newly appointed emperor Napoleon III was implementing drastic changes throughout the city including the creation of grand boulevards, parks and squares as well as the modernization of France’s banking system. The approved art style during this time was quite different though. Works of art were only painted indoors and were in the form of lifelike, finished paintings that depicted religious and historical subjects. These toned-down works were judged at an annual art show called the Salon de Paris, which was controlled by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, a dominating force at the time. In the end, this style did not reflect the mood of some talented, young painters living in the city of Paris at the time.

This new wave of artists were dubbed "Impressionists" after an 1872 satirical review of Claude Monet's "Impression, soleil levant." Other artists in the group included Renoir, Sisley, Manet, Morisot, Cézanne, Pissaro and Guillaumin. The young artists broke many of the established rules, bringing their canvases outside to paint "en plein air" and concentrating on free brush strokes of vivid colors rather than focusing on contours and lines, emulating earlier examples provided by artists such as J.M.W. Turner and Eugène Delacroix. Works submitted to the annual Salon jury were often rejected. Between 1874-1886, the Impressionists held eight of their own exhibitions with the main commonalities between the artists being rebellion and independence. Similarities in technique included brushstrokes that were loose and spontaneously applied and a natural, modern interpretation of color and its relationship to sunlight.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), one of the founding members of the Impressionist Movement, was not only a prolific painter who once created as many as 15 paintings in little more than a month, but was also personally responsible for a significant addition to the artistic gene pool. He fathered actor Pierre, filmmaker Jean, and artist Claude, seen here as an infant in the 1904 lithograph called "Claude Renoir, Fils de l'Artiste, la Tête Baisbée." This translates to "The Artist's Son, Looking Downwards." The child was born in 1901 when Renoir was 60 years old and nearly immobile because of severe rheumatoid arthritis suffered from the age of 51.

This original lithograph was printed and published in Paris in 1919. The shifting bands of shadow and light on the child's face suggest the piece was done outside, perhaps under a shade tree, in the "en plein air" style favored by many Impressionists.


Édouard Manet (1832-1883), one of the original rebellious artists known as the Impressionists, was instrumental in transitioning 19th century French artists from Realism toward Impressionism. Two of his most famous paintings, "Olympia" and "The Luncheon on the Grass," both from 1863, caused shock, hostility, astonishment and great controversy within the established art world and, as such, became rallying points for the young Impressionist artists then striving to break with tradition.

This print of an original 1861 etching in brown on woven paper, entitled "Le Gamin," was one of several pieces Manet composed of boys with dogs, including etchings, drawings and paintings. He was well known for his compositions featuring children.

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), one of the original young realists responsible for the Impressionist Movement, was both well-connected and well-respected by other French artists of her time. She began exhibiting at the prestigious Salon de Paris in 1864 and continued to do so for ten years. She then joined other Impressionists in personally exhibiting works that had been rejected by the Salon. Morisot was one of the first in her group to embrace "open air" painting, which she shared with others, including her brother-in-law Édouard Manet. This original etching and drypoint from 1887 is of Morisot's daughter, Julie Manet, published in 1910. As a drypoint, it was drawn on copper with a sharp needle, leaving burrs in the furrows, producing soft, velvety-looking lines.

If both Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse considered Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) "the father of us all," it was because of his positioning as a bridge between the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, including the Cubists. Paul Cézanne created many, many self-portraits during his lifetime and, as an artist, was prodigious. He created more than a thousand pieces during his career. This lithograph print, after the original 1898 lithograph, is unique in that most of Cézanne's self-portraits were done in oil on canvas. This print depicts the artist at about age 60.




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