Thursday, November 15, 2012

Those Crazy Bohemians! (What is Impressionism Anyway?)

Impressionism. We have been talking about it for awhile now on this blog. Most people have heard of it even if they aren't particularly into art or painting. But for many it remains just a word.  What defined Impressionism? Why was it so different from previous painting style?

We already established that artists knew they had to do something different in order to still be valuable.  The camera had seen to that. Impressionism was essentially freedom. It had started a few years earlier, but it's first "launching" was in 1874.  The Cooperative and Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptures and Engravers decided to have a showing at the studio of Felix Nadar, a journalist who was also a photographer. Thirty artists (among them Monet, Degas, Pissarro,Cezanne, Renoir, Sisley, and Morisot) exhibited together eight times between 19874 and 1886.

It was a rebellion against Academie des Beaux-Arts. The Academie was considered the authority in the realist styles of French painting. If you didn't paint like they insisted, you were nothing in their eyes. The Salon de Paris was their annual art exhibit.  For new artists and struggling artists it was extremely important to get into this show. They could win prizes, earn commissions, get reviews, and become a known artist with a good reputation.

The Impressionists were painting with different brush strokes, using brighter colors, and paying much less attention to detail.  Instead, they were interested in how light affected a subject during different times of the day or season. They also were painting landscapes and community life instead of religious, mythology, or family portrait types of paintings. Some of them also decided to stop trying to give depth to a painting.  A canvas was two dimensional and so they painted their buildings flat. The artists mentioned above were routinely getting rejected over and over again. Can you imagine Monet or Cezanne being seen as "not good enough"?!

In 1863 the Academie rejected Manet's painting Luncheon of the Grass because of the nude woman in it. This rejection was considered ridiculous by Manet's fans, even those who were traditional arts patrons. That year so many artists were rejected that Napoleon II decreed the start of the Salon of the Refused. The reviewers, however, were rabid. Cezanne and Monet got verbally beaten up the worst. Their work was called "unfinished sketches" and "impressions". Here is what one said:

I"mpression—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."

Regardless, these painters kept painting, accepting the name Impressionist for themselves and Impressionism for their work.  This style of painting would go on to affect not only painting, but literature, photography, and film making. This avant garde painting style, and the artists who worked in it, were eventually embraced  widely by the public. Unfortunately, for many of them it would not be until after their death.

Don't let the word Impressionism fool you.  There are a wide variety of art forms that were born from this style of painting, making it more diverse and stylistic than at first glance. I dare say that all of modern art owes its existence to those crazy bohemians who embraced the term "Impressionism" and painted as they pleased, regardless of the consequences.

Thank you for reading this. We will learn more about these artist's lives in future blogs.

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