Impressionism was born in April 1874 when a group of young artists in Paris, frustrated with the continual exclusion of their works from the official Salons, joined together to hold their own exhibition in the studio of photographer Félix Nadar.(below)
There were thirty painters who exhibited as the Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc. including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Paul Cézanne. Other French Impressionists exhibiting later are Jean-Frédéric Bazille, Gustave Caillebotte and the American Mary Cassatt. The exhibition in 1874 had avoken curiosity and confusion by the public, and derision from the popular press and the title of Monet's Impression, Sunrise(1872) provided the name of the group. "Impressionists" Monet(1840-1926)
Years later Monet told the story behind the naming of the picture as:
"They wanted to know it's title for the catalogue; because it couldn't really pass for a view of Le Havre. I replied 'Use Impression' Someone derived 'Impressionism' from it and that's when the fun began"
The sketch-like quality and apparent lack of finish to their work, to which many early critics objected, were exactly the qualities that more sympatethic critics would later identify as their strength. The real power uniting this variety of artists together was their rejection of art establishment. They had faith in the Renaissance ideals like; "the subject of art must be noble or instructive" and that "the value of a work of art could be judged by it's descriptive 'likeness' to natural objects".
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Since the mid-19th century Paris became the first truely modern metropolis (physically and socially) many Impressionists worked to capture this new Parisian cityscape. The Impressionists were self-consciously modern as in techniques, theories, practices and in variety of subjects. To paint what eye saw instead of what the artist knew, was as revolutionary as their practice of working outdoors (instead of solely studio) to observe the play of light and colours. They insisted on the fleeting moments of modern life " a spontaneous work" rather than a calculated one.
A painting of Renoir
Throughout the 1860s Impressionists absorded the previous generations' lessons and developed their styles, often painting together or meeting to discuss their works and share ideas. Between 1874 and 1886 they managed to attract writers like Emile Zola and J.K. Huysmans and private patrons and dealers. It is not an exaggeration to say that throughout the 1870s most Impressionist works were concerned with the effects of light on landscapes. But in early 1880s a change occured usually called as "Impressionist crisis". Many of the artists began to feel that in trying to capture the light they had eroded the figure too far, and from that moment the movement became more diverse. Renoir for example turned to a more classical style of figure painting. Monet made his figures more solid. Paul Gauguin (Synthetism), Paul Cézanne (Post-Impressionism), Georges Seutrat and Paul Signac (Neo-Impressionism) eventually created their own styles.
For many people, Monet remains the Impressionist par excellence; his paintings of the railway station, Gare Saint-Lazaer(1876-77), which combine and contrast the modern architecture of the station with the new modernist atmosphere, have been called the most representetive Impressionist paintings. Towards the end of his life from 1914 to 1923, Monet devoted himself to 8 huge waterlily canvases for a designated room at the Orangerie in the Tuileries,Paris. The paintings create an environment which entirely surrounds the viewer, a sense of infinity or "instability of the universe transforming itself under our eyes" as Monet said.
(Gare Saint-lazare by Monet -left/up
Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette by Renoir -right/down)
Renoir, on the other hand was more interested in human figure although he used to paint with Monet in 1860s.
Renoir later combined his interest in classicism with the lessons of Impressionism. His brush strokes became looser and more gestural, and some critics have seen Renoir's late works as well as Monet's, as examples of Abstract Expressionism.
Edgar Degas' work was shown in seven of the eight Impressionist group exhibitons, but he always considered himself a realist, proclaiming:
"No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and study of the great masters; of inspiration,spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing."
Edgar Degas A painting by Degas
He learned from Impressionism how to use the light to convey a sense of volume and movement in his work. Degas would sketch in front of a scene, but preferred to continue work in studio; it was 'much better to draw what you see only in your mind. During such transformation the imagination collaborates with the memory... Then your memory and your imagination are freed from tyranny(dictatorial) imposed by nature' according to him.
Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt were two most noticeable women who exhibited with the Impressionists. Their use of line and painterly freedom and their choice of intimate scenes as subject matter, display similarities with the work of Eduard Manet
A painting by Berthe Morisot
By the late 1880s and 90s Impressionism was accepted as a valid artistic style, and spread throughout Europe and USA. Around the end of century, Germany was particularly receptive to outside influences, and the new French techniques were grafted onto the prevailing native naturalism. Max Liebermann, Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth remain the most famous German Impressionists.
Despite the sculptures by Degas and Renoir there were no sculptures directly associated with the movement. However; French sculptor Auguste Rodin and Italien one Medardo Rosso were termed Impressionists.
Impressionists' actions and experiments symbolized the rejection of traditional judgment values. It was a step closer to artistic freedom and innovation. Beginning of Modernism, initiating a process that would revolutionize the conception and perception of the artistic object. Most important of all, Impressionism can be seen as the start of the struggle to free painting and sculpture from its solely descriptive duty in order to create a new language and a relation to other art forms such as music and poetry.
*Art in The Modern Era, A.Dempsey
*The great book of French Impressionism, D.Kelder
*The Impressionists at First Hand, B.Denvir