Essential Reading: WHA ‘From Impressionism to Post-Impressionism’

Political, economic or social factors


Franco-Prussian war ended in humiliating surrender 1870. Next yr, 1st German emperor crowned at Versailles, the Paris Commune was viciously suppressed (Courbet imprisoned for his part). Many artists avoided trouble at this time by going abroad, eg Manet & Sisley went to London. Second Empire monument Paris Opera House opens in period of Third Republic, a celebration of ‘bourgeois stability’ but sculpture criticised for indecency ( designed by Charles Garnier (1825-98) with virtuoso sculpture on its façade by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75)). Paris a city for men, women and children preferred society in the suburbs, (as painted by Morisot). Public have difficulty comprehending the work of the Impressionists. Neo-impressionists were active supporters of Socialist-Anarchist movement in France eg Signac, bore witness to ‘ great social struggle… taking place between workers & capital ‘ p717,. Socialism played positive role in highlighting social protest, eg Angelo Morbeli (1853-1919) For eighty cents,1895. American Civil War ends 1865. Japanese woodblock became widely accessible after 1854 when Japan reopened to foreigners by USA, closed since 1638 expect for Dutch. Devastating fire in 1871 caused an architecturally innovative building boom in Chicago Changes in bourgeois social living stemming from new domestic architecture as middle-class architects designed medium sized detached houses.

Changes to status or training of artists

A regular feature of 19thC were attacks of outrage on artists by the public. Salon des Refuses opened 1863 to accept works rejected by the Salon including those of Impressionists providing an alternative avenue for success. Impressionists eventually recognised by cultivated intelligentsia if not the official art world. Successful artists had good standard of living, eg Monet had 6 gardeners! More artists working without commissions due to independent economic means, amateurs taking up art as a passion, art as a way of life became common changing the status of artists. Scottish Art Nouveau architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) more appreciated in Vienna than Glasgow due to the style spreading via lavishly illustrated magazines which had international circulations. International exhibitions which were a feature of 1890s which would make artists well known v quickly.

Development of materials and processes

Degas gave up oils for pastel, mixed media & watercolour by 1870s. He learned devices of illusion from Japanese prints, a way of seeing form. Also keen photographer. With the exception of Degas, the Impressionists completed their finished works in open air, not just sketches. Impressionists used high toned palette of clear bright colours, applied with varied, broken brushwork onto a canvas primed with white (not traditional brown), using colours alone to create form, spectrum colour s blend optically with distance. In contrast with spontaneous freshness of Impressionist brushwork Georges Seurat developed a new laborious, painstaking methodical technique done in the studio he called chromoluminarism (pointillism/divisionism), short, non-directional, brushstrokes uniformly separated painted evenly across the canvas hoping for greater luminosity. In later works these brushstrokes became juxtaposed dots of pure colour ‘divided’, colours blended optically at the correct distance instead of mixed on the palette. Angelo Morbeli created specially devised 3 pointed brush to make intricately woven strokes run in parallel threes. Revolutionary use of real materials in sculpture such as hair, muslin or satin p711. Lithography developed into ‘polychrome medium converted posters ’ allowed new form of public art eg Lautrec. New reproduction process following invention of photography allowed art magazines to be lavishly illustrated (as mentioned above). Use of Metal as building parts continues, creating cast iron districts by 1840s, especially in NY where James Bogardus (1800-74) introduced cast iron facades, playing a role in prefabrication, one of the most important innovations of the Industrial Revolution, parts could be mass produced & assembled onsite saving on time & skilled labour. Prefab houses of iron were being shipped from England all over the world.Crystal Palace by greenhouse designer Joseph Paxton (1803-65) exploited this to be of its own time. Intended to be a temporary space for an exhibition of international wonders of the industrial age. A radical departure from previous design  & construction models but seldom admired by contemporary architects, they felt compelled to ‘clothe’ their buildings in past style ornament while taking advantage of new materials eg John Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge, technological marvel having Gothic arches. Similarly Statue of Liberty was also using internal metal framing to support the copper drapery of the antique Roman vision. Buildings had maxed out at 12 stories until metal framing introduced in 1883 Chicago by William Le Baron Jenney (1832-1907), skeleton construction which free from load bearing walls followed in 1889, from this Louis Henry Sullivan (1856-1924) achieved complete independence from old styles & gave skyscrapers their classic form with his Guaranty (Prudential) Building (1894-95) in Buffalo, New York.

Styles and movements

Impressionism : Claude Monet (1840-1926) tried to answer Baudelaire’s demand for an art for ‘modern life’ with The picnic, 1865-6 . Striving for optical truth on a contemporary subject. Impressionism born when Monet and Renoir (1841-1919) spent the summer together in 1869, their paintings showed innocent and joy in the visible world . p702 They thought of it as the final stage of Realism. It reflects the positivist scientific attitudes of the mid 19thC, Colour and optical theories by Chevreul. Positivism influenced the Realists already in their rejection of past and future as subjects. They should invent nothing, their concern was with truth and contemporary experience. Impressionists sought totally objective transcription of the everyday world around them, emotionally uninvolved, often social observation giving voice to those not previously heard or painted . Baudelaire had said ‘modernity is the transitory, the fleeting, the contingent ’. p703 Landscape or outdoor subject, usually small in scale, painted on the spot. Relied on colours blending optically when viewed at the right distance, not much tonal contrast. They combined all these elements that prior artists had used separately. painted outside so the truth of the first immediate impression of the scene would not be lost. p703 ‘Impression – sunrise’, Monet’s 1872 painting coined the term Impressionist. Paintings appear flat, as per scientific theory at the time that we do both see the third dimension. Illusionistic innovations, experiments with spectrum palette, idyllic scenes, diaphanous brushwork, shimmering water & blazing summer light. Manet, Monet and Renoir often painted together. Albert Sisley (1839-99) simplest & purest, Female painter Berthe Morisot (1841-95) concentrated on subjects of social spaces of women & children with greater attention to solidity of form. Renoir developed doubts about lack of form, composition & content. With his traditional concern with human figure & ‘rainbow palette ‘, he wrung Impressionism dry. Edouard Manet (1832-83) was associated but never exhibited with impressionists, seemingly concentrated on exploitation of women eg Olympia. Urban Nightlife & vitality of cafés, bars & cabaret. Loneliness & disillusion of city life, isolation & alienation typical of modern sensibility. p710. Eg Manet’s A bar at the Folies-Bergere 1881-2 . And Degas (1834-1917) who created finished works in the studio with only studies done on location, scenes of modern life, cafes, ballet dancers, nudes etc. Preferred ‘artificial life’ to ‘natural life’ of the rest of the Impressionists. His images of women don’t ‘presuppose an audience ‘ they are ‘honest simple folk ‘. Keyhole aesthetic. He was also a sculptor, highly regarded by Renoir although his sculpture mostly only cast after his death.

Japonisme: Influence of Japanese art signalled a break from Classical tradition, allowing new ways to see & represent the illusion of 3D space on a 2D surface. Influence on Degas not immediately obvious, but it showed him what drawing really meant. First of the indigenous arts that helped to develop modern western art, followed by African, Polynesian and indigenous American. Whistler‘s Nocturne: Blue and Silver, Cremorne Lights, 1872 translates Japanese art into Western terms, as does Monet’s Impression – Sunrise. Mary Cassatt ‘s colour prints of women & children use the high vantage point & asymmetry of the Japanese style, similarly with Gauguin ‘s The Vision after the Sermon,1888. Toulouse Lautrec incorporated the style translated into posters, flattening illusionistic space & uniting pattern of pictorial elements with lettering. Also evident in Van Gogh‘s later work.

Neo-Impressionist : mid 1880s revolt on trivial content & formlessness lead to extended style with more meaning, personal impressions of the artist. Seurat created pointillism to impose logic & discipline on Impressionist discoveries. Eg bathers . His hard edged outlines & firm structural effect of line based composition also contrasts with Impressionists atmospheric imprecision. His subject matter was more working class, less bourgeois. One of his followers, Paul Signac (1863-1935) became the diversionists /neo-impressionists spokesman. Politically provocative work by Signac, Pissarro , Henri-Edmond Cross & others now seems lyrical & carefree. Italian divisonisti developed independently. Symbolism: was main subjective current of anti-Impressionism in last two decades of century. Turned away from objective naturism to imagination and fantasy. Expressive line & form. Aim ‘to clothe the Idea in sensual, perceptible form’ p717 Explicit rejection of Impressionism & neo-impressionism following Emile Bernard (1868-1941) ‘to allow ideas to dominate the technique of painting‘ p718. Went to Brittany for backwards village life, Pont-Aven school. Developed simplified style of bold outline and flat colour, ‘Cloisonnism’, a catalyst for Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) . He gave up profitable career as stock broker in 1883 to paint. Dream, memories, imaginings & allegories predominant in his paintings as with other Symbolists such as Van Gogh, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Gauguin’s style based on ‘innocence and knowledge, the savage and uncivilised ’ p719. Sought purity, simplicity & myth of the primitive which he immersed himself in,first in Brittany then when he moved to Tahiti & married a local girl, eg Spirit of the dead watching,1892. Art as a new religion for both Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh (1853-90). Van Gogh’s was a calling . He painted over 800 pictures, plus drawings, in a ten year period, experiencing insanity, mental breakdown and finally suicide, each painting a cry of anguish, eg the night cafe, 1888 . With disharmonies of green, red & yellow expressing ‘ the terrible passions of humanity ’.p718 He’d studied to become a pastor in Belgium, becoming an artist instead to satisfy spiritual craving. Another moody, broody individual was Munch, his unbalanced work having a cumulative effect. Theme of suffering through love, fin-de-siecle disillusion eg Frieze of Life, culminating in the scream, 1893. Sculptor Rodin’s 20yr long, unfinished The Gates of Hell, also shows psychic distress of fin-de-siecle period. He objected to being called a Symbolist, working from nature like impressionist painters his sculptures were naturalistic feats, that also portrayed states of mind. Last great sculptor of old tradition, not innovative as Degas.

Historicism provoked demand for a style of the 19th Century, Art Nouveau was the 1st attempt to break from the past. A new positive, expressive modern style of sculpture & architecture, taking its name from a gallery in Paris designed by Belgian Henry van de Velde (1863-1957). Munch’s The Scream exact contemporary of the Tassel house in Brussels by Victor Horta (1861-1947) featuring similar slithery, curvilinear patterns & decorative swirls characteristic with Art Nouveau, though there is no emotional turmoil in the new style, the patterns are purely decorative, flat and relaxed. Antoni Gaudi Spanish architect & Art Nouveau designer created buildings with whacky asymmetrical, jagged planes, extravagant forms, often having no straight walls or right angles, everything undulating with organic interplay of exterior and interior. American architect Sullivan created first skyscraper, ‘form follows function‘. p728. Bourgeois domestic architecture another 19thC phenomenon, ‘picturesque‘ tradition for small houses in England started by John Nash (1752-1835).  Philip Webb’s The Red House for artist William Morris. Later, Charles Francis Annesley Voysey’s informal rustic trend. Eg Norney, Surrey. Individual plan to suit clients,cozy rooms, friendly & wholesome dream of lost rural bliss. In US Henry Hobson Richardson’s open plan, neo-romanesque, Shingle style houses.

Greatest of all late 19thC artists Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) believed in reflection upon rather than simply observe. New depth of understanding of Impressionism, art, nature, perception and reality, his paintings had deep level of personal spirituality. He was able to see depth and pattern simultaneously, & sought to answer problems of representing desired depth on a flat canvas. Financially independent & solitary, he enjoyed the flexibility of setting up a still life to ‘realize’ over time, sometimes creating wax standing. Purposefully created perceived distortions & incorrect perspectives. His use of colour, solid construction and simple shapes gave enhanced effects of mass, volume & rhythm. eg Fruit Bowl, Glass & Apples 1879-92. Evenly worked with thick, regular, slanted brush strokes & lush colour creates a consistency across the canvas. Wide range of subjects, still life,portraiture, landscape, painted with restricted palette of greens, blues & earth colours. Eg Mont Sainte-Victoire seen from Les Lauren (1902-04).

Inside and outside influences

Colour theory & Positivism influenced Impressionists. Influence of Japanese prints & Impressionist style unshackled artists from the Classical tradition & ‘authority of the old masters’. Japanese prints more influential than photography on Impressionists (& Symbolists eg Gauguin). Every major painter (except Cézanne) affected. Socialist politics influence Neo-Impressionist & Italian Divisonisti art. Symbolists inspired by Baudelaire’s cult of private world of the self & theory of correspondences. Turned romantics & Delacroix ideas of expressive colours to line & form. Bernard & Pierre Puvis de Chavannes influenced Gauguin. He also drew inspiration from reproductions of Egyptian reliefs, Parthenon frieze, Rembrandt, Borobudur reliefs etc as well as his exotic South Sea culture & surroundings. Gauguin influential, Munch impacted by him impressionism, Seurat & van Gogh. Art Nouveau influenced by Symbolist, Rococo & Celtic ornament, pre-Raphaelites, William Morris & Arts & Craft movement but essentially new style. Post-Industrial Revolution nostalgia inspired 19thC domestic architecture & art.

Critics, thinkers and historians

Scientific theories of 19thC were important to the Impressionists new modern way of seeing. Michel Eugene Chevreul (1786-1889) wrote of colour theories. Also pursued study of optics & physiological principles with Hermann, L. F. von Helmholtz (1821-94) et al. Positivism was a philosophical system created by Auguste Comte (1798-1857), non-scientifically variable explanations are inadmissible. our senses and perception are the only acceptable basis of knowledge. p703. French Poet Jules Laforge (1860-87) wrote of Impressionists he knew. Like Manet & Degas, Naturalist writers Zola & Maupassant also took urban night life as inspiration. Writer Edmond de Goncourt compared Greek art to ‘boredom in perfection ‘ when looking at Japanese prints p710. Théodore Duret wrote 1st serious discussion of Impressionism 1878. Academician Jean-Leon Gerome stopped French President entering room of Impressionist work. Symbolist Movement heralded for poets by Jean Moreas with Socialist Manifesto 1886, who rejected Zola. Poet Gustave Kahn, gave further explicit declaration. Tolstoy, war and peace, 1864. Bell invents telephone, Edison invents phonograph & telegraph. Wilde, the importance of being earnest

References:
Honour, H & Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art. (7th Ed), London, Laurence King Publishing

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