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French Impressionists

France 1860's to 1880's

french impressionists - History - A Stan Klos Website

By Neal McLaughlin

" ARTISTS UPRISING LEADS TO NEW MOVEMENT!" This headline, although based on true events, is merely a "what could have been" in the mind of this writer.

However, this headline would have been an accurate depiction when a small group of French Impressionists banded together and started what some critics dubbed as the second French Revolution.

By the mid-Nineteenth-Century the conventional theories and practice of art had been tested by the invention of the first camera that had become a popular means of capturing black and white images of subject matters instantaneously.

Even though many Impressionists owned their own shares of the radical new invention, they in fact despised the camera and its capabilities and set out to invent and perfect a technique that would put the black and white photos to shame.

The Impressionists had decided that they would focus on creating paintings by achieving a subjective or impression of their subject, which was something the camera, was not able to produce. To further fan the fires of despise, they decided to use unblended colors and instead of focusing on the light source, were more interested in the effects that light had on their subjects.

Almost immediately the Impressionists, while searching for their new techniques, had begun to fracture many of the established academic rules of art and at the same time created an enemy of both the art critics and patrons alike.

The animosity and wrath that they had created was actually a wall that blocked them from showing and selling their works. The French Impressionists were actually the world's first group of starving artists.

Their use of palette knives, thick bristled brushes and paints straight from the newly invented metal tubes had violated the strict standards set forth by the Louvres Grand Salon.

Regardless of the rejection by the Salon's jury, these "Refuses," so named because of this rejection, organized 8 independent showings between 1874 and 1886. It is suffice to say that these exhibitions were neither accepted nor attended by the masses that could have funded their livelihood.

This rebellion, which would later include as many as twenty-four world known artists, was actually started by the Claude Monet (1840-1926) painting unfortunately entitled "Impression, Sunrise."

The painting, which was done with out regards to the established rules of that period, is a beautiful depiction of Monet's perception of the sunrise. The fact that he painted this in his own style infuriated the art critics so immensely that they used the word "Impression" in such a way that it took on a negative connotation.

Monet stood steadfast in his convictions that art should capture the personal moments rather than to be concerned with perfection. He would not be the only artist of his time to hold these beliefs.

Not long after his showing the "Impression, Sunrise," his new philosophy and style was picked up by fellow artists Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and American artist Mary Cassatt (1844-1926).

Together, with other artists and sculptors such as Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and James Tissot (1836-1902) the French Impressionists would boldly move forward. This was truly a movement that had regarded starving less important than their freedom to pursue their artistic beliefs.

United, this camp of French Impressionists would reside in the small French village of Montmarte, alienated as radicals because of their departure from the traditional European art philosophies and techniques.

Here they would encourage one another to continue to develop their new, revolutionary ideas and techniques while enduring ridicule and the never-ending barrage of personal insults.

They would be persistent in maintaining their own ideas and style and would continue to refuse to adhere to the artistic rules and regulations established by the state sponsored Academie des Beau-Arts.

In essence, by refusing to play by the "rules" they were actually wielding the knife with which to slit their own throats. During this period of art history, Paris was considered to be the hub of the art world. And any artists who had dreamed of success and recognition were encouraged to abide by the policy in order to be accepted by the Salon.

Once accepted by the Salon, the largest and most influential art exhibition in Europe, one was certainly guaranteed future success and recognition. To the artists who adhered to the often strict guidelines established by the academies the rewards were often and most impressive.

The fact that the French Impressionists could care less about the "traditional" ideas so annoyed the Salon that their judges considered the works of the Impressionists to be " highly unsuitable for the public...the result of mental derangement."

So irate was art critic Louis Leroy he summed up the apparent feelings of critics and patrons in a neat little package when he cited that the Impressionist's works are..."hostile to good artistic manner, to devotion to form and respect for the masters."

Why would the new philosophies and style of a small group of artisans be perceived so badly that it would create enough hostility that would cause an art critic to nearly blow a heart valve?

It appears that the biggest thorn in the paws of these critics and patrons resided in the attitude of the artists themselves. The art critics and patrons could not or would not accept the Impressionists beliefs that art should be associated with the real world and a reflection of modern life.
By today's standards this seems to be a logical approach to the art scene.

However, during this period of European art history it was strictly taboo to break precedent by portraying any scenes that were not in some way connected with the bible, historical or mythological subjects.

So the fact that Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904), Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) and Frederic Bazille (1841-1870) and the other Impressionists focused more on entertainment and leisure themes really irked those who remain devoted to the Salon.

Instead of the accepted religious, historical or mythological themes, the French Impressionists painted seascapes, picnics in the park, regattas and theater activities.

In addition to these "radical" subject matters and their modern philosophies, the Impressionists were convinced that there had never been a European artist who was successful in painting light. With this notion they began to experiment with how best to express the effects of light so that it appeared to be real when done on their canvas.

By combining the effects that light had on their interpretation of the world as it existed they felt that they would truly describe their painted subjects. In order to capture the light and its effects during various parts of the day the Impressionists had worked outdoors as close to their subject as possible.

This, too, was actually a breach of the traditional habits, as most other artists would spend just enough time outside to make a thumbnail sketch and then retire to their studio to complete the actual painting.

Thanks to the invention of the aforementioned metal paint tubes and the portable easel, the Impressionists were able to spend more time outdoors capturing the quickly changing effects of light.

This new habit only created more animosity among the critics and peers who remained loyal to the Salon. The Impressionists not only struggled to overcome the stigmatism of the spiteful critics, they also had to endure the hostile public, who most assuredly were affected by the negative publicity of the critics and thus, refused to purchase their paintings.

Just when it seemed that the French Impressionists were an isolated group doom to failure they found an advocate to help them in their cause. Paul Durand-Ruel, gallery owner and art connoisseur, recognized the greatness of the Impressionists and in 1870 he began to buy and sell many of the completed paintings.

Mr. Durand-Ruel's involvement may have indeed been the pivotal role in changing the views of the French art patrons. During the 1880's and 1890's as American began to buy the paintings of many Impressionists there was an unforeseen change in the attitudes of those who had once truly hated Impressionism.

No longer were the Impressionists regarded as deranged or revolutionists. Their works had become a breath of fresh air and soon these French Impressionists were experiencing success and recognition that for so long had been way out of their grasps.

These highly regarded artisans, once considered a bad seed with nothing to offer, were now attributed with having had a positive impact on the art scene.
Their new ideas and techniques demonstrated the world in a bold, brightly colored subject that showed the true effects of natural light. So popular was this "freshness" that many other artists adopted the new theories and it began to be seen throughout the world.

Through sheer determination, perseverance and dedication to their new philosophies the original group of starving artists climbed from the pits of nothingness to have an immense impact on art history forever.


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