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