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Impressionism

IMPRESSIONISM.

Impressionism was an artistic movement that originated in France in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1874, painters including Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Armand Guillaumin, and Paul Cézanne participated in the first of eight independent Impressionist exhibitions held until 1886. They were eventually joined by Gustave Caillebotte and the American Mary Cassatt. Closely identified with the Impressionists was Edouard Manet, whose controversial works of the 1860s led the mostly younger Impressionists to consider him their leader, even though he refused to exhibit in their shows. The painter Frédéric Bazille was also associated with the group but was killed during the Franco-Prussian War, before he could join in the exhibitions he helped conceive.

Impressionist Practice and Purpose

Impressionism transformed the Western conception of landscape painting from timeless and nostalgic idealizations of distant places to accurate and brilliantly colored representations of existing, often familiar sites seen at specific moments. Responding to calls for modernity and naturalismto reflect the environments of contemporary (French) humanitythe Impressionists recorded their peers at both work and play. Although today we take for granted the practice of painting on the spot directly from observation, in the nineteenth century that commitment was controversial. It was inseparable from debates over the role of modern subjects in art (as opposed to classical ones), accompanied by pejorative comparisons to photography, which was considered mechanical, hence noncreative. Impressionist practices were also fraught with political connotations, conditioned by the new prosperity and related democratic aspirations. With their views of specifically contemporary activities, whether in Parisian cafés, on beaches or in flowery fields, or of the economic life on waterways, railways, and boulevards, the Impressionists made their paintings sensitive and inclusive reflections of modernity.

The name Impressionism was coined, following the first Impressionist exhibition, by a satirical critic named Louis Leroy. He made fun of Monet's Impression: Sunrise (1873, Musée Marmottan, Paris) a sketch-like view of the harbor of the painter's native Le Havre: "Impression : I was sure of it. I was telling myself, since I'm so impressed, there must be an impression in it. And what freedom, what ease in handling! A sketch for wallpaper is more finished than that there seascape!" Another name, Intransigents, though eventually abandoned, referred to a broader revolutionary significance. Following the Paris Commune (1871) by just a few years, the Impressionists elicited memories of radical politics because of their independent movement and their free and broken brushwork, which challenged the official art salons' monopoly on public exhibitions and defied the traditional craft of academic art, which taught careful draftsmanship and polished finishing.

Although there are wide variations in Impressionist style, especially when comparing the relatively traditional handling of Degas (A Carriage at the Races, 1869, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) to the fragmented brushstrokes of color that Monet and Renoir (La Grenouillère, 1869, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm) developed side by side on the banks of the river Seine, the artists shared a commitment to the representation of modern life based on exacting observation of their own world. For those like Monet, Pissarro (Red Roofs, 1877, National Gallery, London), and Sisley (The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, 1872, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), who painted primarily landscapes, working out of doors or en plein air, was an important step away from the artifices of the studio. Their more urban colleagues Manet (A Bar at the Folies Bergère, 1883, Courtauld Institute, London) and Degas surveyed the dance halls and the Opéra, as well as shops and boulevards for scenes of pleasure and material consumption, while the female Impressionists, Morisot (The Cradle, 1872, Musée d'Orsay, Paris) and Cassatt (Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), given the limitations of their access to the primarily male public world, developed a flair for domestic scenes.

For many, modernity was exemplified by countryside locations and sporting activities (Caillebotte, Rowers on the Yerre River, 1877, private collection). But Monet, Guillaumin (Bridge over the Marne at Nogent, 1871, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Pissarro, and Cézanne (in his early years) included as a counterpart to leisure scenes evidence of the productivity, infrastructure, and technologies that underlay French progress in the new industrial age. Indeed, the poet Charles Baudelaire, while lamenting the loss of taste occasioned by the rise of the bourgeoisie, urged modern artists to somehow capture the essence of their world, which for him was one of constant change, including the flow of crowded commercial avenues and socializing at sidewalk cafés. In addition, the productive processes and speed associated with factories and train travel were as much a part of the landscape of modern vision as were ladies on beaches and promenades among poppy fields. The liberal art critic Jules Castagnary actually called for a modern landscape that would reflect contemporary progress built on democratic change.

Neo-Impressionism and Beyond

Implicit in the word impression are two ostensibly opposed concepts: that of the rapid glance or instinctive judgment and that of the exact imprint, as in a photographic impression. Hence Impressionism could appear to some, such as Leroy, a shoddy and unskilled practice, whereas to others the intuition that light is the basis of vision, and color its medium in art, was scientifically true. In addition, Impressionism's commitment to direct observation and its evocation of progressive change are generally associated with the spirit of positivism, a contemporary philosophy developed by Auguste Comte and applied to art by his disciple and specialist in the psychology of perception, Hippolyte Taine. Comte's quasireligion of progress based on scientific attitudes was followed by Taine's deterministic theories on the history of art. Their ideas might be stated as the relationship between art and its immediate physical and social environment, expressed through the empirical perceptions of the talented individual. Their follower, the novelist Émile Zola, a childhood friend of Cézanne, through whom he met the Impressionists, wrote famously that "art is no more nor less than a corner of nature seen through a temperament."

The association between these ideas and Impressionism can be gauged by the neo-Impressionist critique of their achievement. Certain artists of the next generation, especially Georges Seurat (Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, 1886, Art Institute of Chicago), according to the critic Félix Féneon, sought to make Impressionism more socially responsible and democratic by developing a collective technique accessible to all. Seurat's dot-dash or pointillist method reduced the labor of painting to a repeatable formula, while at the same time creating the sensation of duration over time rather than a spontaneously grasped instant. On both grounds, neo-Impressionism claimed greater objectivity, thus challenging the individualist basis of Impressionist naturalism in favor of a shared and more permanent, hence more classical, vision. Through Seurat's eyes, then, Impressionism celebrated merely momentary, superficial pleasures and casual, intuitive craft rather than the mental and physical concentration derived from rational calculation and rigorous effort. This moralizing argument fit a political critique of bourgeois society that came to be associated with avant-garde painting of both the Right and the Left after Impressionism.

By contrast, while adhering always to the Impressionist model of painting directly from the motif with dabs of color, Paul Cézanne also managed to transcend the Impressionist sense of moment to produce what he called "a more lasting art, like that of the museums" (Montagne Sainte-Victoire, c. 1882, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). In ways more fruitful than Seurat, his increasing abstraction led toward future styles of the twentieth century, especially Cubism.

In the other arts, however, Impressionism's impact was limited. The sensitive, mobile surfaces of Auguste Rodin's bronze sculptures caught the light in ways associated with Impressionism. Claude Debussy's music came to be called Impressionist because it challenged past styles and evoked certain motifs in nature associated with Impressionist painting. In the literature of Henry James, the term refers to the literal naturalism of settings described in so much detail that it both overwhelms and yet concentrates our anticipation of the narrative.

In painting, almost every country had its Impressionist school; the British and the American, with their direct ties to Monet's circle, were the strongest. In later art, the abstract expressionism of artists like Jackson Pollock has been traced to Claude Monet's late Water Lilies, and the contemporary painter Joan Mitchell, who spent much time near Monet's former residence in Giverny, has been called an "abstract Impressionist." However, perhaps the greatest legacy of Impressionism is that it is the most popular style for so many amateur art colonies and Sunday painters, who celebrate both nature and leisure while working hard to develop their personal techniques.

After all the memoirs, biographies, and correspondence written by the painters and their contemporaries, Impressionism studies began in earnest with John Rewald, who used such documents to trace the Impressionist painters almost day by day and site by site. Interpretations of their art, however, remained within the legend of revolutionary aesthetic innovation and celebration of its seminal step toward modernist departures from literal representation.

The first writer to take seriously the social dimension to Impressionism's significance was Meyer Schapiro in his lectures at Columbia University and in a few short articles. He was followed by Robert L. Herbert, whose disciples in particular have stressed the relationship between the artists and the history and significance of places they inhabited. At the same time, the social art historian T. J. Clark has focused on Impressionist paintings as documents of the changing physical environment and its social implications. Feminist scholars led by Linda Nochlin have focused on the female Impressionists as well as on the role of women as subjects of the male Impressionist gaze. Finally, a number of younger scholars have explored the relationship between Impressionism and politics.

See also Arts ; Modernism ; Nature ; Visual Culture .

bibliography

Berson, Ruth. The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886: Documents. 2 vols. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1996.

Brettell, Richard. Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860- 1890. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.

Callen, Anthea. Techniques of the Impressionists. London: Orbis, 1982.

Clark, Timothy J. The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Herbert, Robert L. Impressionism: Art, Leisure and Parisian Society. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988.

Moffet, Charles S. The New Painting: Impressionism 18741886. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986.

Rewald, John. A History of Impressionism. 4th revised ed. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973.

Rubin, James H. Impressionism. London: Phaidon, 1999.

Tinterow, Gary, and Henri Loyrette. Origins of Impressionism. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994.

James H. Rubin

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impressionism (in painting)

impressionism, in painting, late-19th-century French school that was generally characterized by the attempt to depict transitory visual impressions, often painted directly from nature, and by the use of pure, broken color to achieve brilliance and luminosity. It was loosely structured in that many painters were associated with the movement for only brief periods in their careers. Their association often came about more for the purpose of exhibiting their works than from an approach to painting held in common.

The Birth of Impressionism

The movement began with the friendship of four students of the academic painter Marc Gleyre: Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and Bazille. These four met regularly at the Café Guerbois in Paris with Cézanne, Pissarro, and Morisot, and later with Degas, Manet, the critics Duret and Rivière, and the art dealer Durand-Ruel. The painters repudiated academic standards and reacted against the romantics' emphasis on emotion as subject matter. They forsook literary and anecdotal subjects and, indeed, rejected the role of imagination in the creation of works of art. Instead they observed nature closely, with a scientific interest in visual phenomena. Although they painted everyday subjects, they avoided the vulgar and ugly, seeking visual realism by extraordinary stylistic means.

Impressionists and Postimpressionists

The subject matter of their painting was as diverse as the various artists' personalities: Manet chose Old Master themes which he treated in a novel and stunningly direct way so that his canvases were the focus of acid controversy and scandal. Monet, Sisley, and Pissarro were the most consistently impressionist in style. Their subject was landscape and the changing effects of light. Degas painted horse races, the ballet, and portraits of ordinary people, all with a photographic sense of "accidental" composition. Renoir, painting his idealized women and children and his lush landscapes, developed divisionism; omitting black for shadows and outlines from his palette in the 1860s, he used pure, bright color to separate forms. Monet painted many series of the same subject at different times of day so that the character of light became his subject and the forms of objects seemed to dissolve, as in the series of Rouen Cathedral.

The interests and attitudes of these painters influenced the postimpressionists Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin, and Van Gogh. Toulouse-Lautrec gained from a study of Degas's paintings; Matisse, Vuillard, and Bonnard all owed a debt to the landscape painters. However, impressionist objectivity was limiting; the severe and total rejection of both the function of imagination and of the enduring aspects of reality began to pall. Gauguin and Van Gogh used color imaginatively and violently for its expressive emotional value. Immediate impressions and flickering light gave way to heavier subjects, solid with "meaning," in the works of the impressionists' successors.

See postimpressionism and articles on individual artists, e.g., Renoir.

The Legacy of Impressionism

Impressionism and postimpressionism ran their course and produced aesthetic revolution from within and without, putting hosts of painters to come greatly in its debt. At first, with a few exceptions, the works of the impressionist and postimpressionist schools were received with hostility from critics and public alike. This situation continued until the 1920s. By the 1930s impressionism had a large cult following, so that in the 1950s even the least works by painters associated with the movement commanded large prices.

Throughout the next three decades, impressionism and postimpressionism became increasingly popular, as evidenced by the major exhibitions of Monet and Van Gogh at the Metropolitan Museum in New York in the 1980s, both of which drew enormous crowds. Record prices to date include two 1990 sales, one at Sotheby's of Renoir's Au Moulin de la Galette for $78.1 million, the other at Christie's of Van Gogh's Portrait du Dr. Gachet for $82.5 million.

Bibliography

See J. Rewald, The History of Impressionism (1980); T. J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life (1984); W. H. Gerdts, American Impressionism (1984); D. Bomford et al., Impressionism (1990); B. Denvir, Encyclopedia of Impressionism (1990); C. Moffett, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism (1991).

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impressionism

impressionism Major French anti-academic art movement of the late 19th century, gaining its name from a painting by Monet entitled Impression, Sunrise (1874). In the words of Monet, the movement's leading painter, impressionists aimed to create “a spontaneous work rather than a calculated one”. In the 1860s, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Frédéric Bazille formed a close-knit group exploring the possibilities of painting outdoors and closely analysing and interpreting the effects of light on nature. The first impressionist exhibition took place in 1874. Although not accepted at first, Impressionism became widely influential from the late 1880s and spread throughout Europe. Degas and Pissarro were prominent Impressionists and Cézanne exhibited with them twice. Manet was influenced by, and in turn influenced, Impressionism. Other Impressionists include Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. Rodin has been called Impressionist because of his interest in the effects of light on his sculpture. In music, the term Impressionism refers to a period lasting from roughly 1890 to 1930, and is usually applied to the work of Claude Debussy. It tends to be subtle and atmospheric rather than overtly emotional. Many composers were influenced by Debussy, including Maurice Ravel and Frederick Delius. See also Romanticism

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impressionism

impressionism. Term used in graphic art from 1874 to describe the work of Monet, Degas, Whistler, Renoir, etc., whose paintings avoid sharp contours but convey an ‘impression’ of the scene painted by means of blurred outlines and minute small detail. It was applied by musicians to the mus. of Debussy and his imitators because they interpret their subjects (e.g. La Mer) in a similar impressionistic manner, conveying the moods and emotions aroused by the subject rather than a detailed tone-picture. To describe Debussy's harmony and orchestration as impressionist in the sense of vague or ill-defined is to do them a severe injustice. Some of the technical features of musical impressionism included new chord combinations, often ambiguous as to tonality, chords of the 9th, 11th, and 13th being used instead of triads and chords of the 7th; appoggiaturas used as part of the chord, with full chord included; parallel movement in a group of chords of triads, 7ths, and 9ths, etc.; whole-tone chords; exotic scales; use of the modes; and extreme chromaticism.

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"impressionism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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impressionism (in music)

impressionism, in music, a French movement in the late 19th and early 20th cent. It was begun by Debussy in reaction to the dramatic and dynamic emotionalism of romantic music, especially that of Wagner. Reflecting the impressionist schools of French painting and letters, Debussy developed a style in which atmosphere and mood take the place of strong emotion or of the story in program music. He used new chord combinations, whole-tone chords, chromaticism, and exotic rhythms and scales. In place of the usual harmonic progression, he developed a style in which chords are valued for their individual sonorities rather than for their relations to one another, and dissonances are unprepared and unresolved. Although conceived in reaction to romanticism, musical impressionism seems today the culmination of romanticism. Its influence was widespread and is evident in the music of Ravel, Dukas, Respighi, Albéniz, de Falla, Delius, C. T. Griffes, and J. A. Carpenter.

See C. Palmer, Impressionism in Music (1973).

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Impressionism

Im·pres·sion·ism / imˈpreshəˌnizəm/ • n. a style or movement in painting originating in France in the 1860s, characterized by a concern with depicting the visual impression of the moment, esp. in terms of the shifting effect of light and color. ∎  a literary or artistic style that seeks to capture a feeling or experience rather than to achieve accurate depiction. ∎ Mus. a style of composition (associated esp. with Debussy) in which clarity of structure and theme is subordinate to harmonic effects, characteristically using the whole-tone scale.

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Impressionism

Impressionism a style or movement in painting originating in France in the 1860s, characterized by a concern with depicting the visual impression of the moment, especially in terms of the shifting effect of light and colour. The Impressionist painters repudiated both the precise academic style and the emotional concerns of Romanticism, and their interest in objective representation, especially of landscape, was influenced by early photography.

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