2015 Paris Project

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Impressionism

The Paris Project refers to the study of art and artists in Paris that I made during the summer of 2015.  My intent was to learn about the late nineteenth-century Parisian artists who lived in an interesting time and who took art from Impressionism into Modernism, they were the Post-Impressionists. Before we can do that though we must see the context from which they developed.

Most of us are familiar with both the iconic, light-filled landscapes of Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Camille Pissarro and the soft, intimate figurative paintings of Pierre-August Renoir, Berthe Morisot, and Mary Cassatt. They are some of the most noted Impressionists who rose to prominence during the 1870's to 1880's.  Their work is characterized by small, brushstrokes of pure color which when placed next to each other optically mix to produce an impression of well-observed light and color.

As an art movement, Impressionism rebelled against the Academie des Beaux-Arts that had dominated and dictated the standards of both content and style since it's formation in 1648.  However, the Impressionists' loose, colorful brushstrokes were more in the new tradition of J.M.W.Turner and Eugene Delacroix, than the Academie des Beaux-Arts.  

It was Claude Monet's painting, Impression, Sunrise that coined the term Impressionism when the art critic Louis Leroy derogatorily referred to the unfinished, sketchy style of the first show in1874 as an Exhibition of Impressionists.  The name Impressionism was not officially adopted until a few years later.

By painting en plein aire the Impressionists were able to go into the fields, meadows, and along the rivers to paint in natural light.  They could observe the changing effects of light on forms over time. The invention of metal tubes of paint and mobile painting easels facilitated painting outdoors.  In this way they differed from the Barbizon painters like Camille Corot and Jean-François Millet who sketched outdoors but still returned to their studios to paint. 

The Industrial Revolution brought the camera, which introduced new ways of composing the picture space.  The snapshot or partial view appeared and can be seen in the compositions of Edgar Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. 

The depiction of subjects changed from the traditional Academic standards to the more ordinary, everyday scenes. This was due to Gustave Courbet who earlier in the nineteenth-century led the movement towards Realism in painting and away from Academic Classicism. Later, Edouard Manet who did not participate in any of the Impressionist exhibitions shocked his critics by not idealizing his subject but instead showing realistic, common people. Traditionally, a nude was acceptable if it was idealized but his subjects were not idealized, they were real people This can be seen in his paintings, Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe and Olympia that show a nude woman picnicking with two clothed men in a forest and in Olympia, a recumbent, nude prostitute, not a mythical goddess as the title implies. Both paintings were painted in 1863, exhibited at the Salon des Refusés, and were very controversial because of the subjects and the sketchy, unfinished manner in which they were painted.

Another important current of the time was the influence of the Japanese woodcut prints, or ukiyo-e, which flooded into France and England after Japan opened trade relations with the West in 1853.  Japonisme offered a new aesthetic and a rebirth of printmaking in Paris.  The Japanese prints had elongated pictorial formulas, asymmetrical compositions, aerial perspectives, abstract elements of flat color, and purely decorative motifs.  The influence of these prints can be easily seen in the work of James Whistler, Claude Monet, James Tissot, Edgar Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec.  The theme of daily, quiet events in women's lives, a common Japanese theme, was adopted by Mary Cassatt and can be seen in both her paintings and prints. The influx of Japanese woodcut prints was a major influence and can be seen in the work of both the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. 

Thus in the eight Impressionist exhibitions in Paris, starting in 1874 to 1886, a new art movement was established. It revolted against the Academic traditions and introduced new methods of painting and observation. It built on aesthetic trends that developed during the last half of the nineteenth-century, the trends of natural observation, realism, and Japonisme. Since the Impressionists showed their work in independent galleries, not in the official French Academy's salon, these exhibitions also mark a turning point for art marketing in the modern era. 

Joann Dufau Slater

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Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet, 1872
Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris

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Olympia by Edouard Manet, 1863
Musee d'Orsay, Paris

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Maternal Caress by Mary Cassatt, 1891
Metropolitan Museum of Art

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