Impressionism – Art History Lecture Analysis

The emergence of the artistic movement of Impressionism represented a dissatisfaction with the artistic styles that were approved by the academy at the time. This notion of a desire for change fueling the artistic movement was additionally furthered by the political state of change throughout European countries. The contextual backdrop of the movement is best represented through its emergence in France. 

Young painters in France, at the time of art being dominated by the academy, found that they had a mutual desire to paint landscapes and scenes of contemporary life, both aspects counter to the academy’s accepted content of historical or mythological depictions. These artists included Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, Pissarro, Cezanne, and Guillaumin, with their meetings often being led by Edouard Manet. From often painting outside, these artists began to develop a style utilizing synthetic pigments that depicted lighting directly how it was seen in nature. These new strategies culminated in a new, brighter style of painting that differentiated itself from Realism. 

Much of the styles and techniques utilized in Impressionism reflected the strong influence from Realist paintings. The spontaneous style of painters such as Eugene Boudin, who additionally painted from nature in a direct fashion, was adapted by Impressionists with preliminary drawings often being the same as their end work, as opposed to drafting a drawing to create a more detailed, proportionate one later. Impressionism however expanded past Realism with the usage of uniquely new techniques. The movement was characterized by short, thick strokes of paint – having the effect of capturing the essence of a scene, and the placement of colours in succession of each other with little use of blending – an effect that is more true to a snapshot impression of a subject, this effect was furthered by darker tones being created without the use of black paint. An additional technique characteristic of the Impressionist movement was painting wet paint into wet paint (alla prima) which produced less rigid shapes and allowed for the non-blended colours to appear to mix. The techniques found to have arised out of Impressionism reflect the free, moving notion that defines the movement. 

The aspect of change became central to the Impressionist movement as it arose out of a common desire for greater recognition of art pieces by the Academy. Monet and his contemporaries had roughly half of their paintings rejected by the Academy, making it increasingly difficult for the rejected artists to make a living off of their trade, and to feel accepted in the greater artistic community. Emperor Napoleon III, the first president of France and at the time Emperor, saw the artwork that was being rejected by the Academy and decided that the public should be allowed to decide the quality of the artworks for themselves. From this decision came the inception of the Salon Des Refuses, an exhibition for artwork that the Academy had rejected. This exhibition led to the eventual forming of a coalition of Impressionist artists that allowed them to independently exhibit their works. The public reaction to, and specifically, criticism of, the Impressionist art on display reflects what a grand movement of change Impressionism was from what was expected of art at the time. The critical lashback from the reception of this initial Impressionist display is best reflected through the history of Monet’s displayed painting, Impression, Sunrise

In Monet’s Impression, the port of his hometown, Le Havre is depicted. The painting features a sky and waterbed that are almost indistinguishable in colour, having their distinction stem from varied texture. This lack of borders on depicted shapes reflects the flowing style of Impressionism, with a murky haze existing across every part of the image. This haze is achieved by the layering of dark tones with breaks formed by bright reflections of light. The piece is a glowing example of the way in which Impressionist art strives to capture the fleeting nature of light, as the spread of the initial light of the day is shown sprawled across an open scene. 

Monet’s Impression, Sunrise gained notoriety from its criticism as the critic Louis Leroy gave the Impressionist movement its name through criticizing Monet’s piece for reflecting an impression of a scene, an aspect which he believed to reflect its incompleteness. It is understandable how the diverging art movement could appear as less complete and consistent than art that was previously accepted. However, the loss of formal attributes in mainstream art gave way to more natural, uniquely human observations being represented through painting. This notion is furthered by the prevalence of photography at the time of Impressionism’s conception. Since there was now a way in which real-to-life scenes could be shown (through photography) Impressionism can additionally be viewed as a response to the medium. Impressionists thus found a way reflect a deeper reflection of a scene, not adhering directly to truth.

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