Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement that originated with a group of Paris-based artists that included Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. The movement was extremely radical for the time period and received harsh opposition from the galleries, judges, and overall art community in France. There are about 7,856 things I would love to elucidate and discuss about the movement but for now let’s stick with the general oeuvre of an impressionist paining:
- Open composition (meaning not constrained to the rectangle of the canvas, leaving the impression that the image is “open” or somehow unfinished)
- Tiny, thin and visible brushstrokes (these vary depending on artist’s technique)
- A huge focus on an accurate portrayal of how light changes color and reflects off surfaces
- Movement painted on canvas as it is pot rayed by the human eye (think about a slow shutter speed on your camera and how it produces a blurring effect)
- Unusual angles and points of view
- Daily, every day occurrences (this is in stark opposition to the then contemporary and in fashion painting of still lifes, portraits, allegories, and important historical scenes)
I have often wanted to live inside the soft, bright, floral yet hazy world of an impressionist painting, so here I will try using home goods to recreate a composition’s color array.
Mary Cassatt, Lydia Leaning on Her Arms (in a theatre box), 1879
Camille Pissarro, Hay Harvest at Éragny,1901, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa,Ontario
Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, (Camille and Jean Monet), 1875, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Julie Manet with cat, 1887, Musée d’Orsay
Before the industrial revolution it was extremely hard to paint outside, a technique also known as “en plain air”. This is due to the fact that artists needed to mix their paints indoors by grinding powders, oils, and other chemicals themselves. With the first creation of pre-made paints in tubes (resembling toothpaste tubes) artists were able to travel freely outside painting from the easel. Imagine this new freedom!
It is hard to believe that this style of painting was once so controversial and contentious that the paintings were rejected by several art schools and critics. People would GASP at the canvases. Today the manner of the impressionist hand, and the idea of painting freely, permeates our culture. The word impressionism as coined by Louis Leroy, a 19th century artist, playwright, journalist, and art critic, was originally meant to be a scathing and satiric review, ” Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it … and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.” Instead of taking the term as an insult, the artists of the group decided to adopt it to call themselves “impressionists” and the rest, as they say, is history. An inspiring and “impressing” story, no?