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First Impression(ism)

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

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Camille Pissarro, Hay Harvest at Éragny,1901, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa,Ontario

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Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, (Camille and Jean Monet), 1875, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Julie Manet with cat, 1887, Musée d’Orsay

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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?

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An Artist’s Dwelling (5)

I recently visited a show at the Andrew Krep Gallery, in Chelsea, titled, “‘Interiors’: Pierre Bonnard, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, William Copley, Édouard Vuillard”  The show juxtaposed several styles and decades of art history by exploring the evolution of personal space, decorative wallpaper, and intimacy. The press release from the gallery explains, “The show highlights the rich optical and visual layers and patterning consistent in each of the artists’ work, depicting interior spaces full of feeling, psychological depth and a sense of remembrance – a domestic hedonism, or meditations on the nature of time, perception and memory. ” The exhibition included some surrealist details, some impressionist strokes, and a lot of rooms. Often everyday objects in our home accumulate into accidental still lifes – these interior spaces show a psychological snapshot of both an artist and his/her life. Above all, the show allows the viewer to realize it is OK to mix centuries – the 19th century can converse with the year 2012 easily. French windows and ikea furniture can match.

InteriorsPierre Bonnard Marc Camille Chaimowicz, William Copley, Édouard Vuillard, Installation View, Image Courtesy Andrew Kreps Gallery

Pierre Bonnard, The Breakfast Room, 1925, Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 42 1/2 in (65.4 x 108 cm) & (wallpaper), Marc Camille Chaimowicz, 2011, Non-woven paper, Image Courtesy Andrew Kreps Gallery

Interiors, Pierre Bonnard Marc Camille Chaimowicz, William Copley, Édouard Vuillard, Installation View, Image Courtesy Andrew Kreps Gallery

In my humble opinion, no artist understand the importance of monotonous interior life quite like Jean-Édouard Vuillard (perhaps also Giorgio Morandi, but we can save his obsessive bottle painting for another post). Vuillard (November 11, 1868 – June 21, 1940) was a French painter and printmaker associated with the artist collective called The Nabis. This avant-garde group was named for the Hebrew word for “prophet”. They believed they could revitalize modern art much like the prophets inspired people from the biblical days. The group did not just work with canvas, they often extolled and designed wall decoration, and also produced posters, prints, book illustration, textiles, and furniture.

Édouard Vuillard, Interieur, 1902, Oil on Cardboard, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Meadows Foundation Incorporated

Édouard Vuillard, Interieur a la Table à Ouvrage, 1893

In his paintings Vuillard depicted mostly interiors, intricate patterns, streets, and gardens.  The patterns of a tablecloth, of a woman’s dress, and of wall coverings intermingled to create a beautifully layered piece. He lived at home with his mother (a dressmaker and Parisian corset maker) and had siblings who visited – most notably his sister. Often my inspiration comes from the outside – wandering streets, stopping into boutiques, and traveling. Yet, Vuillard did not need to leave his home to understand the aesthetics of beauty and to find his animus.

Vuillard was best known for intimate, indoor looks at the private lives of his subjects. These domestic scenes feel “very claustrophobic,” explains the curator of The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Kimberly Jones. She continues. “You can almost feel the walls closing in in some cases and that’s very much intentional. This is the world behind closed doors, an intimate private world that we live but we don’t get to see. So we become a voyeur.”

Édouard Vuillard. Mother and Sister of the Artist. c. 1893. Oil on canvas. 18 1/4 x 22 1/4″ (46.3 x 56.5 cm). Gift of Mrs. Saidie A. May. © 2005 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris. (Can’t you just smell the mothballs?)

Vuillard’s interiors are often described as richly patterned, dizzying, and highly feminine. We are surrounded by bold fabrics, blurred walls, and quiet Sunday scenes. Vuillard, the artist himself one remarked, “I don’t paint portraits,” he said. “I paint people at home.” His heavily decorated rooms define a person, his stokes create a soothing rhythm for the eye (even though sometimes they are depicting SHARP geometric designs), and his understanding of fashion (both interior and physical) as a psychological delinieation,  is why I believe his interiors are so powerful.

Vuillard’s Room at the Château des Clayes, c. 1932, Distemper on paper, mounted on canvas, 30 5/8 x 39 7/16 in. (77.8 x 100.2 cm), Signed, l.r.: “E. Vuillard”, Gift of Mary and Leigh Block, 1973.337, © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Edouard Vuillard (French, 1868-1940), printed by Auguste Clot (French, 1858-1936), published by Ambroise Vollard (French, 1867-1939), Interior with Pink Wallpaper I, plate five from Landscapes and Interiors, 1899, © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

After reading this blog post you have now become familiar with “Intimism”! Bravo! Yippee! This is a variety of late 19th- and early 20th-century painting which intensely explores domestic interiors as subject matter.

 Clashing patterns = matching patterns.  A richly patterned and layered room ala Vuillard. Found via Better Homes & Gardens, HERE.

Un Bisou Collection Wallpaper. Feminine and delicate. Here, actually used as a neutral “paint” color. Don’t be afraid of pattern and layering! Image found HERE.

Eijffinger wallaper – perfect for your afternoon tea service! Hello pastel table. Image found HERE.

Grand Gala Wallpaper. Although this room is not nearly cluttered enough to be a Vuillard. Image found HERE.

Living with patterns is as easy as finding one common color in all of your fabrics. Here it is a light, almost Robin’s Egg Blue with accented grey tones. Image found HERE.

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An Artist’s Dwelling (1)

A bedroom is the most intimate room in the house. It is where we sleep, we love, perchance we dream. A bedroom is the first image one sees when we awake, and last space we inhabit when we sleep. There we are vulnerable. There we are in a dwelling that wholly reflects who we are, our interests, our favorite angles, and our inspirational colors. A bedroom is an extension of a personality.

Of the most famous bedrooms ever laid to canvas, Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles comes to mind. The painting depicts Van Gogh’s bedroom at 2, Place Lamartine in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, France, known as his Yellow House.  Vincent’s Yellow House in Arles not only served as the artist’s home, but also as his studio. As a result, he hung many of his newly painted works on the walls within the Yellow House. In the depiction I am using, the paintings on the right wall are identified as miniatures of Van Gogh’s portraits of his friends Eugène Boch (entitled The Poet) and Paul-Eugène Milliet (entitled The Lover). Van Gogh created and recreated this bedroom in painstakingly accurate detail, rendering, and recreating the image on canvas and paper, not once but three times. He even resketched the room in letters to his younger brother Theo van Gogh, and to his volatile, fair-weather friend, Paul Gauguin. This brings the total repetition by Van Gogh to five total images.

In his letter to his brother, Theo, he writes:

This time it simply reproduces my bedroom; but colour must be abundant in this part, its simplification adding a rank of grandee to the style applied to the objects, getting to suggest a certain rest or dream. Well, I have thought that on watching the composition we stop thinking and imagining. I have painted the walls pale violet. The ground with checked material. The wooden bed and the chairs, yellow like fresh butter; the sheet and the pillows, lemon light green. The bedspread, scarlet coloured. The window, green. The washbasin, orangey; the tank, blue. The doors, lilac. And, that is all. There is not anything else in this room with closed shutters. The square pieces of furniture must express unswerving rest; also the portraits on the wall, the mirror, the bottle, and some costumes. The white colour has not been applied to the picture, so its frame will be white, aimed to get me even with the compulsory rest recommended for me. I have depicted no type of shade or shadow; I have only applied simple plain colours, like those in crêpes.

It seems the artist is obsessed with color, not so much items. He describes his chosen bed, the repainting of his chairs, the reason his sheets are red. He is intrigued by the contrast and meaning of colors. Art historians even agree that his work from his Arles period was richly, and thickly applied in yellows, ultramarines, and mauves. The room depicted is the space Van Gogh inhabited immediately following his nervous breakdown and stint in a Hospital in Arles. During this time Van Gogh famously cut off his ear and even suffered hallucinations and delusions. He oscillated between his bedroom and the hospital – not knowing what was real and afflicted by mental fragility and the belief that he was constantly being poisoned.

A bedroom is meant to be comfortable and upon first glance the Bedroom in Arles (First Version) looks cheery. The main colors are light and almost pastel in nature – draped in robin’s egg blues, sunny yellows, and sable. The simple interior, sans shadows (and looking quite like a Japanese Woodblock) features bright , sunny colors which represent the notions of “rest”, “positivity” and “sleep”. Yellow was Van Gogh’s favourite color throughout his Arles and Saint-Rémy period–whether outdoors in wheatfields under the Provencal sun or indoor works such as the bedroom. The upward slope of the perspective even seems hopeful. However, during this time he was deeply troubled. Perhaps he saw his room as his only respite, a space filled with optimism and the promise of tomorrow.

(Thank you to MultiplyByTwo on Flickr for the above image.)

However, in the painting the objects seem to tilt upward because the artist has not applied the laws of perspective accurately. Van Gogh worked this way on purpose as noted in his letter. Therefore, in my 3D rendering to come, the laws of perspective will also all be slightly skewed. Below enjoy my  “Real Life Options” take on recreating van Gogh’s space. The room is quite simple at heart, and has a few decorate touches. More than anything, the proper wood flooring and the right Cerulean, Prussian, and Cyan blue paint tones will make this space. Viva his Lust for Life, and live in his room, but perhaps not his mindset, below!

Real Life Options:

  • Paint Colors – Celestial Blue#5, Mystic Mauve #3, Royal Regatta #6 from  Dulux Let’s Colour Studio
  • Chair x2 – Nimbus Slated Dining Chair from BHS
  • Table – Reclaimed Oak Console Table (small) from Pine Solutions
  • Black Mirror –  Classics 4907 Wellsley Decorative Mirror by Cooper
  • Bed – Sweet Dreams Foster Bed from Sleepland Beds
  • Painting on Far Wall – Wheat Field with Cypresses, Vincent van Gogh, 1889
  • Paintings on the Right Wall – (top clockwise)  Portrait of Eugène Boch, The Poet; Portrait of Paul Eugène Milliet,The Lover; Vincent van Gogh’s Sower with Setting Sun, Sketch by Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night Over the Rhone (all prints can be easily purchased from art print recreation sites, and even framed to your liking, such as Zazzle.com, Barewalls.com, and Art.com)
  • On the table: Blue Glass Tableware from The Designers Guild, Classic Jug from Garden Trading, Rice Blue Melamine Pitcher from Heal’s 
  • Towel –  Calcot Supima Zero Twist Towels in Sage from Overstock.com 
  • Green Shutters – 15×39 Forest Green Louver Shutter from Amazon.com 
  • Wall Mounted Coat Rack – 5-Peg Wood Wall Coat Rack from CoatRacks.com

Next in the “An Artist’s Dwelling” Series:  The Red Studio, Henri Matisse, 1911