Monet and Pissarro in London
6. Monet and Pissarro in London
Impressionists Visit London After Franco-Prussian War
The years following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 are of capital importance in the development of Impressionism. It was born at La Grenouillere in 1869, but a series of events, meetings and influences go to layout its direction; plot its course and precipitate its sparse elements to the point of condensation and definition of a style. The painters have passed the stage where they know only what they do not want; they are conscious of the importance of their enterprise and have found certain of their rules definitive. They know what they prefer and have taken certain irreversible steps.
IMPRESSIONISM & PORTRAITS
MEANING OF ART
Since the meeting between Renoir
and Monet, when they studied
the reflection of water at La Grenouillere, they know how to realise their
intuitions, have discovered how to communicate their personal feeling
to each other while still keeping all its particular flavour. They have
a sharp sense of life, a strong taste for adventure. Partly gripped by
the revolutionary spirit which was so active just before 1870, they have
the feeling that general progress is possible and become interested in
the development of experimental science. Their aversion to convention
and restraint, the feebleness of official teaching, even the hostility
they feel and which is confirmed every time they come up against authority
or its representatives, all this incites them to push farther forward.
It also permits them to surmount in their way the catastrophe which is
about to befall France. It belongs to a society which is in no way theirs.
It might even be said that the war, in causing the collapse (provisional)
of out-of-date social structures, was to leave the way open for installation
of real values. It causes a break in habits and routine, healthy for everyone.
It makes it necessary to move, to travel abroad (England and Holland),
which proves particularly fruitful. It allows for re grouping and meeting.
Delacroix is known to have had a strong influence on the painters of the group who sometimes were not afraid to acknowledge it: Renoir, in the Salon of 1870, showed a "Woman of Algiers," in which the striking colouring and even the composition itself left no doubt about the admiration he felt for the master of Romanticism. Delacroix's technique, particularly that offlochetage (flossiness), which was like a pre-Divisionism, for long had attracted their attention, as did observations such as this from about 1846 or 1847: "Constable says that the superior green of his fields results from composition of a multitude of different greens. What brings a lack of intensity and life to the verdure of most landscapists is the fact that they usually paint it in a uniform colour. What he says here about the green of his fields may be applied to all tones."
The English landscape offers Monet and Pissarro subjects which touch them deeply, but they also find themes for meditation and discussion in the museums. Unfortunately our only information on these points is from much later recollections and letters. In 1899 Signac, recording conversations with the two painters, wrote: "In London ... they studied his [Turner's] work and analysed his technique. They are struck primarily by his snow and ice effects. They are astonished by the way he has succeeded in giving an impression of whiteness to the snow, they who so far had not been successful with their big white patches laid on with wide sweeps of the brush. They come to the conclusion that this marvellous result is not obtained by using a uniform white but by a large number of patches of different colour placed alongside one another and, from a distance, giving the desired effect." Pissarro, in a letter to Dewhurst in November 1902, wrote: "In 1870 I was in London with Manet and we met Charles Daubigny and Bonvin; Monet and I were enthusiastic about the London landscapes. Monet was working in the parks while I, staying in Lower Norwood, then a charming district, studied the effects of fog, snow and spring. We were working from nature and later Monet painted in London some superb fog studies. We also used to go to the museum. The watercolours of Turner as well as the works of John Constable certainly had their effect on us. We admired Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence, Joshua Reynolds and the others at the Royal Academy, but we were particularly taken by the landscapists who were nearer to what we were seeking in 'plein air', light and fleeting effects." In a letter to his son on 8 May 1903, he also remarked: "Turner and Constable, while useful to us, confirmed that these painters did not understand the analysis of shadow which, in Turner's case, is always a deliberate effect, a hole. As for division of tones, Turner confirmed its value as a way of painting but not as the exact one." Much later on the aging Monet, who alone has led Impressionism to its greatest importance, declares that to his mind Turner's art is "antipathetic because of the exuberant romanticism of his imagination".
Apparently one may attach more weight to
what Pissarro had to say because of the deeply scrupulous and exacting
mind of the artist and also because of the wealth of his detail. In 1870
what later was called Impressionism had barely taken shape. The movement
was still very fresh. If the enthusiasm of the painters in the group was
great and they were assured of their convictions, they nevertheless avidly
and gladly welcomed any support for their ideas. Pissarro, with just discernment,
uses the verb "to confirm". We can well believe that he and
Monet were happy to find confirmation of the correctness of their enterprise,
then in full development, in such a celebrated and admired master. They
still wondered about the manner of treating shadow, the division of tones
and the best technical means of securing the intensity of light they wanted.
Thus they found an ally in the works of Turner and Constable.
NEXT: (7) Impressionist Painting Developments Before First Exhibition.
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