2. Impressionism: Early History
and Influences (2) Early History (3) Impressionist
Edouard Manet (4) Impressionist
Early History of Impressionism
The Impressionists Meet
The history of Impressionism
cannot be limited to a few public manifestations, nor even to the story
of some exceptional individual careers. It is at the same time a propensity
and a penchant which is established little by little, an upheaval suddenly
accomplished and, beyond the changes that are apparent, of deep and lasting
resonances whose nature is not generally recognised until years later.
In the making of a rich tapestry the weft only begins to show clearly
after the slow process of putting the multiple threads of the warp in
IMPRESSIONISM & PORTRAITS
EVOLUTION OF VISUAL
WORLD'S TOP PAINTERS
The majority of them are Parisians and
their families of the comfortably-off middle class: Edouard
Manet (born 1832); Edgar Degas
(1834); Alfred Sisley,
of English parents (1839); Claude
Monet (1840), although he passes his childhood and youth at Le Havre;
and Armand Guillaumin (1841). Paul
Cezanne (1839) comes from Provence, of remote Italian descent; Pierre-Auguste
Renoir (1841), more modest, comes from Limoges, but comes to Paris
in 1845; Frederic Bazille
(1841) comes from Montpellier. Berthe
Morisot (1841) is born at Bourges where her father is prefect. To
these names may be added those of the Grenoble-born Henri
Fantin-Latour (1836) and of the American James MacNeil Whistler (1834).
To other generations belong Paul
Gauguin (1848), Vincent Van
Gogh (1853), Henri-Edmond Cross
(1856), Georges Seurat
(1859), Paul Signac (1863) and Henri
de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864).
Between one or another a series of meetings takes place, at first by chance or through connections, and soon the meetings are developed and organised. If the origin of most of these Impressionist painters is middle-class Parisian, giving them a view of the new society at a time when it assumes all the scope that Balzac wrote about, they also have sufficient links with the countryside in the harsh and noble work in the fields and with the great and natural forces of the forest and the sea for their art to become more vivid.
Exoticism is not unknown to them either
and, before finding a highly symbolic representation with Gauguin, offers
them valuable sources. Delacroix had found an immemorable climate in North
Africa which carried him above himself. We cannot fail to acknowledge
the importance of the young Pissarro's visits to the West Indies which
inspired his first works, or the voyage by Manet as naval apprentice to
Brazil in 1849 (recalling the voyage of the young Baudelaire to the islands
of the Indian Ocean in 1842), or the two years of military service in
Algeria which Monet passed in 1861 and 1862 and of which he retained a
wonderful memory, or the trip by Degas to New Orleans in 1872 to visit
his mother's family.
Early Meetings of Impressionists in Paris
The date of the first meetings is 1855. At the great Universal Exhibition of Paris there is for the first time an important fine arts section in which 28 nations take part. "The three paintings by John Everett Millais are assuredly the most outstanding of the Universal Exhibition and it is impossible for even the most lackadaisical visitor not to stop there," writes Theophile Gautier in front of the English Pre-Raphaelites. There are also many German and Spanish painters present. The French contribution is considerable. Delacroix dominates the central hall with thirty-five paintings chosen from the most important of his production. Ingres has a room apart (indicative enough of his preference for isolation) with forty paintings and admirable drawings. Corot and Rousseau are well enough represented, and Daubigny, Jongkind and Millet figure with honour. In spite of the place occupied by painters of the Institute and the great number of medals they obtain (Couture, Gerome, Cabanel, Bouguereau and Meissonier), the independent painters and the different streams are equitably placed. Only Courbet is missing, having withdrawn because the jury rejected two of his paintings; but he has had his own personal pavilion, the" Pavilion of Realism", built at his own expense and there exhibits an impressive list of his works up to the quite recent synthesis, "l'Atelier" - "A real allegory marking a phase of seven years of artistic life". If the mass of the public were unaware of this exhibition, or did not bother with it, artists thronged there and Delacroix was seen there plunged in meditation.
The old rivalry between Ingres and Delacroix now seemed to be quite finished. Each is wrapped up in his own ideas and devoted entirely to his art without being preoccupied by immediate influence. Ingres, although for thirty years a member of the Academy, has ceased to impose his exacting dictatorship; he has not exhibited at the Salon for a long time and, because of a poor reception accorded his "Saint Symphorien" in 1834, has ceased to sit on the jury. His work assumes new resonance and has something to please everybody. The young Edgar Degas, who has just given up law studies to devote himself to art and who is a profound admirer of Delacroix, equally worships Ingres, who has been introduced to him by M. Valpinyon, a banker friend of his father. Degas studies in the studio of one of Ingres's pupils, Louis Lamothe, before leaving for Italy to classical and primitive art from the originals.
In the same year of 1855, Camille Pissarro arrives from the West Indies. He goes to Corot, who receives him in a friendly manner, and then enters his name at the School of Fine Arts, in the studio of Lehmann, another pupil of Ingres, but does not remain there long. James Whistler arrives, also via Le Havre, and enters the studio of Gleyre in 1856. In fact official teaching has become sclerotic and chaotic and is showing it. All the young painters who had no choice but to put their names down at the school get out quickly or, at least, reject its doctrinal mantle without scruple. All wonder about the new paths that have been opened up by men like Courbet and Corot. True values assert themselves and it is obvious that the problem of the day is that posed by Courbet and his writer friends. In 1856, Duranty launches the review "Realism." Discussions liven the cafes. At the Taranne may be found Fantin-Latour and his friends, at the Fleurus the pupils of Gleyre. But the real centre is the Brasserie des Martyrs where Courbet presides, surrounded by Baudelaire, Champfleury, Banville and Castagnary.
The artists work willingly in the Louvre,
studying examples of painting. Manet, Fantin-Latour and Whistler
meet in these rooms, or in a free studio which has been opened on the
Quai des Orfevres, the Academie Suisse, where they may find models without
having to submit to correction. Fantin-Latour came from the studio of
Lecoq de Boisbaudran, which encouraged its pupils to exercise their visual
memory and seek in real life models for movement.
A young painter, Claude Monet, has just arrived in Paris to see the Salon of 1859. He has been a pupil in Le Havre, after a wild and vagabond childhood. Clever at drawing, he has made something of a name for himself by caricaturing local notables, until he becomes acquainted with Eugene Boudin. The latter has advised him politely to broaden the scope of his vision and discover the wonders of nature, the sky and the sea.
Boudin was simplicity and sensitiveness itself - he submitted humbly to his impressions which brought him so much pleasure that he set about translating them with an attention to detail that sometimes led to a whittling down of the subject, but which always kept a freshness and a remarkable purity. At first a frame-maker, he had sold materials to passing painters, notably Troyon and Millet. He took their advice and kept in touch with them. A city scholarship had allowed him to spend some time in Paris, but that had in no way changed his manner of working directly in the open air, according to elementary principles which he enunciated with clarity and good sense, and which could be summed up thus: submit to nature, follow one's first impression which is always the right one.
Monet was soon captivated by the simplicity and good nature of the older man and felt singularly enriched in following his advice. "It was as if a veil had been torn aside. I had grasped what painting could be." Courbet, on a trip to Le Havre with his friend Schanne, in his turn discovers Boudin's seascapes. He becomes acquainted with the painter, who takes him to Saint-Simeon farm at Honfleur to admire the magnificent panorama of the Seine estuary. There they meet Baudelaire who also is enthusiastic about Boudin's work and adds a commentary to his Salon of 1859 to praise the" meteorological beauties" of Boudin's pastel work.
At the Salon a wide-eyed Monet discovers
the works of Daubigny, Corot, Rousseau and other giants of French
painting. He finds the lessons of the Fine Arts School repugnant and
prefers the Academie Suisse, where he meets Pissarro. He frequents the
Brasserie des Martyrs and gradually becomes a part of the world of young
painters. At the beginning of 1860 a private exhibition is opened in the
Boulevard des Italiens of works by Delacroix, Corot, Courbet and the Barbizon
painters, loaned by private collectors. It is a valuable example to all.
As soon as the weather permits, Monet leaves for Champigny-sur-Marne to
work in the open air. Pissarro also begins working on the outskirts of
Paris. At the Academie Suisse he has met two newcomers, Cezanne and Guillaumin.
The former, having studied law at Aix, has succeeded in joining his childhood
friend Emile Zola in Paris and gets down very conscientiously to the work
of preparing for his entry to the Fine Arts School. He is to be seen at
the Academy every morning from six until eleven, shy and lonely, but remarkable
for his determination and his vigorous execution. However, he fails to
gain entry to the school and leaves discouraged to return to Aix and enter
the family bank. Monet, for his part, is called up for military service.
Having refused his family's offer to buy him out providing he returns
to Le Havre, he leaves at his own request for Algeria. "You cannot
imagine", he says one day, "how much I learned there and how
my vision benefited. The impression of light and colours that I got down
there could only be realised later, but the seeds of my future research
were there." For more about the Impressionists attitude to light
and colour, see: Characteristics
of Impressionist Painting 1870-1910.
NEXT: (3) The Impressionist Edouard Manet.