Impressionism
French Art Movement: History, Characteristics.

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Wild Poppies Near Argenteuil (1873)
Musee d'Orsay. By Claude Monet.


The Blue Dancers (1899)
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Moscow. By Edgar Degas.


Lady in Blue (1900-04)
Hermitage, St Petersburg.
Moscow. By Paul Cezanne.

French Impressionism (c.1870-1886)

CONTENTS
Introduction
Impressionist Painting: Characteristics
What Impressionism Sought to Achieve
The 7 Greatest Impressionist Painters
The Impressionist Circle: Some Personal Details
- Manet and Degas - Socially and Financially Secure
- Cezanne - the Unsophisticated Provincial
- Pissarro - Cut Off and Impoverished
- Sisley - Benefited from Family Business
- Monet - The Leader and Landscape-Master
- Morisot - Female Painter From Affluent Urban Background
- Bazille - Painter, Supporter and Collector
- Renoir - The Sunshine Painter
- Impressionist Routine and Travels
- First Collectors
Break Up
Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism
Impact on Western Art
Famous French Impressionist Paintings
British Impressionism
Patrons

FURTHER RESOURCES
Origins and Influences
Early History
Impressionist Edouard Manet
Impressionist Claude Monet
Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne
Claude Monet & Camille Pissarro Travel to London
Impressionist Painting Developments
Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris
Group Splits
Legacy of Impressionism



Misty Morning (1874)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
By Alfred Sisley.

INFLUENCES
Two influences on Impressionism
were photography - to help fix a
scene, and the invention of the
collapsible tin paint tube in 1841
by American painter John Rand.

BEST MODERN PAINTING
See: Greatest Modern Paintings.

Introduction

Impressionism is arguably the most famous French painting movement ever. The actual name "Impressionism" was coined by the French art critic Louis Leroy, after visiting the first exhibition of Impressionist painting in 1874 where he saw Impression: Soleil Levant (1872) by Claude Monet. Ironically, Monet only decided on the title when completing the exhibition catalogue, and almost named the work View of the Harbour at Le Havre! In total, between 1874 and 1882, the Impressionists staged seven exhibitions, all in Paris.

First appearing in Paris during the late 1860s and early 1870s, Impressionism was not recognized initially as anything special. Many of the members of the group were at odds with the official Salon, the organizing body for the French Academy of Fine Arts, whose selection-jury operated with unpredictable severity. So although other painters were impressed by some of its early works, Impressionism was not acknowledged as an important style of painting, either by art critics, collectors or the public. As a result, most Impressionist painters suffered severe financial hardship, and all had to fight for attention and commissions from patrons and critics alike. Despite friendships with leading figures in other areas of the creative arts (like the writer Emile Zola and the poet Baudelaire) mutual support and reassurance within the group was the critical factor in its survival.


Gare St Lazare (1877)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris
.
By Claude Monet.

PAINTING COLOURS/HUES
For details of colour pigments
used by Impressionist painters, see:
Nineteenth Century Colour palette.

WORLD'S GREATEST ARTWORKS
For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.

Impressionist Painting: Characteristics

Pure Impressionism, as advocated by Monet, was outdoor plein-air painting, characterized by rapid, spontaneous and (above all) loose brushstrokes: supreme examples being his series of paintings of Rouen cathedral, Waterloo Bridge, Gare Saint-Lazare, haystacks, and water lilies. Its guiding principle was the realistic depiction of light; Impressionist artists sought to capture fleeting moments, and if, during these moments, an object appeared orange - due to the falling light or its reflection - then the artist painted the object orange. Or if the sun turned the surface of a pond pink, then pink it would be. Naturalist colour schemes, being devised in theory or at least in the studio, did not allow for this. Loose brushwork, coupled with a non-naturalist use of colour, gave the movement a revolutionary edge, and opened the way for movements such as Expressionism and Fauvism.

The roots of Impressionism lay in the naturalism of Camille Corot (1796-1875) and the plein-air painting methods of the early 19th century Barbizon school led by Theodore Rousseau (1812-67). Impressionists specialized in landscapes and genre scenes (eg. Degas' pictures of ballet dancers and Renoir's nude figures). Portrait art was another popular genre among Impressionist painters - it was after all one of their few regular sources of income - and still-lifes were also painted.

Note also the influence of Japonism (notably Ukiyo-e prints) on the development of Impressionism and its exponents like Monet, Degas, Mary Cassatt and others.

 

What Impressionism Sought to Achieve

By the year 1863 the sentry which allows the visual messages transmitted by the eye to penetrate to the brain only after a rigorous censorship, had admitted most aspects of visual truth, but there were two that had not yet officially passed the censor. They were (1) the colour and vibration of light and (2) the density of air. No one had ever painted the true colour of sunshine and shadow, and hardly anyone had thought it worthwhile to suggest that the density of the air is not always constant, that a picture could be painted, for instance, of a landscape seen through a heavy mist or fog.

But both these visual discoveries were, fundamentally, subheadings of a larger discovery. What the Impressionists did, almost without knowing it, was to realize the phenomenon of transitoriness. The artist who carries his canvas out into the open air and attempts to record every nuance of what his eye sees is in a very different frame of mind from the artist who constructs his picture in his studio from a series of preparatory sketches or studies. His eye may not be more searching but it becomes conscious of a different set of visual data. He becomes less and less concerned with the nature of the object - figure or landscape - he happens to be painting, and more and more conscious of the appearance of the object at a particular moment of time.

For Monet, at work on a picture of Rouen Cathedral, what his eyes encountered was not a Gothic structure but an envelope of air of a certain density through which the Cathedral could be seen and by which its appearance was modified with every shift of light. For him, therefore, his very subject matter was altering its nature at each hour of the day. Since therefore, the emphasis in every Impressionist painting, is on the moment of time, it was natural that Impressionists should deliberately seek out momentary effects. In a painting by Monet of the entrance to the Gare St Lazare, the most arresting features are not the iron bridge and the building behind it, but the steam that drifts under the bridge and the locomotive, deliberately placed on the extreme left in order to give the impression that it is on its way out of the picture.

Such selected moments in time are the keynote of those landscapes by Monet, Pissaro, and Sisley in which one is always aware of the time of day, the season of the year, the precise strength of sunlight or the density of the atmosphere, AND also of the figure compositions of Degas and the later work of Monet, in which the true 'subject' of the painting is the sudden turn of the head of a waitress in a cafe, the momentary gesture of a dancer or a woman ironing or trying on a hat in a milliner's shop. These problems were tackled by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro to the exclusion of a great many of the qualities which previous artists had considered essential.

The Impressionism movement furnishes the clearest instance in the history of art of a new visual discovery, made in a spirit of pure research, which produced in the long run a new kind of beauty. In its purest form it painted solely what the eye saw. "Monet is only an eye. But what an eye!" said Cezanne, inadvertently capturing the virtues and weaknesses of the whole school.

 

The Seven Greatest Impressionist Painters

Claude Monet (1840-1926) became the centre of attention in the movement. Helped by the coastal and beach scene Impressionist Eugene Boudin (1824-98), he carried out the Impressionist program quite conscientiously. It was his supreme attempt at complete objectivity. If nature, during any particular quarter of an hour, was 'off colour' (and nature is often guilty of surprising lapses) Monet would blindly follow her into a morass of chromatic bad taste. His own sense of colour harmony was sometimes deplorable. But he had the greatest knowledge of plein air painting, and introduced very advanced ideas on landscape painting into the Impressionist circle. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), a great teacher, was the most prolific printmaker of the group and the only one to show at all the Impressionist exhibitions. A lifelong anarchist, he made almost no money and his emotional attachment to certain colours and scenes meant that he didn't have quite the same ruthlessly objective attitude to painting as Monet. By comparison, the loner Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) - the most dedicated landscape artist after Monet - lived a middle-class lifestyle, and only became dependent on his art in middle age. He was as good an observer as Monet, but his range was narrower: he was content to record the more 'normal' conditions of light and in consequence his landscapes avoid the appearance of being 'stunts' that Monet's often give. These three painters - Monet, Pissarro and Sisley - formed the shock troops of Impressionist landscape painting.

Manet and Degas were associated with the movement but they specialized less furiously in telling the Impressionist truth and nothing more. They were better artists if only because their interests ranged beyond the mere 'look' of things.

Manet (1832-83) was revered by the other Impressionist painters. He was related to the French Emperor, and by the age of twenty-nine was already accepted as the leading figure of the new realistic painting, prior to Impressionism. Noted for his modern approach to oil painting and his revolutionery reinterpretations of neoclassical themes, he was interested above all in becoming re-accepted by the Salon. Manet was objective as any painter. Before him perhaps Velazquez was the painter who least obtrudes his own temperament, and it was in homage to Velazquez rather than to Titian that he painted his notorious Olympia. He was more conscious of the impact of light than Velazquez, but except in his later, outdoor, sketches done under the influence of the Impressionist landscape painters, he did not adopt the 'divisionist' technique by which Monet strove to render the vibration of light.

Degas (1834-1917) was not particularly interested in the impact of light, but he was fascinated by something equally transient - the unpremeditated gestures of everyday life. His eye pounced with the swiftness of a hawk on such gestures, and he gave them an additional air of naturalness by picking up at least one hint from the camera. The camera cannot compose a picture. It merely takes a portion of what is before it and cuts it off like a slice of cake. It has no compunction in slicing, say, right through a figure; it has no sense of balance, of symmetry. Out of this haphazard treatment Degas evolved a new system of composition. He gives the impression of a snapshot, casual and fortuitous, but for all that there is nothing casual in his design. The balance is as careful as in any composition by Poussin, and much more daring. He made a subtle art of seeming casual. His characters have the air of being taken unawares, yet they never have that appearance which the camera invariably gives, of having been frozen in mid-gesture, Degas's most able follower was the English Walter Sickert, who, without having Degas's hawk-like pounce, saw life in much the same way - taking unawares the fascinating little accidents that make up its sum. Degas recorded them with some measure of disillusionment; Sickert did it with a kind of painterly chuckle. Two years younger than Manet, Degas came from the same social background. The two painters, both pure city people, became friends and frequented the same circles in Parisian society. Degas was arguably the most complex of all the founders of Impressionist art: initially he hated plein-air painting and preferred working in his studio, where he demonstrated amazing versatility in drawing, watercolours, pastels, and sculpture.

Another artist who came from a wealthy family was Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), son of a banker from Aix. Due to his shyness and southern, rustic ways he had problems in the best Parisian circles. When he was given a large exhibition in Paris in 1895, he had not exhibited a painting in the city for 20 years. Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), who came from a very poor family, literally had to starve to succeed as an artist. He was helped by Narcisse Diaz, one of the founders of the Barbizon School, and worked closely with Monet on landscapes before moving into studio work involving portraiture and figurative painting. Despite early similarities, Renoir's art was different to Monet's. It was not really concerned with fleeting moments or transient depictions of light. Renoir's sunshine is eternal, even his female nudes are eternal. They are women seen as a child might see its mother: soft, radiant and eternal. To this extent one might say that Renoir is part of the main stream of art rather than revolutionary Impressionism.

The most important female Impressionist painters were Berthe Morisot (1841-95) and the American Mary Cassatt (1845-1926).

 

The Impressionist Circle: Some Personal Details

Manet and Degas - Socially and Financially Secure

Edouard Manet was the artist who was regarded by the other Impressionist painters as their leader, with a strange unanimity which seems unusual to us today. We only know his work, while the knowledge of the artist's personality has only been passed down by reports from contemporaries. Edouard Manet was born in Paris in 1832 and along with Pissarro was the oldest in the group. His mother was related to the Emperor, and Manet never lost contact with the leading circles. Because of his social status and his great talent he would certainly have been admitted to the Ecole des Beaux Arts, but instead of this he chose to attend the studio of Thomas Couture. Couture was an excellent teacher and because of his reputation his pupils were able to show paintings in the Salon quite early in their careers. Manet's first submission was highly regarded, and by the age of twenty-nine he was already accepted as the leading figure of the new realism. The image of the poor artist certainly does not apply to him. Edgar Degas, who was two years younger than Manet, came from the same social background. Manet's attention was drawn to him as he copied paintings in the Louvre. The two painters became friends and frequented the same circles in Parisian society. Manet already had contact to other open-minded artists from which later the group of Impressionists was to take shape. He brought Degas into this circle.

Cezanne - the Unsophisticated Provincial

Another artist who came from a wealthy family was Paul Cezanne, son of a banker from Aix-en-Provence. Admittedly he had serious financial problems for many years because he was afraid of admitting his love of art and somewhat illegal living conditions to his rather tyrannical father. It was because of this that he only came to appreciate his father's fortune in the second half of his life, at a time when he was already so well-known as a painter that he probably would have been able to live off the proceeds from his paintings if it had been necessary. Because of his southern, almost rustic ways he had problems in the best Parisian circles. As well as this, his demure and difficult to understand paintings did not attract sympathy for his work. This was responsible for his remaining unknown longer than the other Impressionists. Cezanne withdrew more and more from his circle of friends. From 1885, he lived separated from his wife and children in Aix in self-imposed solitude, at first on the country estate which he jointly inherited, later, when the estate had been sold, in a small house on the outskirts of the town. When he had problems climbing the stairs to his loft studio he had a simple, but large studio built. His increasing fame was hardly recognized by the artist himself, in fact, he rejected it. When Cezanne was given a large exhibition in Paris in 1895, he had not exhibited a painting in the city for almost twenty years. The young art dealer Ambroise Vollard (1867-1938) took the risk of holding a Cezanne exhibition in his gallery. Until then Cezanne had been regarded by his artist friends and in the small circle of people who were interested in his work at all at the most as a mediocre talent. But his exhibition opened people's eyes: here the greatness of the artistic personality could be guessed at. Vollard presented works from a master of modern art. It was not just his friends who realized that, but also the public now recognized Cezanne's immortality. No other painter from the group left such deep impressions for the following generation of artists. In his lifetime he stood alone, only supported in his artistic desires by a few friends such as Renoir and Pissarro.

Pissarro - Cut Off and Impoverished

Camille Pissarro, the oldest of the Impressionists, was born in the West Indies. So that he could receive an ample education the young Camille was sent to a French boarding school. When his education at school was over, he returned home with the unshakable desire to become an artist. In 1855 he was eventually allowed to study to become a painter. After fruitless attempts in various studios he finally ended up with Charles Suisse who limited his free painting school to the provision of space and models and did not make any corrections. After this Pissarro remained free from any academic compulsions and turned towards landscape painting. At first he was fascinated by Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28) and John Constable (1776-1837), but then he orientated himself to Charles-Francois Daubigny (1817-1878), Camille Corot (1796-1875), Gustave Courbet (1819-77) and Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75) who themselves struggled to be accepted. In 1859 he was already able to exhibit a painting in the Salon. In the same year his parents also moved to Paris. This improved his living conditions for a time. However, when he chose his parents' servant to be his wife, his father, angry at the marriage unbefitting his son's social class, threw the young couple out of the house and withdrew any future financial support. Pissarro was, among the friends, the one who practically never got away from financial worries for the whole of his life. He had a family to feed and was the only one of the Impressionists who did not find a rich patron and supporter. Although he painted incredibly fast, he always had low prices and his way of working meant that he always had a number of unfinished paintings. Light was always the most important artistic element for him. But because of this he was very dependent on the landscape and had to consider the time of day and finish working as soon as the light began to fade. He was also dependent on the weather. He got into the habit of working on several canvasses at once, often the same motif at different times of day, for example, one in the morning mist and another picture in shining mid-summer sun. Admittedly he had to abandon several motifs when he was unable to complete them in one working period when, after a long period of bad weather, the season changed.

Sisley - Benefited from Family Business

Another young painter who came from a prosperous house and therefore was able to follow a career as an artist without any worries about his financial situation was Alfred Sisley. His mother was musically minded and when the son showed strong tendencies towards drawing, his father only made a half-hearted attempt to persuade him to begin a business career. He agreed to his son beginning an artistic training and his fortune often enabled the young artist to help poorer artist friends in critical situations. Sisley painted for years without making himself in any way financially dependent on his work. He married, had children and lived a middle-class lifestyle. During this time Renoir created his famous portrait of the Sisleys dressed in the expensive clothes befitting their social class. Actually the only Impressionist thing about this painting is the treatment of light. At the end of the 1860s, Sisley's father became seriously ill, the family business got into difficulties and had to close. Sisley was suddenly faced with the necessity of supporting himself and his family from the sale of his paintings. He moved in with Monet and later to the neighbouring Les Sablons, in a landscape in which he was especially able to work well.

Monet - The Leader and Landscape-Master

The personality of Claude Monet had a special place in the development of Impressionism. In the artistic area he became the centre of attention in the movement. It was also he who introduced very advanced ideas on landscape painting into the circle of young artists. Claude Monet was born in Paris but his youth was spent in Le Havre where his father, who was a merchant, supplied ships. The harbour life and the wide beaches made strong impressions on the boy. He entered art by drawing - notably cartoons. In those years the thriving press was very dependent on illustration of all types. Even people whose reading abilities were not so strong could understand cartoons and illustrative sketches and therefore the editors attempted to introduce as many pictures as possible. Monet trained himself from journals such as these, and due to his great talent he quickly found his own style. When the possibility of exhibiting in a carpenter's window arose, the young man was able to sell his drawings to tourists. However, much more important was the fact that Eugene Boudin (1824-98), a brilliant painter of coastal scenes, noticed the young Monet and recognized the young man's talent. He had worked in Paris for a long time and was able to assist the progress of the young painter in the metropolis. Monet went to Paris with the proceeds from the sales of his cartoons and some money from his father and began working at the Academie Suisse. Soon he came into contact with other young artists who would one day be called Impressionists. Monet was the member of the group with the greatest knowledge of plein-air painting. In Le Havre he had made comprehensive studies and had been taught by Boudin. He was therefore able to share his practical knowledge with the others. At the beginning of 1861 Monet had to start his military service and leave his friends. He volunteered for Africa where he soon became ill and had to return home. Eventually his family bought him out of the army, a possibility which the State offered to wealthy citizens. In 1862, Monet again painted in Le Havre together with Boudin and the Dutchman Johan-Barthold Jongkind (1819-91). Jongkind was a very skilled landscape painter and the abilities of the two older painters flowed through their clever pupil into the circle of young Impressionists in Paris to which Monet returned at the beginning of 1863. Monet no longer attended the Academie Suisse. Like most of his friends he moved to Charles Gleyre to continue his studies there. Soon the Studio Gleyre was to become the nucleus of French Impressionism.

Morisot - Female Painter From Affluent Urban Background

Berthe Morisot was the only woman who belonged to the early core of Impressionist painters. Her path to art corresponded to the conventional attitudes which were open to a daughter from a good home. Her father was prefect of the department Cher, she was born in Bourges in 1841. She spent her youth in Limoges, together with her oldest sisters. When her father was called to the highest office in Paris, the family moved to an elegant house in Passy, and the girls went to an exclusive private school where music and art were part of the curriculum. When Berthe and her sister showed some talent, it was natural for the mother to promote this talent. Although the painters who taught them, warned the parents that if they became good painters, it would have a very negative effect on the social advancement of the attractive girls, the parents would not be put off. The girls had a spacious studio built in the garden and were encouraged in their studies by renowned artists like Corot, Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904) and Puvis de Chavannes (1824-98) who were often guests in the house. Berthe, who soon stood out as the one who worked more intensively, received a lot of stimulus and very early access to the Salon.

Bazille - Painter, Supporter and Collector

One of the artists who strongly promoted the union of Impressionists was the very talented Frederic Bazille (1841-70), an especially cordial, open and obliging person. His early death was the reason for his work only appearing in the early phase of Impressionism. Bazille came from Montpellier where his parents belonged to the leading social class. His parents had a liking for the arts and therefore had absolutely nothing against their son training to become a painter, especially as he had already shown a certain amount of talent. However, his father insisted on him studying medicine and taking art lessons as a second subject. Bazille entered Charles Gleyre's studio and he increasingly fell behind with his medicine studies. But he always retained a good relationship with his parents. His rich father supported him to the best of his ability and it happened quite often that Bazille was the good Samaritan in the circle of friends whose financial situation was not so stable. He gave them money for food and let them use his beautiful studio. As he had a helpful and sympathetic nature, always mediated and conciliated in the hard conflicts between the friends, he became the good spirit among the artist folk.

He became an especially good friend of Auguste Renoir, who was one of those artists who came from a poorer family and literally had to starve to be able to follow his path to art.

Renoir - The Sunshine Painter

Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges in 1841, the son of a tradesman. He came to art in a roundabout way. First he was employed as a porcelain painter, then he went through various stages of working as a commercial artist before he was finally able to attend the Gleyre studio where he was joined by Claude Monet and Frederic Bazille before the year's end. Gleyre closed his studio every year in spring for a few weeks' holiday, and during this time the friends went to Fontainebleau to paint in the forest, a diversity which was kept up for several years. They preferred Chailly or Marlotte, as Barbizon was too busy for them. In Marlotte, a settlement of a few farmhouses, they lived in the Auberge de la Mere Anthony where Sisley above all was attracted to the landlord's daughter Nana who appears as a model on many of Renoir's paintings.

For Renoir's further artistic development the meeting with one of the successful artists from the Barbizon School was an experience of such far-reaching consequences that, when he was older, he still reported the story of this meeting to his son. Several rowdies from Paris abused him as he painted in a clearing in the forest. Renoir became involved in a struggle and suddenly received help from a tall limping man who used his wooden leg and crutch as weapons and so got Renoir out of the situation. This helper in need was Narcisse Diaz (1807-76), one of the founders of the Barbizon School. He had a look at Renoir's work and took an active interest during the following days. In a short time he made the young colleague dispense with his heavy dark painting and showed him how much shimmering light there is in dark shadowed areas.

After 1868 the friends did not travel to Fontainebleau regularly. For Renoir above all the twilight under the trees was no longer enough, he wanted sunshine in its full intensity. The banks of the Seine became the chosen area of the young artists for the next years. Only Monet remained for some time in Chailly.

Impressionist Routine and Travels

The constant change from staying in the country and spending months in Paris remained the basic routine of the Impressionists for many years. Nature offered them huge stumulation but they needed the city to further their careers. Only Manet and Degas were pure city people and very seldom visited the countryside. As it was, after Fontainebleau, the Normandy coastline became a favourite destination. It was undoubtedly Monet who turned his friends' attention there. Monet himself spent the summer mainly in Le Havre or Sainte-Adresse, a small seaside resort where an aunt had an estate where the family regularly stayed during the holidays. In 1864, Monet invited his painter colleague Georges Bazille. They sailed on the Seine and first went to Honfleur which lies opposite Le Havre. Honfleur with its old alley-ways and the cool Atlantic breeze must had a great effect on Bazille who came from southern France. The town had already been discovered by many artists: Bonnington, Corot and Courbet had painted there, as had Jongkind and of course Boudin (who lived there) - they usually stayed at La Ferme Saint-Simean, an inn situated on a hill, from where they could savour the overpowering view.

A year later, Renoir and Sisley repeated Monet and Bazille's trip to Le Havre, their destination being the famous sailing regatta in Le Havre. For Renoir, the journey was a luxury; although he was out and about a lot, he mainly walked in the surrounding countryside. The fifty francs which the journey cost were a tremendous investment for him. It was only from 1876 that his financial situation gradually altered. He came from humble origins and naturally among his friends from his early years, who all belonged to the working class, there were hardly any customers for paintings. Two of the few clients who meant something to him personally were Charles Deudon and, from 1876, Madame Charpentier, the wife of one of the most important publishers at that time. She offered him access to the upper social classes. He got to know the banker Paul Berard through her. A commission for a portrait of the oldest Berard daughter created contact with the family who were immediately impressed by the young painter's talent and by his austere charm. Their rich lifestyle in the town house in Paris and above all in their extensive country estate near Dieppe in Normandy, their friendly ways and their matter-of-course hospitality revived Renoir. At 38 years old, for the first time in his life, he could enjoy his life, and focus on his paintings without his usual financial anxieties.

Another place in Normandy which attracted the Impressionists' attention was Etretat which appears as a subject in many of Monet's pictures. Edgar Degas also spent some time there, as the mixture of people staying there especially interested him. However, his work was limited to repeated sketches in the landscape, he needed the enclosed space of a studio to paint. His art was a clear symbiosis of imagination and conception in which the things he saw only found their way into his work after being thoroughly filtered. Degas hated painters who worked in the landscape and often commented disparagingly on people who preferred to carry out the very intimate act of painting in the open. His opinion was that painting from memory freed an artist from the tyranny of nature. This attitude was easy for him to maintain as he had absolutely no interest in light and air, the most important fleeting elements of Impressionist painting.

War in 1870 caused Monet and Pissarro to go to England to avoid being called up for military service. Their stay there was exceptionally important for both artists. Among other things they made an exact study of Turner's work. London also opened a few doors regarding contact to art dealers. In 1871, Monet returned to Le Havre. Here he painted the sunrise above the sea in 1873 whose title "Impression: Sunrise" later gave the group of artists their name. In the painting are the silhouettes of ships in Le Havre harbour, barely recognizable in the mist, an impertinence for contemporary taste, although the theme had been painted almost fifty years before by William Turner. That painting had been much admired by Monet and Pissarro in London.

First Collectors

During the Franco-Prussian war the young Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) moved to London where he got to know Monet and Pissarro and bought his first paintings from them. After the war, when he had established himself in Paris, he kept in contact and became one of the first art collectors of the Impressionists and often acted as a friend and patron.

The Seine was a favourite destination for Impressionist painters and the varied landscape around the river served as a motif for a great number of paintings. La Grenouillere was a popular place because of the landscape, but also because of the girls and the boatsmen who went there. In the nearby Restaurant Fournaise, Renoir painted his Oarsmen's Breakfast in which we find Aline, who was later to become his wife, playing with a little dog and - in a sportshirt - the young engineer and painter Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94). Caillebotte learned a lot from Monet (the two of them painted together several times during long excursions, and there are several paintings which have an amazing similarity), but he gained more fame as a financially secure collector. Monet and Renoir were saved from the worst by Caillebotte's help when they were in a serious financial predicament. He was a lifelong friend of Renoir's and named him as executor of his estate when he died. Renoir, who was himself fatally ill, was left with a unique collection of Impressionist masterpieces with the provison that he should convince the Louvre to accept the collection. It was only with unending effort that Renoir succeeded in persuading the museum to take the legacy.

Victor Chocquet was another of the important personalities of Impressionism. He was not a painter but a customs officer. However, he adored Impressionist painting and used all the money which he could save from his small salary to buy pictures from his Impressionist friends. In 1875, the Impressionists organized their first auction of paintings in the Hotel Drouot. It was not, however, a success. Purchases were extremely modest, and some of the public were angry at the paintings offered for sale. It came to blows and the police had to intervene to enable the auction to take place and prevent abusive behaviour. Of all the artists represented, only Berthe Morisot could be more or less satisfied, while Renoir, who was especially dependent on sales, only sold a few paintings and at miserable prices. Victor Chocquet bought his first picture from the Impressionist circle at this auction and commissioned Renoir to paint a portrait of his wife. The result was that Chocquet became one of the truest friends of Renoir, Pissarro and Cezanne. His financial means were limited, but he collected paintings with passion and solely because of his love of art, without any thought of financial speculation. There was a special bond of friendship between Chocquet and Cezanne as this reserved painter who was difficult to approach found an upright confidential relationship with this friend who resembled him a lot in character.

For more supporters, see: Impressionist Patrons Dealers and Collectors.

 

Impressionists Break Up

By the 1880s, after a series of successful exhibitions in Paris, the Impressionist movement began to fragment.

Some members, the purists like Monet, preferred to focus almost exclusively on the study of light. Others, like Pissarro and Sisley continued painting plein-air landscapes, but without Monet's ideological fervour. Renoir travelled and focused on figurative works - in nature and in the studio. Degas settled on genre studies and other studio work, after a period of interest in painting racehorses. Cezanne left Paris, settled in Aix-en-Provence and focused on his quest to discover natural forms - a task in which he succeeded brilliantly, inspiring Picasso and Braque to develop their early Cubist style of painting.

Later Impressionists: Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism

Post-Impressionism, the name given to the general style that followed Impressionism during the 1880s and 1890s, involved the next generation of painters who were less content to be dictated to by nature (or Monet), and preferred instead to experiment with colour (eg. Henri Matisse 1869-1954, Paul Gauguin 1848-1903 and the Fauvists), with colour theory (eg. the apostle of Neo-Impressionism, the tragically short-lived Georges Seurat 1859-91), with everyday scenes (eg. Toulouse-Lautrec 1864-1901, Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926 and Edouard Vuillard 1868-1940), or with forms of expressionism (eg. Van Gogh 1853-90). Post-Impressionist painting includes a range of very different styles, whose only common denominator is discontent with merely imitating nature.

The Impact of Impressionism on Western Art

Impressionism is probably the best-loved as well as the single most identifiable style in the history of Western art. Although not as overtly revolutionery as certain modern art movements such as Cubism, anti-art Dada, or Surrealism, the impact of Impressionist painting on Modern Art was enormous. It set entirely new standards for how artists "saw" and depicted nature - influencing generations of painters including numerous artistic communes, at Grez-Sur-Loing, Pont-Aven, and Concarneau in France - as well as the faraway Heidelberg School (c.1886-1900) of Australian Impressionism, led by the English-born Tom Roberts (1856-1931) and Arthur Streeton (1867-1943).

In the United States, where the tradition of Barbizon naturalism and 19th century academic realism was particularly strong, American Impressionism only took off after 1893. Until then, the style was pioneered by progressive painters like the society portraitist John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Mary Cassatt (1845-1926), William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), Theodore Robinson (1852-96), J. Alden Weir (1852-1919), John H Twachtman (1853-1902), and Childe Hassam (1859-1935).

Ultimately, by tearing up all the rules about naturalism and realism in painting, Impressionism paved the way for the modernist styles of Expressionism and even Cubism. It continues to exert a significant influence on painting today.

Famous French Impressionist Paintings

See also: Best Impressionist Paintings.

Eugene Boudin (1824-98)
The Beach at Trouville (1864) Musee d'Orsay.

Camille Pissarro (1830-1903)
The Coach at Louveciennes (1870) Musee d'Orsay.
Foxhill: Upper Norwood (1870) National Gallery, London.
Red Roofs (1877) Musee d'Orsay.
Boulevard Monmartre at Night (1897) National Gallery, London.

Edouard Manet (1832-83)
Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (1863) Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
The Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1882) Courtauld Institute of Art.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
The Dance Class (1874) Musee d'Orsay.
The Absinthe Drinker (1876) Musee D'Orsay.
Prima Ballerina (1876-77) Musee d'Orsay.

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899)
Floods at Port Marly (1876) Musee d'Orsay.
Snow at Louveciennes (1878) Musee d'Orsay.
The Bridge at Moret (1893) Musee d'Orsay.

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906)
A Modern Olympia (1872-3) Musee d'Orsay.
L'Estaque: The Village and the Sea (1879-83) Rosengart Collection, Lucerne.
The Card Players (1893) Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
Mont Sainte-Victoire (1904-6) Kunstsammlung, Basel.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)
La Grenouillere (1869) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Impression: Soleil Levant/Sunrise (1872) Musee Marmottan.
Poppies Near Argenteuil (1873) Musee d'Orsay.
Haystack/Grainstack Series (1890-91).
Rouen Cathedral Series (1892-1895).
Bridge over a Pool of Water-Lilies (1899) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
The Water-Lily Pond (1899) National Gallery, London.
Water-Lilies (1916-20) National Gallery, London.

Jean-Frederic Bazille (1841-70)
The Artist's Studio (1870) Musee d'Orsay.

Berthe Morisot (1841-95)
The Cradle (1874) Musee d'Orsay.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
The Box at the Opera (La Loge) (1874) Courtauld Institute, London.
Bal au Moulin de la Galette (1876) Musee d'Orsay.
Nude in the Sunlight (1876) Musee d'Orsay.
Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-1) Phillips Collection, Washington DC.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94)
Paris: A Rainy Day (1877) Art Institute of Chicago.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
Snow, Rue Carcel (1883) Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen.

Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
Man Painting His Boat (1883) Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
Model with a Big Hat (1890) Private Collection.
In the Garden (1894-5) Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.

COLLECTIONS
Note: Although works of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism can be seen in all the best art museums, the greatest single holdings are in Paris, at the Musee d'Orsay Paris, and also in the Orangerie and Marmottan museums. Outside Paris, some of the best collections of Impressionist art are those at the National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection (both Washington DC), the Barnes Foundation Pennsylvania, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts Moscow and the National Gallery, London. For more details of European collections with important holdings of Impressionist paintings, see: Art Museums in Europe.

British Impressionism

French Impressionist art theory was introduced to Britain around 1863 by James McNeil Whistler (1834-1903) from 1863 when he settled in London. His pupil Walter Sickert (1860-1942) founded the British Impressionist movement known as the Camden Town Group, whose members included: Walter Bayes (1869-1956), Robert Bevan (1865-1925), Malcolm Drummond (1880-1945), Harold Gilman (1876-1919), Charles Ginner (1878-1952), Spencer Gore (1878-1914) (President), JD Innes (1887-1914), Augustus John (1878-1961), Henry Lamb (1883-1960), (Percy) Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957), JB Manson (1879-1945) (Secretary), Lucien Pissarro (1863-1944), William Ratcliffe (1870-1955), Walter Sickert, and John Dolman Turner (1873-1938) and Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot (1886-1911) who was replaced, after his resignation and suicide, by Duncan Grant (1885-1978). Examples of Impressionist works painted in Britain include: Girls Running, Walberswick Pier (1888-94) by Philip Wilson Steer, and The Piazzetta and the Old Campanile, Venice (c.1901) by Walter Richard Sickert. Note: For German Impressionists, see: German Art, 19th Century.

Patrons, Dealers and Collectors

Most 19th century artists were entirely dependent on private collectors and dealers in order to make ends meet. From the late 1890s onward, following the arrival of American collectors, the market for Impressionist paintings was relatively buoyant. However, during the earlier decades, when they were relatively unknown, Impressionists were supported by the painter/collectors Frederic Bazille (1841-1870) and Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94), as well as the following patrons:

Victor Chocquet (1821-91)
Full-time customs official and part-time art collector, he first encountered the Impressionists at the Hotel Drouot auction in 1875. Eventually bought over 60 canvases, including 12 Monets, 14 Renoirs and 35 Cezannes.
Dr Paul Gachet (1828-1909)
A patron of French painters and printmakers, he was a regular at the cafes frequented by Manet, and often gave medical treatment in exchange for pictures. Like Vollard, he too was immortalized in oil paint - Van Gogh, whom he was treating during the final months of his mental illness, painted two portraits, one of which sold for $82.5 million in 1990.
Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922)
Famous French art dealer who collected landscapes by Gustave Courbet and other Barbizon artists, before building up an extensive collection of Impressionist masterpieces which didn't sell. Was rescued from bankruptcy only by the timely appearance of American buyers. Died a rich man.
Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936)
One of the great Russian patrons of Impressionist art, he collected works by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Claude Monet (1840-1926), and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and others.
Ambroise Vollard (1867-1938)
An enterprising art dealer who in 1895 bought and exhibited a significant number of pictures by the all-but-unknown Cezanne. He followed this with a lucrative deal with Gauguin (then in Tahiti), and, in 1901, he staged the first one-man show in Paris for an unknown Spanish painter called Picasso. The latter immortalized him in his Cubist masterpiece Portrait of Ambroise Vollard.
Ivan Morozov (1871-1921)
Russian patron of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Collected works by Cezanne, Bonnard, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir.
Dr Albert C Barnes (1872-1951)
Drugs inventor and manufacturer, Barnes was arguably the greatest American art collector of modern art, specializing in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. He was an avid collector of Renoir, Cezanne and Degas.
Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947)
English industrialist and art collector, best remembered as the founder of the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1932, to which he donated his stunning art collection containing some of the greatest masterpieces of the Impressionist era.

• For styles of 19th-century painting, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.


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