Impressionist Painting Developments
7. Developments Up to the First Show (1874)
Monet: Towards the 1st Exhibition: Paints "Impression: Soleil Levant"
With peace returning to France, Monet thinks of leaving England. At the suggestion of Charles Daubigny, he decides to return via Holland. He prolongs his stay in that country up to the end of 1871, so great is the attraction for him of the pearly sky and so many subjects to paint: the immense sky, cities receding into the melancholy waters of the canals, the mills with their great red wings. The profusion and delicacy of greys, the imperative cut-out of shapes, the free and calm treatment of these works, linking them with the seascapes painted at Trouville in 1870. But, as illustrated in "Moulins en Hollande" or more so in "Moulins a Zaandam," Monet's work is the field for a sort of struggle between Impression and organisation. Over fluid and luminous subjects he superimposes a geometrical structure in which the triangle is the dominant figure. Opacity and transparency, density and fluidity are opposed to each other and complement each other like the final terms of a fundamental contradiction being resolved. Between these different elements he establishes palpable and rational relationships, holding them in balance. The light which envelops his shapes is sometimes quiverish. His treatment, his technique, more and more free, seem contained by the influence of the Dutch Realist masters of this country, or even more by the power of the Dutch countryside.
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By 1872 all the Impressionist painters have returned to Paris or its immediate environs. Monet, after his return, goes to Argenteuil and stays there for six years. His house, buried in greenery, shrubbery and flowers, becomes the favourite haunt of his friends. The meetings are unrestrained, animated by the charm of young women, companions or friends of the artists. Painting is never forgotten. Its part is great, as proved by the anecdote of the portrait of Camille, Monet painted at the same time by Renoir and Manet. Now Monet ascends rapidly above all the others. If in the years before the war the movement which they led together found its first major fruits in the works of Manet, now it is crystallised around Monet. His engaging personality imposes itself on the other painters; they are struck by the energy he uses to achieve his end despite the handicaps and misfortunes which fate flings in his way. A strange strength, stemming mostly from his own great faith in himself, and a power of persuasion develop in him. His first conquest is Manet. Hesitant up to now and even resisting the persuasion and example of Berthe Morisot, whose charming personality has captivated him, Manet decides to paint in the "plein-air" manner. Almost from the first, as shown by his painting "Claude Monet in his Studio," Manet plunges his forms into scintillation and vibration of light. In avoiding a precise contour he succeeds, with magnificent ease, essentially by colour, in an atmosphere sparkling with light.
Manet, who has come to Gennevilliers to spend his holidays, has only to cross the river to join Monet. He depicts his friend in the picturesque floating studio that Monet uses on the Seine, as Daubigny once did. It was a vast bark on which the painter, in the shade of an awning stretched in front of the cabin under which sometimes his wife and friends would sit, was able to work quietly beside the water. Moving between the banks, under the arches that reflect the shimmer of the water, Monet felt himself really in the heart of this world of fluid forms whose evolution he sought to capture under the turning movement of the sun.
It was undoubtedly at this time that he
became acquainted with a young neighbour, keen on boating and painting,
who, in 1873, had inherited a fortune which enabled him to pursue his
taste for the arts. After entering the Fine Arts School in the class of
Bonna, he leaves after a short time to work alongside Monet and Renoir,
who have become his friends. He begins buying works that he likes and
in several years builds up an important collection of Impressionist paintings,
with the intention of leaving them to the State for the museums of the
future. In his noble and generous character, and the seriousness of his
convictions, he recalls to some extent Bazille, whose role of benefactor
During the summer of 1874 the creative processes of Monet are accelerated. His activity reaches almost fever pitch. A brief period, but of great importance to his painting. In a series of canvases blooming with freshness ("The Bridge at Argenteuil," "The Railway Bridge at Argenteuil," "The Seine at Argenteuil" and "Sailing Boats at Argenteuil"), he sets off in search of reflections and rippling in the water, of bursts of light. Varying his technique, with vigorous strokes of the brush, wide or sharp-pointed or in the form or large or small commas, decomposing tones and making local tones burst out, using space to the maximum effect and breaking up masses and surfaces, he observes the phenomenon of light and its multiple facets. But behind the light and graceful effect he produces, there lies a more serious question. Taking the experiment as a whole it shows that it was not so much a matter of Monet capturing the ephemeral, as one likes to say, as his expressing duration, a developed duration, dynamic as is realised by the experience of sensation. Thus, in the apt words of Rene Berger, the Impressionists approach the the world "in process of developing".
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Renoir: Focuses on Figure-Landscapes
This association of Renoir and Monet at
two decisive moments shows the part which Renoir played in the elaboration
of Impressionist technique. If Monet remains the founding father of the
group, the one who drives home the idea to its ultimate conclusion, it
is fair to consider in passing, the part which Renoir
played on the level of lucid research and also the prospecting for necessary
means of communicating sensations to others through the media of painting.
Sisley, Pissarro and Cezanne
During these years the role of Pissarro is hardly less than that of Monet. Leaving the latter to reign over the waters, he is the painter of the earth and also of a certain unanimist city life. Having returned to Louveciennes in 1871, Pissarro settles soon afterwards near Pontoise, where he remains until 1884. He resumes the simple rustic life, taking his inspiration from landscapes around him but keeping close contact with his comrades by going to Paris regularly to take part in their gatherings. Those early scenes of Louveciennes and neighbouring villages are still near to those which he painted in 1870. They are roads seen full on in a simple linear perspective which sinks into the horizon, bordered by trees with tall, slim trunks topped with light mixture of foliage and branches.
For some time Sisley,
also living at Louveciennes and later at Port-Marly where he remains until
1877, paints in the same spirit. For example we may compare his "Road
seen from the Chemin de Sevres" (1873) and Pissarro's "Entry
to the Village" (1872). The same thoroughfare of slender trees, the
same light foliage and branches, the same light blond harmony, the same
speckling of light. Pissarro is more firm and masterly, more assured in
In rendering this homage to him Cezanne
was most likely thinking of the months in 1872 and 1873 when he worked
at Pontoise under the direction of his friend, alongside whom he had in
a way gone back to school. From this working retreat his art emerges transformed.
For a long time Pissarro has recognised the immense gifts of Cezanne.
The confidence he shows in him encourages the touchy man from Aix to forget
his dramatic, gloomy manner, his allegoric and literary leanings, and
to give himself over to pure painting. Very humbly, Cezanne begins by
putting a canvas by Pissarro in front of him and making a very close copy
of it. This allows him to become familiar with the new technique of colour
laid on with small strokes of the brush, in patches, but also to go deeply
into the secret of relief. He finds that tension can be expressed without
recourse to vehemence. His character, more inclined towards meditation
than invention, finds an inexhaustible peace and a starting-point in the
contemplation of nature. This long association, which lasted almost two
years, was a most rewarding one for the two friends. Each had a profound
influence on the other, which both were happy to recognise. In recalling
this, several historians are not afraid to use the term "mutation"
for the works of the Aix painter. Cezanne, conscious of his debt to Pissarro,
even says, "Perhaps we are all products of Pissarro." The latter,
for his part, acquires from his companion a sense of the monumental.
At this time each of the painters has found
his way. Edgar Degas, after
a voyage to New Orleans which shows him receptive to the exotic charm
of colonial life, becomes definitely taken by the mechanisms of daily
life and begins a systematic study of them. It is the world of dancing,
observed in the wings of the Opera, that of laundresses or that of the
racecourse that attracts all his attention.
His technique is no less remarkable. Colours
dissolve into luminous powdery clouds and space between figures assumes
an indefinable liveliness. He begins by using pastels which, mixed in
gouache and moistened with steam
from boiling water and placed and fixed layer after layer, gives him a
material of dazzling, pearly richness.
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