"Water Lilies" (1926) - Claude Monet (his last painting)
"I'm a real rebel with a cause." - Nina Simone
In my last Temple's T.A.R.D.I.S. post, I briefly mentioned that I was going to mid-19th century Paris. To a small atelier on Boulevard des Capucines, to attend the first Impressionist exhibition - the first Salon des Refuses. I was surprised to find the place packed, and I was early. But I soon learned that most of the attendees were there to point and laugh at the 'spectacle' of the much maligned artists of the nacsent en plein air movement. Little did they know that they would bear witness to a momentous shift in art, and how people viewed art, that would radiate out into the world...
"Impression, Sunrise" (1872) - Claude Monet
In the middle 19th century, the Academie des Beaux Arts was the 'preserver' of accepted traditional standards of painting: "colour was somber and conservative, the traces of brush strokes were suppressed concealing the artist's personality, emotions and working techiniques." And the primary tool of control that the Academie used was via the Salon de Paris - their annual art exhibition. There, artists' works won prizes, garnered commissions, and enhanced their prestige.
At this same time a new artistic movement was born and evolving. Based in the idea of capturing the momentary and transient effects of sunlight, by painting outdoors, these young artists engaged in a 'different' way of seeing the world around them. With broad, often times rough, brush strokes, they sought to capture immediacy and movement; realistically express the play of light in bright and varied use of colour. Vibrant, as opposed to somber; free, as opposed to conservative and suppressed; wildly romantic and even erotic; as oppossed to chaste; deliberately revealing the artits's personality, emotions and working techniques. And they wanted to share their vision with the world
But, when younger artists attempted to introduce their non-traditional works at the Salon de Paris, they were soundly rejected.
Founders of the Impressionist Movement (1870) - Henri Fantin-Latour
Real rebels with a cause
For friendship, support and inspiration, a group of these like-minded artists began to regularly meet at Cafe Guerbois: Monet, Manet, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, Pissarro, Cezanne, Morisot, Degas, and Boudon (to name a few). But this motley group of artists did more than debate and drink; they plotted and planned ways to bring their vision to the world. In 1863, after their latest rejection at the Salon de Paris, Emperor Napoleon III personally viewed the rejected works and decreed that the public be allowed to judge the work for themselves - thus the Salon des Refuses (Salon of the Refused) was born. But, while the Salon des Refuses drew more attendees and attention than the Salon de Paris, afterward the Academie consistently denyied artists' petitions for more Salon des Refuses. The Cafe Guerbois group plotted and planned some more.
"Sunset at Ivry" (1873) - Armand Guillaumin
In 1873, Monet, Renoir and Sisley organized the Societe Anonyme Cooperative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) - so they could exhibit their artworks independently. The organizers invited a number of other progressive artists to join them in their inaugral exhibition in 1874 - at the little atelier on Boulevard des Capucines.
"Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape."
- Louis Leroy, 'The Exhibition of the Impressionists,' Le Charivari newspaper (1874)
While Monsieur Leroy's article title was a sneer, the public and the artists quickly adopted this new name for this hitherto un-named progressive art movement - Impressionism. While the Impressionist artists were diverse in style and temperment, they proudly adopted the name because it embodied their spirit of independence and rebellion. And the rest, as they say, is history. The Impressionists exhibited together (with a shifting lineup) eight times between 1874 and 1886. While few artists reaped financial rewards from the Impressionist exhibitions, several became quite succussful. Moreover, their artwork not only achieved public acceptance and support, Impressionism is one of the most beloved of art forms to this day. And, of course, Paris was and continues to be it's home.
Of course, mere words - even a brief history - are not enough to fully capture the beauty and wonder that is Impressionism. So I'll let the Impressionists speak for themselves...
"At the Cafe-Concert" (1875) - Edgar Degas
Boulevard Montmartre (1897) - Camille Pissarro
"Girl in White" (1862) - James McNeill Whistler
"Luncheon on the grass" (1862) - Edouard Manet
"Lane near a small town" (1864) - Alfred Sisley
"Portrait of Renoir" (1867) - Frederic Bazille
"Lady at her Toilette" (1875) - Berthe Morisot
"Still life with an open drawer" (1877) - Paul Cezanne
"Lydia leaning on her arms" (1879) - Mary Cassatt
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