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( Originally Published 1955 )

The term impressionism, or impressionist painting, describes a kind of painting which is flecked and somewhat formless, as opposed to that which is linear and clearly silhouetted. It is applicable to many epochs. The term Impressionism, however, applies to a particular late nineteenth-century style centering in Paris. There are several examples of pre-nineteenth-century impressionism, in most of which the loose brushwork is exhibited only in certain details or areas and does not become a universal fabric of the painting, e.g., Roman wall painting, the portraits of Hals or Velazquez. In each of these, as in Claude's sketches, a sense of classical structure is also present, and in the impressionism of Sung painting there is a nature-calligraphy which may well remind one of Van Gogh. In Watteau and Chardin, where pigment texture is more assertive, the forms are strongly structured and these artists also differ in subject matter or sensuousness from impressionism.

The name of the nineteenth-century movement, although appropriate, was accidentally (and maliciously) derived from one of Monet's paintings, Sunrise: an Impression, in the first group exhibition of 1874. The movement is most accurately defined in terms of its time-span: Impressionism was a style popular in varying degree among a group of Parisian artists of different nationality from the late 1860's to the early 1880's. By the 1880's a change had occurred in the style of most of these artists which is most simply described by the awkward term "Post-Impressionism" (see). In the late nineteenth century Impressionism spread throughout the world, and the work of most "founders" of modern art had its origins in some phase of it. Although subject matter is generally less important than mode of execution in Impressionism it can be said that the Impressionists invented a new genre of the big (Haussmannized) city and of Sunday in the country or on the beach. It is a distinctly middle-class and urban landscape. These starving artists, confident in the validity of the material world, gave poetic form to the Good Life and to the Leisure Hour, thought to be within the reach of all: e.g., Renoir, the Boating Party (1881) ; Manet, at Pere Lathuile's (1879). In composition, the Impressionists stressed the transitory, the instantaneous relation of parts and brushstrokes as though echoing the meaningless bustle of urban life: random molecular contacts among human beings, as in Pissarro, Avenue de 1'Opera (1898) or Degas, Viscount Lepic and His Daughters (1873). The heroes of the drama became light and atmosphere, revealing themselves in color sensation as recorded by the artist in pigments. These artists exhibited a pseudoscientific interest in light and color phenomena, paralleling but not exploiting the contemporary researches of Helmholtz and others. Their attitude was more empirical and lyrical than theoretical. The Impressionists popularized the habit of painting out-of-doors (called plein-airism), although the result was that the canvases looked less like the scene they confronted than did many works done inside Dutch studios of the seventeenth century: e.g., Renoir, Monet Painting (1873). The play of light so dissolved the forms that frequently reflections (which they liked) seemed as authentic as the objects reflected, or the canvas seemed as convincing when inverted, like Caillebotte's Seine at Argenteuil (1874). Colors were chosen in a revolutionary new way, used purely, brightly and in separate strokes. The result was that the modeling effect of the Old Masters disappeared in a general brightness of rainbow palette. On the other hand, no color expressed itself largely or dramatically as in Rubens; there was a general low key with bright spots small and dispersed, as in Watteau or Corot. Painting thus became a mode of vision, a method of applying pigment, a sheer sensuous delight: Degas, Dancer (1874) ; Manet, Apples and Grapes.

The major artists associated in the Impressionist movement were Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Bazille and Morisot. Manet and Degas worked with the group. Among the younger generation. which built directly upon Impressionism were Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Seurat, Signac. The roots of the movement were in the Salon des Refuses of 1863 in which were exhibited works by Manet, Pissarro, Jongkind, Guillaumin, Whistler, FantinLatour and Cezanne. Manet became the leader of these dissidents and others at the Cafe Guerbois. Meanwhile Monet, Renoir, Bazille and Sisley left Gleyre's studio (1864) to paint out-of-doors near Fontainebleau. The dominant style at that time was flat and tonal, with the influence of Courbet, Corot and Daubigny predominant, The Franco-Prussian war scattered and decimated the group, some wandering to England and new influences. The web or crusty technique of discontinuous brushstrokes was being worked out in those years, especially by Monet and Renoir. From 1874-86 most of the group entered the special Impressionist exhibitions which were set up in competition with the Salons. The late 1870's were years of public ridicule and bitter poverty for most of them. By the mid-1880's the plight of most had improved but the movement was in crisis. Participation in their exhibitions fell off and several of the group struck out in new directions in search of expressive or structural form. This was stimulated, of course, by the impact of the younger members: Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh and Gauguin. Monet, long the leader, showed less change than others perhaps, and Sisley was quite untouched by the crisis.

Further information about Impressionism:
Impressionism @ Wikipedia
The Impressionist
History Of French Art - The Impressionists
Modern Painting - The Impressionists And Their Allies
The Post-Impressionists
Claude Monet
Tintoretto - The Morning Of Impressionism
Landscape Painting - The True Impressionism
Biography Of Paul Cezanne
Manet And Impressionism
American Painters - Beaux - Hawthorne - Cassatt
Renoir, Pierre Auguste (1841-1919)

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