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Rise of the Impres Sionists
By Museyon Inc.
Museyon, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Museyon
All rights reserved.
What Is Impressionism?
by Cindy Kang
On Thursday evenings, as the gas lamps were lit in Paris of the early 1870s, the smoky, dark-paneled Café Guerbois became the center of boisterous artistic debate. Over cigarettes, strong coffee and weak beer, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro and other friends from different art studios discussed the possibility of forming their own exhibiting corporation. They had had enough of the conservative taste and nepotism of the French art academy, which had rejected their paintings from the annual exhibition in Paris known as the Salon.
When their first exhibition opened in 1874, the group was called the Corporation of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc. Of the unmemorable name, Renoir explained: "I was afraid that ... critics would immediately begin talking about a 'new school.'" Despite the artists' attempt to assert their individuality, the critics did indeed perceive a new movement, which they dubbed, derisively, Impressionism.
The bête noir and namesake of the exhibition was Monet's Impression, Sunrise. A morass of thick, choppy brushstrokes of unblended blues, violets and shocking orange, Monet's work was the opposite of academic paintings such as William Bouguereau's Nymphs and Satyr — the darling of the 1873 Salon. The latter's glossy, highly-finished surface, titillating mythological subject and seamlessly layered and blended tones made Monet's painting look like an insignificant, blurry sketch done in bright, vulgar colors.
The eight Impressionist exhibitions mounted between 1874 and 1886 showcased these artists' radical technique and subject matter. Although each artist worked in an individual style, their shared engagement with modern developments in science, urbanization and new cultural influences led to a revolution in Western painting.
The Roots of Impressionism
Drawing from new theories of optics derived from Hermann von Helmholtz, the Impressionists believed that the human eye encountered a scene as a field of pure colors. The brain then processed these colors to create an intelligible image. An Impressionist painting was therefore an attempt to recapture that primary sensation.
Thus, Monet instructed a student: "When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you ... Merely think here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you ... until it gives your own naïve impression of the scene before you."
Paint in a Tube
Renoir once claimed, "Without colors in tubes, there would be ... no Impressionism." Before the mid-19th century, artists either made their own paints for each work day or stored them in messy, smelly pig bladders. The invention of paint in metal tubes was a revelation for the Impressionists. They could now bring their easels outdoors and work on whole paintings for entire afternoons, instead of being tied to a studio to work on one section of a painting at a time. Tube paints allowed the Impressionists to seize their direct, fleeting sensations of light and atmosphere and completely dissolve form into touches of pure brilliant color.
The Impressionists reacted competitively to the development of photography in France in the middle of the 19th century. Photography's limited palette pushed them to emphasize color as a distinguishing feature of painting. Their sketch-like technique, which looked spontaneous and dashed-off, even though it was meticulous and deliberate, attempted to compete with the immediacy of a photograph.
Nevertheless, the Impressionists also borrowed some of photography's tricks. In Degas's Place de la Concorde, the arbitrarily cropped man at the left and the blurry figures and horse in the background were all devices imported from photography to convey a sense of motion and the impression of a moment frozen in time.
The formal innovations of the Impressionists were as much indebted to Japanese woodblock prints as to photography. The craze for Japanese art, dubbed japonisme, was launched by the exhibition of the Japanese pavilion at the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition. Japan had been closed to the West for the past two centuries and the influx of art from the East astounded the avant-garde artists. Degas was one of the earliest collectors of Japanese prints and Pissarro called the Japanese printmaker Hiroshige "a marvelous Impressionist." The asymmetrical compositions, strong outlines, areas of flat color and aerial perspective found in works by Degas and Mary Cassatt were inspired by Japanese design principles.
Paris, City of Light
Wide, sparkling boulevards, lazy boats on the Seine, seedy cafés under lamplight — these everyday scenes painted by the Impressionists actually reveal the total transformation Paris experienced in the 19th century. Before Paris became the City of Light, it was a haphazard accumulation of old neighborhoods with narrow, meandering, sewage-filled streets. Emperor Napoleon III appointed the Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann to raze the city and build orderly grands boulevards, allowing light and air to circulate. The facelift included radiant glass-and-iron train stations to service a rising middle class. This petite bourgeoisie demanded new forms of leisure — day trips to the countryside, raunchy entertainment at café-concerts — all of which the Impressionists captured in their quest to express modern life through painting.CHAPTER 2
Édouard Manet (1832 — 1883)
Claude Monet (1840 — 1926)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 — 1919)
Paul Cézanne (1839 — 1906)
Edgar Degas (1834 — 1917)
Berthe Morisot (1841 — 1895)
Gustave Caillebotte (1848 — 1894)
Vincent van Gogh (1853 — 1890)
The Impressionist revolution was led by a core group of artists. Friends and colleagues, they developed their theories over cheap wine in Parisian cafés and in trips to the countryside. They painted together and suffered together, they fought authority and fought amongst themselves; these are the artists who set the stage for modern art.
"If I'm lucky, when I paint, first my patrons leave the room, then my dealers, and if I'm really lucky I leave too."
— Édouard Manet
January 23, 1832
Édouard Manet born to Eugénie-Désirée Fournier and Auguste Manet in Paris.
1848 Travels to Rio Janeiro on the trainee ship, Le Havre et Gaudeloupe.
1849 Begins taking piano lessons from Suzanne Leenhoff.
1850 Enters studio of Thomas Couture.
1852 Son, Léon-Édouard, is born as the result of an affair with Leenhoff.
1856 Leaves Couture to open studio with Albert de Balleroy.
1859L'Absinthe is rejected by the Paris Salon.
1861The Spanish Singer receives an honorable mention at the Salon.
1863 Marries Leenhoff; exhibits Déjeuner sur l'herbe at the Salon des Refusés.
1865 Exhibits Olympia at the Paris Salon. Travels to Spain to escape the critical reaction.
1866 Meets Claude Monet at the opening of the Salon.
1868 Paints portrait of Émile Zola in thanks for the writer's support.
1874 Vacations across the Seine from Monet, visiting often to paint.
1881 Receives the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur.
1882 Completes Bar at the Folies- Bergère.
April 30, 1882
Manet dies and is buried at the Passy cemetery.
by Michael B. Dougherty
Édouard Manet never wanted to be seen as a radical figure in the world of painting, but his contribution to art history is nothing less than revolutionary. As the reluctant father of the Impressionist movement, his approach to technique and subject matter made their epoch, and Modernism itself, possible.
The son of a bourgeois mother who moved in royal circles (her godfather was the Crown Prince of Sweden) and a wealthy bureaucrat father, Manet enjoyed a privileged background unknown to many of his contemporaries. From the age of 7 he attended a day school in Vaugirard, a small village near the present day Porte de Versailles Métro station, studying French and classic literature. By the time he was 12, he was enrolled in Collège Rollin (known today as the Lycée Jacques-Decour) as a boarder.
Despite the financial and social advantages of his family, Manet performed poorly as a student, gravitating instead towards the arts. It was a source of great irritation for his father, who had hoped that Manet would follow his career in law, but after Édouard twice failed the entrance exam to the French navy, and following a brief stint as a merchant marine, Auguste Manet finally relented to his son's wishes.
In 1850, at the encouragement of his childhood friend and future Minister of Fine Arts, Antonin Proust (no relation to the novelist), Manet entered into the tutelage of Thomas Couture. He spent six years in the studio of the classical painter, refining his technique and moving away from Realism. Like the other artists of the Parisian avant-garde, he was drawn toward images of modern urban life, painting street scenes with a relaxed, sketch-like quality to them. It was also during this time that Manet's reputation as an urbane dandy, with his graceful mien and impeccable appearance, began to circulate, later captured by Henri Fantin-Latour's Portrait of Édouard Manet.
After opening his own studio, the blond-haired, bearded Manet began to mingle with other young, Parisian intelligentsia such as the poet Charles Baudelaire, studio-mate Albert de Balleroy and Fantin-Latour. He created work, like 1859's The Absinthe Drinker, that provided an unusual glimpse into everyday city life. Experimenting with the plein air technique of painting outdoors, Manet populated his Concert in the Tuileries Gardens canvas with the denizens of Café Tortoni and Café Guerbois in the Les Batignolles district, where he and many of the future Impressionists often gathered.
In 1861, Manet received his first taste of official recognition and early success when the Paris Salon recognized his Spanish Singer with an honorable mention. It wouldn't last. The Salon of 1863 was so brutally selective that Napoleon III, bowing to public pressure, formed an alternative, the Salon des Refusés. It was there that Manet first displayed Déjeuner sur l'herbe, and he was savaged for it. The attacks were two pronged: critics lambasted both his technique, which eschewed academism with its severe lighting and unnatural perspective, and subject matter, a clothed pair of young men with a naked — not an allegorically nude — woman. It was a critical disaster, one that set the stage for the Impressionist revolution.
Now married to his childhood piano teacher Suzanne Leenhoff, Manet faced an even greater fusillade when he submitted Olympia, arguably his greatest work, to the Salon in 1865. Théophile Gautier, writing in Le Moniteur Universel, opined, "With some repugnance I come to the peculiar paintings by Manet ... Olympia can be understood from no point of view, even if you take it for what it is, a puny model stretched out on a sheet." It was the most contentious piece in the Salon; Olympia's fourth-wall-breaking gaze scandalized viewers who recognized her as no mythologized nymph, but a prostitute awaiting her next client. The painting's style, too, was radical. Instead of a polished, academic painting, Manet's canvas had the raw, unfinished look of underpainting, his flat figure starkly outlined.
Manet instantly became known as the enfant terrible heir to Gustave Courbet, although he never aspired to be. But infamy had another side: Manet became an anti-establishment hero to a growing number of young artists. The novelist Émile Zola published the first public defense of Manet in 1867, declaring, "The future is his." By the early 1870s, Manet had become the de facto leader of the inchoate Impressionists, befriending Claude Monet and mingling with the group at the Café Guerbois and, later, at the Café Nouvelle-Athènes. It wasn't always a comfortable position for Manet, who continued to resist the avant- garde label. He declined to participate in the first Impressionist exhibition, during the spring of 1874, as he did for the next seven.
During the later years of his life, Manet continued to seek the official approval that had always eluded him, submitting more pieces to the Salon. His last great act was Bar at the Folies-Bergère. With its visual inconsistencies, rapid brush strokes and worldly subject, it provided a final reminder of his contribution to Impressionism and the bridge it built to Modernism. In the fall of 1881, he received (at Proust's urging) the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, but the approbation would be short-lived. Less than two years later, Manet died at age 51, most likely the victim of a tertiary syphilis infection.
MANET AND THE ESTABLISHMENT
After the disastrous Salon receptions of the mid-1860s, Manet learned that he was to be banned from the 1867 Exposition Universelle as well. Using money from an inheritance, Manet set up a display stand of his own, across the street from one of the Exposition's entrances, and filled it with 50 paintings.
DID YOU KNOW?
An Aristocratic Background
Manet's mother, Eugénie-Desirée Fournier, was the daughter of a diplomat and goddaughter of the Swedish crown prince, Charles Bernadotte, from whom the current Swedish monarchs are descended. She was named after Bernadotte's wife, Eugénie Bernhardine Désirée Clary, whom had once been engaged to Napoleon.
Manet and his Father's Lover
Manet married his Dutch piano teacher Suzanne Leenhoff in 1863, after the death of his father the previous year. Manet had been romantically involved with Leenhoff for 10 years and it is speculated that she was his father's mistress as well. In 1852, Leenhoff gave birth to a son, Léon-Édouard Leenhoff, out of wedlock. The boy was often the subject of Manet's work, such as in Boy Carrying a Sword, 1861.
Manet and his Teacher
Manet spent six years studying with Thomas Couture, an artist who favored the established method of copying antique sculpture in a studio space. Manet detested this academic approach. At the end of their relationship, Couture held little respect for Manet's work and likewise, Manet for his.
One of Manet's most famous works is Olympia. The painting pays homage to Titian's Venus of Urbino, which was made for the private use of a patron. While Titian's Venus is demure and sensual, Manet's Olympia is stark and confrontational. To greater emphasize the difference between the two women, Manet replaces Titian's dog, a symbol of fidelity, with a black cat, a symbol of prostitution. Manet visited Germany, Italy and the Netherlands from 1853-1856, studying the great masters; he likely saw Titian's work at the Uffizi in Florence.
Manet and Poe
Manet created a series of lithographs to illustrate the French translation of one of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous poems, "The Raven." While the exact nature of the arrangement remains a mystery, Manet was most likely commissioned by the French poet Charles Baudelaire to produce the engraving for his collection of Poe's work.
Manet and His Art Dealer
Upon returning from the Franco-Prussian War, where he served as an artillery gunner in the National Guard, Manet sold almost the entire contents of his studio to the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, for around 50,000 francs. Durand-Ruel would later famously boast that Impressionist art he once purchased for 50 francs apiece were now selling at 50,000 each.
A Painted Mirror
The mirror in A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881-82) has been the cause of much debate as to the painting's meaning. To some historians (as well as some of Manet's own contemporaries), the barmaid may actually be a reflection of a woman gazing in the mirror, thus a reflection of the viewer. Other theories pose that the viewer is reflected as the customer seen in the mirror, or that the central female figure is actually pausing to think of past events seen in the background.
Manet and Monet
Despite a chilly first encounter (the older Manet believed the younger Monet imitated his style, poorly), the two became close friends. During the summer of 1874, Manet and Monet vacationed nearby one another in the suburbs outside Paris. Painting together often, they were joined on one particular day by Monet's friend, Auguste Renoir. As they all worked, Manet stole glances at Renoir's canvas, later remarking to Monet, "He has no talent, that boy! Since you're his friend, tell him to give up painting!"
Manet's Last Days
Later in his career, Manet suffered neurological complications that developed because of gangrene, possibly related to syphilis. The gangrene resulted in his foot and much of his leg having to be amputated, which his friend Dr. Gachet advised against. The operation resulted in his death 10 days later.
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