Posts Tagged ‘Post-Impressionism’

Paul Cézanne

Post-Impressionist Artists: Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906)

Famous for wanting to reform Impressionism, Paul Cézanne approached nature in quite a fashion that distinguished him from the Impressionists and the other Post-impressionists.  Like Paul Gauguin, he understood the need to order nature, like Vincent van Gogh, he responded emotionally to the world around him, and like the avant-garde artists of his generation, he was faced with the problem of representation. For Cézanne, the solution was found by walking a tightrope between his mind and his feelings, between his “optique” and his “logique,” between the past and the future.  He returned the classical French tradition, the Grand Manner of Nicholas Poussin, to the avant-garde by restoring the importance of   the object, just as surely as the Symbolists restored the significance of the subject. Unlike the Impressionists, Cézanne did not accept the world of chaos and flux but attempted to render its permanent and solid qualities, to find structure and order. Unlike Gauguin, he did not impose abstract patterns upon nature but by swept away incidentals and details in search of an organizing rhythm and unity. Unlike Vincent van Gogh, Cézanne did not seek to animate the object but to contemplate it, to seek its inherent and essential structure, to connect it to its surroundings, to reveal the inner harmony of nature.  Art had to reflect this natural harmony. Thus, art, too, must be as seamless and as unified in its materiality.

But Cézanne is not important to art history because he distinguish himself from his predecessors and his colleagues.  The painter is considered significant because his art acted as a gateway to the Twentieth-century.  Gauguin and van Gogh were both concerned with how to render their feelings, their emotions and reactions in relation to nature.  Seurat attempted to see nature through the lens of science, reordering his colors according to the laws optical mixing.  Georges Seurat was closer to Cézanne in the sense that both artists were concerned with the process of seeing and with how the artist’s (and the viewer’s) perception coincides with the traditional language of painting.  Compared to Gauguin and van Gogh, these other Post-Impressionists were more objective. Reading Cézanne’s letters lead to the conclusion that he literalized what he saw, calling the transference of light to his eyes to his brain, his “sensations.”  The problem that Cézanne gave to himself was how to translate what is a physical process into an art that expressed, not a worn-out set of artistic conventions, but a new visual language that explained, not expressed, what was actually seen, not what was known.

The accomplishment of Cézanne was his creation of a new language, a new set of marks, which recorded only what he saw: his “sensations.”  We “know” that when we look out over a landscape that there is space between the objects that are close and the objects that are far away, but we don’t “see” these spaces.  Renaissance perspective was an abstract diagram, which “mapped out” the space that existed but could not be seen.  Over the centuries, as the art historian, Erwin Panofsky, pointed out, those of us in the West have become so accustomed to the invention of Renaissance architects, Alberti and Brunelleschi, that we believe that we actually see in terms of perspective. Cézanne figured out that perspective was a code with a signifying function, based upon knowledge.  The diagram or abstract design got in the way of real seeing or the actual process of looking.  He also realized that perspective depended upon an ideal and impossible condition: the viewer had one eye, stood in one place, at one point in time.  But we have two eyes, we move, and time passes.  How can the painter account for  this “natural vision?”  This question would absorb the artist for thirty years, but the younger generation would be able to build upon his research.  The lessons of Cézanne can be summed up in a few sentences.  Nature is represented and interpreted artistically and art became parallel to nature.  Art can represent nature only through artistic means; art cannot reproduce nature.  These are the ideas which led to the new art of the new century.  The  “Modern” is said to begin in 1880 when Cézanne exiled himself in Aix to solve the great riddle of how to strip knowing from seeing—how to paint perception.

Paris – 1860s

Cézanne’s awareness of the role of color in determining the structure and depth of natural objects and his awareness of the role of brush work on a flat surface, set him apart from his century and catapulted his art into the next century. In many ways, the artist took an artistic journey into self-denial and redemption.  His early works were marked by subject matter full of violence and sex, displaying a deep confusion about women and a consequent anger toward their sexuality. The philosopher Merleau-Ponty remarked, “His first pictures up till about 1870 are dreams in paint: a rape, a murder…” In 1991, art historian, Robert Simon, noted the connection between these paintings of violence against women and the popular imagery of the day, “The cheap, quickly made, sensational news bulletins known as canards…a sort of low journalism.”  In other words, Cézanne was inspired by a combination of his own psychological dis-ease and was given “permission” to express his anxieties by the equivalent of  “The National Enquirer.”

Upon viewing The Murder of 1867 and A Modern Olympia (1872 – 3), boyhood friend, Émile Zola (1840 – 1902) described this disturbing phase of his art:

It was a chaste man’s passion for the flesh of women, a mad love of nudity desired and never possessed, an impossibility of satisfying himself, or creating as much of this flesh as he dreamed to hold in his frantic arms.  Those girls whom he chased out of his studio, he adored in his paintings; he caressed or attacked them, in tears of despair at not being able to make them sufficiently beautiful, sufficiently alive.

The writer had grown up with Cézanne in the southern town of Aix and had suggested that the artist come to Paris. Zola defended Manet by ignoring the issue of subject matter and concentrating on the artist’s formal innovations.  Beauty, Zola, insisted was not a verifiable or universal phenomenon, but was entirely personal and internal. Cézanne landed in a very sophisticated art world, where artists gathered together and debated theories.  Cézanne’s parents had wanted him to become a lawyer, but, like the typical avant-garde artist, he rebelled against family expectations.  His family, connected to banking, was solidly middle-class and his father reluctantly supported his son’s ambitions to be an artist.  The decade that Cézanne spent in and out of Paris is one of deliberately provocative art hurled at the establishment, guaranteed a rejection in the Salon.

The artist was as deliberately confrontational himself.  “All my compatriots are ass holes compare to me.”  Elegant and chic, Manet despised the uncouth provincial with the awkward accent. Cézanne in turn was hardly respectful to the revered master by saying that he would not shake hands with Manet because he (Cézanne) had not bathed for a week.  Clearly, Cézanne needed someone to temper his misdirected and unguided temperament.   That person was the “father” to the younger generation, Camille Pissarro ((1830 – 1903). Cézanne met Pissarro at the Académie Suisse, where he claimed to be “painting with one’s balls.”  By the 1870s, his riotous and unruly style was disciplined with heavy black contour lines, suggesting that he needed for Impressionism to become more structured.

Estaque and Pontoise and Melun – 1870 – 1880

This decade was the last era in which the traditional Salon system really mattered.  Thanks to the critics, such as Zola, who said, “the Salon of our days is not the work of artists; it is the work of a jury…” and to the Impressionist exhibitions, the old order was a dying one.  But Cézanne’s early years in Paris as a follower of Manet and as an “Impressionist” were years of rejection by the Establishment followed by a self-imposed exile in southern France.  In   between Paris and Aix, he learned a great deal from Pissarro.  The older artist removed Cézanne from the futile exercise of trying to force the Salon to change and taught him to not define himself negatively.  Pissarro’s contribution to the volatile younger artist was to teach him that each individual had a unique vision or way of seeing, called “sensation.”  The artist had only to execute to create: paint what he saw and an individual vision would emerge naturally.  Maurice Denis, also a painter, stated, “…each one takes the law unto himself…we love order passionately, but the order that we create, not the order we receive…”

Writing in the 2009 catalogue for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Beyond Cézanne,” art historian, Richard Shiff, quoted a comment made by the artist to Maurice Denis, “Sensation above all else.”  Shiff also quoted Charles Morice, an art critic, who in 1907 said, “We hardly dare say that Cézanne lived.  He painted.” Shiff then went on to define “sensation,” as “Every sensation that Cézanne felt, no matter what the cause, would be the equivalent f a painting sensation: every physical gesture, a potential paint mark…”

In contrast to today’s assumption that only the “young” artist is capable of making exciting art, artists of this generation took decades to mature. Cézanne was forty before he became “serious.” Working with Pissarro in the small towns along the river Oise, Cézanne began to paint, not what he felt, but what he saw, and he saw, he stated, “ only patches.” Cézanne had learned from the Impressionists to apply paint in patches of color, but they thought in terms of color-as-light. Cézanne began to think of color-as-form or color-as-object.

Whatever Cézanne may have thought of the avant-garde artists in Paris, the Franco-Prussian War ended his time in the city.  He had met a docile and submissive women, Hortense Figuet, gotten her pregnant, had a child by her, before he eventually married her.  He sent her to Estaque for safety during the Franco-Prussian war.  Finished with Paris, he painted in Estaque and put himself under the tutelage of Pissarro in Pontoise and Auvers.  It is in Estaque that we see Cézanne absorbing the lessons learned from Manet—using color to eliminate depth. (“View of L’Estaque and the Château d’If,” 1883 – 5)  Working against distance, Cézanne pushed the sea away by using deep blue but pulled the distant shore forward with lighter colors (“The Gulf of Marseille Seen from L’Estaque,” 1876 – 79).  The compositions of Estaque were broad and simple and clearly showed the basis of his structure: Cézanne’s paintings can almost always be divided down the horizontal middle, as if the two parts, top and bottom, were hinged. (“Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley,” 1882 – 85) The Post-modern painter, Mark Tansey took advantage of Cézanne’s manner of composition as division in his re-visions of “Mount Saint-Victoire” in the 1980s.

Working in situ with the older artist, Cézanne eliminated contours for the moment. The countryside of the Oise valley lay stretched out before the artists, crowded with small red-roofed houses.  Edges were defined by placing contour-to-contour, patch-to-patch, form-to-form, leaving blank spaces to complete the definition.  Drawing was eliminated and forms were constructed or built by laying on blocks of color, which were built up, the way a bricklayer creates a wall, into a series of “sensations.”  (“The Pont de Maincy, 1879) By leaving breathing spaces or blank areas between the patches, the artist was painting in reverse or taking the negative into account.  The entire composition was built, constructed, literally through rhythmic strokes of paint that knitted the landscape into an all over unity (“Large Pines and Red Earth,” 1890 – 95).

Although Cézanne exhibited with the Impressionists in 1874, he left Paris and returned to Aix and seemed to find psychic peace in his rigorous study of nature. He took with him the lessons learned from Pissarro–a clarified palette, the knowledge that form could be achieved by color.  He began to paint with heavy layers of color in an effort to capture every nuance, like the building of a mosaic.  He observed that there were no lines in nature—”Pure drawing is an abstraction.”—and that there were no shadows without color.  However, Cézanne was convinced that observation alone was never enough and that thought was essential.

Aix-en-Provence – 1880 – 1906

There are ample indications that Cézanne was a borderline personality.  Eccentric to the point where normal relations were difficult, Cézanne spent the rest of his life in a self-imposed exile.  He was tormented by the extended infantilism of his financial dependence upon his father.  He hid his mistress, keeping her in the shadows for fifteen years.  But his reluctance to interact with the Parisian art world resulted in a barrage of letter writing, especially to the young and impressionable Émile Bernard. Cézanne apparently needed only a kind father, Pissarro, and unthreatening admirers, Bernard, and his solitude to thrive.  Like the letters of Vincent van Gogh, Cézanne’s letters are his legacy to the art world.  His musings constitute a theory of painting.  “There are two things in the painter: the eye and the brain. The two must cooperate,” he wrote.  Cézanne wished to reform a now waning Impressionism, “to become classic again through nature, that is to say, through sensation…” “…to revive Poussin through contact with nature…” “…one must interpret it…by means of plastic equivalents and color…” he declared.

Isolated in Aix by 1890, Cézanne assumed the task of “making out of Impressionism something solid and durable like the art of museums…” A small measure of success in Paris came to him as the result to an exhibition given of this art in 1895 by Ambroise Vollard but he remained in the south to paint at his home, “Jas de Bouffan,” until it was sold in 1899, after his mother’s death. His last years were spent painting the Bidémus quarry and the Chateau noir. The artist painted selected motifs and the quarry and the mountain, Mont Saint-Victoire became part of his obsessive quest.  Later he was to say, “It took me forty years to find out that painting is not sculpture.” Renoir echoed this discovery by saying of the paintings of Cézanne that “Later, his study brought him to see that the work of the painter is so to use color that, even when it is laid on very thinly, it gives the full result.”

Cézanne used the quarry as part of his pattern of construction.  Because the quarry had been mined for centuries, human activity had regularized the steep sides, which showed the linear marks of carving out large blocks.  The patters left on the walls of the quarry were reflections of his method of painting in patches.  By the 1880s, the artist had gained enough confidence to turn Manet’s play with color into his own personal method, called “passage,” by art historians. Cézanne also felt fee to distort the landscape and to force it to submit to the demands of composition and structure.   Mont Saint-Victoire was a huge looming triangular shape, dominating the countryside, but Cézanne shrank the mountain to a small triangle hovering above the edge of the quarry.   The walls fall straight down, below the center hinge of the canvas. (“Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry,” 1887) The tops of green pine trees project upwards, growing form a ground unseen in the bottom of the quarry.  The blue of the sky above the triangle pours onto the sides of the mountain, down the walls of the quarry, spills into the green of the pines.   The green and oranges of the trees and stone climb upwards, advancing along the slope of the mountains and into the blue and white sky above.

This method of composing and creating forms and working out the inherited problem of Renaissance perspective placed Cézanne in the position of “fathering” the 20th century.  His studies of Mount Sainte-Victorie became increasingly abstract: planes were faceted into geometric shapes, surface was turned into patterns of lines and colors and his techniques drew awareness to the flatness of the two-dimensional picture plane. The flattening of the picture plane was based upon his study of the motif in nature, which was received flat to his eye.  His essential aim was to represent what “pure” vision could discover about the visible world.  This is a world of everyday things, this is a vision cleansed of allegory, symbolism, emotion and intellect.  The viewer, like the artist, must see nature in a state of complete dissociation and disinterestedness–a pure act of perception.  In this personal conception of space, Cézanne attempted to show objects linked to each other in such a fashion that perspective developed as the result of the halting of movement.  In his 2009 essay, “Lucky Cézanne (Cézanne ‘Tychique’),”  Richard Shiff also described the “motif” in terms of movement,

“Appropriately, the term motif connotes movement. Cézanne’s motif could not be Mont Sainte-Victoire regarded solely as a concept or an ideal; it was instead a movement associated with a particular experience of he mountain as his experience played out in an active process of painting…it merely feels like an instant or a moment, that, is, it feel momentary, transient, changing….”

In the decade of the 1880s, contours returned to Cézanne’s art, but the outlines were new.  We see the new use of outline clearly in his still lives.  Confined to his studio, the artist could study the act of seeing in isolation.  If the landscapes were flattened into stillness by the way in which he recorded his “sensations,” then Cézanne’s still lives were put in motion.  The artist seemed to understand that the movement of the viewer or the painter had to be incorporated.  The time spent in working produced shifts in perspective what also had to be accounted for.  He eliminated, as far as he could, any indication of a horizon line or a level place for the eye to rest. Patterned wallpaper stops the backward movement into the room. Cloth backdrops were used to obscure the flat surfaces for the still life objects (“Still Life with Apples,” 1893 -94).  The objects are shown from many different perspectives, as though the artist sat down, stood up, leaned to the side, as he examined his set up.  Bright patches of color, dappled here and there, indicated where the light source had touched to object.  The sheer motion of looking was signaled to the spectator by the uneasy and unsettled contours, which were slightly separated from the edges of the forms.   The result is that the forms quiver slightly as though they are unsteadied by innate movement.

Only when we view Cézanne’s paintings of human figures do we realize the other accomplishment of the artist: that of removing the hierarchy from painting.  Human beings are treated the same way as inanimate objects.  In her stolid stillness, the expressionless artist’s wife, Hortense, resembles the coffee pot next to her (“Woman with Coffeepot,” 1895), the nudes of the “Bathers” series are forced to bend and reshape themselves to conform to Cézanne’s composition.  In “The Large Bathers” (1906), the artist grouped the nude women, shaped like the trees that surround them, into a triangular group, located inside a rectangular landscape.  As early as the 1870s, the artist began to tone down his palette, eliminating a wide range of colors and damping down the intensity of his hues in favor of a limited selection of tones of blues, greens, and ochre buffs (“Chateau Noir,” 1900 – 1904).  On one hand, the artist was painting the bleached out stone ridden landscape of Provence, on the other hand, he had created a new palette that would end Fauvism’s bright colors and the monochrome suggestion would be taken up by the Cubists.

Cézanne in History

The artist remained in exile and, over the years, became a legend as in the late 1890s exhibitions increasingly influenced younger painters.  The shop of Père Tanguy was the one place in Paris where his art could be purchased and studied.  As Émile Bernard, Cézanne’s faithful correspondent, stated, “One went there as to a museum, to see the few sketches by the unknown artist who lived in Aix…” The critic, Gustave Geffroy, noted, “For a long time, Cézanne has had a curious fate. He might be described as a person at once unknown and famous, having only rare contact with the public yet considered influential by the restless and the seekers in the field of painting…” Yet it was through his correspondence with Bernard that the older artist formulated his theory of art and he advised the former follower of Gauguin “to see in nature the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, putting everything in proper perspective, so that each side of an object or a plane is directed toward a central point.”

The legend of Paul Cézanne grew as his exile lengthened.  Had he been truly isolated and out of touch, the artist would have been forgotten.  But, in contrary to the legend of the neglected artist who was discovered due to his shining “genius,” Cézanne was very aware of his place in the art world and in history itself.  His voluminous correspondence with well-placed individuals and the tantalizing inaccessibility of his paintings added to the myth of the reclusive artist who was changing art.  Coupled with the aura surrounding Cézanne and the important exhibitions of his work, late in his life, the only solidified his reputation.  For the young generation of artists, he vanquished the lingering influences of Impressionism, swept aside the curves of Art Nouveau, and vanquished Fauvism’s intense, expressive colors.  Immediately the color palette of the artists narrowed and dulled, the forms sharpened, and composition returned.

Cézanne’s study of planes and volumes attempted to express a consciousness of structure. Beneath the colored surface presented by nature laid the forms of nature.  “The main thing is the modeling; one shouldn’t even say modeling, but modulating.” Cézanne built forms with color and the lines that could have described these forms hovered tentatively around the objects, activating them.  Even though his compositions were grid-like in their rigidity, his paint handling kept the surface lively, the trademark hatch marks knitting the surface together, pulling distance to the foreground.  To the new artists, his lively surfaces, always active and always in motion, Cézanne’s work suggested shifts in space and time, as shifting forms were distorted and light skimmed surfaces, skipping from place to place.  Regardless of Cézanne’s intentions, the young artists saw the end of the Western tradition of perspective.  Building on the three decades of Cézanne’s work, their responses were  sometimes awkward and tentative, but Picasso and Braque and the other artists persisted and something called “Cubism” began to emerge around 1910.

Cézanne was considered the “great divide” in art.  His work was determined by many art historians to be the beginnings of modern 20th century painting because he dismantled the Renaissance conception of intellectualized space.  Composition, with Cézanne did not exist prior to its contents and construction depended upon its objects. His last and greatest portrait was of his gardener, Vallier, worked on until his death in October of 1906.  “If I succeed with this fellow, it will mean that the theory was correct,”  Cézanne said.  And Matisse said, “If Cézanne is right, I am right.   A year after “the master” died, Picasso would paint “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1907.  The Nineteenth Century was over and the Twentieth Century could begin.

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.  Thank you.

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Paul Gauguin

Post-Impressionist Artists: Paul Gauguin (1848 – 1903)

Paul Gauguin and other artists of the late 19th century wanted to invent a new art to replace the analytic form of Impressionism. Gauguin, a former Sunday painter and stock broker, had been a student of Camille Pissarro.  Although he showed in some of the later Impressionists exhibitions, the pupil broke from his master.  The Post-Impressionists were obsessed with the concept of “synthesis” and attempted to paint directly from nature.  However, the goal was to interpret nature and to use suggestive colors and forms to synthesize or bring together the mind and the eye.  The Impressionists were criticized for being too passive and too tied to the dictates of nature. Synthesist concepts allowed for the subjective deformation and the freedom of interpretation to express natural beauty. The idea that nature was or could be more than simply a pretty scene was taken up by the artists; nature could be fully expressed only by bringing together all of the senses.  First the artist had to relocate “nature” outside of Paris, sites that were not only unspoiled but which could also arouse the imagination and the emotions.  A new group of young artists clustered around Paul Gauguin at Pont-Aven in 1886.  In a direct rejection of Impressionist urban or suburban subject matter, Gauguin went to this small village in Brittany seeking to connect with “primitive people” or the peasants.  In Brittany, modernity had been held at bay and the agricultural communities practiced a simple life and a mystical form of Catholicism.

Pont-Aven (1886, 1888, 1889, 1890)

Now the leader of his own school, complete with followers, Gauguin stated, “The painter ought not to rest until he has given birth to the child of his imagination…begotten by the union of his mind with reality.”  Gauguin’s statement constitutes a complete abandonment of Impressionism and the lessons of his teacher, Camille Pissarro. The artists of Pont-Aven moved towards strong design, inspired by Japanese prints, and rejected local for expressive color. Likewise, the use of line was freed from its traditional task of description and was given over to the demands of design.  Line was free and began to take on a life of its own.  To heighten the abstract and graphic qualities of their paintings, the artists used dark outlines around the forms.  Gauguin’s young associate, Emile Bernard, called the style they developed “Cloisonnisme,” a term borrowed from jewelry making, which conveys the idea of the intent of the artists quite well. Post-Impressionist realism was blended with a flat decorative effect and stylized forms from other cultures, also considered “primitive,” Egyptian, Medieval, Persian, and images d’Epinal.

The works done by the artists of the Pont-Aven School were done in the spirit of what would later be termed “Primitivism,” as they nostalgically recorded the comings and goings of the now-picturesque Breton peasants, especially the women. Thanks to an efficient railway service, many artists visited this region in northern France to record a threatened society but they did so under the auspices of Realism and the Academy. “Peasant paintings” were very poplar with the Parisians, eager for reassurance that “traditional France’ had not changed, despite the Industrial Revolution.  In addition to the already popular subject matter, Pont-Aven had another advantage—it was cheap to live there.  Gauguin, Bernard and Paul Sérusier produced highly stylized observations of the life in Brittany that crossed Japanese prints with late Impressionism. The most famous of their works was Gauguin’s Vision After the Sermon (1888), which he attempted to donate to the local church.   The donation was refused, perhaps due to the radical design and strident red color.  This painting combined or synthesized not only Gauguin’s imaginative interpretation of actual events and places but also the naïve an innocent visions of the “primitive” women of Brittany, who saw God everywhere.

Arles ( Winter, 1888)

Gauguin retreated even deeper into Brittany, to the village of Le Pouldu, in search of novel subjects and unspoiled inhabitants of an untouched landscape.  But their experiments of the Pont-Aven artists were financially unsuccessful and the group broke up and the artists went their separate ways.  Gauguin faced debts in the towns where bills were left unpaid and was so financially strapped he had to accept an offer from Théo van Gogh, an art dealer known to by sympathetic to avant-garde artists.  Van Gogh would cover his debts if Gauguin joined his brother Vincent in another small town, the ancient Roman city of Arles in southern France.  Gauguin, who had no great liking for the eccentric Dutch artist, agreed reluctantly.  The result was a now-famous and ill-fated partnership in painting between two extraordinary artists.  The pairing might have been more successful if the weather had been better, but they were isolated in the Yellow House during the months of October and November and December.  High strung, temperamental, and self-involved, the artists quarreled over what to paint and how to paint, but during of the winter months, Gauguin found shelter and produced more paintings for Théo to sell.

Although many paintings were completed, this period is not Gauguin’s strongest.  Although Self-Portrait Dedicated to Vincent van Gogh (Les Misérables) and Portrait of van Gogh with Sunflowers are fine works, van Gogh seemed to have a stronger reaction to the older artist.  The difficult and mentally unstable painter created The Night Café, one of the great paintings of his career. Gauguin softened the hard lines of cloisonnism in Arles and even his colors were more muted. The forced arrangement came to an abrupt halt when Vincent had a mental breakdown, threatened Gauguin, and cut off his own ear.  Briefly suspected of committing a crime against his friend, Gauguin called in Théo to take care of his brother and left Arles for good.  Gauguin returned to Pont-Aven, where his painting immediately became stronger. Yellow Christ (1889) was a return to the dark outlines and the stacked, gridded background of deep colors.  He also produced his homage to Courbet, Bonjour M. Gauguin in the same year.  Although the artist showed in the exhibition at the Café Volpini, the Exposition de peintures du groupe impressioniste et synthéiste, he was discouraged with his future in Paris.

The South Pacific (1891 – 1893, 1895 – 1903)

Gauguin was, to all intents and purposes, an artist in search of an audience.  Vision After the Sermon was shown at the Sixème exposition des XX, but his career had not advanced in terms of sales.  His dealer, Ambroise Vollard could do little to help him, for the peasant pictures he did in Brittany were so radical, they were beyond the public comprehension.  However, Gauguin was still hopeful that new subject matter and novel content would help his works to sell.  In 1891, he left Paris for more distant regions–the French possessions in the South Pacific, discovered in 1767. Gauguin took with him more than his luggage; he took his preconceptions and his fantasies.  Like Brittany, the South Pacific was a place devoid of civilization, where innocent natives were in close spiritual contact with nature.  Tahiti, he assumed, was one of the remaining outposts of Rousseau’s Noble Savage.  Here was a Paradise Spoiled, but Gauguin painted the “natives” or what was left of their indigenous culture.  The missionaries had forced the people to wear clothes and the native garb was actually made in Europe.  However Westernized the Tahitians were, Gauguin’s art was restored by this new inspiration.

Later Gauguin wrote a somewhat romanticized account of his stay in the tropic, Noa Noa, meaning “fragrant.” His project has been critiqued for being racist, sexist, colonialist and imperialist, which, indeed, it was. It is doubtful if his reaction to the hot climate and brown-skinned girls could have been otherwise. Gauguin’s project was not a Naturalist one.  His brief was to filter Tahitian life through the gaze of European imagination. It was in Tahiti that Gauguin’s concept that art should be decorative became manifest.  He attempted to take the indigenous art, “decorative” by Western standards, and combine it with the cloisonnism of his Pont-Aven days.  The “natives” became fixed and outlined signifiers of the exotic, and every element has been translated into Western terminology and filtered through colonial iconography. Based upon the tradition of the Academic nude, Spirit of the Dead Watching emphasized charms of his teenaged mistress, lying on her stomach.  She is the flipped over opposite of Manet’s Olympia, denied the autonomy and the confrontation of the courtesan of the Salon of 1865.  The decorative was indicated by the strongly colored local patterns seen on the blue and yellow cloth of the bed coverings.  Not only is the painting based upon Manet’s precedent, there is another precursor, Gauguin’s own work: Loss of Virginity of 1891.  Painted in Paris with a professional model, the work is “primitivized” by the Le Pouldu landscape and the presence of a fox, lying next to the prone nude woman.

Despite the efforts of the artist to put Tahiti in contexts the Parisians would understand, his audience found the works strange and off putting.  Upon his return to Paris in 1893 (with four francs in his pocket), Gauguin had a large showing with Paul Durand-Ruel and gave a private exhibition in his own rooms, painted chrome yellow and green for the occasion. Framed in white, avant-garde style, the paintings of this period were unsuccessful, attracting the attention only of the most advanced artists and dealers. With their air of sexual indolence and the omnipresent gaze of the infatuated white male directed toward young women of color, these late works raise issues sexual propriety and continue the questions of the power relations between the genders raised by the art of Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet and extend them into questions of social power and color. Gauguin’s Tahitian fantasies were constructed along now-familiar polarities of primitive vs. civilized, heathen vs. Christian, natural vs. artificial, and irrational vs. rational.

Discouraged by his lack of financial success, Gauguin left for the South Pacific in 1895 and never returned.  Although he had admirers, he did not have buyers in Paris.  He never gave up the dream of painting great decorative sequences of pictures of the exotic.  Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897), one of his last great works, is just such a scheme.  A trilogy of purely Western existential questions or the desperate queries of a wandering artist, the one-piece “triptych” is a journey told in three parts.  Gauguin casts the Polynesian women in the roles of seekers who have, perhaps, no need of asking such pointless questions. The women, guided by their god, go on a life journey from youth to old age.  In contrast to the earlier Tahitian compositions where the painting are soft in color, the scenes are dark and somber.  Only the golden bodies of the females and their white loincloths provide color in the largely blue painting. No answers came to the artist. The health of the painter became worse and worse and he died in the furthest reaches of the Pacific, the Marquesas Islands, in 1903.

Primitivism

Gauguin’s “primitivism” was rejection, not just of Western civilization but also of its assumptions that art somehow could or should imitate nature.  His accumulation of, assimilation of, assumption of varying styles allowed him to respond to nature in his own uniquely personal way, by showing another way to represent reality, his feelings, his ideas, always using that reality as his foundation. Like the artists who would come after him, Gauguin freely and shamelessly looted non-Western art, from Japanese to Javanese, and used it for his own purposes.  Although not as celebrated as his paintings, the sculptures he did in a “primitive” fashion are perhaps more directly responsive to the “primitive” art he saw.  None of the artists, museum curators, art dealers, or anthropologists saw non-Western art as “art.”  The art objects were understood only as artifacts of the “primitive” and were displayed devoid of context and stripped of meaning.  Like the terrains of the peoples of color, these objects were ripe for the taking and were used to revitalize the exhausted tradition of European art.  It would not be until the 1980s that the question of the relationship between so-called “primitive art” and what the critic, Robert Hughes, called the “cultural imperialism” would be fully considered.

Desperate for new subject matter, Gauguin preferred working from memory, reenacting what he had seen. The Day of the God (Mahana No Atua) was painted in Paris, but the setting was in Tahiti, where gods and men and women encountered each other.  The so-called “superstition” was a “survival,” a fragment of the original culture struggling to exist within the relentless Westernization.  A thoroughly Western male, Gauguin relished the “primitive” and sought it out.  He never questioned his innate superiority and overlaid the culture of the Other with his own and imprinted his vision with his imagination. Therefore, his working method was a combination of detachment from nature–in the studio–and an impassioned response to what his senses had taken in. Gauguin revealed a new vision of nature, a world redesigned into linear patterns and rich vibrant colors. The visualized results of his inner life tended to be decorative, patterned and stylized and very personal, leaving his art hovering somewhere between Realism and Symbolism. It is the dreamy symbolism of his art that separates Gauguin from the scientific realism of the Impressionists.

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Defining Post-Impressionism

Post-Impressionism

“Post Impressionism” was a term coined after the historical fact by the English art critic, Roger Fry, in 1910 on the occasion of an exhibition at the Grafton Galleries in London entitled “Manet and the Post-Impressionists.” Although the art critic extended “post-Impressionism” to include Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, Fry focused on three principle artists, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne, who the critic understood as those who followed Manet out of the cul-de-sac of naturalism. Later Fry realized that he was wrong to exclude  Georges Seurat and today art history tends to list him along with the four main Post-Impressionist artists.  An art expert on Italian art, Fry put on a second exhibition of Post-Impressionists in 1912, again expanding his concept of “post.”  In this show he included, not just the French, but also Russian and British artists who were impacted by the Post-Impressionists.  Movements such as Fauvism and Cubism owed a great deal to those four artists, and Fry’s exhibitions were precient.  However, the British audience reacted to his artists with the same shock that would greet the Armory Show in New York City in 1913.  Writing in Vision and Design in 1920, Fry stated, “Nothing I could say would induce people to look carefully at these pictures to see how closely they followed tradition.”

Definitions

For the mainstream audience who saw these artists, the art was anything but traditional.  Instead it was “anarchist and degenerate,” typical charges hurled at any kind of art that challenged the status quo.  Not only did the Post-Impressionists follow the Impressionists with their high-key color and complex and individualized brushwork, the artists also exhibited independently. In addition to putting on their own shows, artists now had the Société des artistes indépendants, which launched in 1884.   The transition out of and away from Impressionism included the older Impressionists themselves who found themselves at creative and formal dead ends by the 1880s.  By the end of the decade, Naturalism had peaked and there was a general shift in the avant-garde circles towards idealism and spirituality and personal expression.  That said, the shift was formally based upon innovations of the Impressionists, such as the idea of a composition as an abstract design and the elimination of perspective.

The same can be said of other artists of the fin-de-siècle era, but art history has selected Seurat, Gauguin, van Gogh, and Cézanne as being the most important to later artists.  This emphasis on those four artists led to the later neglect of interesting and important artists, such as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard and Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard.  Art historian, Richard Shone, argued that Toulouse-Lautrec was essentially a poster artist and that Bonnard and Vuillard were more like the Impressionists than the Post-impressionists.  Most contemporary art historians would agree with Shone. “Post-Impressionism” was not a movement but a concept, that was developed after most of the artists were dead. Although these artists matured and developed their art during the 1880s and the 1890s, public awareness of their accomplishments lagged behind the execution of the actual works. What made Fry’s exhibition so groundbreaking was that he attempted to create a history of a series of movements that were still neither understood nor known to the art audiences.

Reception

The general public and the mainstream art critics and the forces of the Academy still had to take Impressionism into account and assimilate its implications.  The artistic Establishment refused to accept Impressionism, although the movement had been assimilated and softened in the Salons. The Impressionists, on their part, continued to be viable and increasingly prominent painters for a growing number of discerning collectors.  By the turn of the century, they had been warily accepted by the old avant-garde segment of the art public and were considered to the prevailing artistic hegemony to be challenged by avant-garde artists.  The Post-Impressionists, in their own time, were virtually unknown to the art public and, by the time of Cubism, were still being explained by the critics.  The artists, as Fry pointed out, came “after” or were “post” the Impressionists and were strongly influenced by these avant-garde masters.

The Post-Impressionists tried to follow the Impressionists in the art market but with less success.  To a public unwilling to accept Impressionism, Post-Impressionism would have been unacceptable.  The Post-Impressionists would have had what Pierre Bourdieu called “an audience of producers,” in other words, they painted only for each other.  Modern times may have called for a “modern art,” but the new audience–the bourgeoisie–wanted familiar art. Academic artists gave the public what it seemed to want: stories illustrated in a narrative form and representations through the accepted conventions of traditional realism.  In contrast to these artists who respected this public need for verisimilitude, the avant-garde artists attempted to create a new language, a new sign system, suitable to and reflective of the new subjects demanded by the new era.

The theoretical and critical writings of the period were strident, and they had to be–to set the new movements definitely and defiantly apart from their predecessors.  Much to the distress of the artist, Albert Aurier wrote the first article on van Gogh in the artist’s lifetime and discussed Vincent in Symbolist terms.  However, these artists and these writers and these movements all have precedents, and these precedents are those very same objects of ridicule: Realism and Impressionism, which were firmly based upon nature and reality.  The quarrel between the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists was not whether or not to depict or respond to nature but how this subject matter is treated—passively or actively.  The famous quarrel between Gauguin and van Gogh was over the role of imagination (Gauguin) versus the role of observation of nature (van Gogh).   Gauguin insisted that the artist should take liberties with the observed object and interpret what he saw.  Van Gogh retorted that the artist should respond to nature and express his feelings.  Both are insisting on a personal and subjective response, which is part of a general cultural shift away from the materialism of the previous decades and a return to the idealism of the past century.

Style

Vincent van Gogh extended and exaggerated Impressionist broken brush strokes and absorbed the impact Japanese prints.  Paul Gauguin rejected Impressionist passivity and objectivity and obedience to nature and developed an allegorical and symbolic art.  Georges Seurat, like van Gogh, expanded Impressionist, but went in the direction of science, bringing the Impressionist study of color to its logical extreme.  Paul Cézanne simply turned his back on his former colleagues and returned to the obscurity of his hometown of Aix, in Provence, where he would meditate upon the nature of vision and its role in painting.

Because these new artists, van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin and Cézanne, were so close in time to the Twentieth century, it is tempting to view their works with Twentieth century eyes and to read into Post-Impressionism anachronistic Twentieth century motivations—the artists were on the road towards abstraction. The stylistic changes made by these artists seem very significant and can be over-determined.  For the most part, the subject matter remains the same—modern life—while the use of line, color and forms becomes formalized and decorative and expressionistic. And because the Post-Impressionists were attempting to go beyond or to get away from Impressionism, it is equally tempting to conclude that these artists rejected nature and reality along with objectivity.  This assumption of a lack of interest in actual nature is bolstered by the dramatic stylistic changes and by the theoretical writings that accompanied them.

The Nineteenth century artists do not turn away from nature and end up in the mental world of abstraction. That was the task of Twentieth century artists who reject representation as the goal of art.  Nineteenth Century artists considered representation of reality as a response to nature, to be the purpose of art. They differed only in the means, dark outlines? Flat colors? Points of color?. Post-Impressionism admitted or allowed greater subjectivity and thus brought up the question of the nature of reality and the proper artistic response to a conceptual definition of reality.  If it is accepted that the basic idea that reality has an objective basis, which is modified by a subjective response, then the art of the Post-Impressionist era is bound to produce varying and individualistic attempts to interpret, not illustrate, to express, not to copy, nature.

Content

These artists were equally concerned with the source of subjects for the fin-de-siècle artist.  Emile Bernard followed Paul Gauguin in his pursuit of the “primitive” in the French countryside, an obvious objection of Impressionist suburbia. The artists who followed Impressionism most closely preferred the city of Paris and the private lives of its inhabitants as their subjects. The Paris of the Third Republic was just as involved in risqué entertainment—the balls, the cabarets, the cafés and the houses of prostitution—still catering to the haut bourgeois gentleman.  Toulouse-Lautrec, a student of popular culture, could be termed the inventor of the modern poster, elevating a form of low art to a type of high art, pasted on the walls.  His posters, which advertised sites of the infamous “can-can” were quickly torn down by his many admirers who considered them works of art.  Pierre Bonnard and Edouard Vuillard continued the tradition of depicting the “intimate” space of private middle class lives, pioneered by Gustave Caillebot and Edgar Degas.

In contrast to the naturalism of some of the Post-Impressionists, there was a growing interest in all that was spiritual.  In the wake of the Pont-Aven School, the Nabis were formed due to the initiative of Paul Sérusier.  Drawn to Catholicism and to Theosophy, the some of the Nabis admired their leader’s famous painting, Le Talisman, and courted the mental image–that is the imagination–slavishly producing a mere resemblance to the real world. The term “nabi” means “prophet,” indicating the exalted state of mind sought by artists such as Maurice Denis and Paul Ranson. Denis was a Catholic painter who retired from public life to be a member of the third order of the Franciscans. He is best remembered, however, for his formalist statements on the role of art, written in Art et critique in 1890:

“Remember that before it is a war-horse, a naked woman or a trumpery anecdote, a painting is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.”

These words became the watchword of the age and were obeyed by generations of artists to come.

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Manet and the Impressionists

MANET AND IMPRESSIONISM 

Édouard Manet’s images of Paris were unprecedented in their unsparing modernity, the sights and scenes that delighted the boulevardier. The painter himself, an elegant dandy, lounged congenially at the Café Tortoni, the Café Guerbois, and especially the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes, where his followers would gather around. Although he studied as an apprentice under the Dutch Masters and Spanish Masters, the painter asserted, “The eye should forget all else it has seen…and the hand becomes guided only by the will, oblivious of all previous training.” The ideal of the “innocent eye” appeared in the guise of a small boy depicted in Courbet’s The Painter’s Studio (1854) gazing at the artist working on a natural landscape.  One of the main goals of the Realist artist was to see in a manner uncorrupted by learned habits or by the received wisdom of academic training.  In other words, in the time of Courbet and Manet, “representation” meant a system of rules and conventions, all or which had to be discarded in favor of simple observation and a passive recording of what one perceived.  Whether or not it was Manet’s intention to free painting from its traditional role of representation, he did in fact create a new system of notation, a system of marks of paint, which (semiotically) signed instead of imitated, thus developing a new language of painting, based upon gestures of paint.  Manet understood what had escaped Courbet: if painting/representation was a code or a system of signs, then a new semiotic system of mark making could be created.  All one had to do was to learn this new language in which strokes (taches) of paint “stood for” something else.

Manet’s rupture with the established way of making art was definitive and final.  Once he had pointed out that any kind of mark would do the job, he had sensed the truth that would be iterated by Fernand de Saussure—that the relationship between a word and a thing was arbitrary, bound by a convention based upon a network of relationships among the signifiers.  The Academy understood the surface of the canvas to be a window to the world; and, therefore, this “pane” or canvas must be transparent in order to be seen through.  The Academy assumed that the marks made by the artist were connected to the object rendered, that the two became one, just like a word acquired the properties of the thing.  But Manet created a new language of paint and painting, a system of casual shorthand notation, relying upon the active mind to close the gap between a code and a recreation of that which is rendered.  That said, Manet’s followers, the Impressionists, would respond to his method of paining in a variety of ways.  Some, like Monet and Renoir, would adopt the broken brushwork to plein air painting; others, such as Berthe Morisot, would apply the sketchiness to an informal modern style.  Cézanne would take the idea of mark as “correspondence” and use the stroke to signify a new way of seeing: without the crutch of perspective.  All of the Impressionists reacted to the famous “blond” tone of Manet and lightened their grounds and their paint colors, creating a burst of light that shocked the art audience.

It was the English art critic, Roger Fry, who, in his show at the Grafton Gallery in London in 1910, attempted to create a family tree of avant-garde art, starting with Manet.  Manet’s younger admirers were nicknamed the “Impressionists” after a now stolen painting by Claude Monet, Impression—Sunrise (1874).  The name was not intended as a compliment but as a condemnation, and, like many names of derision to come, this label stuck.  The Impressionists were unusual in that they formally joined together as an incorporated association and exhibited together from 1874 to 1886.  The Société anonyme des artistes, peintures, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc. also known as the Impressionists, were a varied group.  Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir were lower middle class men, just one step above working class.  In contrast, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt and Gustave Caillebotte were wealthy haute bourgeoisie. Camille Pissarro was working class and an anarchist, while the others were generally apolitical.  Alfred Sisley was Anglo-French and was overshadowed by the other artists, and, unlike them, did grow over time or create new content. Paul Cézanne was trained as a lawyer and was notoriously confrontational with the jurors of the Salons until he finally subsided into a self-imposed exile in his home territory of Aix.

The mix of class was not that unusual but the inclusion of women marked the association as different from their all-male predecessors.   The mix of class and gender resulted in a variety of content and selection of subject matter among the Impressionists.  Largely self-taught artists, like Gustave Courbet, Monet and his painting partner, Renoir, had neither the money nor the inclination to follow Manet and his rich friend, Edgar Degas, into the brothels, the cabaret and to the bals.   Likewise, Gustave Callibotte and Alfred Sisley seem to have been too respectable for scandalous subject matter.   The American artist, Mary Cassatt and the Parisian artist, Berthe Morisot, were respectable women and were quite restricted in their activities, both social and artistic.   Some of the artists produced landscapes, others interiors only, others, like Manet and Cassatt, treated the exterior like an interior.

The followers of the Impressionists were, in turn, an equally motley crew.  Although there were no women among them, they were all outsider artists.   In comparison, the Impressionist women, Cassatt and Morisot, had impeccable training but rebelled against what they had learned.  The new generation, including Gauguin and Cézanne, later called the “Post-Impressionists,” was mentored by Pissarro.  Impressionist artist and Manet follower, Paul Cézanne had his convoluted and disturbed male fantasies, but he kept them private and on small canvases and honed his craft painting side by side with Pissarro. A devout Socialist, Pissarro rarely left the suburbs to come to the wicked city of Paris, and together the two painters produced a memorable series of landscapes. A Sunday painter and student of Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin, abandoned his wife and family and lived his out desire for artistic freedom but kept his sexual passions to himself until his Tahitian period. Vincent van Gogh left his sympathy for the peasant behind when he left his native country of Holland and came to Paris where he saw Impressionist paintings and his palette burst into bright colors.

The Impressionists emerged in 1874, four years after the fall of the Second Empire.  The years that followed the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and the uprising of the Commune had left the nation exhausted and eager to heal.  The art audiences had lost patience for controversy and provocation. In comparison to the earlier Bohemians, the Impressionists had no desire to starve or to suffer for their art.   They wanted financial success and security, something that could not be found by throwing themselves at the unyielding bulwark of the Salon juries.  The Impressionists formed an economic organization, designed to sell art directly to adventurous avant-garde collectors. In contrast to Courbet and Manet, who were transitional artists, committed to the Salon system, both the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists were true independents, true avant-garde painters, making and showing art completely outside the Salons.

Respectable and middle class, the Impressionists and their followers did not seek shocking scenes but showed the contented middle class in its new leisure time activities in a world of outdoor entertainment. With an eye to the art market and possible purchase, van Gogh restricted himself to non-controversial portraiture and landscape paintings.   Only Georges Seurat followed Manet and Degas by continuing to celebrate the popular culture of Paris and its dark and sleazy demi-monde.  Suburbia or the near countryside, just outside of Paris, were the preferred locales for the outdoor artists, in contrast to the sexually charged interiors of Manet and later, of Degas. Impressionist paintings reflected middle class interests and the domestic needs of the aspiring class.  The size of their paintings were small, designed for respectable living rooms, were deliberately decorative and inoffensive, with content free of political contention and sexual scandal.

The Impressionists were not satirical or sarcastic, and only Degas deliberately attempted to be provocative. Unlike Manet, the Impressionists did not consult art historical dictionaries for precedents, nor, after their initial attempts at success, did they attempt to cater to or react against the Academy.  Certainly, from time to time, some of the group were tempted to try for acceptance in a Salon but all insisted on painting in their own terms.  Unlike Courbet or Manet, the group had no strategy to assault the Academy but sought to create positions in an unguarded commercial field and to make their marks in a completely new territory.  Their subject matter was wholly new, completely modern, depicting activities, which had, quite simply, not existed before, such as the new English sport of sailing and the new penchant for the scandalous pleasure of public bathing.  Equally unprecedented was the intimate view into the cloistered world of the privileged middle class woman revealed by Cassatt and Morisot with their quite intimate interiors, reflecting the enclosed boredom reserved for females.  Also new was the male counterpart to Cassatt and Morisot, Caillebotte’s record of the luxurious lifestyle of well-to-do bourgeois men during the Third Republic.  Caillebotte would, from time to time, put the nude (upper-class) male on non-erotic but naturalistic display in invasively private paintings. Deliberately severing themselves from the normal channels of artistic recognition, the Impressionists sought the patronage of the newly rich middle classes through a series of independent exhibitions. It can be said that the Impressionists rejected the Romantic conception of the artist as a poet and accepted the entrepreneurial role of the artist as a business-person and upwardly mobile worker.

Like Manet, the Impressionists reveled in modernité described so unforgettably by Charles Baudelaire in The Painter of Modern Life.  Every touch or tache of the brush, each casual mark evoked the “fugitive” and the “ephemeral” aspects of an ever-changing urban environment. Stressing the generation break with the older Realists, the Impressionists were uninterested in the country life celebrated by Gustave Courbet and Rosa Bonheur and showed the blunt newness of a post-war industrialized Paris. The Impressionists reached out to the middle class audience by concentrating on the familiar aspects of city life, the newly developed suburban areas, and the accompanying novelties of respectable entertainment.  The male artists inherited the attitude of the city-dwellers who enjoyed a “Day in the Country,” a weekend excursion now possible because of the spread of a network of suburban railway lines that took the Parisians away from the City of Light.  The female artists developed new content about the “modern woman” who was confined to quarters, living a life of caged privilege.  Courbet and Manet had led the way in their use and appropriation of popular imagery, such as the images d’Epinal, and the Impressionists were equally interested in popular posters and contemporary art and attempted to combine popular iconography with experimental style. With the Impressionists, the subject matter or content they selected was as provocative as their revolutionary sketchy style of the plain-air painters, such as Sisley, born of a necessarily hasty execution.

Impressionist paintings also utilized Dutch and/or Japanese compositions combined with careful optical examination of color and light that alienated them from mainstream art.  Like their predecessors, the Impressionists admired the ordinary vistas and high horizon lines of Dutch landscape painting. Many art historians have claimed that the arbitrary cropping of amateur photography may have had some impact upon the Impressionists, but a careful review of nineteenth century photography suggests that photographers preferred centered compositions. It is likely that the art historians, many of whom formed their theories in the wake of vernacular photography in the 1960s, are reading Impressionist paintings anachronistically.  The combination of the centered subject and the unavoidable slicing off of elements on the edge seen in Impressionism most likely came from Japanese art.  The Ukiyo-e prints, imported from Japan, were erroneously called “Chinese” at first by the French who thought of the Japanese, and all Asians as, “primitive.”  The Edo period prints, collected by the Impressionist artists who thought the brightly colored scenes of daily life to be master works of a naïve vision, were actually popular prints with little value in Japan.  Influenced by their exposure to Western art by the Dutch traders, the Japanese artists interpreted Western perspective as the abstract design it actually was.  To the delight of the French artists, the Ukiyo-e prints played with high viewpoints, insistent horizontal banding and spatial ambiguity. It was Degas who exploited Japonisme, the historical back-and-forth between Eastern art and Western art, in his paintings of ballet dancers.

As this general summary of Impressionism indicates, the movement and its art was a complex manifestation of manifold positions and varied influences.  With Édouard Manet as their leader, the Impressionists followed his stylistic example but not his journey into the Salon.  The Impressionists persuaded Manet to leave his studio and to venture out into the sunlight where he produced a few landscapes.  But Manet and the Impressionists came from different generations.  Manet was a dandy, a survivor of the Second Empire, while the Impressionists were sons and daughters of the political patchwork called the Third Republic.  The result was both an extension of the Master’s painting and a rejection of Manet’s subject matter.  Often presented in terms of landscape painting only, as a movement of broken brushwork only, the movement was actually quite varied in both style and content.  There are many ways to view Impressionism: as a formal revolution in painting, as a contrast between the lives of men and women, as an early foray into the art market, and a study of how artists mature over the course of long careers.

See Also:

“Impressionism and Technique” 

“Impressionism: Class and Gender” 

“Impressionism and the Art Market” 

“Impressionism and the Landscape”

and the Podcast “Manet and Impressionism”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.  Thank you.

info@arthistoryunstuffed.com

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