The impressionist movement, which developed chiefly in France during
the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is often considered to mark the
beginning of the modern period in art. It began when a group of painters in
search of new approaches met together informally in the outskirts of Paris.
This group of men formed the basis of a movement which was destined to
change the world of painting by the addition of never before seen ranges of
color and light.
Traditionally, the arts were sponsored and supported by a small,
refined group, and reflected the tastes and interests of the nobles. But the
spread of industrialism created a new middle class that was too strong to keep
the once-traditional role of the nobility as the sponsors of art. The society,
motivated by profit and power, were not interested in artistic integrity or
creativity. Instead, they created a school of art abundant with ordinary, dull
themes. Landscapes other than those set amidst mythological or historical
themes were looked down upon. Portraits that were “beautiful” and skillfully
done were the ones that became popular. Paintings like these were approved
by the Ecole of Beaux Arts in Paris and exhibited in the biennial Salons.
For an artist in the late 1800’s, the Salon was a matter of life and death.
No one could hope to achieve fame and fortune without exhibition of his
work in the Salon. However, M. Signal, who was in charge of choosing the
works for exhibition, rejected more than 4,000 paintings for the Salon of
1863. He was so strict that the Emperor himself decided to intervene.
Because of his initiative, another exhibit, the Salon des Refuses, was opened
at the same time as the official salon.
It was at this time that impressionism first began to appear. Artists
Eugène Boudin, Stanislas Lépine and the Dutch Jongkind were among the
originators of the movement. In 1858, Eugène Boudin met Claude Monet,
who was 15 years old at the time. He took him to the seashore, where he
gave him paint and taught him to observe the changing lights on the Seine
bay. A few years later, Boudin’s work gained a bit of popularity as it
attracted painters such as Bazille, Monet, and Sisley. After this incident, the
four artists began to work together.
In 1863, the group discovered a porcelain painter by the name of
Auguste Renoir, and later inspirational Edouard Manet. Meanwhile, other
artists who were working in the Swiss Academy, were also against the
standards of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The eldest, from the Danish West
Indies, was Camille Pissarro; the other two were Paul Cézanne and Armand
Guillaumin. Gradually, all of these painters began to work together, influence
each other, and exhibited together independently.
The reason why impressionism arose was the dissatisfaction with the
standard and sentimental subjects, and dry, precise techniques of paintings
that were approved by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Rejecting the
standards that were required for a chance at exhibition in the Salon, the
impressionists preferred to paint outdoors, choosing landscapes and street
scenes, as well as figures from everyday life.
There were three styles of impressionism. First was the broken color
method in which objects were reproduced by means of brush strokes of
various colors placed next to each other. Instead of mixing colors together on
a palette, color was stroked on separately and the eye of the observer mixes
them. This was done by Monet. Another method used light in a different
way. Patches of color, rather than differences in value to imply lighting, were
made. Manet used this technique. Finally, a third method was pointillism,
which was painting by means of dots of pure color. Changing the combination
of colors of the dots would show the faintest ranges in form and color.
Seurat, who later joined the group, employed pointillism in many of his
works. However, the impressionists did have one common goal: This was
to achieve a free, undetailed version of the world through careful
representation of the effect of natural light on objects.
When the 1863 Salon took place, the impressionists work was rejected.
However, the creation of the Salon des Refusés made it possible for Manet,
Pissarro, Jongkind, Cals, Chintreuil, Fantin-Latour and a few others to show
their works. Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, which was a painting of two men and a
naked women having lunch in the woods, provoked great enthusiasm among
the young painters. These artists saw many of their views represented in
Manet's painting. They began to meet around him in the café Guerbois, 9,
avenue de Clichy, creating l'école des