French Impressionism and Post-impressionism Essay

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French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
Post French revolution, 1845 lead to a democratic government, with Napoleon III as leader, which lead to an emergent affluent upper-middle class (Gunderson, 2009). No longer was the appreciation of art reserved for the formerly ruling, elite, upper-class. The merchants and industrialists of the rising upper-middle-class although having interest in art, were insecure about their education and judgment of art. They relied upon the critics and artistic jurors to establish artistic credibility. Exhibitions, called Salons, were sponsored by the government for the purpose of displaying and judging art. Salons became nearly the only forum for presenting artists’ works and show to potential patrons. Only wealthy artists were able to produce their own, independent exhibitions (The Hermitage, Leningrad; Pushkin Mus, Moscow; Nat. Gal. of Art, Washington, 1986).
Scientific discoveries were also taking place around this same time that would have an impact on Impressionism. In 1839 photographic cameras were invented. This freed the artist from having to document people, places and events. This opened the door to inspiring artist to venture into personal expression. In this same year the first accurate explanation of color perception was published. This presented artists with a workable theory of pigment mixing. In 1841 an American scientist-artist patented folding tin tubes to hold oil paint. Prior to this invention the process of mixing pigment was arduous and had a short life due to spoilage. An entire studio could now fit in a brief case due to paint tubes. This facilitated travel to distance far into the country side to paint in the open air (The Hermitage, Leningrad; Pushkin Mus, Moscow; Nat. Gal. of Art, Washington, 1986). These are some of the factors that helped Impressionism evolve.
Impressionism is not easily defined. Artists in this movement were rejecting the disciplined art of realism. No longer was the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully (Gunderson, 2009). Works now seemed sketchy, almost unfinished. The main theme of this new movement was to depict modern life and to paint in the open air (Welton, 1993). Impressionists’ interest focused on lights’ effects on the eye more than the true physical description of the subject (Gunderson, 2009).
The term Impressionism was derived from a painting by Claude Monet titled Impression, Sunrise (Couthion, 1977/1977). Of this work Monet said, “Landscape is nothing but an impression, and an instant one” (Gunderson, 2009, p. 14). A critic coined the phrase Impressionism mockingly, meant as an insult. Critics felt this style was not conscious or purposeful. The artists’ reclaimed this label as a badge of honor using it to promote their work and exhibitions (Gunderson, 2009).
The painting titled “On the Seine at Bennecourt” by Claude Monet is one of the earliest recognizably Impressionist landscapes. It fits the general guide lines of the definition of Impressionism by being painted in the open air, in a minimal amount of sittings, using broad, bright patches of color. The woman in the picture is Monet’s future wife but it is not, in anyway, a portrait of her. Monet does not try to display details but tries to capture the whole scene as if in on glance (Gunderson, 2009).
The term “Post-Impressionism” was coined by American art critic Roger Fry in 1910. It was simply a way to identify art after the Impressionism era. It also refers to the later works of Impressionists as their styles had changed and developed beyond the parameters of Impressionism. Post-Impressionist artists did not form groups or movements. The term does not refer to a style of painting (Wiggins, 1993). Post-impression artists all had individual styles and techniques. They often shared an interest in color, shape, lines (Bingham, 2009) and the desire to change “the world of external appearance” that had been so important to the