Impressionism

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The Dance Class by Edgar Degas 1874

You’re hired!  Now, paint a picture of reality, use color to excite, focus on the effect of light and infuse together in a scene of immediacy.  You might think that these instructions would leave an artist in the 1800’s scratching their head, but you would be wrong.  Considered as the first movement in modern art, Impressionism began during this time in France.  Impressionists were not a formal artistic group but a collaboration of artists seeking recognition for their innovative techniques and approach to using color in art.  Contemporary developments in color theory created more of an exact analysis of the effect of color and light in nature.  To accurately capture the atmosphere of the moment, artists had to work quickly.  Details and outlines had to be sacrificed, instead using strokes of small bright color.  Paintings took on a feel of spontaneity and subject matter was mainly landscape, portrait, still life and figure composition.  The development of photography and Japanese woodcuts influenced the Impressionists style.  I really adore artwork during this time because the minimal detail creates subject with wide-open spaces that are not complicated and easy to absorb.  With this disentangle, I can fully swallow every brush stroke, color and emotion captured in a snapshot of time.

Blue Dancers
by Edgar Degas 1899

Edgar Degas was a French painter that created delicate artwork that I find spellbinding and vivid.  My favorite subjects are the ballet dancers he painted backstage or in rehearsal, highlighting their status as professionals at work.  He was a master at accurately freezing a moment in time while preserving a sense of movement in the subject.  Degas shies away from the Impressionist title, “No art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing” (1).  Critics disagree and Degas has earned a place in this movement, “The changes to his palette, brushwork, and sense of composition all evidence the influence that both the Impressionist movement and modern photography, with its spontaneous images and off-kilter angles, had on his work” (1).  I find it rare that an artist subject is seen through the eyes of the spectator.  Unusual viewpoint and angle often give Degas’s paintings a sense of looking at a photograph or real life.

Portrait of Felix Feneon
by Paul Signac 1890

By 1910, “The Post-Impressionists were dissatisfied with the triviality of subject matter and the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings, though they did not agree on the way forward” (2).  Modern urban scenes, landscapes and seashores became the focus of many art pieces during this time.  Systematic use of tiny dots of color called Pointillism was used.  Impulsive mannerisms were refined by using practical guidance to mix color for optimum visual impact and applying brush strokes that were conscientious calculated.  I like that this new style changed the expressive effect of art through unnatural or random colors that were unrestrained, but the subject matter is stale.  French painter Paul Signac’s painting Portrait of Felix Feneon features subject matter that I find mediocre and dormant, but the unusual shapes and colors are hypnotizing.  Signac is a great example of a painter during this time, “he abandoned the short brushstrokes of impressionism to experiment with scientifically juxtaposed small dots of pure color, intended to combine and blend not on the canvas but in the viewer’s eye, the defining feature of pointillism” (3).

The Birth of Venus
by Sandro Botticelli 1486

“Renaissance art sought to capture the experience of the individual and the beauty and mystery of the natural world” (4).  Emerging around the 1400, a perspective art technique was popular, in which parallel lines are represented as converging to give illusion of depth and distance.  Artists studied light, shadow and human anatomy.  Subject matter depicted an appreciation for beauty, fantasy, elaborate religious imagery and historical documentation.  Engaging me into a world of fantasy is what I find most appealing during this period.  The Birth of Venus by Italian painter Sandro Botticelli is a great example of this type of captured illusion.  The elongated neck and torso of Venus may be anatomically improbable, but this leisure visually enhances a feeling of fantasy. The two-dimensionality creates simple effective lines that are easy to following and pleasing to view. The lighter colors appear to emerge from darker areas, creating the illusion of rounded and sculptured detail on flat surfaces.

Venus at her Mirror
by Diego Velazquez 1647-1651

“The appeal of Baroque style turned consciously from the witty, intellectual qualities of 16th century Mannerist art to a visceral appeal aimed at the senses. It employed an iconography that was direct, simple, obvious, and dramatic…” (5). Beginning around 1600, this style emphasized grandeur, political and cultural changes, overt emotional content and realism.  Intense light and dark shading and appropriate colors to create an emotional connection were used.  I find little charm and lure in subject matter that is often engaging in awkward positions that look uncomfortable.  Coloring that gravitates toward dark is depressing and serious.  The overall simplicity of Venus at her Mirror by Spanish painter Diego Velazquez is one gem I found that is revitalizing and attractive.  The skin color of the nude female radiates warmth against black linens, she wears no jewelry and her hair is neatly up.  The dark room is void of distractions, creating intense focus toward the sensual lines of the female.  The intrepid path that Velazquez took in this painting gives me hope that I may stumble upon another painting in this period I find exciting.

The Artist’s Daughters, Molly and Peggy
by Thomas Gainsborough 1760

Branching off into many styles is the Classical period beginning around 1700.  Pastel color, curving forms and light pleasant subject matter were popular.  Individual thinking was breaking out and subject matter was serious and praised tolerance.  I find the emphasis on formal composition, historical and contemporary settings to be unvaried and sterile.  But sparks did fly when I discovered an anomaly, “On looking at them, we find tears in our eyes and know not what brings them” (6).  This statement perfectly describes how I felt when I discovered The Artist`s Daughters, Molly and Peggy by English painter Thomas Gainsborough.  I can’t take my eyes off Gainsborough’s portraits; I find them intriguing, sweet and simple.  Every subject displays subtle emotion and their attention appears to be captivated just off-screen.  No matter what portrait I view from Gainsborough’s collection, I get the feeling that every subject has something on their mind.  Questions and mystery, surrounding what is happening at that moment in time, peaks my curiosity and nothing more.

Word citation:

(1) http://www.edgar-degas.org/biography.html

(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post-Impressionism

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Signac

(4) http://www.history.com/topics/renaissance-art

(5) http://www.artinthepicture.com/styles/Baroque/

(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Gainsborough

(7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renaissance

(8) http://www.theartgallery.com.au/kidsart/learn/impressionism/

(9) http://artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/art_movements/impressionism.htm

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8 responses »

  1. I think that you blog was very interesting to read. You had a lot of history and a lot of opinions supported by this history. The way that you wrote was very easy to read and understand your direct thoughts, You spoke about different art styles and how their paintings and similar and different from impressionism.

  2. Your post was very informative and you did a great job of comparing Impressionism to other eras. You provided great examples that showcased the features you mentioned for the different eras and cited your information well.
    I really like the Post-Impressionistic piece you shared, Portrait of Felix Feneon by Paul Signac. I also enjoyed the Impressionistic Blue Dancers by Edgar Degas. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

  3. I very much enjoyed you multiple examples of different artist and their work you did amazing. You presented a lot of good information with the correct citations. My favorite piece of art work that you shared was from the Post-Impressionistic, Portrait of Felix Feneon by Paul Signac, due to its bright colors and simplistic pattern of a background.

  4. I continue to have difficulty to find anything wrong with your posts. I like how you discuss each aspect of Impressionism, then discuss how you feel about each aspect. It really helps the reader when you first describe what we are talking about, then how you feel about it. Great examples and comparison to other artistic eras.

    If someone held a gun to my head and told me to find something wrong with your post, I would say it is a bit lengthy. That’s not usually something I would fault for, but I feel it might apply in this case. This was a piece about your aesthetic reaction to Impressionism, and it seems like your post was a bit heavy on the factual as opposed to the emotional. It’s not really a problem, but maybe something you should take into consideration in posts to come.

    Great job once again! I look forward to reading more!!

  5. Your enthusiasm for Impressionism is palatable, but not contagious, (I am not moved by Impressionism aesthetically). Really good post. I did feel the focus was a bit too much on your reaction to several art periods, as opposed to your reaction to Impressionism compared to your reaction to Baroque, Renaissance, etc, overall. It’s evident you’ve done your research though. Every time I see Degas’ paintings, I think of the young adult novel, Ballet Shoes, because the edition I grew up reading used his paintings as the cover.

  6. Great blog! It was very easy to understand and realize where you were coming from. The general background information on Impressionism as a whole at the beginning was a nice touch. You did an excellent job comparing Impressionism to other styles of artwork. I am personally not a fan of Impressionism artwork but I thought you did a great job iterating your appreciation of it and how it compared to other art time periods and styles.

  7. Good post. I enjoyed how your presented the background information about the era and explained how and why there is minimal detail in the paintings. I agree that it is impressive how much detail these artists were able to create during a short time period. To me knowing this adds even more emphasis to certain details because they had to choose what to specifically emphasize based on the large array of activity in a particular scene. Also you managed to incorporate all of the different eras that we have learned about so far and I appreciate your background information but I did notice that you didn’t really contrast them with the impressionism style much. Also you mention qualities of all the eras that you enjoyed but do you have particular one that you favor the most?

  8. Yours are my favorite blogs to read. You seem to have such enthusiasm and always give a very thorough, detailed, and opinionated answer. You also describe the images in a way which enhances them, it’s always a pleasure to read.

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