Art History:  Grade 4 Lesson 6

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  ART AS IT CHANGES - The Impressionists


Jean Auguste Ingres is an example of a classical artist who was accepted by the official judges of art, The Salon. In contrast, the Impressionists brought a revolution in painting.

The name of this group of artists was negatively bestowed on them when one of their group, Claude Monet, exhibited the picture Impression - Sunrise. The name aptly held on since it implies a strong characteristic of the movement which was based on the instantaneous vision and unfinished, immediate expression. Another characteristic of these painters is their closeness to nature even to the point of painting and completing the work out of doors on the spot. The content of the painting was mundane without any moral or message. But the commonplace was idealized. more important than the subject matter was to catch the light and atmosphere of a particular time of day. Colors were loosely applied and the viewers eyes blended them into the appropriate affect of sparkle or mistiness. Much in the painting was left to suggestion.

Perhaps these artists were aware of the scientific discoveries in the nature of light and the physiology of the eye and the daguerreotype process.

Physicists developed the science of color in the 1800s. bending light rays through a prism, they saw the visible spectrum, a rainbow. Artists did their own speculation on the nature of the visual experience. They became most concerned about light and color. Objects and form are implied by the absorption and refraction of various intensities of light. Lines do not exist in nature and shadows are not black but tens to take on a color complementary to that of the objects that cast them. The concern of the painter should therefore be with light and color more than objects and substances. A painting should consist of a breakdown  of sunlight into its component parts. Brilliance could be achieved by painting dabs of the primary colors close together and the mixing left to the spectator's eye. These paintings must then be viewed from a distance in order not to be seen as a chaos of colors.


  1. Madame de Sennones, 1814, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, French (1780-1867) Museum of Fine Arts, Nantes, France. Reproduction print.
     Ingres spent his early life in Montauban and studied at the Academy of Toulouse. In the Paris studio of David he developed his own style under the influence of John Flaxman, Raphael, and Etruscan painters. In 1806 he went to Italy spending 14 years in Rome and 4 in Florence. During that time he painted historical mythological and religious scenes as well as making fine pencil and graphite portraits of foreign visitors. between 1820 and 1824 he executed a major commission The vow of Louis XIII for the Cathedral Montauban. his work was well received by the Salon of 1824, so Ingres returned to Paris and concentrated on the historical paintings of The Apotheosis of Homer  and The Martyrdom of St. Symphorien. From 1835 to 1841 he was again in Rome as Director of the French Academy. This period was devoted primarily to teaching and revising the curriculum but he also found time to paint Odalisque, bathing nudes, portraits and religious subjects. The last 26 years of his life was a productive time, as seen by the numerous female portraits and drawings of his friends as well as religious and historical subjects. These later works indicate a freer, more robust manner of handling than that of his earlier style.

    Madame de Sonnones illustrates the type of painting accepted by the French Salon, the vehicle for the success of an artist during the early Impressionistic years. note the detailed perfection of the woman and her surroundings. The letter and it's message on the mirror. Feel the surface of the materials especially the precision of the lace. The artist conveys the message of wealth and gives us an exact or else complimentary likeness of the woman.



  2. By the Seashore, Pierre Auguste Renoir, French (1841-1919), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. Reproduction print.
     Renoir painted porcelain in his native Limoges before moving to Paris, where he was greatly influenced by the works of Corbet, Watteau and Raphael in the Louvre. Painting out-of-doors with Monet helped to lighten his colors and loosen his brushstroke. During this period Renoir painted many gay cafe and boating scenes, some of which he exhibited at the Salon, and he exhibited in the first Impressionists Exhibitions. Later Renoir traveled widely through Europe. After studying Raphael's work in Rome, Renoir's drawings grew tighter and more linear in style. The late period of his work was almost solely concerned with the female nude; among them, the Bathers assume solid, simple forms softened by warm tones of pink and red. Arthritis crippled Renoir's hands so severely that he could paint only by having the brush taped to his wrist. Despite this handicap, he continued to exalt in the simple beauty of nature which he felt so strongly in flowers and the human form.

    Together with Monet, Renoir is the most impressionistic of the artists represented. notice the air and light shimmering around the girl; this is achieved by the blurring of details. Renoir seemed to be more interested in the soft beauty of womanhood than in the exact likeness of a particular woman. Her attire is fashionable but not emphasized by the artist - she seems to blend with nature. Use this painting in comparison with Ingres' to illustrate the leap in painting technique and ideals and why the Impressionists had to organize their own Salon. "Paint exactly what you see" had very different meanings for Ingres and Renoir. Because of what scientists had discovered on the ability of the eye to only perceive light reflected from objects, the Impressionists truly saw and painted colored light.




  3. Georges Seurat, French (1859-1891)
    1. Seine at the Grande Jatte, c.1885, Reproduction Print
    2. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte, 1884-1888, The Art Institute of Chicago, IL, Reproduction Print
     Georges Seurat was the youthful founder of Neo-Impressionism. born in Paris, he studied the current theories of color and aesthetics and was also impressed by the abstract harmonies of Delacroix. The subtle grey tones of his early conte crayon drawings show his sensitivity to the quality of light. As Seurat evolved a method of systematic painting , he also developed a theory of composition based on the Golden Section. meanwhile, Seurat studied the paintings of his contemporaries, the Impressionists. like them, he sought to fill his paintings with color and light but using a painstaking, scientifically based technique and imposing on his subjects a strong formal order. In 1886 he finished La Grande Jatte. In this peaceful Sunday afternoon scene "pointillism" attains complete purity of classical form and poetic content.

    Following his color and compositional theories and tedious technique, it took Seurat two years to complete La Grande Jatte. He felt that colors appear brighter if little blobs of different color paint are laid side by side on the canvas and looked at from a distance so that they blend in the eye of the spectator instead of being mixed on the artist's palette. Besides color he felt the forms and their placement were to be carefully considered. He repeated simplified shapes over and over, but with variety. Count the umbrellas and note their different sizes. The curve of the boat's sail resembles the tilted umbrella as does the line of the dog's tail. The middle woman and child, the tree trunks and the men's tall hats are all cylinders. besides the light and static air, Seurat shows a world with weight and permanence.



  4. Vincent Van Gogh, Dutch (1853-1890)
    1. Church at Auvers, . Reproduction print.
    2. Self Portrait, Musee de L'Impressionisme, Paris, France. Reproduction Print.
    3. Artist's Bedroom
       Van Gogh grew up in an educated Dutch family; his father was a minister and his uncle an art dealer. Great energy and an inquiring mind led Van Gogh to try various careers as a teacher, art dealer, and missionary preacher. His generosity, compassion and deep desire to understand his fellow men were misunderstood by the Belgian coalminers with whom he lived and to whom he preached until his dismissal in 1880. Around this time he began to sketch copies of Millet's somber peasants and later to take anatomy and perspective lessons in Brussels. Van Gogh's early self-training showed intense visual perception which developed into a sinuous, flame-like style with brilliant colors. At the age of 33 he went to Paris to stay with his brother Theo. There he was influenced by the Impressionists, Pointillistes and the flat planes and vigorous outlines of Japanese prints. in 1888 poor health and mental disorders forced him to leave Paris for Arles where, in the striking sunlight of Provence, he spent his last two years producing many of the memorable works. In St. Remy and Auvers, where Van Gogh died, he painted vivid, passionate works, expressing his tormented life. The impelling power of Van Gogh's painting was also expressed in his genuinely moving letters to his brother Theo.

       Using a similar color theory and technique to Seurat, Van Gogh painted very different pictures. Do the size, shape and conformity of the color blobs affect the feeling of the painting? Van Gogh was an intense, emotional person with periods of mental illness during the last two years of his life. Does the Church at Auvers show signs of nervous strain? The conflicting colors of orange and blue, yellow and violet are starling, but this placing of opposites side by side emphasizes both the brilliance of color and the conflict that went on within the artist. This expression of the artist's own emotions was a new direction in art. Notice the brilliance of the sunlight on the road, grass and orange roof, but also notice the deep, dark shadows and windows of the church and the blue, but turbulent, sky. How does the painting make you feel?



  5. The Open Window, 1921, Piere Bonnard, French (1867-1947), oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Reproduction print.
     Pierre Bonnard, an outstanding French painter, studied for law, but soon left to work at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He was linked with Vuillard and Maurice Denis, and in 1891 exhibited for the first time with Nabis. Bonnard's early style was decorative with quiet, subtle colors. Then he developed a more Impressionist technique and his later work became bolder, as he infused his still lifes, nudes and landscapes with vivid, cheerful color. His brilliant, luminous paintings seem to reflect his happy life. Edgar Degas was a major figure in 19th century painting, associated with the Impressionist movement, but not strictly associated with the Impressionist movement, but not strictly a part of it. Degas, from a wealthy French family, turned from the study of law to painting, enrolling at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. During the early years of Impressionism, Degas was a strong force behind the exhibitions, but he soon disagreed with the theories of the Impressionists. Influenced by Ingres and Manet, Degas did not sacrifice line to color and remained a studio painter, resisting the Impressionists' desire to capture outdoor light. His only outdoor scenes were of the race track; while his ballet dancers are probably his more famous works, both themes provide studies in movement. Degas concentrated on the portrayal of the human form but traditional ideas of beauty are subordinated to the compositions based on the odd vantage points he selected.


  6. Dancers Adjusting their Slippers, 1893, Edgar Degas, French (1834-1917), oil on canvas, Baltimore Museum of Art, MD. Reproduction print.
     The new perspectives Degas painted were influences of oriental art; so too are the solid forms and lack of shadow. Unlike the pure Impressionists, Degas worked in his studio from memory and a few sketches. The Dancers Adjusting Their Slippers is a quick sketch in pastels recording the movement more than the prettiness of the dancers. He steamed the pastel sketch already on the paper. He could use a brush on wet pigment to achieve a finer quality of tone. 


  7. Woman with Mango, 1892, Paul Gaugin, French (1848-1903), oil on canvas , Reproduction print.
     Paul Gauguin was born in Paris, spent his childhood in Peru, and then six years at sea. Once again in Paris he became a stockbroker and painted as a hobby. As his interest and ability grew, he made friends with Pisarro and exhibited with the Impressionists. In 1883 his growing passion for painting led him to abandon both wife and career in setless search for a primitive"unspoiled" civilization. After years of wandering, he went to Tahiti, finding there the simplicity of life that he was seeking. His style of painting in broad flat areas of color outlined in black influenced not only the Fauves and Nabis but also the non-representational painters of the 20th century.

    Gauguin was a friend of Van Gogh, even living with him for a short while. Van Gogh kept his colors in imitation of nature and felt that his natural surroundings in the south of France reflected his feelings; but Gauguin changed the natural color to express feelings. Both believed in the importance of color. Gauguin's paintings also have strong shapes and bold outlines; this was inspired by the oriental and primitive society for which he yearned. he was not particularly happy in the South Seas but he has to live out the myth he had created which added value to his paintings in Europe.


  8. Branch of the Seine near Giverny, 1897, Claude Monet, French




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