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Chapter 12

Impressionism

Impressionist art documented in a truthful and dispassionate manner the appearance of life and landscape in the late nineteenth century. Impressionist artists often selected motifs and vantage points that were typical of the era and characteristic of the artist's own corner of the world. Impressionist paintings conveyed a range of ideas about modernity - from exhileration to anxiety - and often revealed attitudes about social class, economic change, technology, and scientific discovery. Impressionist artists experimented to find techniques suited to the expression of their ideas, whether it was the staccato and turbulent pace of modern life, or the odd visual effects of everyday experience. Development of a signature style, one clearly identifiable with a particular artist, signaled an artist's independence and creativity. In a world in which economic success demanded ingenuity as well as diligence, originality and modernity assumed unprecedented significance.

Readings:

Baudelaire, Charles. The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, Jonathan Mayne, ed. and trans. London: Phaidon, 1964

Berman, Patricia G.  In Another Light: Danish Painting in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Vendome Press, 2007

Boime, Albert. Art in an Age of Civil Struggle, 1848-1871. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007

Bretell, Richard R. Impressionism: Painting Quickly in France, 1860-1890. Exhibition catalogue. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000

Broude, Norma. Impressionism: A Feminist Reading: the Gendering of Art, Science, and Nature in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Rizzoli, 1991

Buettner, Stewart. “Images of Modern Motherhood in the Art of Morisot, Cassatt, Modersohn-Becker, Kollwitz,” Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 7, no. 2 (Autumn 1986 – Winter 1987): 14-21

Callen, Anthea. The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000

Clayson, Hollis. Painted Love: Prostitution in French Art of the Impressionist Era. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1991

Forgione, Nancy. “Everyday Life in Motion: The Art of Walking in Late-Nineteenth-Century Paris,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 87, no. 4 (December 2005): 664-87

Garb, Tamar. Sisters of the Brush: Women’s Artistic Culture in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994

Gerdts, William H. American Impressionism. New York: Abbeville Press, 2001

Harrison, Charles. Painting the Difference: Sex and Spectator in Modern Art. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006

Herbert, Robert. Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988

Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Empire: 1875-1914. New York: Vintage: 1989

House, John. Impressionism: Paint and Politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004

Isaacson, Joel. “Constable, Duranty, Mallarmé, Plein Air, and Forgetting,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 76, no. 3 (September 1994): 427-50

Iskin, Ruth. Modern Women and Parisian Consumer Culture in Impressionist Painting. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007

Ives, Colta. “Prints in the Era of Impressionism and Symbolism,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 46, no. 1 (Summer 1988): 8-56

Kennedy, Ian and Julian Treuherz. The Railway. Art in the Age of Steam. Exhibition catalogue. New Haven, CT and London: Yale Universtiy Press, 2008

Lewis, Mary Tompkins, ed. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: An Anthology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007

Lowrey, Carol. Visions of Light and Air: Canadian Impressionism, 1885-1920. New York: Americas Society Art Gallery, 1995

McConkey, Kenneth. Impressionism in Britain. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995

Moffett, Charles S. The New Painting: Impressionism, 1874-1886. Exhibition catalogue. San Francisco, CA: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1996

Nochlin, Linda. “Lost and Found: Once More the Fallen Woman,” The Art Bulletin, vol. 60, no. 1 (March 1978): 139-53

Nord, Philip G. Impressionists and Politics: Art and Democracy in the Nineteenth Century. London and New York: Routledge, 2000

Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1946

Rewald, John. Post-Impressionism: from Van Gogh to Gauguin. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1956

Roos, Jane Mayo. Early Impressionism and the French State (1866-1874). Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996

Rubin, James Henry. Impressionism and the Modern Landscape: Productivity, Technology, and Urbanization from Manet to Van Gogh. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2008

Saalman, Howard. Haussmann: Paris Transformed. New York: George Braziller, 1971

Stevens, Mary Anne. Impressionism to Symbolism: the Belgian Avant-Garde 1880-1900. Exhibition catalogue. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1994

Thomson, Belinda. Impressionism: Origins, Practice, Reception. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2000

Tucker, Paul. “The First Impressionist Exhibition and Monet’s Impression, Sunrise: a Tale of Timing, Commerce and Patriotism,” in Janis Tomlinson, ed., Readings in Nineteenth-Century Art. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996, pp. 147-63

Varnedoe, Kirk. Northern Light: Nordic Art at the Turn of the Century. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988

Weber, Eugene. France, Fin de Siècle. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986

Weinberg, H. Barbara. American Impressionism and Realism: the Painting of Modern Life, 1885-1915. Exhibition catalogue: New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994

Subtitle: 
Impressionism

Observations:

Richard Schiff offers a definition of Impressionism: 

“In summary: if the art for which the term ‘impressionist’ is now usually reserved is to be defined with some precision, it must be understood with regard to specific technical devices applied to a very general problem of both discovery and expression, a problem so fundamental to the art of the late nineteenth century that it often went unstated. The problem is that of the individual’s means of arriving at truth or knowledge, and the relation of this traditional truth to a universal truth. Impressionists and symbolists shared this traditional concern. The impressionist artists distinguished themselves by the manner in which they conceived and responded to the issue. For the impressionists, as the name implies, the concept of the 'impression’ provided the theoretical means for approaching the relation of individual and universal truth. The artists’ characteristic technical devices, such as accentuated (‘spontaneous’) brushwork and bright color, are signs of their practical application of the theory of impressionism.” 

Richard Schiff, “Defining ‘Impressionism’ and the ‘Impression’,” Cézanne and the End of Impressionism: A Study of the Theory, Technique, and Critical Evaluation of Modern Art (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1984), p. 17. 

 

Stephen F. Eisenman offers an explanation for the generally positive reception of Impressionism: 

“Impressionism in 1874 thus connoted a vaguely defined technique of painting and an attitude of individualism shared by an assortment of young and middle-aged artists unofficially led by Manet. Yet if the word Impressionism offered only the merest coherence to the exhibition at Nadar’s, it had one significant advantage over any other. Serving as a description of unbridled individualism, Impressionism assured politically moderate critics that the new art had both broken with increasingly discredited salon conventions, and remained unsullied by any troubling radical affiliations. ‘Does it constitute a revolution?’ asked [Jules-Antoine] Castagnary of Impressionism. ‘No…it is a manner. And manners in art remain the property of the man who invented them…’ To such supporters of the Third Republic as Castagnary, individualism was deemed an essential instrument for the emancipation of citizens from debilitating ties to former political, economic, or religious dogma. Individualism would be necessary in the massive work of reconstructing France after the disasters of the Franco-Prussian War and Commune. We may conclude that the combination of painterly daring and political discretion suggested by the word Impressionism helps account for the surprisingly positive reception given the new art by many critics.” 

Stephen F. Eisenman, “The Intransigent Artist or How the Impressionists Got their Name,” in Charles S. Moffett, ed., The New Painting: Impressionism 1874-1886 (Exh. Cat. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986), p. 52.

Trivia

In 1845, traveling from Paris to Bordeaux took 5 days by stagecoach and 18 hours by train. In 2014 it took 6 hours by car and 3 hours by train.

Web Resources

tMetmuseum: Impressionism

smarthistory: Impressionism

Map of Locations

Paris in 1871

Paris Map, pre-Haussmann

Paris Map, post-Haussmann