A Tale of Impressionism

10 Jul 2012

At the end of last month, we visited Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam, for the special exhibition of impressionism.

The exhibition was so well-planned and organized that I was able to form a clear picture of the motivations and origins of impressionism, as well as its influences to other forms of arts at that time, and how it opened an new era to the libralization of painting styles and techniques and concepts later on. It is also because of that exhibition I had learned the intertwined bonding among arts, history and sociology.

So Let’s begin with some history.

In the middle of the 19th century, French art was controlled by Académie des Beaux-Arts. The Académie defined the contents, styles, techniques and standards of French paintings. The Académie hold annual art show, Salon de Paris, artitsts whose work was displayed in the show gained prestige and guaranteed source of income in the future. As a result, it was vital for artists to get recognizition by the Académie in order to survive. The paintings accepted by Académie at that time were mostly portraits, religious themes and mythological subjects, and the preferred or trending style was Realism.

There was a group of artists, later called impressionists, whose work could not fit in to the standards defined by Académie des Beaux-Arts, striving to survive and be rebellious. They preferred painting landscapes and contemporary life, which was influenced by Barbizon school, and believed the reality of a scene is a constantly changing state, only an impression can be captured. Interestingly, the invention of oil paint tube came just in time to help impressionists, because it made painting outdoor landscapes and real life subjects possible (oil paint can stay intact inside the tube and be carried around by the painter). Passionate artists, paint tube technology, new concepts towards arts and a conservative Académie gave birth to a new genre: Impressionism.

The impressionists include: Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, etc. They started their own exhibitions to compete with Salon de Paris. Of course, the society at that time struggled a while to gradually accept and appreciate these different style of paintings. But quickly after that, impressionism started to gain popularity and acceptance in 1870s and continued to be prominant until 1890s.

Impressionism was so influencial that it not only affected painters in its era, but also opens up new possibilities for other forms of arts that followed. For example, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin are examples that began to develop different precepts for use of color, form, line after impressionists. Pointillism and Cubism are art movements that also inspired by impressionism.

Life is art. period.

Note: this post referenced a wikipedia article