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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Impressionism Matures

In any artistic exploration, whether of a certain medium, or style, or subject matter, the "easiest" material always gets explored first. Take Impressionism for example. With the mass production of oil paints in tubes that came with the nineteenth century, paint became cheaper, of higher quality, brighter in color, and thus artists tended to use it in greater quantities, "al fresco" so to speak, straight from the tube almost. In terms of style, the large, loose, divided brushstrokes were the first step toward a new way of painting with these store-bought colors. Landscape painting was the natural jumping-off point for Impressionists. But Paris didn't need a dozen or so prominent Impressionists all painting landscapes. Even Monet moved on to haystacks and cathedrals.

The youngest of the Impressionists were to be the chief beneficiaries to the maturation of Impressionism as they experimented with new ways of using color, and most of all new subject matter. Two of the lesser-known Impressionists are typical--Armand Guillaumin (pronounced JEE-amin) and Gustave Caillebotte (pronounced KI-bot). Both were born in the 1840s and were slightly younger than artists such as Monet and Manet. Thus, they came late to the Impressionist movement. Their earliest works were not painted until the early 1870s. By then the "rules" of Impressionism had all been worked out by the ground breakers and were up for grabs, ready to be broken or ignored. Guillaumin painted no pretty water lilies or ladies bathing, or cute little children picking flowers. His subject matter came from the industrial suburbs of Paris--brilliant sunsets punctuated by chimney smoke from the growing number of industrial plants springing up along the Seine, and populated by the workers who ran them.

The Floorscrapers, 1875,
Gustave Caillebotte

Caillebotte painted the rooftops of Paris under snow, or manual laborers such as The Floorscrapers. In 1874, this dark interior scene of three barebacked workers resurfacing a floor was considered an insult to painting. A protege of Monet, whom Caillebotte claimed to have discovered (not vice versa), he was a well-to-do maritime engineer, wealthy, and mostly a part-time ainter.  Monet consulted him in the building of his floating studio. He loved rowing, and his paintings on the water have a vacation "snapshot" quality in their compositions, not unlike those of Degas. He was instrumental in underwriting the cost of several of the later Impressionist exhibitions, as well as purchasing quite a number of his friends' works. He died in 1894 and left his collection to the Louvre. They were not displayed however until 1937. The Louvre collection could have been greater still.  The original bequest numbered 67 works, of which 30 were rejected.

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