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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Impressions of Impressionism

Claude Monet,
photo by Nadar
 We are in the habit of considering Impressionism as one of the high points in the history of painting. Art Historians have elevated Monet, Renoir, Degas, and to some extent the  Post-Impressionist as well, Gauguin, and Cezanne, to the status of artistic demi-gods. Yet for the most part, these individuals themselves had a much less favorable "impression" of their involvement in this style of painting. Monet noted: "Pictures aren't made of doctrine (referring to Impressionism's "rules"). Since the appearance of Impressionism, the official salons, which used to be brown, have become blue, green, and red, but peppermint or chocolate, they are still confections."   

Auguste Renoir
Renoir was even less gracious about his own experiences with Impressionism. He noted that by about 1883:  "I had wrung Impressionism dry, and I finally came to the conclusion that I knew neither how to paint nor how to draw. In a word, Impressionism was a blind alley, as far as I was concerned..." He added further, "If a painter works directly from nature, he ultimately looks for nothing but momentary effects; he does not try to compose, and soon he gets monotonous." 


Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin was not "impressed" much with Impressionism either: "The Impressionists study color exclusively, but without freedom...  For them the ideal landscape, related from many different entities, does not exist. They heed only the eye and neglect the mysterious centers of thought, so falling into merely scientific reasoning. When they speak of their art, what is it? A purely superficial thing, full of affectations and only material. In it, thought does not exist." Paul Cezanne, surprisingly, (for all his rough-shod opinions and rebellion against Impressionist virtues) was much more generous in proclaiming: "What follows Impressionism does not count."               

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