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Impressionism

Impressionism

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will examine the development of Impressionism and the influence of modern urbanism on Impressionist subject matter.

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Tutorial

An introduction to Impressionism.

Video Transcription

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Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about impressionism. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you will be able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the historical context of the development of impressionism, describe stylistic characteristics of impressionism, and identify examples of impressionist painting.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is impressionism, an artistic movement of the 19th century that emphasized depiction of fleeting moments, in particular, the changing appearance of light. Haussmann, a civic planner responsible for the complete renovation of Paris in the late 19th-century.

And Haussmannization, the physical transformation of Paris from a medieval city with winding narrow streets to a modern city with wide, straight boulevards. Urbanism, the way of life of people who live in the city, and urbanization, the migration of large numbers of people from agricultural areas to cities. The big idea for today is that the style of impressionism is to depict a fleeting moment, the light of a certain time of day, a review of people passing by, which contributes to its characteristic painterly appearance.

The artwork we're looking at today, dates from between 1872 and 1898. We'll be traveling to Paris, France today. Though impressionism wasn't particularly popular among traditionalists and academics in the art world. In order to exhibit their artwork, as they were banned from The Salon, which is the official exhibition hall of the Academy, impressionists opened their own salon called, The Salon des Refuses or exhibition of the rejects.

Interestingly enough, the term impressionism was first used as an insult from an art critic based on the unfinished appearance and obvious brush strokes of the painting. Rather than take offense, impressionists, like Monet, embraced the term and adopted it as the official label for their style of art. Impressionism as a style in a nutshell consists of the following elements.

Generally, but not always a painterly look, which means the brush strokes, and the sketchiness, and experimentations with light. Now most importantly though, and this is a common theme in all works impressionist art, is the depiction of a fleeting moment. Keep an eye out for these elements as we look at our examples today.

This first image is of a landmark painting. It's the first example of impressionist artwork and really serves to embody the overall style of impressionism. Now it's a simple picture depicting a fleeting moment, the sunrise over the water with some fishing boats passing by. And notice the obvious brush strokes. Unlike academic artists, Monet makes no effort at all to hide them. They're an essential part of the painting. The painting is very much like an oil sketch and approached the same way as one would with a sketch. It's an exercise in brevity, capturing a moment in time.

Now these next three images are all examples of artists depicting scenes of urbanism or capturing a fleeting moment of city life. Now Monet's work, and the work of other impressionists, provide an experience that photography would later take over. Now in this example, it isn't a carefully arranged composition. Monet is really at the mercy of the elements in front of him.

And this lack of control always made examples like this more natural or real for me despite the painterly execution of the image, which I personally like. Well, in this example, a depiction of truth is woven within the spontaneity of the moment rather than in the way the figures are rendered.

So it's really important, and I want to take a moment again, to reiterate the common thread that impressionists share. It isn't necessarily the way they're painted. Although, impressionist paintings often have a similar style. The common thread is really the depiction of a fleeting moment, the random people walking down the street for example, the edges of the painting cropped in a way that appears to be random.

It's a moment captured that could never be repeated again, which makes the subject matter even more unique in this painting of Paris: A Rainy Day. Just like in Monet's train station image from before, this is depicting a scene of urbanism. Now a number of elements jump out at me, so let's examine them a bit closer. First is the painterly style that does exist in this painting. And look at the sky, and you can see the appearance of brush strokes and they're apparent throughout this painting as well, just much less overtly than in Monet's work. It's much less sketchy in this regard.

Now the other major element I'm noticing is in the design of the street. During the 19th century, Paris' layout and design as a city was completely overhaul by the civic designer Georges Haussmann. Now, it was an incredibly ambitious and expensive project that sought to modernize the layout of the city, transforming Paris from a medieval city with narrow winding streets to a modern city with large, wide, and straight boulevards. Caillebotte's composition makes the street appear as the subject of the painting rather than the people in it.

You can get an impression of width in this work by Pizarro, La Place du Theatre Francais. It's also notable for its interesting perspective as you'll see in just a moment. We're looking down at an angle rather than from the ground. You get the sensation, as the viewer, of sitting by a window looking at the hustle and bustle of Parisienne life below.

The Haussmann's project may have been controversial, but you really can't argue with the result as it's depicted here. The streets are teeming with activity. The socialization of Paris was moving from indoors to the outdoors. The Haussmannization of Paris provided space for Parisienne's to get in touch with their city. And the visionary project helped in transforming Paris into one of the most important cities of culture for decades to come.

The Renoir painting of La Moulin de la Galette epitomizes his desire to display joy and beauty in his artwork. It's a happy image of average people enjoying each other's company in the outdoors of Paris. Renoir captures the levity of the moment on the faces of the people in the painting and the movements of the dancers in the middle ground.

Now this painting also serves as an example of the impressionists ability to capture the light at a certain time date. Notice the spots of color. Now those suggest the light as it's filtered through what I believe to be probably the leaves of a tree that's outside the borders of the painting. Impressionism is a style of painting that allowed the artist genuinely capture and depict the human condition.

Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms, describe the historical context of the development of impressionism, describe stylistic characteristics of impressionism, and identify examples of impressionist painting?

Now once again the big idea for today. So the style of Impressionism is to depict a fleeting moment-- the light of a certain time of day, or a view of people passing by-- which contributes to its characteristic painterly appearance. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Impressionism"

Key Terms

Impressionism

An artistic movement of the 19th-century that emphasized depictions of fleeting moments, in particular the changing appearance of light. 

Haussmann

The civic planner responsible for the complete renovation of Paris in the late 19th-century.

Haussmannization

The physical transformation of Paris from a medieval city with winding, narrow streets to a modern city with wide, straight boulevards.

Urbanism

The way of life of people who live in a city. 

Urbanization

The migration of large numbers of people from agricultural areas to cities.


Citations

Impression Sunrise; Public Domain (PD-1923): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet,_Impression,_soleil_levant,_1872.jpg St Lazare Train Station; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_003.jpg; La Place du Theatre France; Public Domain: http://vi.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%E1%BA%ADp_tin:Camille_Pissarro,_La_Place_du_Th%C3%A9%C3%A2tre_Fran%C3%A7ais.jpg La Mouline de la Galette; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pierre-Auguste_Renoir,_Le_Moulin_de_la_Galette.jpg; Image of Paris Rainy Day Public Domain http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gustave_Caillebotte_-_Paris_Street;_Rainy_Day_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

 

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Impressionism

    An artistic movement of the 19th-century that emphasized depictions of fleeting moments, in particular the changing appearance of light.

  • Haussmann

    The civic planner responsible for the complete renovation of Paris in the late 19th-century.

  • Haussmannization

    The physical transformation of Paris from a medieval city with winding, narrow streets to a modern city with wide, straight boulevards.

  • Urbanism

    The way of life of people who live in a city.

  • Urbanization

    The migration of large numbers of people from agricultural areas to cities.