Impressionism, French Impressionnisme, a major movement, first in
painting and later in music, that developed chiefly in France during
the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Impressionist painting
comprises the work produced between about 1867 and 1886 by a group
of artists who shared a set of related approaches and techniques.
The most conspicuous characteristic of Impressionism in painting was
an attempt to accurately and objectively record visual reality in
terms of transient effects of light and colour. In music, it was to
convey an idea or affect through a wash of sound rather than a
strict formal structure.
The principal Impressionist painters were Claude Monet, Pierre
Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Berthe Morisot,
Armand Guillaumin, and Frédéric Bazille, who worked together,
influenced each other, and exhibited together. Edgar Degas and Paul
Cézanne also painted in an Impressionist style for a time in the
early 1870s. The established painter Édouard Manet, whose work in
the 1860s greatly influenced Monet and others of the group, himself
adopted the Impressionist approach about 1873.
These artists became dissatisfied early in their careers with
academic teaching’s emphasis on depicting a historical or
mythological subject matter with literary or anecdotal overtones.
They also rejected the conventional imaginative or idealizing
treatments of academic painting. By the late 1860s, Manet’s art
reflected a new aesthetic—which was to be a guiding force in
Impressionist work—in which the importance of the traditional
subject matter was downgraded and attention was shifted to the
artist’s manipulation of colour, tone, and texture as ends in
themselves. In Manet’s painting the subject became a vehicle for the
artful composition of areas of flat colour, and perspectival depth
was minimized so that the viewer would look at the surface patterns
and relationships of the picture rather than into the illusory
three-dimensional space it created. About the same time, Monet was
influenced by the innovative painters Eugene Boudin and Johan
Barthold Jongkind, who depicted fleeting effects of sea and sky by
means of highly coloured and texturally varied methods of paint
application. The Impressionists also adopted Boudin’s practice of
painting entirely out-of-doors while looking at the actual scene,
instead of finishing up a painting from sketches in the studio, as
was the conventional practice.
In the late 1860s Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and others began
painting landscapes and river scenes in which they tried to
dispassionately record the colours and forms of objects as they
appeared in natural light at a given time. These artists abandoned
the traditional landscape palette of muted greens, browns, and grays
and instead painted in a lighter, sunnier, more brilliant key. They
began by painting the play of light upon water and the reflected
colours of its ripples, trying to reproduce the manifold and
animated effects of sunlight and shadow and of direct and reflected
light that they observed. In their efforts to reproduce immediate
visual impressions as registered on the retina, they abandoned the
use of grays and blacks in shadows as inaccurate and used
complementary colours instead. More importantly, they learned to
build up objects out of discrete flecks and dabs of pure harmonizing
or contrasting colour, thus evoking the broken-hued brilliance and
the variations of hue produced by sunlight and its reflections.
Forms in their pictures lost their clear outlines and became
dematerialized, shimmering and vibrating in a re-creation of actual
outdoor conditions. And finally, traditional formal compositions
were abandoned in favour of a more casual and less contrived
disposition of objects within the picture frame. The Impressionists
extended their new techniques to depict landscapes, trees, houses,
and even urban street scenes and railroad stations.
In 1874 the group held its first show, independent of the
official Salon of the French Academy, which had consistently
rejected most of their works. Monet’s painting Impression: Sunrise
(1872; Musée Marmottan, Paris) earned them the initially derisive
name “Impressionists” from the journalist Louis Leroy writing in the
satirical magazine Le Charivari in 1874. The artists themselves soon
adopted the name as descriptive of their intention to accurately
convey visual “impressions.” They held seven subsequent shows, the
last in 1886. During that time they continued to develop their own
personal and individual styles. All, however, affirmed in their work
the principles of freedom of technique, a personal rather than a
conventional approach to subject matter, and the truthful
reproduction of nature.
By the mid-1880s the Impressionist group had begun to dissolve as
each painter increasingly pursued his own aesthetic interests and
principles. In its short existence, however, it had accomplished a
revolution in the history of art, providing a technical starting
point for the Postimpressionist artists Cézanne, Degas, Paul
Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat and freeing all
subsequent Western painting from traditional techniques and
approaches to subject matter.
In music, Claude Debussy has always been considered the principal
Impressionist. Even though Debussy was influenced by the general
aesthetic attitudes of Impressionist painters, he made no attempts
to compose with musical techniques that were closely analogous to
techniques of painting. Furthermore, the characteristics of
Debussy’s music are so variable from the first through the last of
his compositions that even a general sense of Impressionism might
best be restricted to most of his music composed between about 1892
to 1903 and to certain specific later compositions strongly
resembling those works in style. Some of these Impressionist works
would be the opera Pelléas et Mélisande (first performed in 1902),
the orchestral piece “Nuages” (“Clouds,” from Nocturnes, completed
in 1899), and the piano piece “Voiles” (“Sails,” from Douze Préludes,
Book I, 1910). Other composers considered Impressionistic include
Maurice Ravel, Frederick Delius, Ottorino Respighi, Karol
Szymanowski, and Charles Griffes.
Musical Impressionism is often thought to refer to subtle
fragility, amorphous passivity, and vague mood music. A more
accurate characterization of Impressionist music would include
restraint and understatement, a static quality, and a provocatively
colourful effect resulting from composers’ fascination with pure
sound as a beautiful and mysterious end in itself. Technically,
these characteristics often result from a static use of harmony,
ambiguous tonality, a lack of sharp formal contrasts and of onward
rhythmic drive, and a blurring of the distinction between melody and
accompaniment. Although Impressionism has been considered a movement
away from the excesses of Romanticism, the sources of many of its
characteristics may be found in the works of composers who are also
considered to be the Romantic precursors of Expressionism—e.g.,
Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, and Aleksandr Scriabin.
Neo-Impressionism, movement in French painting of the late 19th
century that reacted against the empirical realism of Impressionism
by relying on systematic calculation and scientific theory to
achieve predetermined visual effects. Whereas the Impressionist
painters spontaneously recorded nature in terms of the fugitive
effects of colour and light, the Neo-Impressionists applied
scientific optical principles of light and colour to create strictly
formalized compositions. Neo-Impressionism was led by Georges Seurat,
who was its original theorist and most significant artist, and by
Paul Signac, also an important artist and the movement’s major
spokesman. Other Neo-Impressionist painters were Henri-Edmond Cross,
Albert Dubois-Pillet, Maximilien Luce, Théo Van Rysselberghe, and,
for a time, the Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. The group
founded a Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1884.
The terms divisionism and pointillism originated in descriptions
of Seurat’s painting technique, in which paint was applied to the
canvas in dots of contrasting pigment. A calculated arrangement of
coloured dots, based on optical science, was intended to be
perceived by the retina as a single hue. The entire canvas was
covered with these dots, which defined form without the use of lines
and bathed all objects in an intense, vibrating light. In each
picture the dots were of a uniform size, calculated to harmonize
with the overall size of the painting. In place of the hazy forms of
Impressionism, those of Neo-Impressionism had solidity and clarity
and were simplified to reveal the carefully composed relationships
between them. Though the light quality was as brilliant as that of
Impressionism, the general effect was of immobile, harmonious
monumentality, a crystallization of the fleeting light of
Signac’s later work showed an increasingly spontaneous use of the
divisionist technique, which was more consistent with his poetic
sensibility. Seurat, however, continued to adopt a theoretical
approach to the study of various pictorial and technical problems,
including a reduction of the expressive qualities of colour and form
to scientific formulas. By the 1890s the influence of
Neo-Impressionism was waning, but it was important in the early
stylistic and technical development of several artists of the late
19th and early 20th centuries, including Vincent van Gogh, Paul
Gauguin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and Henri Matisse.
Art in Revolt
their rejection from the Salon, hundreds of French artists
complain to the authorities.
As a result, the Emperor orders an exhibition of rejected works,
the Salon des Refuses. It is dominated by Manet's 'Dejeuner sur
I'herbe', showing a naked woman picnicking in the open with two
fully clothed men - to young artists a triumph of Realism, to
conservatives a shameless piece of pornography.
15th The Government promulgates new regulations for the Salon
whereby no artist can submit more than three works. Those who have
won first-class or second-class medals in previous Salons do not
have to submit their entries to the jury.
20th Lucien, the eldest son of Pissarro and Julie Vellay (Pissarro's
mother's maid), is born in Paris.
1st Manet has a one-man exhibition at Louis Martinet's gallery
in the boulevard des Italiens. The fourteen works on show include
Lola de Valence, Music in the Tuileries Gardens,
The Old Musician and Boy with a Sword.
7th 'Lola de Valence', a song by Zacharie Astruc about the
popular Spanish dancer, is published with a cover by Manet.
Lola de Valence
Lola de Valence, star of Mariano Camprubi's ballet,
which visited France in 1862—3, seemed to symbolize
the spirit of Spain at a rime when Spanish themes
were in vogue. This was one of a series of paintings
by Manet that included The Spanish Singer.
In March 1863 a serenade appeared entitled Lola de
Valence, dedicated to the Queen of Spain, with words
and music by Manet's friend Zacharie Astruc. On the
cover of the song sheet was a lithograph of the
dancer by Manet.
Music in the Tuileries
The gardens of the Tuileries Palace (burned down during the
Commune of 1871) were opened to the public by Napoleon III
and soon became a popular meeting place. This lively
portrait of Second Empire society (many of the figures are
thought to have been based on photographs) is an example of
Manet's concern with contemporary life. The artist himself
can be seen standing in a dandyish pose on the extreme left;
among the crowd are Baudelaire, Offenbach, Zacharie Astruc,
Theophile Gautier and Fantin-Latour.
The ornate entrance to the
Palais de I'lndustrie in the Champs-Elysecs,
where the annual exhibition of the Salon
was held. Completed in 1853, it was built
as a permanent exhibition site.
12th The Salon jury announces its decisions. Of
approximately 5000 works submitted, 2217 are accepted. There
are 983 exhibitors, a marked drop in numbers from 1289 the
previous year. Among the artists rejected is Manet, who had
submitted three works — including his recently painted
Dejeuner sur I'herbe. Fantin-Latour, Legros, Renoir and
Whistler all have work hung.
24th An Imperial decree is published in Le Moniteur
universel stating that 'Numerous complaints have reached the
Emperor on the subject of works of art which have been
refused by the [Salon] jury... His
Majesty, wishing to let the public know the legitimacy of
these complaints, has decided that the rejected works are to
be exhibited in another part of the Palais de I'lndustrie.
This exhibition will be voluntary, and artists who do not
wish to participate will need only to inform the
administration, which will hasten to return their works to
1st Opening of the Salon. To avoid favouritism, the
pictures are arranged in alphabetical order of the artists'
names. Portraits and battle scenes predominate, with a
generous scattering of nudes. Corot, Millet, Puvis de
Ghavannes and Theodore Rousseau are among the more
progressive artists included in the exhibition.
17th The Salon des Refuses opens in a separate part
of the Palais de I'lndustrie from the main Salon. The
catalogue lists only 781 exhibits, although there are
actually many more. Among those exhibiting are Bracquemond,
Cezanne, Manet and Pissarro. Whistler's The White Girl,
rejected by the Royal Academy in London in 1862, is the
success of the exhibition. Manet's Dejeuner sur
I'herbe causes a sensation, establishing him as the
leading dissident of the art world.
23rd Monet and Bazille paint en plein air in Ghailly.
Pissarro moves to Varenne-St-Hilaire.
Symphony in White: No. I The White Girl
When this portrait of Whistler's mistress Joanna
Hifferman (known as Jo) was exhibited at the
Salon des Refuses in 1863, it attracted a great
deal of attention and was greeted with
enthusiasm by the avant-garde.
23rd Degas visits his cousins the Mussons in Bourg-en-Bresse,
where they have settled after leaving America
because of the Civil War. Berthe Morisot goes painting on
the Oise with her sister Edma, who is learning to paint.
16th Renoir comes ninth out of twelve candidates in the
composition examination at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.
28th Manet marries the Dutch pianist Suzanne Leenhoff,
with whom he has been having an affair since 1850. Despite
their marriage, their son Leon, born in 1852, retains his
mother's maiden name.
3rd Cezanne applies for permission to study at the
13th An Imperial decree is issued making radical
changes to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Control of the school
is to be taken away from the Academie des Beaux-Arts (part
of the Institut de France) and vested in the government,
which is to appoint the professors, lecturers and
administrators. It also stipulates that students must be
French nationals between the ages of 15 and 30, and
foreigners can only be admitted on an exceptional basis.
Dejeuner sur I'herbe
The inspiration for this painting (originally entitled Le Bain] came
from two sources: Marcantonio Raimondi's engraving (c.1500) of
Raphael's The Judgement of Paris and Titian's Le Concert Champetre,
of which Manet owned a copy. The man looking out from the painting
is based on one of Manet's brothers (or possibly both), while his
companion is the sculptor Ferdinand Leenhoff, brother of Suzanne
Leen-hoff, whom Manet married in October. The nude sitting with them
is Victorine Meurent — who also posed for Olympia.
TO MANET'S 'DEJEUNER SUR L'HERBE'
I ought not to
omit a remarkable picture of the Realist school, a translation
of a thought ofGiorgione into modem French. Yes, there they are,
under the trees, the principal lady entirely undressed, sitting
calmly in the well-known attitude of Giorgione's Venetian woman;
another female in a chemise coming out of a little stream that
runs hard by; and two Frenchmen in wide-awakes [broad-brimmed
hats] sitting on the very green grass with a stupid look of
PHILIP HAMERTON, Fine Arts Quarterly Review, June 1863
Unfortunately the nude hasn't a good figure and one can't think
of anything uglier than the man stretched out beside her, who
hasn't even thought of taking off ...his horrid padded cap. It
is the contrast of a creature so inappropriate in a pastoral
scene with this naked bather that is so shocking.
THEOPHILE THORE, Salons, 1863
A commonplace woman of the demi-monde, as naked as possible,
shamelessly lolls between two overdressed fops, who look like
schoolboys on a holiday doing something naughty to play at being
grown-up. I search in vain for any meaning to this unbecoming
LOUIS ETIENNE, Le Jury et les exposants, 1863
I see garments without
feeling the anatomical structure that supports them and explains
their movements. I see boneless fingers and heads without skulls. I
see side-whiskers made of two strips of black cloth that could have
been glued to the cheeks. What else do I see? The artist's lack of
conviction and sincerity.
JULES CASTAGNARY, reprinted in Salons, 1892