Impressionism in France


The significance of the role that France has played in the development of art both in Europe and the world is irrefutable. During the second half of the 19th century, Paris was a city of uniqueness, creativity, and innovations. It was considered the capital of art, thus, artists from all over the world went there to create and find self-fulfillment. Numerous new movements of music, literature and visual arts were generated in France. One of such prominent movements that emerged in the 1860s was Impressionism.

Impressionism came to oppose traditionalism, romanticism, and neoclassicism. It was partially inspired by anti-establishment movements, such as realism established by Gustave Courbet, Jean-Francois Millet and Rosa Bonheur that managed to break stereotypical art and reach success. Other inducements for the movement were historical events of 1800s; Reconstruction of Paris by Napoleon the 3rd, the Second World War, and the formation of the Colonial Empire. These revolutionary events in a way changed people’s perception of the world conveying them a whole new spirit. The main aspect of Impressionism was creating a general impression of a certain object or scene by unmingled, pure colors and reflected light. One may define impressionism as a culmination of the mixture of naturalism and realism. Impressionism focuses on the sensations and first impressions that the objects create rather than the thoughts and opinions that they shape when the intellect intrudes.

The most prominent institution of the time that affected the art tangibly was the Academie des Beaux-Arts established in Paris. It had an annual event, The Salon de Paris, where the works of art were evaluated by the jury. Emperor Napoleon himself was a member of the Salon. However, the members of The Salon de Paris were too conservative, and everything that varied from the traditional art was rejected. They were accustomed to more academic style and sober tints, whereas impressionistic paintings were vivid, colorful and novel. Thus, many impressionists were accused by critics of leaving the paintings incomplete. After being rejected by the jury several times, the group of young impressionists including Monet, Sisley, Pissarro, Renoir, etc. created The Salon de Refuses, which gradually drew people’s attention to the new art movement that appeared to become more and more appreciated and congenial to the French people.

The first patterns of Impressionism could be observed in the last works of the renowned French realistic painter Eduard Manet in 1860s. Manet constructed a bridge between impressionism and realism. The followers of impressionism even adopted the painting technique called “alla prima” invented by Manet. His most famous impressionistic works include “The branch”, “The grand canal of Venice”, “Boating”, etc. The uniqueness of Manet was in his ability to connect his works with his personal experience which was a novelty. However, the founder of Impressionism is considered another French prominent painter Claude Monet. The name of the movement has been derived from the name of the painting of Monet “Impression: Sunrise”. The painting was exhibited in Paris Salon in 1872 and managed to gain the attention of critics very rapidly. Some other masterpieces of Monet include “La Promenade”, “San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk”, “Woman with a Parasol”, “Springtime at Giverny”, etc. Monet, like the other impressionists was mainly inspired by nature; all of his works are absorbed by nature, and that is probably the reason they manage to fetch emotions and make one feel what supposedly the author himself felt. His passion towards sensations and nature can be summarized by his quote “I am following nature without being able to grasp her; I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers”.  (Monet, 1878)

Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley were other French eminent impressionists; members of the Salon de Refuses that started in the late 1860s and culminated in 1872-75. They were painting outdoors so that they could be responsive to the rapidly changing light, the surrounding atmosphere as well as their personal sensations towards nature. Not only the style but also the topics of impressionistic painters varied from these of the followers’ of the other movements. They depicted countryside, rural areas, the life of villagers, working people and all the trifles of the modern life. They tended to put their personal feelings and emotions in their paintings. Some of them focused on the altering life of the renovated city, the others were inspired merely by nature and created images of modernized landscapes.

The outburst of impressionism could not only be observed in visual arts, but in the other forms of art as well. For instance, renowned French musicians Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel who composed during the last part of the 19th century conveyed mingled feelings through their music; the music they wrote provoked certain mood and atmosphere. Another French musician affected by the impressionistic movement was Paul Abraham Dukas, who combined the progressive and conservative factions creating fascinating, potent music.

Impressionism did not remain untouched in literature as well. Although, the conveyance of feelings and impressions with words was somewhat different and the impressionistic movement in literature in a sense varied from that of visual arts, still, the patterns of the movement could be noted. In French literature, impressionism was tightly linked with symbolism; a continuation-variation of impressionism. Its most famous exponents were Rimbaud, Laforgue, Mallarme, and Baudelaire.

Emerging In France, impressionism rapidly spread around the world. It accumulated numerous supporters in New York, Spain, Germany and especially in Japan. Monet himself spent the last years of his life painting in Japan in his little wooden house. Impressionism being a completely different from its precedent movements fostered development of other art movements such as cubism, expressionism, etc. which played crucial roles in the formation of modern art.


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