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You Can Buy Fine Art Reproduction Impressionist Paintings at Bohemian Fine Art

Impressionism 1860-1870

The 1860s was a decade of dynamic change in oil painting, a period in which tradition and innovation were fused in the work of major independent, non-academic artists like Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917), to produce a new style of oil painting which aptly reflected the modern age. In the next decade, the 1870s, this style was to develop and become established as Impressionism.

Under Louis Napoleon's Second Empire(1852-1870), the very face of Paris itself was transformed. Narrow cobbled medieval streets of houses throughout the city centre were razed to make way for the new tree-lined boulevards, designed by Napoleon III's architect Baron Haussmann (1809-1891). Along these broad avenues - like the rue de Rivoli, boulevards St. Germain and St. Michel and avenue de l'Opera - terrace cafes opened up, and in this environment of light-filled sunny promenades, the life of the Romantic dandy artist or boulevard stroller, took on new meaning.

The avant-garde Parisian artist was no longer the oil painter of agricultural life or peasants, but of modern city life - the sophisticated dandy's world of cafes, racetracks, parks, concerts, balls, the opera and the ballet. Back-stage, behind Haussmann's elegant, pale stone facades, lay the demi-monde, the twilight world which serviced the sophisticated leisured pleasures which characterized the Second Empire's decadent opulence. These city workers - the street musicians, ragpickers, waiters, laundresses, milliners, barmaids, singers, shop girls, dancers, courtesans, prostitutes began to dominate the subject matter of Manet and Degas from the early 1860s. But new subjects, a more direct representation of contemporary themes, demanded new techniques. During the 1860s Manet and Degas, among other artists, found alternatives to academic practice which were more suited to their aesthetic needs. The techniques they evolved look forward to Impressionist methods, which began to emerge in the latter part of the decade in the work of Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro and Cezanne.

Impressionist oil painting came into its own in the 1870s. The Impressionist artists rejected the dark transparent shadows, subtle tonal modelling, sombre hues and earth colours of academic chiaroscuro. Instead, they advocated bright colors, thinly pale-primed canvases and mat, opaque oil paint surfaces which were uniformly loaded. Developments in the 1860s paved the way for these changes, each of which can be related to the new characteristics of modern oil painting materials - which differed markedly from those that had made possible the techniques of the Old Masters.

During the nineteenth century, two distinct methods had been widely established for the rendering of light, subtle halftones and shade in studio oil painting. The first technique, inspired by Flemish oil painters, dominated academic theory and practice in the first two-thirds of the century. It contrasted thin transparent shadows with opaque impasted lights in oil painting. As these effects became harder to achieve with modern, machine-ground colors, this method was gradually displaced by a more uniformly solid handling, based on Venetian techniques. In this method, both light and shade were rendered in opaque colors, applied with a loaded brush, while the shadows were deepened and enriched only in the final stages by the addition of transparent glazes. This latter method - minus the final glazing - gained wider popularity through Manet's novel approach in the 1860s and was to form the basis for the densely oil painted surfaces of Impressionist art works in the 1870s.

There were clear-cut practical reasons for this change, determined both by developments in the artists' materials trade, and by artists' loss of traditional practical knowledge. Since at least the mid eighteenth century, artists had grown ever more aware that their technical expertise was inadequate to recreate a handling comparable to that of the Old Masters. Further, changes in modern oil paints due to mass-production made such emulation virtually impossible. In fact, the development of the Impressionists' loaded shadow technique was far from purely aesthetic in inspiration - the mechanical production of colors played a central role in this change from the use of transparent colors.

Three factors were of particular importance; mechanical grinding, oil binders, and the additives used to keep paint homogeneous in the new tube containers.

Mechanical grinding of artists' colors

Traditionally, oil paint had been ground by hand by skilled workers, using a stone muller on a flat slab made of impermeable stone, such as porphyry. Mechanical grinding first became feasible around 1800, when an Englishman, Rawlinson, published details of a hand-operated, single-roll grinding mill, which was recommended by the influential Royal Society of Arts. Bouvier, the Swiss-French oil painter and writer on artists' methods, recorded that in 1801 he had first considered the possibility of mechanical grinding, in order to aid the arts and improve the lot of the hand color grinder, who was often obliged to work with poisonous chemicals. In 1833, the Parisian Annual Commercial Directory carried an advertisement for the firm of Bonnot & Cerceuil, manufacturers of oil colors for printing wallpapers and for the building trade, which stated that their steam powered grinding machinery was at the disposal of customers for the grinding of all their colors and pigments.

Mechanical grinding was at first considered to produce oil paints too coarse for artists' colors, which were known as couleurs fines to distinguish them from coach or house painting colors. The first color merchant to offer mechanically ground artists' colors was Blot, in the rue St. Honore, Paris, in 1836.

Although in the early days of mechanical grinding too coarse a substance had been produced for use by artists, growing sophistication soon solved this technical problem, but, instead, over grinding became a common practice. This meant that the subtle variations required in grinding different pigments to bring out their individual characteristics, were lost. These changes affected what artists could achieve with their colors, making dark transparencies problematic, but encouraging thick opaque painting. When properly ground, oil colors varied greatly in texture. Some tended to be runny, like viridian. ultramarine and vermilion. Others - especially the full-bodied earth colors - were naturally stiffer in consistency and had a coarser grain texture.
Dyestuffs. like the red alizarin lakes, may have no discernible particles. When ground correctly, these differences should remain apparent. The distinction in feel of a pigment's qualities. evident to an experienced hand-grinder, were hard to recapture in machine grinding. This, combined with the introduction of additives to create an artificial. uniformly buttery consistency regardless of the properties of individual pigments, resulted in a blandness of oil paint texture unknown in the old days of hand-grinding to order.

-noted that 'today, only poppy oil is used. except for a few dark colours with which the use of linseed oil is accepted.' Unlike linseed oil. which gives the paint surface a smooth, even quality, poppy oil is naturally more buttery in texture. Colors ground in poppy oil retain the mark of the brush, giving a raised textured effect which was exploited by Manet in the 1860s, and which encouraged the development of the textural, descriptive brushwork characteristic of Impressionist techniques. Because it is slow drying, poppy oil was particularly useful where extensive wet-in-wet handling was required without the repeated reworkings to which it was unsuited.

Artists' colors had traditionally been prepared only as and when they were needed, thus long-term storage presented little problem. However, the rapid expansion of commercial color grinding in the nineteenth century gave rise to a pressing need for an extended shelf-life for the product. There was little point in mass producing colors which then spoiled during storage in the unpredictable time-lag between manufacture and purchase. As ready ground colors tend to separate from their oil binder when left to stand, and as old oil jellies in the tube, ways had to be found to make sure that oil paints retained an even consistency, and that the pigment stayed fully dispersed in the oil.
Although collapsible tin tubes were only invented in 1840, suitable containers for storing oil paint had been sought long before then. Bladders for watercolors were in existence in the fifteenth century, and in 1684 the art theorist Roger de Piles mentioned that in Paris some colors, ready ground with their oil binder, were already being sold in pigs' bladders by 'color vendors'. The problems associated with storing oil colours were widely acknowledged by the mid eighteenth century.

Around 1790, an Englishman called Blackman began marketing a new type of ready ground oil colour in bladders, which were stiffer in consistency than normal oil colours. He said they were intended to make it easier for landscapists to undertake 'excursions into the country where it might be inconvenient to carry pigments of that kind in the state in which they were usually sold.' To achieve this stiffer paint texture, Blackman added sperm whale oil, or spermaceti - a brittle white fatty substance commonly used in ointments and candles. This addition also involved the inclusion of excesses of oil, for which his colours were soon criticized.

Beef and mutton tallow were other harmful stiffening additives often included in nineteenth century paint manufacture, and these were especially destructive as they never dried. They were thus advantageous only for the colour manufacturers, who, as Vibert commented,  are solely preoccupied with the commercial side of their trade. Their aim is to make colours which retain their freshness in tubes for the longest time possible, and in all climates.'

Wax, especially paraffin wax, was another common additive used in oil colours. While a small proportion of wax - no more than 2 per cent - dissolved in oil of turpentine, improves the consistency of oil colours, and indeed reduces yellowing, excesses are damaging. During this period, up to 30 per cent of wax dissolved in fatty oils was often added, resulting in sticky, dark colours, prone to cracking. Excesses of wax and extra oil went hand in hand. To counteract the fluidity produced by increasing the oil content, which made grinding easier, manufacturers put in more wax to restore the paint's stiffer consistency. This, in turn, permitted them to cut down the amount of pigment required to give a good paint texture. As the pigment was invariably the most costly item in paint manufacture, any reduction increased the colour merchants' profits.

By the 1860s colour merchants also justified the inclusion of excessive amounts of wax on the grounds that it made the colours more suitable for oil painting with a palette knife, which had been made popular by Courbet (1819-1877) in oil paintings like Deer Haven (1866). Manet also used knife application of colour in the 1860s, particularly for broad background areas.
The technique was exploited in this decade and the early 1870s, by some of the younger independent artists, especially Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). However, knife painting draws the oil binder to the paint surface, and thus aggravates the problem of the yellowing of oil by encouraging it to gather in a surface film. This drawback, together with the Impressionists' growing preference for uneven brush, textured handling, resulted in their abandoning the technique in the later 1870s. It was never adopted by the other members of the Impressionist group, including the major Impressionists, Claude Monet (1840-1926), Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) or Alfred Sisley (1839-1899).

Unnecessarily large quantities of oil are dangerous, whether in the support priming or in the paints themselves. All oils darken and yellow with age, discolouring and distorting the original colour balance and harmonies in an art work. Thus, for artists in the 1860s, and particularly the Impressionists later, excessive oils in paints were a serious problem, as their oil painting required durable bright, light colours. Pale colours were obviously more vulnerable to yellowing and discoloration than dark ones, so, where a luminous effect and subtle colour relations were the aim of a oil painter, special care had to be taken to protect these colours from destruction. Soaking out excess oil by placing colours on blotting paper prior to use, was one precaution adopted by many Impressionist painters.

Every individual pigment has its own optimum level of oil absorption, which it is inadvisable to exceed. This level is the amount of oil required in grinding to achieve both a thorough 'wetting' of each pigment particle, and also the complete dispersal of pigment particles in the oil, to produce an ideal paint consistency. Like the oil absorption level, this ideal consistency varies from pigment to pigment. Some colours, such as raw sienna, naturally absorb high proportions of oil binder, while others, like lead white, require very little oil in grinding. In the long run. pigments which require less oil will result in greater permanency, as these will tend to dry quicker and yellow less.

The homogeneous consistency of modern commercial oil paints made it difficult for artists to vary their uniformly buttery paint quality – its relative opacity or transparency, stiffness or fluidity - without mixing the colours with harmful thinning vehicles or thickening unctions. Inevitably, any addition to the oil paint increased its chemical complexity, making its safe usage harder to predict or control. Experts maintained that if only colours were from the outset manufactured with varied viscosity, according to their inherent characteristics and their requisite function on the artist's palette, this further adulteration by the artist could be avoided.

Thus mechanical grinding. poppy oil binder, and waxy additives all combined as factors influencing the texture of mid nineteenth century oil paints. They no longer possessed the distinctions in texture, that had lent themselves so appropriately to the variations of thin transparency and raised opaques characteristic of Flemish methods, which so many artists continued to seek in their chiaroscuro handling.

By the 1860s the gradual breakdown of this method, made even more difficult by artists' ignorance of traditional handling techniques, was well under way. However. rendering the conventional deep, transparent shadows was still a major preoccupation of many artists. For instance. as late as 1867, Manet's teacher, the artist Thomas Couture (1815-1879), described light as mat and shadow as transparent in nature, and noted that the artist's palette was well stocked with sound opaque colours suitable for rendering the lights, but that few good transparent colours were available. Many sound, bright transparent colours were on the market then, but traditionalists considered these crass and vulgar, and therefore unsuitable for academic oil painting. However, it was precisely these colours, usually with the addition of opaque, stable lead white, which were included in the palettes of Manet, Degas and the Impressionists.

New techniques established

One of the new techniques which was to be exploited in Impressionist oil painting was the uniform 'loading' of the paint surface, even in the shadows. Whereas in academic convention, the shadows had been painted thinly and transparently, by the mid nineteenth century many independent artists preferred to paint more solidly, by loading opaque oil paint in shadow and light areas alike. However, there had been precedents in France for this development. In particular the great eighteenth century painter of domestic scenes Chardin (1699-1779) had used this technique, and his works were much admired by, among others, the artists Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro. In the nineteenth century, Gericault (1791-1824) was the first independent artist to load his shadows, for example in his Raft of the Medusa (1819). However, he attempted to retain their transparency by using bitumen – the worst and most dangerous of the glazes, then disparagingly referred to as 'brown sauces', against which oil painters of the 1860s reacted. When first applied, bitumen gives a seductive. warm transparent brown, apparently ideal for deep shadows. But bitumen is a tarry substance, akin to the asphalt used for surfacing roads today, and, consequently, it never dries completely. Its subsequent cracking and blistering in fluctuating environmental temperatures destroys the paint surface. while the colour blackens. losing transparency as it ages.

Gericault's example was followed by the young Delacroix (1798-1863) in the Barque of Dante (1822). Such practices, and those of the Romantics, who adopted glutinous brown transparencies, were brought to artists' attention by writers like the famous aesthetician Charles Blanc in the 1860s, who warned of their dangers. Both Courbet and Millet (1814-1875) - whose influence on the younger generation was crucial - also loaded their shadows, although Courbet was more guilty than Millet of the misuse of bitumen. It is significant that all these precedents for richly loaded oil paint surfaces were among independent artists, painters who were all seeking alternatives to the academic tradition, and whose example was of particular relevance to the younger artists of the 1860s.

Only two artists of the older generation, who trained and worked in an essentially classical tradition, were to prove vital to the younger painters. These were Ingres (1780-1867) and the landscapist Corot (1796-1875). Ingres studiously avoided the use of bitumen in his work, adopting the thinly scumbled opaque shadows taught him by David (1748-1825), which resulted in a shallow pictorial space and a lightness of colour which was not found in the work of his academic followers. Corot too, used lead white in his shadows, showing greater concern for depicting the real effects of outdoor light. As a result the overall effect in his landscapes is one of pale silvery luminosity, rather than the sombre, toned-down conventional lights and darks of academic studio landscapes, or the heavy darks of Romantic landscapes.

One of the key reasons why Romantics and many Realist painters loaded their shadows, was because they mainly used supports primed with pale grounds, and these needed to be well covered if dark shadows were to be effective. A convincing recession, or turning away of form into shadow, was hard to create on pale grounds. Pale colours tend to advance visually, and dark ones to recede, so dark grounds have an inherent sense of depth which pale grounds lack. In fact, pale grounds have an insistent flatness which resists the most determined efforts to create an illusion of depth on them. Courbet, attempting to persuade the youthful Monet to adopt dark grounds in the early 1860s, was well aware of their advantages when he commented that, on a brown ground 'you can dispose your lights, your coloured masses; you immediately see your effect.'

As early as 1750 artists had been aware that the technique of using transparent shadows and thinly applied halftones was vulnerable to the ravages of time. Because the oil paint layer the picture itself - becomes increasingly transparent with age, these subtle effects soon disappeared when painted over dark grounds. Even on pale grounds, the overall balance was soon lost, for, as the oil paint layer grew more transparent, the glazed shadows lost their depth of contrast with the impasted lights. In the long term, pale grounds were safest, as they maintained the overall luminosity of the oil painting, whereas dark grounds - which darkened further with age - 'rose up' and subdued the hues in the paint layer. It was precisely for these reasons that artists in the 1860s preferred pale grounds.

Isolated examples exist of early works by Cezanne, Monet and Renoir from this decade, executed on dark grounds inspired by Courbet. But, following the example of Manet, they soon adopted pale grounds almost universally because of their brilliance and superior durability. This practice became so common that, in 1865, Pasteur, a professor of geography, physics and chemistry, noted in a lecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts that 'nowadays scarcely any but canvases primed white or barely tinted are used.'

In view of the weight of contemporary evidence demonstrating the technical undesirability of chiaroscuresque methods - whether using transparent or loaded shadows - it may seem surprising that so many artists persisted in their use of them. However, not only did these methods have a long and distinguished history, but by the nineteenth century chiaroscuro had become more than just a technique.

In the seventeenth century chiaroscuro had simply meant either the overall light effect in a composition, or the particular fall of light and shade on each object to give it the necessary relief. By the 1860s, the definition of chiaroscuro incorporated, a crucial aesthetic ideal too. Its aim, in the words of the important art theorist Charles Blanc, was 'not simply to give relief to the forms, but to correspond to the sentiment that the painter wishes to express, conforming to the conventions of a moral beauty as much as to the laws of natural truth.' Thus the original, practical role of chiaroscuro had become overlaid with a new ideological meaning. Chiaroscuresque handling in oil painting had become synonymous with the academic ideal of elevated moral truth and beauty. Therefore, any rejection of chiaroscuro was associated in the minds of the powerful conservative faction, with a rejection of the highest ideals of painting's moral social role, and thus with a rejection of the established conventions of academic art as a whole.

As a result, oil paintings which failed to exhibit the thin transparent shadows and impasted lights of the approved chiaroscuro tradition, were consistently criticized by conservatives for their lack of elevated moral tone. Such paint­ings were considered deficient in the spiritual, intellectual, refining side of art, which had, since Renaissance times, been thought crucial to the production of great art. An oil painting which lacked the rational pictorial conventions of chiaroscuro was dismissed as raw imitation of nature, banal and unimaginative.

This attitude echoed the traditional split be­tween artist and artisan, between the intellectual and the purely manual in art. For this reason, Impressionist painting was characterized by its critics as exhibiting nothing but manual dexterity. It was even considered seditious. Especially following the Paris Commune of 1871, these artists were often dismissed as communists and anarchists for their flouting of traditional values in art.

The influence of photography

Reflecting upon the art of Manet and his fol­lowers in the 1860s, the painter and art historian Eugene Fromentin blamed photog­raphy for the decline in moral spirituality which he saw in their oil painting. He felt their work lacked the 'fantasies of the imagination' and the subtle 'mysteries of the palette' which he admired in Dutch and Flemish seventeenth century art. In this period photography had changed artists' vision, particularly their under­standing of the effects of light. As a result, with Manet's work in mind, Fromentin observed. 'painting has never been so clear, so explicit, so formal, so crude.'



The rise of photography from the 1840s, had, for artists, complicated the issue of the illusionistic representation of reality. On the one hand, photography showed them for the first time ever, an 'objective' picture of reality, provoking some artists to attempt an even more fastidiously representational style of oil painting. On the other hand, for others the very existence of the photographic image was a release from the demands of painstaking repre­sentation of the visual world, leaving them free to pursue a more personal recording of nature, like that of the Impressionists. Their method was based on the translation into paint of the individual artist's optical perceptions, a phenomenon beyond the camera's reach. It also freed artists to explore the problems of oil painting itself.



The lack of sensitivity of early photographic plates or films produced a number of distor­tions, which were noticed by contemporary critics. In particular, the subtleties of lighting considered so crucial to chiaroscuro effects - ­delicate reflected lights in shadows, and gra­dated halftones - were destroyed by photography. The resulting exaggeration of darks and lights gave dramatic, simplified areas of strong tonal contrast, which flattened three-dimen­sional forms into broad, uniform tonal shapes. Thus, artists like Manet, Degas and Fantin Latour (1836-1904), who studied photogra­phy in the 1860s, found in its stark contrasts a new way of depicting a simplified, more direct impression of the natural world. Artificial light­ing was used in photography from the mid 1850s, created either by electrical batteries or the powerful white flare produced by burning magnesium wire. This resulted in even more extreme oppositions of light and dark. A com­parable effect is apparent in Manet's 1863 works Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass.



Studios and lighting


The evolution of new oil painting technique went hand in hand with changes in studio design and lighting, which were adapted to suit the new aims of the independent artists. The changing layout of the artist's studio reflected the trans­formation in the organization of pictorial light. The emphasis on a chiaroscuresque handling


during the century, with its accompanying palette dominated by earth colours and browns, coincided with a studio lighting designed to encourage a tonal pictorial structure. A single high window, giving a controlled light source, was then in common use. This practice, gave sharp lights, delicate halftones and deep trans­parent shadows. All studios normally faced north. This gave a cool, stable light because it was unaffected by the sun's daily passage across the sky, 'which produced distracting fluctuations in the colour of the light and con­stantly shifting shadows. The academically approved, carefully premeditated, tonal palette layout, with colours gradated from light to dark, and with all the halftones ready mixed by the painter, could only work when painting was done under stringently, controlled, steady lighting: conditions like these.



A cool northern studio light creates con­trasting warm shadows. These were made darker by the restricted volume of light and by the subdued colours with which the walls were generally painted. Thus a tonal palette of somber, warm earth colours was perfect for rendering these effects.The studio environment was therefore con­structed to give constant chiaroscuresque lights and shades. Although artists were working from 'nature', it was a nature determined by preconceived ideas of painting, intended only to result in an end product in which form was depicted through chiaroscuro. Multiple light sources and south-facing studios were occasion­ally recommended by writers criticizing the cool drabness of accepted northern lighting, but they were rarely adopted, before the develop­ment of Impressionism in the 1870s.



Landscape painters move outdoors


As the technical difficulties in chiaroscuro oil paint­ing increased, and dark brown transparent shadows became harder to depict with assured permanency, this form of traditional studio set­up gave way to newer environments. The rise of landscape painting was a key factor in this change, for as artists became more committed to an accurate depiction of outdoor sites and lighting, the studio gradually moved outdoors too. At first, in spite of the brilliant sunlight and reflected ambient atmospheric light found out­doors, artists, as it were, took their studio light out with them - they still saw their outdoor environment in terms of chiaroscuro and the browns of studio shadows. To some extent this vision was determined by the types of site and lighting preferred in the first half of the century. Dramatic storms, dawns, sunsets, forest or craggy scenes all tend to create strong con­trasts of light and shadow, which could be translated in a broadly chiaroscuro technique. In any case, many such artworks, although based on outdoor studies, or even begun outdoors, were normally completed under darker studio conditions.



However, the example of outdoor studies by Corot, with their gold or pale lighting and luminous shadows, provided an important alternative to younger independent painters in the 1860s. Increasingly, artists began to com­plete their oil paintings out of doors in order to retain the unity of natural light effects and the impact of the first impression. This renewed determination to capture the quality of light observed in situ brought a freeing of artistic vision, which stimulated painters to study brighter, lighter scenery in full daylight.



One of the major problems with studio­ executed landscape paintings, especially those including figures, had always been the creation of a convincingly unified lighting. In such oil paintings, the background lighting was usually quite distinct from that on the figures, which were executed from models under the strictly controlled abrupt lights and darks of the studio. On figures under natural outdoor light, the gradations from light to shade are softer and the shadows more diffused and attenuated, filled with reflected light from, the sky. Even in works like Manet's Luncheon on the Grass, in which a high academic studio lighting was abandoned, the stark tonal contrasts of interior light are still in evidence. Manet adopted a dramatic frontal light, falling directly onto his figures, which obliterates halftones and reduces shadow to little more than striking black con­tours. This flattening, full-face light familiar to the artists from contemporary photography, produces broad blocks of light and dark when used indoors. During the 1870s the same full­ face light was to be exploited by the Impression­ists outdoors, where, by contrast, it suppresses tonal contrasts because shadows fall behind the objects depicted.



The impact of Japanese prints


Japanese wood block colour prints, which be­came widely popular in France from the early 1860s, were an important source of inspir­ation which offered an alternative to the con­ventions of European painting. As the critic Theodore Duret remarked in 1878, Japanese prints showed French artists 'the specific ap­pearances of nature by means of bold, new methods of colouring.' These prints used flat areas of bright colour, rather than modelling form through a depiction of the fall of light and shade. Form was both implied and denied in their work by evocative contour and by over­lapping planes of colour. A Western single­ point perspective had never been developed in­dependently by Japanese artists. Instead, space was suggested by placing one object behind another. Unusual, often high viewpoints, look­ing down on a scene were often adopted in Japanese prints, and this emphasized a decorative flatness of form and space by tipping the scene up closer to the surface of the picture. This device was taken over by avant-garde artists from the 1860s on, giving their pictures a spatial and compositional flatness which com­plemented the new uniform loading  of their paint surfaces.



In Japanese prints, sensual line and blocks of vivid colour weave patterns across the picture surface, causing the eye to wander undirected over it instead of forcing the eye to focus on a central point of interest. A comparable phe­nomenon resulted from the peculiarities of photography, and both proved a timely alter­native to academic conventions. The photo­graph, although no more 'objective' in the strictest sense than the human eye, showed a different picture than that possible with human binocular vision. Within a given depth or field of focus, the camera's monocular lens records every object with equal force and clarity. Human vision is more selective, in that, out­side a central focal area, all objects are more or less blurred. A new interest among artists in creating an overall focus of attention in their work was a natural outgrowth of the study of photographs. 'Snapshot' photography. which came in the early 1860s. succeeded in freez­ing moving figures. This new vision of accident­ally distributed passers-by became a feature of oil paintings at this time, in which apparently casually placed or cut-off figures gave an air of direct immediacy. The modern city life in Paris could thus be rendered with the sensation of a glimpse of the uninterrupted panorama of teem­ing activity, a slice of fleeting life, seen most typically in the work of Degas.



Thus many artists began to avoid a central or single point of focus in their compositions, experimenting instead with designs that had no hierarchy of pictorial interest. This type of levelling process, which failed to direct the spectator's eye into a traditional self-contained, coherent pictorial space and towards a fixed point of interest, left public and critics be­wildered. Few understood the aims of this style, and most critics exhorted the independent artists to return to the conventions of tra­ditional academic chiaroscuro, which had im­posed their own familiar aesthetic order on the painter's subject. The combination of an even, uniform focus, an overall loading of the paint surface, and a flattened pictorial space in the new painting gave no easy clues to the reading and understanding of the pictorial intention. Manet's Concert in the TuiIeries (1862) and Degas' Chrysanthemums (1858-1865), are ex­cellent examples of this.



Towards Impressionism


While photography afforded a new and broadly speaking - more naturalistic vision of light than the conventionalized lighting in chiaroscuro oil painting, it still presented form in terms of strong tonal lights and darks. Although in their studio-painted studies of interiors the younger independent artists relied greatly on the example of Manet, Degas and Courbet dur­ing the 1860s, their landscape work shows them moving away from tonal handling. Thus Monet's reworking of Manet's radical subject of 1863, Luncheon on the Grass in 1865 to 1866, of which only fragments survive, attempted a more authentic depiction of outdoor light effects. A more successful oil painting, Monet's Women in the Garden (1866), begun outdoors and finished in the studio, created a new unity between the effects of sunlight on landscape and figures.


In their pre-Impressionist work of the 1860s, artists like Monet and Renoir already gave hints of later developments. The shadows in Monet's Women in the Garden, like those in Renoir's Use with a Parasol (1867) and The Pont des Arts (1867) were filled with reflected light and cool blue-violet hues picked up from the sky, con­trasting with the pervasive warmth of the sun­light. Monet's early experiences in outdoor work with his mentor Eugene Boudin (1824­1898) along the Normandy coast, in the late 18 50s and early 1860s, gave him an advantage over Renoir who only began painting outside in 1863. He did this at the instigation of his tutor Charles Gleyre (1806-1874). in whose sympathetic anti-academic teaching studio he had first met Monet, Sisley and Frederic Bazille (1841-1870) in the autumn of 1862. Since they all worked together regularly, both indoors and out in the 1860s and early 1870s, they were able to benefit from each other's growing expertise and competence.



When in Paris, they all joined Manet's gatherings of artistic and literary figures at the Cafe Guerbois, on one of the new boulevards now avenue de Clichy- in the Batignolles quarter on the fringe of Montmartre. These dis­cussions often included writers and critics like Emile Zola, Edmond Duranty and Theodore Duret. Artists who joined them included Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Fantin Latour and Pissarro. Monet later recalled that 'from them we emerged with a firmer will, with our thoughts clearer and more distinct.' As they only painted during daylight hours, in the evenings they were free to meet, argue and exchange the latest ideas. It was during this time that many of these artists began to formulate the project for independent group shows, which would


provide an alternative venue to the official Salon exhibition. This idea finally came to fruition in 1874, the year of the first group exhibition, at which a critic coined the name 'Impressionism’.



The year 1869 is now commonly seen as the turning point in the development of the Im­pressionist style. That summer, Monet and Renoir worked side by side along the banks of the river Seine at La Grenouillere, one of the new leisure spots just outside Paris. With their portable easels and travelling paint boxes, they painted rapid studies in free sketchy brush­work, attempting to capture the fleeting effects of sunlight on mobile water, to note down their impressions before the transitory scene. Al­though their methods and palette were to change considerably in the following decade, the basis for the new Impressionist techniques was already established.



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