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U say U : WANNA REVOLUTION ...better free your eyes instead

The Impressionists were a very committed serious group of radical artists who led a big kaboom revolution in art. Each had different ideas, practices, approaches, attitudes, and contributions with varied aims. Their singular goal was to experiment with a new way of painting that was far removed from academic conventions. Initially, they never gave themselves a label or name to identify their style of art. Nor did they ever create a manifesto, platform or any guiding principles. In 1874 a critic derogatorally called the movement “Impressionists” after seeing a Monet painting titled ‘ Impression, Sunrise,’ accusing it of

being a sketch or "impression," not a finished painting. The group defiantly took on the moniker as their name.

'Impression, Sunrise' by Claude Monet

Impressionism is depicting the visible in the spontaneous. A liberation of art from its past dependence on dogma. The Impressionists attempted to paint :

NOT what they THOUGHT they saw,

NOT what they thought they OUGHT to see,

but painted what they DID SEE.

The Impressionists' definition of Impressionism was to paint what they saw and felt and above all without rules or methods. They attached great importance to the purity and sincerity of perception. It was about the action of pure seeing. And. They permanently changed the way people see. They were truly art emancipators & visionaries ! The Impressionists were all incredibly brilliant people.

The Impressionistic Movement was thoroughly remarkably remarkable because it was achieved by some 20 artists who were all familiar with each other and it was based in and around one city : Paris. Another very extraordinary factor in its on-going evolution was the fact that many of the artists joined together in close-knit pairs painting side-by-side, collaborating with each other, influencing each other, all with a sense of respect and admiration. ( Monet-Renoir, Degas-Manet, Cezanne-Pissarro, Cassatt-Degas, Morisot-Manet, Morisot-Renoir ) Their shared a fellowship of brotherhood and sisterhood, and camaraderie was strong. Sometimes it even included financial help, shared lodgings, and moral support when needed. They all saw eye to eye with each other. And they all had very strong and distinct personalities.

The prominent core group of Impressionists ( 1860-1886 ) included : Manet, Pissarro, Degas, Cezanne, Sisley, Monet, Morisot, Renoir, Cassatt, Caillebotte, & Bazille.

Followed by the Neo-Impressionists or Pointillists : Seurat & Signac.

And then came the Post-Impressionists (1886-1905): Rousseau, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, & Matisse.

My dad at The Art Institute of Chicago viewing
' A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat

The first fully Impressionistic style used lighter tones, brighter colors, looser brushstrokes, and more naturalistic styled subjects. The image actually did look more like a sketch or, as they constantly got attacked and labeled in the beginning ; unfinished. The lack of clarity produced an effect that was like a moment in time. This more “blurred” or “atmospheric” kind of painting engages the viewer to focus the image with their very own eyes. Many concurrent new advances helped propel their cause : science was experimenting with advances in visual optics, newer brighter synthetic paint colors were being invented, paint came in tubes for the first time which enabled plein-air outdoor painting, and in the 1870’s, France was in the midsts of the Franco-Prussian war & French Revolution, creating an after-affect of readiness for overall change.

As a whole the Impressionists defied the conventions of the time. Art was exclusively selected, judged, juried, and purchased solely via the yearly Salons in Paris. The standards set by the Salon limited any experimentation in art. Some of the Impressionists actually had paintings that were selected by the Salon that were acceptable to their standards. The Impressionists decided to organize their very own exhibitions and withdrew from the politics and stranglehold of the old masters regimented restricted strict style of prescribed stay within the lines type painting.

Watch out world. Get ready art world.

A change is gonna happen.

Each artist brought his specific vision to the rebellion:

'Olympia' by Edouard Manet

Edouard Manet, in the forefront, a wise-guy who upended the art world with his beginning breaks with tradition. His painting style was somewhat classical like the old masters, darker & detailed, yet his subject matter was controversial. The contencious ‘Olympia’ painting had been accepted in the Salon which depicted a female nude. Yet she stared straight out at the viewer with a brazen expression making direct eye contact. Scandalous. How dare he paint so bold. Another defiant female of Manet’s was dressed as a matador. Another well known painting ‘The Luncheon on the Grass ’ had dressed men and an undressed female at an outdoor picnic. Rather taboo for a nude to be in a everyday setting. That’s not how prostitution worked.

'The Luncheon on the Grass' by Edouard Manet

Paul Cezanne started out painting very dark, dreary subjects. Pissarro's influence helped lighten his palette. The two artists rendered similar landscapes together. Cezanne concentrated on depicting the structure of the scape.

'The Mount of Saint Victoria' by Paul Cezanne

He was probably the one Impressionist who pushed the revolutionary new ways of seeing furthest into the realm of the unknown. I think he created a future stepping stone leap for cubists with his fractionation of structural forms. His still-lives show “lived” perspective - showing us how we actually perceive the world. Here, one sees a round pot from the top view, a pitcher from its facing view, and the table edges not aligned at all. It works.

'Still Life with Fruit Basket' by Paul Cezanne

Camille Pissarro, a soft-hearted revolutionary, was the group elder by ten years in age, and the father figure. He created countryside landscapes sympathetic to the rural class. Pissarro insisted on painting what he saw even as a young man in art school. He got reprimanded for including pubic hair on his life model drawings. During the Franco-Prussian War he fled to England while 20 years worth of paintings were destroyed because soldiers used them for aprons when butchering animals using his home as a slaughterhouse. Pissarro had stored Monet’s paintings there also, only safer, and Monet’s were all saved.

Claude Monet was outspoken, defiant and a domineering egoist. His strength was a deeply profound feeling for nature. He arrived at the Academy Ecole des Beaux Arts and met up with Renoir, Bazille, Sisley, and Manet. He, also, was reprimanded for painting what he saw. A female model’s feet were rather, shall we say on the large size and Monet painted them that way. Not allowed to paint what he saw, he refused to compromise. Impressionism was born when Monet worked with Renoir. Monet evoked nature’s essence while Renoir added his bright palette to the mix. Voila !! Impressionism was born !! Monet recorded his “sensations” on canvas as he witnessed seasonal transformations varying atmospheric effects and the changing light at different times of the day : ephemeral phenomena.

On March 23, 1875 Monet, Renoir, Sisley & Morisot auctioned their paintings at the Hotel Drouet. Vocal protestors jeered at the art and the police had to be called in to quell the crowds. This new way of seeing was quite shocking to the public eye. Even caused riots.

'The Ballet Class' by Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas' strength and genius was painting unusual viewpoints and perspectives of urban life. I love his angled crops and frame edges clipped with subject matter. A perspective as if one is inside the painting. His frank candid paintings depicted behind the scenes scenery, mostly women rehersing for the ballet, women yawning, combing their hair, bathing, or in others words ; women unadorned. His mother, an American Creole from New Orleans, died when he was 13 years old. An arrogant loner his whole life, he never married. Degas had a reputation for being very difficult to get along with.

When Cassatt and Degas first met in 1877 and discovered each other’s art, Degas exclaimed “Here is someone who feels like I do !!” Cassatt said meeting Degas was a big turning point in her life, also. They remained on and off turbulent steadfast friends their entire lives. Both painted with objectivity, intimacy, and forthright realism in a style that can be called ‘Realist Impressionism ’ and combined the old masters and the modern.

Mary Cassatt was a very independent opinionated American that lived most all of her life in and around Paris. She studied art at the Pennysylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, a private institution that allowed women to enroll. Her early work was accepted at the Salon and then, in 1879 , she was invited to join the Impressionists. She depicted candid views of the bonds between mother and child, and contemplative women. A feminist that never married nor had children, she worked tirelessly supporting the Impressionists by creating bridges between art dealers and American art collectors. In her later years she worked for the women’s suffrage movement. Her family was against giving women the vote. Ok she said then just don’t vote.

'Theatre' by Mary Cassatt

Berthe Morisot painted ephemeral views of domestic life. She painted without any of the strict rules of academic schooling, so she was free to follow her own instincts. As a founding member of the group, she was denied admission to the Paris cafes for artistic debates because she was an unescorted female. So she organized weekly dinners at her home for all to partake and invited all the Impressionists for heated discussions.

' 'Woman and Child in a Meadow at Bougival' by Berthe Morisot

She was an exceptional woman, yet at that time in history still not an equal to her male collegues because of gender.“Neither she nor most others appreciated the revolutinary nature of her style or valued it as highly as they would have had she been a man. While her fellow artisans retain a suggestion of physical sensuality, in her pure Impressionistic phase Morisot totally dissolved her figures. Thus, she brought Impressionism figure painting to its zenith.” (from Impressionists Side By Side by Barbara Ehrlich White) Morisot married Manet’s brother and had a daughter. She successfully lived both lives as an artist and mother with a family. She participated in 7 of the 8 Impressionism exhibitions and only declined one year in order to have a baby. Morisot was very important and influential to the movement yet overlooked by historians.

I have not acquainted myself thoroughly with Sisley, Bazille, Caillebotte, Renoir… yet.

I want to add one more name to this report about Impressionism. There was one single person who had the largest influence over the world-wide acceptance and success of Impressionism : Paul Durand-Ruel was an art dealer who supported the Impressionists on many levels. He helped them create their own exhibitions which broke the long-standing hold of the Salons as the only place to purchase art. These … “exhibitions relied on a business model where artists would retain the proceeds from their own sales, and the success of an exhibition relied upon the market demand for the art, rather than the reviews of the state. The emergence of the dealer-artists relationship and independent exhibitions beginning in the 1870s broke down the monopoly power of the Salon, and began a new era of art markets.” (from wikipedia)

Not only did he help create a new outlets for selling art by also sponsoring solo exhibits, he boldly and insanely, for the time, purchased hundreds of Impressionistic paintings at a time when most critics, dealers, and collectors were highly condemning the movement. He understood their vision. He took a huge personal and fianancial risk. Some pieces took 10-20 years to actually sell. In 1886 he shipped 300 paintings to New York City for an exhibition. It sold out in a few weeks. The American market for Impressionism was overwhelmingly impressive. Durand-Ruel established a gallery in New York on 5th Ave. and paid off his debts. The fervour created by this American support behind Impressionism lit up the European art market and the revolutionary art was fianally accepted there. Durand-Ruel … a true visionary, “bought over 5000 Impressionist artworks in total including some 1000 Monets, 1500 Renoirs, 800 Pissarros, 400 Sisleys, 400 Cassatts, and about 200 Manets. His fearlessness and determination, as well as his foresight, meant that he became the principal agent for Impressionism and a key vehicle for the success of its artwork.”(from

The Impressionists fought and painted their way through much more than only the mainstream system 150 years ago. Their struggle included living through a Franco-Prussian War in which many artisans fled their country to survive, some artisans served their country, while some artisans died serving their country. They painted their way through a country-wide French Revolution and upheaval. Some artisans lost their homes & studios to years long city-wide Paris reconstruction. Some female artisan women chose motherhood instead of the paintbrush at a time in history when women were subordinate and subservient. Many of the artisans were destitute. Most of the artisans were ostracized from their families for wanting to be an artist in the first place. Their families deserted them for not following the prior generations of bankers, business men, ship chandlery. Many of these artisans struggled to support not only their art, but a mistress and their secret children unbeknownst to their families. Many artisans struggled with wives, rent, food, and art supplies. Unpopular at the time, their art did not sustain them. Still they all persevered. They all had super powers.

And today ?? We have them to thank for giving us, for freeing us, with their vision.

We have them to thank for the way we see.

I close this short glance this brief look about one of thee most successful of all Revolutions of all time with a glimpse of the ones held responsible, those super badass Revolutionaries, themselves. Here they are. In all their uncompromising tenacious determined strong-willed overcoming obstacles resolute refuse to obey Glory. Try looking inside their eyes to wonder what they envisioned. Try to imagine looking out through their eyes. Their wills show strongly in each and every gaze they are giving us. These rebels gained super power strength by finding each other. What luck for us that they did. And :

What luck for us that they freed our eyes.


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