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Study Notes: Impressionism

Study Notes: Impressionism
Subject: Art Theory / Design Culture


Claude Monet 1840 - 1926
Frederic Bazille 1841 - 1870
Pierre August Renoir 1841 - 1919 
Mary Cassatt 1845 - 1926
Camille Pissarro 1830 - 1903 
Armand Guillaumin 1841 - 1927
Alfred Sisley 1839 - 1899
Edouard Manet 1832 - 1883
Berthe Morisot 1841 - 1895
Edgar Degas 1834 - 1917
Theodore Fantin Latour 1836 - 1904

Eugene Chevreul 1786 - 1889 Chemist
Nadar (Felix Tournachon)1820 - 1910 Photographer
Charles Baudelaire 1821 - 1867 Writer & Critic
Emile Zola 1840 - 1902 Writer

The term Impressionism came into general use after Louis Leroy used it to describe the work of Monet and others in a critical review in the May 1874 edition of the humorous journal Charivari. The review was written in response to the first group show of the artists now known as the Impressionists held at the studios of the photographer Nadar.

The term does not describe a school because the artists worked in a variety of styles. But, it does indicate a shared approach to a new way of representing nature and of our relationship to it. Impressionism can be seen as the culmination of the more intensified observation of nature. This process was begun by the Dutch landscape painters of the C17th and was the initial inspiration of the English school of landscape firstly with Richard Wilson (1714 - 1782) and later developed by the Norwich School, J.M.W.Turner and John Constable; it can also be seen as a development of the work of the French painters of the Barbizon School and the Realism of Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet. The use of colour and strong brushwork of Delacroix also had a strong influence.

The effect of these painters together with the influence of photography and the newly discovered art of the Japanese print prepared the ground from which the final stage of Impressionism emerged. The essential characteristics which united and identified the Impressionists as a group was their study of the effect of light (heavily influenced by the theories of the chemist Chevreul) and their resultant use of the 'spectrum palette' which included only the primary colours - red, yellow, and blue - the secondaries - orange, green and violet - and their derivatives by intermixing or by modification with white. The use of black, ochre and browns was reduced to a minimum or banned.

The work of Delacroix and Chevreul led to the artists in the group developing a surface of paint which was broken into small areas of intense colour on a white ground which from a distance recreated the effects of light by a process of optical mixing - the colours mixing in the eye not on the palette. To render the effects of light the Impressionists worked directly in the open air (en plein air) a practice inherited from the Barbizon school and also Eugene Boudin (1824 - 1898), Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819 - 1891) and Charles Daubigny (1817 - 1878) who Monet had met as a young student in Le Havre.

These practices had a profound effect on the representation of objects. We see objects by the light that is reflected from them. When daylight light falls on an object it is composed of all of the colours of the spectrum. These colours are absorbed or reflected in varying degrees - a red object reflects red light but absorbs all of the other colours. The appearance is also complicated by reflections from other adjacent objects and also by the effect that colours have on each other. Chevreul published work on the effects of colours on each other in his 'Laws of Simultaneous Contrast of Colours'. The retinas of our eyes are sensitive to the different wavelengths of the visible spectrum and when the light from objects enters our eye we see an image, but the image is in our eye not 'out there' on the object. It is this 'retinal image that the Impressionists wanted most faithfully to record. To do so would mean forgetting what one knew about an object and recording simply what one saw. As Cezanne said on Monet " he is only an eye, but my God what an eye". The traditional way of representing the identity of objects through outline and modelling through tonal value was lost to the recording of the light sensations reflected from them and this new aesthetic caused derision from the public at the time.

When the public were looking to art for a stable system of values, the Impressionists presented an image of the unstable, fugitive and temporal. Impressionism recorded a new awareness of time by concentrating on the 'fleeting moment' - at times Monet changed his canvases every fifteen minutes. In this respect their work was influenced by photography and the issues of composition and framing and the power relationships between the viewed and the viewer that it raised.

Monet - Quotations:

Colour is my day long obsession, joy and torment. To such an extent indeed that one day, finding myself at the death-bed of a woman who had been and still was very dear to me, I caught myself in the act of focusing on her temples and automatically analysing the succession of appropriately graded colours which death was imposing on her motionless face. There were blue, yellow, grey tones - tones I cannot describe. That was the point which I had reached. Nothing is more natural than the urge to record one last image of a person departing this life. But even before I had though of recording the features of this human being to whom I was profoundly attached, my organism was automatically reacting to the colour sensations and in spite of myself, I was involved by my reflexes in an unconscious process in which I was taking up the normal course of my daily life ?.’

When you go out top paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field or whatever. Merely think, heres is a little square of pink, here a streak of yellow and paint it just as it looks to you. The exact colour and shape, until it gives you your own na├»ve impression of the scene before you.’

For me the subject is insignificant. What I wish to reproduce is what is between the subject and myself.’


Study Notes: Romanticism

Study Notes: Romanticism

Subject: Art Theory / Design Culture

ROMANTICISM (c.1790 – 1850)

Painting: Sculpture:
Jacques-Louis David 1748 -1825 
Francois Rude 1784 - 1855
Eugene Delacroix 1798 - 1863
Caspar David Friedrich 1774 - 1840 
Theodore Gericault 1791 - 1824
Francisco de Goya 1746 - 1828  

J M W Turner 1775 - 1851
Samuel Palmer 1805 - 1881 
Leo von Klenze 1784 - 1864
John Martin 1789 - 1854 
Karl Friedrich Schinkel 1781 - 1841
William Blake 1757 - 1827 
Henri Fuseli 1741 -1825
(John Constable 1776 - 1837)

The term Romanticism is derived from the stories and myths (Romances) told in the Middle Ages in the national vernacular languages, rather than Latin, of countries such as France and England. Such stories often centred on acts of chivalry and courtly love and have led to a popular use of the word 'romantic' to describe anything which is emotionally evocative or which stimulates a sentimental response.

In art history the term Romantic is more precisely used to describe artists who reacted against the ideas of order and rationalism associated with the Neo- classicism of the C18th. What became the Romantic Movement was complex and unlike classicism had few rules of style; instead of a shared canon of taste and beauty, Romanticism encouraged an individual response to experience rather than a codified response. In the arts this led to an investigation of new subject matter and to the development of new formal languages. Whereas Neoclassicism had continued the mimetic theory of art of the classical world (that art should imitate the forms of nature and perfect them) Romanticism substituted this with a new expressive theory of art. Romantic artists tended to explore colour at the expense of the description of form and line and they emphasised the process of making as a 'coming into being' of ideas, leading to a emphasis on brushwork (facture) rather than an anonymous highly polished, flat finish typical of classical art. These ideas led to highly diverse artistic production (there are too many artists associated with the movement to list them all above). The interest in individualism also led to an interest in ‘autobiography’, and the notion of the individual genius became widespread.

One of the most profound changes in sensibility brought about through the Romantic Movement was a change of attitude towards nature and hence to the art of landscape painting. To the classical mind nature was a chaotic experience to be ordered through human intervention. Classical landscape is full of idealistic conventions. A typical garden in the classical tradition was ordered on geometric lines with plants heavily controlled and shaped by pruning; water was controlled in the form of fountains. Romanticism saw the importation from China of the idea of the
more 'natural' and picturesque landscape garden, which included rocks, streams and meandering paths, with grottoes and vantage points. Such ideas were intended to induce a sense of wonder and sublimation in the face of nature.

The classical world was republican and pagan; landscape a 'site' for historical or moral action or mythological revelry. To the new romantic sensibility landscape became seen as a place of contemplation, a place to experience heightened emotions or a place of communion with God.

Classicism had epitomised the belief in rationality, civic virtue, and human perfectibility. In the bloody aftermath of the French revolution, the romantic artists attempted to come to terms with the primitive, irrational, emotional and contingent (uncontrollable) aspects of human existence - and to lost causes. Classicism was seen to represent the past - Romanticism became associated with modernity and the present. Instead of a search for timeless truths romanticism led to a new awareness of time and change - follies and ruins became fashionable.

There was a new pace of political change. History came to be seen as determined by human knowledge and action, with a new emphasis on freedom, liberty and the self-determination of the nation state - beliefs which ultimately became manifested in the French Revolution. Instead of finding inspiration in the myths and classical models of Greece and Rome (and by extension the Renaissance) people looked to the previous art of their own countries, more specifically to the cathedrals of the middle ages in France and Britain. This led eventually by the end of the 19th century to a fully developed Gothic Revival.

However, The relationship between Neo-classicism and Romanticism is complex. Both Neo-classical and Romantic artists shared a belief in an heroic attitude to life and experience. Some artists such as Delacroix who were honoured as romantic because they defied the establishment and introduced new ideas into art considered themselves to be in the same classical tradition as J L David. As Hugh Honour has said 'Romantic styles in the visual arts radiate outwards in all directions from the still centre of Neo-classicism'.

By the middle of the 19th century the differences between neo-classical and romantic ideas became blurred. The styles became absorbed into the sentiments of the wealthy middle classes and were the mainstay of the official salons. To a new generation of artists an art of lofty aspirations and abstract ideals became irrelevant and was replaced by a new movement in art - Realism - which focussed on the political realities and the everyday experiences of a different social class.

Elements of Romanticism can be traced to 20th Century art movements such as Expressionism, the abstract art of Malevich, Kandinsky and Mondrian that deals with the sublime, heroic art of post war America like Jackson Pollock and Rothko and the black paintings of AD Reinhardt and Frank Stella. Also dark explorations of late twentieth century art of Damien Hirst and Jake and Dino Chapman or the paintings of Antoni Tapies, Cy Twombly and Anselm Kiefer.

Charles Baudelaire on Beauty:

To say the word Romanticism is to say modern art -- that is, intimacy, spirituality, color, aspiration towards the infinite, expressed by every means available to the arts.

Charles Baudelaire on Beauty:

All forms of beauty, like all possible phenomena, contain an element of the eternal and an element of the transitory -- of the absolute and of the particular. Absolute and eternal beauty does not exist, or rather it is only an abstraction creamed from the general surface of different beauties. The particular element in each manifestation comes from the emotions: and just as we have our own particular emotions, so we have our own beauty.
Arthur Rimbaud on Taste:

For a long time I found the celebrities of modern painting and poetry ridiculous. I loved absurd pictures, fanlights, stage scenery, mountebanks backcloths, inn-signs, cheap colored prints; unfashionable literature, church Latin, pornographic books badly spelt, grandmothers novels, fairy stories, little books for children, old operas, empty refrains, simple rhythms.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe:

The biggest problem with every art is by the use of appearance to create a loftier reality.

Rainer Maria Rilke on creativity:

Ideally a painter (and, generally, an artist) should not become conscious of his insights: without taking the detour through his reflective processes, and incomprehensibly to himself, all his progress should enter so swiftly into the work that he is unable to recognize them in the moment of transition. Alas, the artist who waits in ambush there, watching, detaining them, will find them transformed like the beautiful gold in the fairy tale which cannot remain gold because some small detail was not taken care of.
Jean Jacques Rouseau:

I realized that our existence is nothing but a succession of moments perceived through the senses.

Some notes on Eugene Delacroix (1799 - 1863)

After a classical education in Paris Delacroix joined Guerin's (1774 - 1833) studio. Aged 24 he enters the public scene with ‘The Barque de Dante’ and exhibited at the Salon

1824   Begins the canvas of ‘The Massacres of Chios’, based on the Greek war of independenceagainst the Turks. Delacroix sees the ‘Haywain’ and reworks the canvas using Constables discoveries about light and colour.
Both paintings are exhibited in the same salon of that year
1825   Paints in England
1832   Spends five months travelling in Morroco and North Africa
1840   Delacroix has noted that half-tones are not produced by adding black to a colour - which deadens it - but by mixing with the complimentary of the original colour.

Other important works by Delacroix include:

1822  ‘Barque of Dante’
1827  ‘Death of Sardanopolus’
1831  ‘Liberty Leading the People’ 
1834  ‘Women of Algiers’  
1861  ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’

List of Slides:

Jacques L. David Death of Marat in his Bath (1793)
Eugene Delacroix Liberty Leading the People (1831)
Eugene Delacroix Death of Sandanapolus (1827) 
Eugene Delacroix Massacre of Scios (1824)
Gericault Head of The Medusa
Gericault Heads of Executed Prisoners (1818)
John Martin Sadak in search of the Waters of Oblivion (1841)
John Martin Cruxcifiction (1840)
Casper D. Friedrich Man above the Mists
Casper D. Friedrich Landscape in Bohemia
Casper D. Friedrich The Wreck of the Hoffnung
Casper D. Friedrich An Abbey under Oak Trees
Casper D. Friedrich The Ruins of Eldena Abbey
William Blake Nebuchadnezzar (1795)
Francisco de Goya The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters 
Francisco de Goya 3rd of May (1815)
Francisco de Goya Savages!
Francisco de Goya Etchings from “Disasters of War’ series
Francisco de Goya Saturn Devouring his Eldest Son
John Constable Studies of clouds and seascapes (1820’s)
John Constable The Haywain (1824)
John Constable Stonehenge (1836)
JMW Turner The Fighting Temaraire (1850)
Henri Feusli Young Woman Imprisoned with a skeleton (1813)
Henri Feusli Lady MacBeth seizing the daggers (1812)