Impressionism: light and water
Seeing paintings in the country where they were painted is pure magic. The French Impressionists especially were obsessed with the exact colours that reflected off their rivers and lakes and shimmered in the sky.
The Impressionist movement was a combination of the artists’ lighthearted, misfit attitude to their artistic principles and philosophies, married to a dedicated, perfectionist approach to their techniques — a magical double standard that, while initially mocked by critics, produced some of the immortal works of Western art canon.
The word ‘Impressionist’ itself came from Louis Leroy’s scathing review of Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise: ‘Since I am impressed, there must be some impression in it.’ This playwright and critic is now only remembered for naming one of the art world’s most influential movements.
If there were only three words to describe Impressionism, they would be ‘light and water’. The paintings are so much more than that — powerfully observant and delicate, a soft range of colours never quite deepening into black — but light and water are what obsessed the painters themselves.
Monet (he of the waterlilies) would paint a subject over and over at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. He even sat outside for hours in the winter to paint the snow.
Renoir wanted to paint the real skin tones of a woman as the dappled afternoon sun fell on her through a shady tree. His simple observance of colour in shadow led a critic to complain: ‘a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh, with purplish green stains like a rotting corpse!’ Today we see what Renoir wanted us to see: a quality of light that evokes memories of sunny days.
Impressionism left a lasting impact on the Western art world. The Post-Impressionists, immediately inspired by the revolutionary movement, started experimenting with bolder colours and brushstrokes, like Van Gogh.
George Seurat, Paul Signac and Henri-Edward Cross used bright dots of pure colour to bring brilliance to a scene.
And today the Impressionists are visited by people from all over the world.
The oval rooms at the Musée de l’Orangerie house Monet’s magnificent Waterlilies series, where tourists struggle to capture the size and scope of these pieces.
The canvases stretch and curve around the room, immersing us in a world without border or horizon.
We are surrounded by colour and vibrance. We travel the length of the paintings looking for meaning, and we find light…and water.
The innovative style of Impressionism thrives on today in other art too (in music and literature) — enthralling their audience long after the artists have gone.
Originally published at http://woaworld.blogspot.com.