Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Art History's Top 100 -- Impressionism and Post-Impressionism

Monet's Impression, Sunrise (1872)
Spending an evening with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists was like visiting with old friends.  I still remember how sophisticated I felt when I selected a poster of a beautiful Monet painting to hang in my first dorm room (probably Impression, Sunrise, but I can't say for sure).   The Impressionists, of course, were all about the effects of light.  They were also responsible for the development of plein air painting. Previously, artists might go outside to sketch or do some preliminary work, but the real painting occurred in the studio.  This practice can be attributed both to tradition and convenience.  At the time, artists couldn't just pack their gear up in a car and head off to their chosen site.  Artists such as Monet and Renoir decided that the additional effort was worthwhile.  I don't think anyone would argue with that conclusion.

Manet's Luncheon on the Grass (1863)
Eduard Manet was drawn into the burgeoning group of Impressionists by Berthe Morisot, a fellow artist who eventually became his sister-in-law.  The official Paris Salon had been in existence for nearly 200 years by the time Manet submitted his Luncheon on the Grass for inclusion in 1863.  The scandalous work was rejected and ended up as the centerpiece of the first Salon des Refuses. Not only was the image of naked women unabashedly cavorting in the woods with fully dressed "gentlemen" deemed inappropriate for Parisian society, but the men bore a striking resemblance to two prominent members of the community.    This iconic image continues to serve as an inspiration to artists today.  One example can be found in Mickalene Thomas' work entitled Les Trois Femme Noires.  If you're interested in seeing her take on the scene, go to http://nanettesnewlife.blogspot.com/2012/12/mickalene-thomas-at-brooklyn-museum-of.html.

Cezanne's The Card Players (1894-95)
The Impressionists freed artists to explore painting in a new way, and the Post-Impressionists took this liberty and ran with it.  In the work of Cezanne, you can find a precursor to Cubism as he transitioned from the Impressionists' style of laying down blobs of paint that the viewer's eye blends together to using patches of paint to achieve the same effect.  ("Blobs" is the technical term Rosalie used.  If you look at details of the works, you see how apt it is.)  Seurat took this even further with his development of pointillism (very similar to today's pixelation).  It is a pretty amazing experience to see a Seurat painting up close, at which point it really does look like just a bunch of colorful dots, and then to watch the image come into focus as you back away.

Toulouse-Lautrec La Goulue (1891)
Toulouse-Lautrec is perhaps my favorite of the Post-Impressionists.  I am a real fan of graphic art so it's no surprise that I am drawn to his images.  Many of his works were advertisements for the headliners of the day from the Moulin Rouge -- Jane Avril, the Troupe of Madame Eglantine, and La Goulue to name a few.  In this poster, Lautrec captures Louise Weber (aka La Goulue) dancing the can-can.  The dance, which La Goulue is credited with inventing, was considered quite risque at the time as no self-respecting woman would pull up her skirts and invite the audience to peer underneath as she twirled her legs around.  Come to think of it, I suspect that's one of the appeals of the Rockettes.

As much fun as it was to talk about these works, the highlight of the evening was our activity -- learning a bit about art criticism.  Rosalie introduced us to the acronym DAIE -- Description, Analysis, Interpretation, and Evaluation.  We watched a couple of short videos on the topic, jointly applied the methodology to Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World, and then headed to one of the VAC's galleries.  An abstract show had just been hung, and we each selected a work to critique.  I could have happily spent hours in the gallery analyzing works and listening to the others' evaluations.  It was fascinating both to see which works were chosen and what people saw in them. In fact, it was so much fun that I am encouraging Rosalie to teach a workshop just on art criticism.

And with that the evening was over.  One of our class members was off to Paris where she will see some of the works we've talked about over the last few weeks.  I am looking forward to hearing her reactions to getting up close and personal with the art at the Louvre, the Musee d"Orsay, and the Rodin Museum.  In the meantime, I'll be learning about non-American 20th century.  Sure, I'd rather be in Paris, but there are many worse ways to spend an evening.

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