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I happened to read an article in the newspapers a few days ago that one of the largest art thefts in European history has occurred in a private Zurich Museum. The works of Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, and Cezanne were stolen.

 

Woman at Her Toilette by Morisot
Woman at Her Toilette – Morisot

They were artists who painted in the style of impressionism, a movement that developed in the late 19th to early 20th century. I confess that I have no idea what style this is, so out of curiosity, I decided read a little about it in the internet. Maybe not the most reliable source sometimes, but it is easy to find what you’re looking for every time. Plus, I saw a book in my aunt’s place which was a compilation of Renoir’s works. That also motivated me to do something much more productive than lazy surfing through the net. This is what I found and understood so far.

Apparently, Impressionist artists were radicals of their time. They broke the rules of academic painting, and instead sought to portray reality in a fresh and immediate way. Quick spontaneous brushstrokes of unmixed colours were used to achieve these vivid overall effects, rather than bothering with meticulous details. The artists also tried to capture the momentary effects of sunlight by painting out of doors, as opposed to the usual of painting indoors. The results were of course so much different from what society was used to at that time that most people did not comprehend the works and felt that it was ‘unfinished’.

 

Boating Party by Renoir
Boating Party – Renoir

Famous artists from that period include Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassat, Edgar Degas, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot and most of them got their inspiration from Eugene Delacroix. These artists worked together closely and shared new techniques hence there are some similarities between their works (actually, for the life, I can’t see it).

I find that how they became an independent group of artists rather interesting. During the middle of the 19th century, the Académie des Beaux-Arts dominated the art scene and demanded that paintings were carefully finished with historical subjects, portraits, or religious themes. The Impressionists, on the other hand, painted still life and landscape, which was a big ‘no-no’ at the time.

The academy held an annual, juried art show at the Salon de Paris where works of artists were displayed. The Impressionists, with their lighter, brighter works, were often rejected by the jury in favour of those that conform to the approved style. This continued for a few years, however, the last straw came when Edouard Manet’s painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) was rejected in 1863. The indignation was so high among the artistic population that Napoleon III allowed the opening of the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused). This became their own independent exhibition and they invited artists of similar styles to exhibit there. In 1884, the Salon des Indépendants was organised.

Response from the public were mostly negative, some painters had to endured cruel attacks from critics but most persevered. It was around this time that the term ‘Impressionist’ stuck and became the name which these artists would be known.

After that, from what I can understand, starting from the 1800’s, the once closely knitted group started to disperse as each artist took a different direction in their styles. Some went back to exhibiting their paintings in the Salon in order the gain prestige and commissions.

Only when the Camille Pissarro, the Impressionist patriarch, died in 1903, did people start to agree that this movement was the main 19th century revolution in art. By that time, diluted forms of Impressionist paintings were common in Salon art.

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