Of three “Impressionists”

Self portraits by Manet, Monet and Cézanne

Every time I read something about impressionism, I get a different view of the associations, intents and legacies. Little could have been guessed back then: they were just painters, painting in their time, perhaps occasionally rebels, although oftentimes not. Impressionism was the first major “movement” following the advent of photography. Photography changed everything, removing the imperative to describe “reality”, setting printing on a continuing path of reinvention. People are still saying “painting is dead” aren’t they? But do fewer of us paint?

In our workshops this Fall, we’ve chosen three masters in order to profile the breadth and consequences of Impressionism. Some would say two of these were not real Impressionists – Manet and Cézanne –  true if you take the view that Impressionism was just about plein-air and capturing fleeting effects of nature. However consequences of photography were freeing painters to explore new ways of communicating. Manet, Cézanne and Monet all knew each other but had very different things to say.

Édouard Manet

“There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another” 

Gare Saint-Lazare, Édouard Manet,1873, Oil on canvas

Manet was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life, and he was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His early masterworks particularly “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” and “Olympia”  caused great controversy and served as rallying points for the young painters who would create Impressionism. The explicitly painted style and photographic lighting in Manet’s paintings look specifically modern – a direct, alla prima method. His images have an element of mystery and draw us to place as well as his subtle narrative. The “Gare Saint-Lazare” above is a great example: Who’s the young woman: mother, sister, nanny? She doesn’t exactly look very happy does she. How does industrialization impact the child, what’s with the puppy and the fan?

Paul Cézanne

“We live in a rainbow of chaos”

Bibemus Quarry, Paul Cézanne, c.1900, oil on canvas

Cézanne was a major force paralleling mainstream Impressionism. Always somewhat apart, he innovated and brought fresh ways of seeing to us all: both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all.”. Cézanne sought to sense something fundamental about all subjects and through his investigations of still life, figures and landscapes, gave life to modernism and changed the world of art forever. I still scratch my head somewhat when I look at a Cézanne. Normally there are some other significant painters with somewhat the same style. But not Cézanne, he just saw things differently and now so do we.

Claude Monet

“Everything changes, even stone”

Monet’s Waterlilies at Musée de l’Orangerie (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Monet was the quintessential impressionist. His 1884 painting “Impression, Sunrise” gave name to the movement and the impact of his radical departure in use of colour, types of subject and method of painting, often “en plein air” are all with us today. Monet rejected the traditional approach to landscape painting and looked at the effects of light on nature itself. Monet worked hard and long. He was prolific, consistent and brilliant. He was not rich and he needed to sell. Apart from epitomizing a new use of colour and brushwork he  pioneered the idea of a series of paintings: be they haystacks, the Cathedral at Rouen or the Cliffs at Etretat. In his later years his massive Waterlilies paintings presage the abstract expressionism of Pollack, Rothco et al.

Join us for our Fall season of Saturday workshops:

14 Oct 2017: Édouard Manet and modern life
28 Oct 2017: Through Thick and Thin – Washes, Glazes and Impasto!
04 Nov 2017: Paul Cézanne: A new way of seeing.
25 Nov 2017: Expressive portraits and the Clothed Figure.
02 Dec 2017: Claude Monet and the colour of light.

Details can be found on the website: http://www.davidkearn.com/courses_e.htm