The Impressionist Movement
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The word “impressionism” is mostly associated with the artistic movement. The first time this term was used with reference to art was when one writer was speaking of a painting by Claude Monet, called Impression: Sunrise (1872, Musee Marmottan, Paris). The term was first officially used in 1877 (“Impressionism”). The artists of this movement were characterized as impressionists because of their simplified works (“Monet, Claude Oscar”). They were part of a group in which the artists shared similar styles and techniques between 1867 and 1886. Some of the important artists were Monet, Renoir, Pisarro, Sisley, Morisot, as well as a few others (Pioch). Monet and Renoir both painted scenes of La Grenouillere. Their work signified the beginning of this new age of art (Mataev). The Impressionist Movement grew because these painters wanted a different style, a new technique, and paintings with more unique subjects. The popular paintings of the time were all approved by the Academie des Beaux Arts. The standard type of paintings that were most commonly approved included a scale of tones for forming shapes and blacks and browns for making shadows. These classical paintings were realistic, usually of scenes indoors. Impressionists turned from this traditional art and began to paint their subjects outside, using unarranged light. These paintings were more spur-of-the-moment type, and appeared less realistically (“Impressionism”). There are certain characteristics that set impressionist art apart from all other styles of art.
Impressionists, both in art and poetry, portrayed great images of their subjects by using their styles or techniques. They often captured scenes with vivid color, with great light effects, and with motion (Sporre 525). The impressionist painters tried to view their subjects not as what they really were, but as different areas of color, shapes and light. They commonly used quick, free brush strokes of non-detailed spots of color. This method created a lively appearance (Sporre 527). Impressionists did not mix their colors, as the earlier artists had done.
Instead, they placed each color onto the canvas separately (Pioch). To bring about a powerful contrast, they dropped primary colors and their complementary colors on the canvas with careful planning. They used short strokes of the brush and did not blend the paint. Impressionists knew that from a distance, the viewer’s eye would blur the colors. One of the biggest impacts created by impressionist painting was the radiant lighting techniques they used (“Impressionism”). Although their paintings were not as realistic as the classic style, impressionists still developed pieces of art that were realistic in the sense of light. They did not portray exact shape and form (Pioch). Claude Monet was a model impressionist who studied the way light affects his subjects. He became known as the leader of Impressionism. He learned mostly about all kinds of transient effects of unarranged light (“Monet, Claude Oscar”). One way Monet studied light was through his experiments on individual scenes. He painted some of the same scenes many times, but each one in different lighting situations (Mataev 1-2). His subjects were landscapes or of common people of his time period, like most impressionists. He painted with quick strokes of bright color, not blending them. His work reflects impressionism well because he was able to reveal spontaneous, moving scenes (“Monet, Claude Oscar”). Even though Monet used all the techniques of impressionism, such as movement and color, light was always the most important part of his works (Mataev). One of Monet’s best works, Woman with a Parasol: Madame Monet and Her Son, conveys the importance of light, color, and technique of impressionism. Although the painting’s subject is Monet’s wife and son, the light still dominates and impacts the viewer mostly. His strategy of applying the paint makes the picture come alive and active. He created texture and direction by using different sizes of brushes and different brush strokes (Kelder 44). Monet provided a sense of movement by pushing the wind and the sunlight against each other. The woman’s scarf, her dress, and the grass each bring the feeling of a breeze blowing to the viewer. He emphasized the sunlight in the background by setting the people against the sky, as to view them from a low perspective. Monet did well in keeping his viewer’s eye on the page by placing similar greens on the top and bottom of the painting (Harden). He used the basics of impressionism to help the viewer sense the fragrance of the flowers and the fresh air (Kelder 44). Monet knew the principles of impressionist art and conveyed them in a powerful way. His art, although different, was beautiful and became popular among the people of his day.
There were ways, other than through art, that people in the late nineteenth century used to send out their ideas and views. William Butler Yeats was an influential poet of the time. He wrote the poem called “The Wild Swans at Coole.” At the beginning of this poem, Yeats explains that he has been hurt in the past. The reader soon finds that he does not look to the future with much confidence. Yeats was able to capture a moment of uncertainty and loneliness by including the odd number (fifty-nine) of swans. He refers to previous events such as proposals and marriages, yet his major point is that he is searching for a new personality to cover up his own (Peterson). He longed to be like the swans in their passion and in their love. As Richard Peterson wrote,
“The Wild Swans at Coole stands as a carefully designed and varied expression of the poetic recovery from personal disappointment and failure and the movement toward a visionary art.” (1).
William Butler Yeats had been using a formal style of writing, but he changed during the movement to a more metaphysical style (“William Butler Yeats” 2087). He was searching for a new style and a new goal for his life. Just as change was revealed through art, William Yeats brought about change in his poetry. Movement and light were important in both art and poetry.
The Impressionist Age was a movement in which all types of people were affected. People like Claude Monet and William Butler Yeats made a difference in their lives, the lives of others, and in history. The old standards and popular styles of the time were moved by the studies of people who would express their thoughts through the use of their talents. The people of Impressionism brought about change.
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