Impressionism, the fruit of a modern different life. Why?
We cannot understand the rise of Impressionism regardless of industrial and technical progress. The invention of the photography in 1829 by Daguerre and Niepce and its subsequent development would force the artists to look for a change in painting, knowing that photography would become a serious competitor someday. Furthermore, the development of the optic and color theories, with scientific explanations about how our retina mixes colors would serve artists to use colors in a new way.
Very important was the new industrial paints, sold in drugstores, what allowed artists to work outside their studio. Previously, they had to be closed in their ateliers, with their assistants making paints, varnishes, preparing the canvas… Around 1870, artists could start to buy oil paint cans and to go alone outdoors to paint new topics. Then, a fever for painting landscapes, streets, real parties of the towns, real people in their works, also in the new factories and train stations that the Industrial Revolution involved, it started and the new generations didn’t want to obey the rules of the old Academies of Fine Arts, which required unfashionable topics (historic or religious), beyond their lives.
In April 1874, at the studio of the photographer Nadar, in Paris, a group of artists called the Anonymous Society of
Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. organized an exhibition in Paris in The Salon des Refusés: Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cezanne, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas… thirty artists who admired the old Manet and Boudin. They said they were not a rigid movement and that they wanted to maintain their diverse approaches to painting because, in fact, the group was unified only by its independence from the official annual Salon, for which a jury of academicians selected some artworks, rejected others and awarded medals.
However, from the beginning, they appeared to contemporaries as a group and although the exhibition avoided choosing a title that would imply saw them as a unified school, when the critic Louis Leroy wrote a satiric review of the exhibition in the magazine Le Charivari, accusing the painting “Impression, Sunrise” by Claude Monet (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris) of being a sketch or “impression”, and not a finished painting, the name for the first avant-garde movement was given: IMPRESSIONISM and some of the artists adopted it.
While conservative critics panned their work for its unfinished, sketchlike appearance, more progressive writers praised it for its depiction of modern life, for example Emile Zola or Edmond Duranty, and the new style became widely accepted, even in the official Salon of Paris, as the new artistic language, and their works are recognized today for its modernity, embodied in its rejection of established styles, and its incorporation of new technique and ideas.
The new technique consisted in short, shaped curve, brushstrokes that barely convey forms, pure colors, and an emphasis on the effects of light. Rather than neutral white, grays, and blacks, Impressionists often condensed shadows and highlights in color and they look for an effect of spontaneity and effortlessness that masks their often carefully constructed compositions. The purest Impressionist artists, as Monet, only used primary colors (yellow, red and blue) and force the viewer to create secondary colors (orange, green, brown) when the short brushstrokes of primary colors, painted together, mix in the retina: some tiny brushstrokes of yellow, together with some other of blue will give a green appearance when they were seen to a distance.
Nevertheless and in spite of the importance of their investigation of lights and colors, the most important of the Impressionism is its rebel spirit, which would inaugurate a century of constant searches in arts: fauvism, cubism, expressionism, abstract art, surrealism…
Impressionism also influenced other arts: literature, sculpture and music. See this video with the music of Debussy and the paintings of Claude Monet.