April 21, 2014

Caddy Rowland - Making History, Bohemian Style (Part 4)

Please welcome back historical fiction author and artist, Caddy Rowland, our regular contributor here at Historical Fiction Connection.

Eugene Manet and His Daughter, Julie, in the Garden 
By Berthe Morisot

Making History Bohemian Style (Part 4)
By Caddy Rowland

Please allow me to introduce the people who began the whole impressionistic movement in painting. There’s so much I want to say about each of these people that I could write for days.

Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, and Berthe Morisot are usually thought of as the core of the group. Although Edouard Manet was friendly with them and painted with them in the beginning, he didn’t exhibit with them and didn’t want to be labeled an Impressionist. However, his style was a huge influence on all of them. Because of his influence and the fact that he sometimes painted with them, many include him when mentioning the first Impressionists.

Boulevard Montmartre Morning, Sunlight and Mist 
By Camille Pissarro

Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne both also painted with these artists and actually did exhibit with them early in their careers. However, they are both now considered Post-Impressionists—as is Vincent van Gogh.

There are others who are well known Impressionists as well. Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, and Georges Seurat come to mind.

Each of the five, though like-minded, had distinct personalities reflected in their work. You can see that by looking at the paintings I have included in this post. Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, and Morisot are considered the “purest” of the Impressionists because they all consistently strived for spontaneity, sunlight, and color. Degas, on the other hand, believed drawing to be of more importance than color, and looked down his nose at painting outdoors. Renoir left the group for awhile. When he returned he never did completely embrace their ideas. Manet insisted on using a lot of black, didn’t exhibit with the others and continued to submit works to the Salon, which the rest had rejected after being shunned in earlier years.

The Artist’s Garden at Giverny 
By Claude Monet 

Some of these artists would submit their work to the Salon at a later date, and then stop exhibiting in the Impressionist exhibitions. They also argued hotly about who should and should not be allowed to join their group and enter their exhibits. Sounds exactly like how people disagree today, regardless of what group it is! We even argue now about which artist belongs in what category. I find it puzzling that so much emphasis is put on trying to pigeonhole people who were so free-spirited.

These artists did all have some techniques in common. In general, these painters followed at least the majority of these guidelines that have now come to be known as the techniques of Impressionism:
  • Short, thick strokes of paint often applied impasto (so thick the brush or palette knife marks show, and many times the paint is mixed right on the canvas). It is applied quickly to show the soul of the subject rather than its details.
  • Very little mixing of colors. Instead they are applied side by side, forcing the viewer’s eyes to mix the colors. 
  • Black paint is avoided. Dark tones are instead made by mixing complementary colors. 
  • Wet paint is applied on or next to wet paint without allowing the first to dry. This allows the colors to marry, and produces softer edges. 
  • Artists often painted in the evening to show the shadowy effects of twilight. 
  • The transparency of glazes is not used. Instead the painting surface is usually opaque. 
  • How light plays on the surface of objects is extremely important, as is the reflection of colors from one object to the next. 
  • When painting en plein air (outdoors) shadows are shown with the blue of the sky. It is shown how it’s reflected on the various surfaces.
Dancer with a Fan 
By Edgar Degas

Many of these things had been done previously, but the Impressionists were the first to try to use all—or most— of them together consistently.

As you’ve probably guessed, although there are certain characteristics that mark Impressionistic works, even the originals had their own way of doing it, making them each different in their own way. It was a time of great exploration in the world of painting, and these bohemians paved the way for others to try even bolder things in the future.

Where did they hang out? What was their lifestyle like? How about their living quarters? When did they get the name “Impressionist”? I’ll be sharing a peek into their lives in future posts. Perhaps at times we’ll even dwell on a single artist. That might be fun. I’ll keep future posts a secret for now, though. I’m talking about my favorite subject, and don’t want to paint myself into a corner.

The Rowers Lunch 
By Pierre-Auguste Renoir

For now, I tip my beret as I retire to make love to the color—or write another novel. Words and pictures. Both so important, I can’t choose one over the other.

Historical Fiction by Caddy Rowland: 

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