Impressionism

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Impressionism was an off-shoot of Realism and of the French landscape painting School of the end of the 19th century. The prelude to the Impressionist movement can be found in 1863 with the setting up of the Salon des Refusés, a response to the official autumn Salons which exhibited stagnant art that lacked originality. Impressionism reflected a social and philosophical transformation. On one hand there was the thriving bourgeoisie and on the other the arrival of Positivism. The bourgeoisie, as a new social phenomenon, developed their own particular customs. Some affected the countryside which was no longer simply a place of work but instead became a place of leisure, with trips to the countryside. This world is depicted by Monet and Renoir. The city, on the other hand, became the new space for the new social class: the so-called flâners appeared, who were drifters who showed themselves off and attended concerts in the boulevards and gardens of Paris. The nocturnal world and its inhabitants became relevant, as did the avenues, the cabaret singers, the ballet, the cafés and their social gatherings. It was a fascinating world which inspired the Impressionists' themes, especially in the case of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. Impressionism signified an end to the grandiose themes of the past. Positivism implied the conception of the objectivity of perception, with scientific criteria that only gave importance to elements that could be classified according to the laws of colour and optics. According to this idea, any natural object that is visible, affected by light and colour, can be represented artistically. Hence the importance of landscapes, regattas, Sunday get-togethers in Impressionist paintings. The Impressionists formed a group round the figure of Manet, the reject of the Official Salons and the promoter of the Salon des Refusés. Faced with the new lexis proposed by the Impressionists, of distorted brushstrokes in primary colours that had to be reconstructed by the eye of the spectator, the public reacted against this new art form, as they were incapable of "reading" the new language correctly. However, Impressionism found support in two emerging social forces, the art critics, who took it upon themselves to guide the public's tastes, and the art dealers, who placed the Impressionists' paintings in the best collections in the country. The social gatherings, the unofficial Salons and scandal itself became propagandist vehicles for the new style. The style evolved from the Barbizon School's landscape paintings, dependent on the later French realist period. Corot and Millet are the most immediate references in France, who were inspired by Turner's innovative landscapes. This landscape trend was developed by the members of the so-called Batignoles Group, a name which came from the area where they lived. The group's members were Monet, Boudin, Renoir and so on. They also took references, especially regarding to colour and composition, from the Spanish Golden Age. Japanese art, fashionable at this time, also contributed to the new style through prints which showed artists a new way of seeing space and using flat colours, without trying to falsify the reality of the painting with three dimensions. Finally, photography was another link, although it is not clear whether the spontaneity of capturing a moment in time was something the Impressionists learnt from photography or vice versa. Whichever way, the result was an attractive, light painting, often a landscape, full of light and colour, with very short brush strokes that sometimes left the white canvas exposed. They were not large paintings as they were for private commissions. The Impressionists did not reflect any social commitment in their paintings (almost all of them went on holiday to the country or to England during the 1880s working class movements). The movement was popular with the bourgeoisie, who saw itself reflected in the Impressionists' paintings in the same way that the Parisian nocturnal world was reflected in the mirror of Manet's Le Bar aux Folies-Bergères. This wide social acceptance prevented their involvement in social issues to an even greater extent.


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