When Louis Leroy published his hostile criticism of Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, he unwittingly defined one of art’s most significant movements, Impressionism. In the April 25, 1874 issue of the Paris newspaper, Le Charivari , Leroy trashed Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise, describing it as an unfinished impression of a painting rather than a piece of art. Leroy’s review, “The Exhibition of the Impressionists” highlighted independent artists — Monet, Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Berthe Morisot, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, and Armand Guillaumin—who exhibited their art together as the Societe Anonyme des Peintres, Sculpteurs et Graveurs (Anonymous society of painters, sculptors and engravers).
Impressionism paintings are characterized by short, quick brushstrokes that give the impression of a scene, as if the viewer caught a glance. Rather than defined lines and detail, Impressionism depicts the essence of the subject. The vibrant colors are applied without waiting for layers of paint to dry so the hues mingle together. Impression, Sunrise clearly illustrates essence rather than definition. There is an outline of what I see is a bridge and three dinghies. Nothing in clearly defined. Somehow the colors run together in a way that shows the movement of the water and rising sun.
Impression, Sunrise (French: Impression, soleil levant)
I appreciate Impression, Sunrise. To the untrained eye, it may appear sloppy because the paint runs together. Rococo is defined by curves and soft pastel colors. Impression is more like puddles of light and color. It’s like the woman with messy bed head hair, it may look like she rolled out of bed, but you know it took her at least an hour with a curling iron and handful of styling products to get her hair to look just right. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s critic, Margaret Samu describes vivid Impressionism as a “radical technique, the bright colors of Impressionist canvases were shocking for eyes accustomed to the more sober colors of Academic painting.”
Natural Essence vs. Out of Control Nature
Take Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Progress of Love: The Meeting. Like other Rococo paintings, it’s one of four panels depicting the four scenes of a couple’s relationship. The Meeting is a Romeo and Juliet scene of forbidden lovers that culminates in what I think is marriage in the final panel. Khan Academy critics, Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker describe this painting as “nature out of control.” The garden seems have over taken what looks like a patio. The rose bushes are spilling over from the gate and the pots. Just like the couples love is over flowing it looks like they are just about to have a clandestine meeting. She seems to be looking over her shoulder from some authority figure and he is checking out if the coast is clear.
I also like Rococo because I can see what’s going on. There is a story in The Meeting. In Impressionism, it’s more like stick figures (although highly artistic splashes of paint stick figures) giving a one sentence plotline. Rococo tells the scene from the mama statue scolding little Cupid for shooting his arrow into a mismatched pair to the out of control passion manifested by overgrown rosebushes and trees and the star crossed lovers.
Hansen, Phil. “Impressionism – Overview – Goodbye-Art Academy.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 Mar. 2014. Web. 11 July 2015.
Harris, Beth, Ph.D., and Steven Zucker, Ph.D. “Fragonard, The Meeting.” Smarthistory. Art, History, Conversation. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 11 July 2015. <https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/monarchy-enlightenment/rococo/v/jean-honor-fragonard-the-progress-of-love-the-meeting-1771-1773>.
Samu, Margaret. “Impressionism: Art and Modernity”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/imml/hd_imml.htm (October 2004)