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Realism Into Impressionism: Relationship, Characteristics and Style of the Movements

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Realism into Impressionism: Relationship, Characteristics and Style of the Movements
Western Governors University
IWT1 Task 1

Realism into Impressionism:
Relationship, Characteristics and Style of the Movements

Throughout time, people have expressed themselves through art in many different forms. Whether it is architecture, literature, music or visual arts; the art form is influenced by the artist, their experiences, imagination, surrounding cultures and history. Some art movements are a drastic change from previous movements, whereas others carry on characteristics from other movements or revive a movement from centuries earlier. It was not uncommon for different genres to exist during the same time periods. Romanticism, Realism, Pictorialism, Impressionism, Art Nouveau, and Victorian Photography were all movements that existed in the 19th century and early 20th century. (MindEdge 3.03; 2014) Some of these movements were an escape or a rebellion against the norm of mythological or glorified subject matters. Two movements whose painters are often times considered to be members of both genres are the Realism and Impressionism movements, such as Edouard Manet and Edward Degas. However, what influenced one movement was not necessarily the reasons for the characteristics, style or subject choices of the other. Visual art and artists, during the mid to late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, observed many changes take place in France. The changes experienced with the 1848 Revolution brought about a consciousness of what was depicted in the paintings of the Romanticism movement. Emotion and imagination, more exotic than common, of the individual used to express the forces of nature and human behavior captivated Romanticism artists. (Galkitz, K.C., 2004) The revolution brought about the downfall of the monarchy of Louis-Philippe and the formation of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. During the second part of his reign, Napoleon III modernized Paris, France. Many changes were made in all aspects of life during the Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) and the Second Industrial Revolution (1848-1907). From better and faster modes of transportation, light and water systems, to manufacturing processes, the Industrial Revolution brought about change in the economy, population, political and social structure. The transformation from a maze of medieval streets into splendid city of broad avenues, shopping boroughs, parks and social integration changed Paris into a modern urban cultural environment. With the new changes in the world many artists chose to stray from the norm of the Royal Academy and the classical traditions. (Gersh-Nesic, B., n.d.) Emerging around 1840, artists of the Realism period portrayed what they observed in everyday ordinary activities, lower end social standing, and progressing real life modernization. Which is ‘in keeping with Gustave Courbet's statement in 1861 that "painting is an essentially concrete art and can only consist in the representation of real and existing things," (Finocchio, Ross, 2000-2004) Some of the subjects of the paintings of this time were considered politically insubordinate. A few paintings representative of this style are The Stonebreakers (Gustave Courbet, 1849-1850), A Burial at Ornans (Gustave Courbet, 1849-1850), The Gleaners (Jean-François Millet, 1857), shown on the last page, along with paintings from the art movement joining Realism around 1870. These paintings are of lower-class real persons attending a funeral or working hard, which was seen as a political threat and an affront to those of the upper-class.
Following Realism, the artists of the Impressionism period emerging around 1870 lived through the same changes in urbanization, modernization and social conditions as those of the previous period. The subject matter for this genre was that of common leisurely activities with ordinary people and the landscape surrounding Paris. Impressionists also chose to stray from the norm of the Royal Academy. The academies in France were learned societal foundations that monitored and critiqued French artistic creation. They approved the art to be shown at the salons or formal exhibitions. (“French art salons and academies”, 2013, Rosenfeld, J., 2008) Impressionist subject matter along with the technique used was not accepted by the Academy. Many in this group were rejected by the salon jury, so in 1874 a group of artists called the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. (Samu, M., 2004) prepared their own show in Paris.. Impressionism got its name because of its unfinished, rough draft appearance. A critic called Claude Monet’s painting- Impression, Sunrise (Claude Monet, 1872-1873) (shown on the last page)- an “impression”, a sketch, unfinished thus the name Impressionist was given to this group and eventually accepted. (Auricchio, L., 2004, Douma, M., curator, 2006. Gersh-Nesic, B., n.d.) Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, August Renoir and others were all part of this movement who held their own annual exhibitions from 1874-1886. Even thought he did not show his works with the Impressionists, Edouard Manet was considered the inspiration of the group and their leader
Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet are two artists whose names appear in articles about both the Realist and Impressionist movements. Degas preferred to call himself an “Independent” or a “Realist” even though he was in close association with the core Impressionists and contributed to their showings. (Schenkel, R., 2004) His work was not of landscapes with natural fleeting light, yet it was of leisure time in the modern cities with the impression he saw in different lighting situations. Manet on the other hand was a Realist, in that he painted real life subjects or used common models to depict spiritual subjects that were to have errors in point of view and was shocking to the public. He later added Impressionist touches to his paintings. (Moffat, C., 2007; Rabinow, R., 2004) Manet associated with the group of Impressionists who started their own exhibitions, but did not show his paintings there even though he was invited. As Courbet, Manet also purchased his own exhibition hall after being rejected by the Salon and Academy. Even though Manet attended the Academy, he was not considered an Academic. It was not necessarily his subject matter but his technique that separated him from the traditional Academy teachings. Subject matter, technique, and social or political inspiration are what the two movements have in common and also what separates them.
“Real life”, not models of what life should look like, was the subject matter for both Realism and Impressionism. Using what they saw and the meaning behind what was seen, was used by Realists to help others visualize the troubles of the working class to encourage social and political change. Paintings by Gustave Courbet and Jean-Francois Millet (as shown the last page) show the blatant actuality of the lower class. Their paintings were critiqued and said to have political associations. The paintings did not portray historical events or mythical, religious or idealized mystical subjects. Impressionist artists also rejected this type of subject matter. Many of the paintings from this movement were done “plein air” meaning outside, but artist like Edgar Degas, chose to paint subjects indoors. Like his series of ballet paintings. (one shown the last page ) Claude Monet is well known for his work outdoors - landscapes, gardens, the Houses of Parliament, and places and people he was familiar with. Paintings of the Impressionists were rarely found to have any political insubordination. This movement was about the artist’s impression or perception of the world right in front of them, about color, light and their technique. (Lane, J. 1999)
Even though Realism had political proponents, the artists were in the forefront of artistic change. During this art period, painters revolted against the mythical, historical, classical, conservative technique of the Academy. They chose not to sugar coat their images but to paint them as the truly existed. Gustave Courbet, considered one of the founders of the Realism movement, chose conventional colors, such as subdued blues, browns and greens in his paintings which were representative of this period. Courbet’s style utilized a rich, creamy application of paint applied substantially at times with a palette knife. Millet’s technique in painting was closer to his academic training, thus more conservative than Courbet’s. (Lane, J, 1998, Finocchio, R., 2004) Manet had shown paintings at the Salon and even was awarded an honorable mention in 1861. As his paintings changed he was rejected several times by the Salon for his realistic or human representation of Christ and angels, among other modern depictions such as un-goddess, like nude women, as Courbet also painted. (Rabinow, R., 2004) Even though Manet may have been influence by and influence the Realists and Impressionists with vibrant colors, present contemporary subjects, and painting outdoors at times, having had academic training, Manet said he had “no intention of overthrowing old methods of painting, or creating new ones.” (Rabinow, R., 2004)
The Salon judges and the Academy did not consider landscapes and unembellished present-day scenes to be important or worthy as history painting. The painters of the Impressionism movement chose to paint landscapes, nature, and ordinary daily life. They used brilliant, vibrant, pure colors to help capture the essence of what they saw in a fleeting moment as the light, position, or surroundings changed. Claude Monet used the landscape that surrounded him to show different lighting effects but he also used vibrant unblended color, short loose brush strokes and canvases that hadn’t been toned down with sober colors, leaving a textured, not flat appearance. Changing light was an important aspect in this movement. While painting outdoors, an impressionist would try to capture the moment or specific effect the natural light had on a scene, that ever-changing shading, shadowing, illuminating, flickering, fading light.(Douma, M., curator, 2006) Not all of the paintings of this period looked unfinished. Edward Degas painted a series of pictures of ballet dancers, using shading, texture, and form to show movement and flexibility of the human body. The Misfortunes of the City of Orleans (Edward Degas, 1865)(shown on the last page), accepted in 1865 by the Salon, was the last history painting Degas painted.(Schenkel, R., 2004) He also changed his subject matter to more modern leisure urban activities. The painters of this era chose to integrate new skill and knowledge to portray modern existence, even though some had attended the Royal Academy of art or the Barbizon School, they rejected the traditional academic approach. (Samu, M., 2004)
The Realism movement portrayed a matter-of-fact view of the troubles of mundane, common man, with underlying political and social implications. These paintings had a shocking uncommon way of making viewers think, “What is the meaning behind this scene?” Impressionism portrayed landscapes and leisure activities in everyday life with no hidden agenda behind the picture. The choice of colors were different between the two movements – Realism more subdued compared to the vibrant colors of the Impressionists. Canvas surface was free of texture according to Academy style. Courbet’s paintings had a thick application of paint leaving an uneven surface on the canvas. Techniques from both movements stepped away from what was accepted as academic tradition. The Impressionist work was more of a consciousness of what the artist sees using the principles of separated strokes, the eyes ability to combine colors and distinguishing individual color, unique representation and a unique visual outlook. (Lane, J., 1999) Edouard Manet could have been a conduit from Realism to Impressionism because he dabbled a bit with their style. However, the same can be said about Edward Degas whose style tried to catch brief passing instances as Impressionistic techniques also shows, but used his educational instruction, for a more finished look. (Lane, J., 2001, Schenkel, R., 2004)
In comparison, from the earlier movement, Realism, the painting “The Stonebreakers” (Gustave Courbet, 1849-1840, now lost) alongside “The Houses of Parliament, (Effect of Fog)” (Claude Monet, 1903-1904), these two paintings subjective and objective content represent two completely different points of view and visual effects. Courbet’s representation of the struggle of a boy, too young and a man, too old, to be doing hard physical labor breaking stones shows the denial of exploitation and isolation of poor oppressed peasants. Some critics saw this as ‘anti-authoritarian political threat.’ (Finocchio, R., 2004) Short brushstrokes create the rough dirty look of the stones. The hands and faces of the peasants have about the same detail as the stones, a deviation from tradition. This also could represent the unimportance of the peasants expressed by the upper-class. In Claude Monet’s painting there is no underlying meaning, but his representation of a moment in time. The shadowy figure of the buildings gives the sense of a filter over the sun. Behind the buildings, the bright orange speckled with blue, gray and green colors, in textured dabbing brushstrokes embodies the fleeting movement of time. The intense blue creates an ominous figure of the House of Parliament in comparison to the small boats on the slow moving water. Even though Realism (about1830-1870) and Impressionism (about1870-1907) were within the same century, they had differences in motivation and style. However, Impressionism took away from Realism its subject matter. Whereas, Impressionism passed on its style and new techniques and both movements added to Modernism. (Galitz, K.C., 2009) Impressionism was the first movement to start showing their work outside of the traditional exhibitions of the Salon. Previously a few artists, such as Courbet and Manet, had used their own individual pavilions when their work had been rejected by the Salon judges.(Rosenfeld, J., 2008) With its many components and diverse contributors the Impressionist period is not easy to explain. The little time one has to catch the effects of changing light seems to be the length of life the Impressionist movement endured. Nevertheless, the movement was significant as a catalyst for forward-thinking in Europe and America. (Samu, M, 2004) “By recreating the sensation in the eye that views the subject, rather than recreating the subject, and by creating a wealth of techniques and forms, Impressionism became seminal to various movements in painting which would follow,” in future movements. (“Impressionism”, 2009)

Yellow Irises (1914), Claude Monet
The Dead Christ with Angels (1864) Edouard Manet
The Dance Class (1874), Edgar Degas
The Houses of Parliament, (Effect of Fog) (1903-1904), Claude Monet
Impression- Sunrise (1872-1873),Claude Monet
The Misfortunes of the City of Orleans (1865), Edgar Degas
The Gleaners (1857), Jean-Francois Millet
A Burial at Ornans (1849-50), Gustave Courbet
The Stonebreakers (1849-1850), Gustave Courbet

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