Impressionism from Classical Style to Modern Art

The Impressionists broke away from neoclassical art and brought in a fresh natural style that paved the way for modern art.

The Paris Salon, the art exhibition of the Academie des Beaux-Arts, was the official body in charge of art exhibitions in nineteenth century France. They attempted to set the standard and the rules by controlling which artists could exhibit and which were deemed unsuitable. In 1874 some young modern thinking artists formed a group to stage their own independent exhibition. This became known as the first ‘Impressionist Exhibition’ as others were to follow in its wake.

Artists such as Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, and Pissarro displayed their work for the very first time. This is where Claude Monet displayed his painting, ‘Impression: Sunrise’ which is a harbour scene and from which the Impressionist movement got its name.

Monet’s depiction of the port of Le Havre was the subject of a lot of ridicule and criticism from the Paris Salon and its advocates. It was described by one art critic and writer as something that appeared to have been ‘executed by the infantile hand of a schools child’.

Monet:Impressionists: Sunrise

Monet:  Impressionism: Sunrise 1872.          Source: Creative Common

The Impressionists had first formed a group back in the 1860’s and in 1862 Monet had moved from Le Havre to Paris to work under the auspices of Swiss artist and teacher Charles Gleyre. This was where he became acquainted with artists like Renoir, Sisley and Bazille and their work. The four of them went to the Forest of Fontainebleau to paint in the open air which was quite an unusual thing to do at the time. Up until then art was something that was taught and executed formally, in a studio.

An Impressionists group was formed by Manet and they set up regular meetings to discuss their work at the famous Cafe Guerbois. The number of members rapidly grew as young artists like Cezanne, Gaugin and Seurat were encouraged to become part of the group. Further Impressionist exhibitions were held in Paris between 1874 and 1886.

The group and their work was frowned upon by the formal, established artists of the Paris Salon because it completely rejected the emphasis that the French Academy placed on draughtsmanship, set finishes and rigidly defined acceptable subject matter. The Impressionists tried to capture the way nature changed and the ideas of Charles Baudelaire who advocated that artists should get out of their studios and use things from the ever changing, natural environment as subjects for their paintings.

The Impressionists were really an artistic bridge between the formal style of the old Parisian School of Neoclassicism and Romantic styles to Modern Art, although art historians disagree on exactly when Modern art began.

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Norma MacLennan
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Posted on Apr 2, 2011