In 1874, a group of artists called the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. organized an exhibition in Paris that launched the movement called Impressionism. Its founding members included Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro, among others. The group was unified only by its independence from the official annual Salon, for which a jury of artists from the Académie des Beaux-Arts selected artworks and awarded medals. The independent artists, despite their diverse approaches to painting, appeared to contemporaries as a group. While conservative critics panned their work for its unfinished, sketchlike appearance, more progressive writers praised it for its depiction of modern life. Edmond Duranty, for example, in his 1876 essay La Nouvelle Peinture (The New Painting), wrote of their depiction of contemporary subject matter in a suitably innovative style as a revolution in painting. The exhibiting collective avoided choosing a title that would imply a unified movement or school, although some of them subsequently adopted the name by which they would eventually be known, the Impressionists. Their work is recognized today for its modernity, embodied in its rejection of established styles, its incorporation of new technology and ideas, and its depiction of modern life.
Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris) exhibited in 1874, gave the Impressionist movement its name when the critic Louis Leroy accused it of being a sketch or "impression," not a finished painting. It demonstrates the techniques many of the independent artists adopted: short, broken brushstrokes that barely convey forms, pure unblended colors, and an emphasis on the effects of light. Rather than neutral white, grays, and blacks, Impressionists often rendered shadows and highlights in color. The artists' loose brushwork gives an effect of spontaneity and effortlessness that masks their often carefully constructed compositions. This seemingly casual style became widely accepted, even in the official Salon, as the new language with which to depict modern life.
In addition to their radical technique, the bright colors of Impressionist canvases were shocking for eyes accustomed to the more sober colors of Academic painting. Many of the independent artists chose not to apply the thick golden varnish that painters customarily used to tone down their works. The paints themselves were more vivid as well. The nineteenth century saw the development of synthetic pigments for artists' paints, providing vibrant shades of blue, green, and yellow that painters had never used before.
Its many facets and varied participants make the Impressionist movement difficult to define. Indeed, its life seems as fleeting as the light effects it sought to capture. Even so, Impressionism was a movement of enduring consequence, as its embrace of modernity made it the springboard for later avant-garde art in Europe.
Discussion Mary Cassatt
What is her main subject? What does she like to paint? Notice that there are no men in her work. This doesn’t mean that she didn’t like men. When Mary Cassatt lived it was considered improper for men and women to be alone together without a chaperone. It was difficult for Mary Cassatt to arrange for a man to sit for her to paint a picture of him because of this. She chose her friends and their children to sit for her. She liked to paint them doing everyday activities.
Some things to look for in Mary Cassatt’s art are the subject matter, which is usually women and children, the controlled scribbles or loose technique, the softness or fuzziness of her technique, how they look real but are not like photographs, the different colors she uses to make an area that appears to be one color.)
Every picture tells a story
Almost no one in her work seems to be sitting for a portrait
She sees people being people, not sitters for portraits
A single woman avoided appearing in public alone
Family groups that feature a father are rare in her art.
The mother, devoted nurturing, and wise was the central icon of 19th century womanhood. Through-out their youth, girls were taught that they were destined for matrimony. The role of motherhood defined women. Accomplished children were the measure of a woman’s worth.
“After all,” observed Mary Cassatt, “ a woman’s vocation in life is to bear children.”
She was a careful observer of children’s natural behavior, catching their random gestures and unpredictable expressions with great authenticity. The children she depicts fidget, and snuggle, and stare, just as they would in reality.
Aside from the honesty of her vision and the natural appearance of her models, Cassatt’s maternal imagery is distinctive on two remarkable counts; her ability to evoke an aura of privacy and her portrayal of the trust between mother and child.
She defines the realm of the mother and child as personal and private
She portrayed a mother’s love and a child’s trust through their touching one another.
She painted her subjects as though they were not aware of her. A moment observed from outside rather than a direct encounter
She creates a world of no difficulty…of serenity
She creates the sense of a moment of utter closeness…fresh, joyous, spontaneous
Mary stopped using dark background colors and painting people in fancy costumes. She started to paint people as they really looked, doing everyday things.
Her paintings make you feel like you are right there, looking in on a special moment.
She made every day, ordinary scenes important.