The Impressionism era was a result of several cultural changes that occurred in the late nineteenth century. Impressionist art and the majority of the Impressionist artists originated in France in the 1860's. The Impressionism era continued in the United States through the early 1900's. In large part due to the industrial revolution, people in western Europe and the United States migrated from rural areas to the new urban areas because of the new jobs and opportunities the cities provided. Prior to the Impressionism area, the people of both countries could be classified as the "Haves and the Have Not's." or those who were rich and privileged and those who were peasants and poor. Due to the mass migration of people to the new cities and the job opportunities available, a new "Middle Class" of citizens resulted. This new class of people earned enough money to adequately provide for living expenses with disposable income to spend on leisurely activities, entertainment, and to decorate their homes with paintings. The people who purchased art pieces wanted everyday events and a sense of realistic scenes in the pieces that decorated their homes. Gone were the supernatural and fearful images from the Romantic period.
Society was becoming more modern and though the cities provided opportunities for people to raise their standard of living, not everyone who arrived was successful in increasing their standard of living. As a result, living conditions in tenement housing were unsanitary and filthy. Crimes, including prostitution, became rampant and some people became lost and alone in their new environment and their dreams of a better life in the city never materialized.
Another cause of the Impressionist movement and most likely the major contributing factor was the fact the government in France controlled and sanctioned the art world. Artists would submit their work to the government and government officials decided what the public would see, hear, or read. Several artists during this time frame decided to forgo submitting their work to the government and the style and form required by the artistic elitists, effectively changing not only the subject matter but the style and form of art as well. As a result, the subject matter of the art was real and more life-like and attempted to express modern people in their environment and to capture the reality of people's lives.
The painting "After Glow" by Jonas Lie is an example of the type of environment people lived in during the industrial revolution. The painting depicts the New York Harbor and the modern environment in an urban city. The buildings in the background reveal how people lived on top of one another in cramped conditions. The smoke rising from the boats creates pollution and smog that the people living near the harbor had to breath. Lie was born in Norway to a Norwegian father and an American mother. At the age of 12, after the death of his father, he traveled to Paris and attended a private art school. After completing art school. he moved to New York to live with his mother and sisters.
The second painting "A Holiday" by Edward Henry Potthast is an example depicting the children of "Middle Class" parents enjoying a vacation at the beach. The painting illustrates how people who lived in the cities vacationed near the ocean to escape the urban environment to relax and enjoy nature. Potthast was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in the mid nineteenth century. He traveled to both Munich and Paris to train with prominent artists.
The song titled "White Peacock" by American composer Charles T. Griffes is an example of an Impressionism era composition. The song was inspired by a poem with the same title by William Sharp. A white peacock is considered a symbol of divine faith in many cultures and represents a person getting in touch with their inner-feelings about what is happening to them in the present. This piece compels the listener to be in tune with their current reality and place in the world. Griffes, was born in 1884 in Elmira, New York and studied piano in Berlin. He died at the age of 35 from influenza.
The second composition titled "Clair du Lune." meaning "By the light of the Moon," is a piece by French Composer Claude Debussy. The piece is very soothing to listen to and is a piece a person would listen to during an evening out at a restaurant. The music is a pleasure to listen to and reminds a person of walking along a lake shore as the Moon provides light to walk by. The music represents the leisurely time and type of entertainment people in the middle class of the time enjoyed. Debussy was a famous Impressionism era composer who created music with the piano which was revolutionary at the time. His use of the pentatonic notes to resemble music from the far east combined with music from Russia created overlapping chords and was cutting edge at the time.
The novel, "The Red Badge of Courage," was written by author Stephen Crane in 1894 and depicts a fictional character named Henry Fleming who left his Mother's farm in New York to join the Union Army during the Civil War. The book provides the reader with insight into the thoughts, fears, and dreams of Fleming as he prepares for and subsequently engages in his first conflict as a soldier. Crane's work is an excellent representation of the realism, artists during the Impressionism era wanted to portray in their work. During the time frame the book was released, people could not believe that Crane was never in the battle described in the book, and in fact was not born until after the Civil War concluded. Crane was born November 1, 1871, in Newark, New Jersey. He attended college at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and Syracuse University in New York, however, he never completed his education. Crane died in 1900 from tuberculosis.
The Impressionism period followed the Romanticism era and the art from the two eras were drastically different. The art from the Romanticism era depicted supernatural characters and attempted to express how people felt and or feared things in their life. Paintings from this era frequently expressed experiences people had in their dreams and showed what people feared. Impressionism art was more realistic and portrayed common people in their environment. Impressionist art could be explained as replicating what a person would see if they quickly glanced at an object and as such was completed with coarser details than art from the Romantic period which was more detailed. Impressionist artist wanted to be more realistic and modern with the art they produced, differing from artists of the previous period which painted fantasies and things which were unlikely to occur. Where Romantic art was frequently dark or had specific parts of the painting illuminated with light, Impressionism art was all about natural light and attempted to portray the scene as the human eye actually saw the event.
The Impressionism era was the impetus for the Expressionism and Modernism period which followed. These eras expanded and refined the the art from the Impressionism era. Post Impressionist artists tried to use bright colors that were not mixed together to display or light a particular portion of the painting. Both eras that followed the Impressionist era expanded on portraying nature and scenes in a way they saw them, while adding more details to the actual paintings.
After studying the various periods in art history, I concluded the Impressionism era was the period of art I enjoyed the most. I particularly liked the realistic impressions the artists like Monet painted, as well as the music created by composers like Debussy and the multiple or overlapping chords. The first real novels in literature such as the "Red Badge of Courage." by Crane and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain were completed during the Impressionist era. The paintings by Monet, Degas, and Manet allowed the viewer to stand back and let their eyes see and reveal the natural and realistic scenes that they painted. The color and natural light they captured on the canvas were beautiful and stunning and depicted real people living their lives in a modern society. The paintings showed people of the time that it was alright to relax and enjoy themselves and to reach this level of economic freedom was something they should aspire to achieve.