Impressionism KATe Spears HUMA2003: Survey of the Arts

The Impressionists artists

Impressionism is the outcome of a long evolution which definitely put the stamp of the landscape on the 19th century. This movement was accelerated after the French Revolution (

The artists painted people in their everyday activities: Eating, Dancing, Holdings Hands, and working; and they were from all walks of life: businessmen; middle-class pleaser-seekers; working waitresses, carpenters, farmers; the poor, prostitutes and alcoholics (

The Impressionists grew in a country governed by authoritarian Napoleon III, whose cultural policy entirely centered on the greatness of the Empire was hostile to them. The advent of the Second Empire (1852-70) was to mark a rupture in the artistic history of the XIXth century in France, between official art on one side, and independent art on the other side. The cultural policy of Napoleon encenses an insipid academic art (the so called "pompier" style) best represented by Meissonnier, Cabanel and Bouguereau, covered with honors by the political power and ruling over the Academy of Fine Arts.

- political : most realistic or naturalist painters are republican and disagree with the Coup d'etat of Napoleon III.

- esthetic : they hate the great historical or mythological "machines" of the academic painters, and wish to express the simple beauties of nature, the life of their humblest contemporaries.

- sociological : the new painters come from the working classes and are not related any more to aristocracy

- geographical : they are in search of sites protected from industrialization (Barbizon, Normandy) (

The Sisters c. 1885

The painting displayed above was created by Mary Cassatt in 1885. Cassatt was American born and spent most of her adult life in Paris where she met and became friends with Edgar Degas. Cassatt was one of the leading artists in the Impressionist movement of the later part of the 1800s. While many of her fellow Impressionists were focused on landscapes and street scenes, Mary Cassatt became famous for her portraits. She was especially drawn to women in everyday domestic settings, especially mothers with their children. Though she felt indebted to the Salon for building her career, Cassatt began to feel increasingly constrained by its inflexible guidelines. No longer concerned with what was fashionable or commercial, she began to experiment artistically. Her new work drew criticism for its bright colors and unflattering accuracy of its subjects. During this time, she drew courage from painter Degas, whose pastels inspired her to press on in her own direction. Cassatt's painting style continued to evolve away from Impressionism in favor of a simpler, more straightforward approach. Her final exhibition with the Impressionists was in 1886, and she subsequently stopped identifying herself with a particular movement or school. Her experimentation with a variety of techniques often led her to unexpected places. For example, drawing inspiration from Japanese master printmakers, she exhibited a series of colored prints, including Woman Bathing and The Coiffure, in 1891. In 1910, she took a trip to Egypt with her brother, Gardner, and his family would prove to be a turning a point in Mary Cassatt's life. The magnificent ancient art made her question her own talent as an artist. Soon after their return home, Gardner died unexpectedly from an illness he contracted during the journey. These two events deeply affected Cassatt's physical and emotional health, and she was unable to paint again until around 1912. Three years later, she was forced to give up painting altogether as diabetes slowly stole her vision. For the next 11 years, until her death on June 14, 1926, in Le Mesnil-Théribus, France, Mary Cassatt lived in almost total blindness, bitterly unhappy to be robbed of her greatest source of pleasure (

The Forge (or An Apprentice Blacksmith) Theodore Robinson

Theodore Robinson (July 3, 1852 – April 2, 1896) was an American painter best known for his impressionist landscapes. He was one of the first American artists to take up impressionism in the late 1880s, visiting Giverny and developing a close friendship with Claude Monet. Several of his works are considered masterpieces of American Impressionism.

Training and early career

Robinson was born in Irasburg, Vermont. His family moved to Evansville, Wisconsin, and briefly studied art in Chicago. In 1874 he journeyed to New York City to attended classes at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League.[1] In 1876 he traveled to Paris to study under Carolus-Duran and, at the École des Beaux-Arts, with Jean-Léon Gérôme. He first exhibited his paintings at the 1877 Salon in Paris,[1] and spent the summer of that year at Grez-sur-Loing. After trips to Venice and Bologna, he returned to the United States in 1879 for several years. During this time Robinson painted in a realist manner, loosely brushed but not yet impressionistic, often depicting people engaged in quiet domestic or agrarian pursuits.

In 1884 Robinson returned to France where he would live for the next eight years, visiting America only occasionally. Robinson gravitated to Giverny, which had become a center of French impressionist art under the influence of Claude Monet. Historians are unclear when Robinson met Monet, but by 1888 their friendship was enough for Robinson to move in next door to the famous impressionist. Robinson's art shifted to a more traditional impressionistic manner during this time, likely due to Monet's influence. While a number of American artists had gathered at Giverny, none were as close to Monet as Robinson. Monet offered advice to Robinson, and he likewise solicited Robinson for opinions on Monet's own works in progress (

Final years

While his reputation as an important American Impressionst was growing, Robinson still needed to teach to support himself. He also harbored doubts about the quality of his work. In 1895, Robinson enjoyed a productive period in Vermont, and in February 1896 he wrote to Monet about returning to Giverny, but in April he died of an acute asthma attack in New York City. He was buried in his hometown of Evansville, Wisconsin. He was 43 years old (

The music of impressionism

Claude Debussy

Claude debussy

Embracing nontraditional scales and tonal structures, Claude Debussy is one of the most highly regarded composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is seen as the founder of musical impressionism. In 1884, when he was just 22 years old, Debussy entered his cantata L'Enfant prodigue (The Prodigal Child) in the Prix de Rome, a competition for composers. He took home the top prize, which allowed him to study for three years in the Italian capital, though he returned to Paris after two years. While in Rome, he studied the music of German composer Richard Wagner, specifically his opera Tristan und Isolde. Wagner’s influence on Debussy was profound and lasting, but despite this, Debussy generally shied away from the ostentation of Wagner’s opera in his own works. He returned to Paris in 1887 and attended the Paris World Exposition two years later. There he heard a Javanese gamelan, a musical ensemble composed of a variety of bells, gongs, metallophones and xylophones, sometimes accompanied by vocal, and the subsequent years found Debussy incorporating the elements of the gamelan into his existing style to produce a wholly new kind of sound. Debussy's seminal opera, Pelléas et Mélisande, was completed in 1895 and was a sensation when first performed in 1902, though it deeply divided listeners (audience members and critics either loved it or hated it). The attention gained with Pelléas, paired with the success of Prélude in 1892, earned Debussy extensive recognition. Over the following 10 years, he was the leading figure in French music, writing such lasting works as La Mer (The Sea; 1905) and Ibéria (1908), both for orchestra, and Images (1905) and Children's Corner Suite (1908), both for solo piano. Around this same time, in 1905, Debussy's Suite bergamasque was published. The suite is comprised of four parts—"Prélude," "Menuet," "Clair de lune" (now regarded as one of the composer's best-known pieces) and "Passepied." (

Later Years and Death

Claude Debussy spent his remaining years writing as a critic, composing and performing his own works internationally. He died of colon cancer on March 25, 1918, when he was just 55 years old, in Paris (

Maurice Ravel

Another famous composer of the Impressionist movement was Maurice Ravel. Ravel was in no sense a revolutionary musician. He was for the most part content to work within the established formal and harmonic conventions of his day, still firmly rooted in tonality—i.e., the organization of music around focal tones. Yet, so very personal and individual was his adaptation and manipulation of the traditional musical idiom that it would be true to say he forged for himself a language of his own that bears the stamp of his personality as unmistakably as any work of Bach or Chopin. While his melodies are almost always modal (i.e., based not on the conventional Western diatonic scale but on the old Greek Phrygian and Dorian modes), his harmonies derive their often somewhat acid flavour from his fondness for “added” notes and unresolved appoggiaturas, or notes extraneous to the chord that are allowed to remain harmonically unresolved. He enriched the literature of the piano by a series of masterworks, ranging from the early Jeux d’eau (completed 1901) and the Miroirs of 1905 to the formidable Gaspard de la nuit (1908), Le Tombeau de Couperin (1917), and the two piano concerti (1931). Of his purely orchestral works, the Rapsodie espagnole and Boléro are the best known and reveal his consummate mastery of the art of instrumentation. But perhaps the highlights of his career were his collaboration with the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev, for whose Ballets Russes he composed the masterpiece Daphnis et Chloé, and with the French writer Colette, who was the librettist of his best known opera, L’Enfant et les sortilèges. The latter work gave Ravel an opportunity of doing ingenious and amusing things with the animals and inanimate objects that come to life in this tale of bewitchment and magic in which a naughty child is involved. His only other operatic venture had been his brilliantly satirical L’Heure espagnole (first performed 1911). As a songwriter Ravel achieved great distinction with his imaginative Histoires naturelles, Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, and Chansons madécasses (

Historical events for ravel

Ravel’s life was mostly uneventful. He never married, and, though he enjoyed the society of a few chosen friends, he lived the life of a semirecluse at his country retreat at Montfort-L’Amaury, in the forest of Rambouillet, near Paris. He served in World War I for a short time as a truck driver at the front, but the strain was too great for his fragile constitution, and he was discharged from the army in 1917.

final years

In 1928 Ravel embarked on a four months’ tour of Canada and the United States and in the same year visited England to receive an honorary degree of doctor of music from Oxford. That year also saw the creation of Boléro in its original form as a ballet, with Ida Rubinstein in the principal role. The last five years of Ravel’s life were clouded by aphasia, which not only prevented him from writing another note of music but also deprived him of the power of speech and made it impossible for him even to sign his name. Perhaps the real tragedy of his condition was that his musical imagination remained as active as ever. An operation to relieve the obstruction of a blood vessel that supplies the brain was unsuccessful. Ravel was buried in the cemetery of Levallois, a Paris suburb in which he had lived, in the presence of Stravinsky and other distinguished musicians and composers (

passage from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness reflects the impressionist style of writing:

“I saw a face amongst the leaves on the level with my own, looking at me very fierce and steady; and then suddenly, as though a veil had been removed from my eyes, I made out, deep in the tangled gloom, naked breasts, arms, legs, glaring eyes – the bush was swarming with human limbs in movement, glistening, of bronze colour. The twigs shook, swayed, and rustled, the arrows flew out of them, and then the shutter came to.”

In literature, impressionist writers exhibit some or all of these characteristics:

· They use a narrative style that is intentionally ambiguous, placing more responsibility on the reader to form his or her own conclusions about events within the novel, rather than relying on the narrator.

· They often describe the action through the eyes of the character while the events are occurring, rather than providing details after the character has already processed the action. The result is sometimes like being in an accident where everything appears to be moving in slow motion. All of the details seem unclear.

· They’re concerned with the “emotional landscape” of the setting. They’re interested in the ways the setting evokes certain emotional responses from both the characters and the reader.

· They employ details in such a way that it’s sometimes difficult to see a clear picture of events if you focus on the details too closely. Much like an impressionistic painting, it’s only possible to get a full picture once you stand back from the novel and view it in its entirety.

· They often avoid a chronological telling of events. Instead, they give the reader information in a way that forces them to focus on how and why things happen, rather than on the order in which they occur.

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad is remembered for novels like Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, which drew on his experience as a mariner and addressed profound themes of nature and existence. Conrad began his own literary career in 1895 with the publication of his first novel, Almayer's Folly, an adventure tale set in the Borneo jungles. Before the turn of the century he wrote two of his most famous and enduring novels. Lord Jim (1900) is the story of an outcast young sailor who comes to terms with his past acts of cowardice and eventually becomes the leader of a small South Seas country. Heart of Darkness (1902) is a novella describing a British man's journey deep into the Congo of Africa, where he encounters the cruel and mysterious Kurtz, a European trader who has established himself as a ruler of the native people there. Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness contain the signature elements of Conrad's writing: faraway settings; dramatic conflicts between human characters and the brutal forces of nature; and themes of individualism, the violent side of human nature and racial prejudice. Conrad was interested in showing "psycho-political" situations that drew parallels between the inner lives of single characters and the broader sweep of human history (

Later Life

Over the last two decades of his life, Conrad produced more autobiographical writings and novels, including The Arrow of Gold and The Rescue. His final novel, The Rover, was published in 1923. Conrad died of a heart attack on August 3, 1924, at his home in Canterbury, England (

The reactions of impressionism

The purpose of Impressionism was for artists, musicians, and writers to branch out of the typical Religious pieces and focus on the world around them. Despite their work not being allowed in the Salon, the artists persisted. The work of portraits weren't as clear and defined of those of the Enlightenment period, however, they displayed more positive art. The critics defined Impressionist art work as just that, an impression of real art because they appeared unfinished. The music was calmer, more peaceful, revealing an emotion of peace and serenity compared to the bold, statement setting of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 during the Classical period.

There were many that were enthralled by Impressionism once the Impressionist artists were able to publicize their style, it evolved into Post-Impressionism. Symbolic and highly personal meanings were particularly important to Post-Impressionists such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. Rejecting interest in depicting the observed world, they instead looked to their memories and emotions in order to connect with the viewer on a deeper level (


Impressionists work often looked sloppy and rushed while the work of the Enlightenment period were completely finished displaying as much detail and care in the piece often taking weeks and even months to complete.


what is so compelling about impressionism

I was able to depict so much emotion in the art paintings. I was particularally drawn to Mary Cassatt's paintings of the mothers with their children. My children and I often take what is now referred to as "selfies" together. My phone and other devices have over two-thousand pictures and videos of my children. The photos I take of my children aren't always taken when they're paying attention to the camera and often when they are in motion, playing and growing. I know that they won't be little forever, they've grown so much already. Another aspect of the Impressionist period was that the art work may visually look unfinished and sloppy, but life can be messy and blurry too . The focus on the light and colors provides a sense of playfulness and I found the art to be beautiful. The critics may have not paid enough attention during observation, there are so many colors and fine line details in the art. It really has to be observed more closely.


Biography of Theodore Robinson. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

Claude Debussy. (2015, April 22). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

Heart of Darkness. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

Impressionism and Impressionist Painters. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

Impressionism: Origins, Influences. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

Joseph Conrad. (2016, November 21). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

L'Atelier. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

Mary Cassatt. (2014, April 02). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

Maurice Ravel. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from

Post-Impressionism Movement, Artists and Major Works. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2017, from


Created with images by David Paul Ohmer - "Boston Museum Of Art - Pierre Auguste Renoir "Dance at Bougival"" • tpsdave - "mary cassatt painting oil on canvas"

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