Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Art History Notes: How Impressionism Got Its Name

Do you like French Impressionism? The water lilies of Claude Monet, the dancers of Edgar Degas, the mother and child portraits by Mary Cassatt (who was American, by the way, but who painted in this style in Paris)--the light, the color, and the distinctive brushwork all serve to make this an attractive and appealing style. "Impressionism" does seem to fit, as the loose brushwork gives more of an impression of a scene rather than the painstaking detail. But did you know that it was not the Impressionists who named it that? In actuality, that name started out as a sarcastic slam.

In the 1860s and 1870s in Paris, several artists who were experimenting with a new style of looser, freer painting with landscapes and other non-formal subjects were refused entry to the exhibition sponsored by the Academie des Beaux-Arts, called the Salon de Paris. The Salon was a prestigious exhibition, and that is where most artists were able to connect with patrons, thus earning a livelihood. But the Academie was very rigid in its choices, demanding that only the approved style and subject matter be adhered to--it did not favor anything new, so these artists were outsiders.

Taking matters into their own hands, several of these young artists organized their own group, the Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers, and held their own exhibition in 1874. Included in this exhibition was a work by Monet called "Impression, Sunrise" (pictured above), and Louis Leroy, a snarky journalist who wrote a sarcastic review of the exhibition, dismissively labelled the new style as "Impressionism" based on that. However, the artists were not terribly offended and decided that wasn't a bad name for the style. The joke was eventually on the Academie and on Louis Leroy, as the style caught on and became quite accepted and admired!

"Impression, Sunrise" by Claude Monet from Wikimedia Commons,_Impression,_soleil_levant,_1872.jpg

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