Photo by @mariebebe_
The world has been moved and shaken by countless revolutions throughout history, each one stoking a flame and igniting change, some for the good. One of those key movements happened in the 19th Century art world and while it may – in our times, anyway – be seen as a ground-breaking shift in creativity and artistic expression, the beginnings of the Impressionist era of art was rather the scandal of its time.
Call it a scandal, call it a shift, there’s no question that this short – but albeit significant – period in history impacted art as we know it today, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery is playing its part in helping us to a more intimate understanding of these “outsiders” whose passion and conviction led to a perpetual shift in the world of art. Summer with the Impressionists opened its doors to the public on June 16 at the WAG, and after exploring this gallery where time elapsed without me ever noticing, I walked away in awe and with a more profound understanding of art’s key impressionists.
The Impressionists were a society of rebels
The art world, circa the early 1800s, was characterized by paintings with a lifelike level of detail. This period, known as Realism, was highly favoured by art institutions and government-sanctioned galleries, known as salons in that time. But by the 1860s, Parisian artists were growing restless painting in studios and under artificial lighting and began taking their easels and paint tubes outdoors. And there, en plein air, with nature as their new-found inspiration, a movement began that saw artists like Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, and other French artists flouting convention and forging a new path.
Women were among that rebellion
And what insurrection would be complete without a few good women playing their role in revolutionizing history? Among this society of rebel artists were French painters Berthe Morisot and Marie Bracquemond and American painter Mary Cassatt. Morisot, who was first denied entry into the prestigious Salon de Paris, was eventually accepted in 1864. These women were not only respected in a world and discipline dominated by men, they were even mentored by them.
Even Rodin got in on the action
While it is typically painters who marked this period of “folie”, sculptors like Auguste Rodin, and Edgar Degas, also a painter, were counted among this group of “extremists”. While Rodin may not have set out to antagonize the traditional art establishment, his work featured many of the characteristics that defined Impressionism. Degas, who considered himself more of a realist, focused on those casual scenes in his sculptures depicting everyday life which defined the Impressionist era.
Monet was inspired by Boudin
We all gain inspiration somewhere and Claude Monet, one of the key figures of Impressionism, gained his inspiration for the airy genre under the guidance of Eugène Boudin. Of course, Boudin, too, was inspired by his peers. And like Boudin, Monet took all he had learned and passed it along to up and coming artists, leading them to take their talents en plein air.
And herein lies the advent of minimalism…
In recent times, there has been much chatter about minimalism. But long before minimalist wardrobes and simplistic fixtures became à la mode, French artists of the late 1800s were expressing themselves with thicker, looser brushwork and lighter palettes. There was a thoughtful abandon to this new-found process, where lines were obliterated in favour of mildly blurred, quickly captured real-life, natural settings.
…that was, in and of itself, a paradox
The Impressionists were heavily criticized for what was perceived as incoherent, slapdash and splotchy inattention to detail within Paris’ Académie de Beaux-Arts. It was this “carelessness”, however, that makes Impressionist art one of wonder. While, up close, Manet’s 1880 oeuvre, Young Girl on a Bench, or Monet’s Rising Tide at Pourville are minimal in their dabs and patches of colour, they are anything but devoid of detail in their contrasts, quickly capturing moments in an uncontrolled environment with the stroke of a brush, in much the same way as a cameraman would with the shutter of a lens.
The WAG has spared no effort or thought in the layout of this gallery (I could tell you all about it, but it’s truly worth experiencing yourself). Summer with the Impressionists is a journey through a world of art that transports you from the talented, but predictable period of Realism to the daring and colourful breath of fresh air that marked Impressionism. These artists erased the lines and bent the rules that once defined art. And the rest, as they say, is history…