Edgar Degas
1834 - 1912

Page Content: France and Impressionism, Birth of Impressionism, The age of Impressionism

Read more about the Impressionists:
Pierre-Auguste Renoir Claude Monet Alfred Sisley Camille Pissarro Edouard Manet

France and Impressionism

The Impressionists did not choose their name - it was foisted upon them in 1874 by a critic hostile to their work. How ever the name soon stuck and was used to describe a group of artists who never intended to be a unified radical movement, who never set out to shock or to be revolutionaries. What they had in common was that they were all in Paris in the early 1860s and quickly got to know each other - some in art schools which they would meet and realized that they shared a desire to paint the landscape, cityscape, and modern life in new ways.

The first Impressionist exhibition

The first Impressionist exhibition took place because none of these artists had achieved any regular success at the official Salon, the major venue for the Paris art market, whose juries were notoriously inconsistent and reactionary.

The first exhibition by this group did little to challenge the all-powerful Salon, but it crystallized critical opinion and pushed the so-called Impressionists into the limelight. They were supported by writers such us Baudelaire and Zola who saw in their work an important advancement of art into the modern era.

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The birth of Impressionism

Several influences in the earlier part of the 19th century are crucial to the development of Impressionism. In the first three decades of the century the inspiration of Dutch and English landscapists began to have an important effect on French landscape painting and in art in general.

Eugene Delacroix - who was to influence many of the Impressionists, especially Renoir - had brought a new brilliance of color and virtuosity of brushwork to his paintings and was an admirer of Constable, as were the Barbizon School of open air painters attempting a new naturalism in and around Fontainebleau Forest. The later were the precursors of Monet and Pissarro, who were also influenced by the landscapists Boudin and Jongkind on the Normandy coast. By mid-century the Realists had come to prominence headed by Gustave Courbet.

In 1863, Edouard Manet caused a scandal with his "Luncheon in the Grass" which portrayed its classical subject in a modern idiom to shocking effect and he became the reluctant leader of the younger generation of Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and Bazille who had come together the year before at the atelier of Charles Gleyre and formed the nucleus of the Impressionists.

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The age of Impressionism

The works of Monet, Renoir, Manet, Morisot, Pissarro and Sisley, which characterized the Impressionism in its most popularly recognizable form, were painted in the 1870s. Degas who played an important role in organizing the series of Impressionist exhibitions which marked the 1870s and 1880s, remained resolutely opposed to 'plein-air' painting. He nevertheless produced the most striking images of modern Parisian life, taking inspiration from Japanese prints and photography, and like Manet, basing his technique on a thorough appreciation of old masters.

Towards the end of the 1870s serious rifts began to appear in the group and Monet, Renoir and Sisley dropped out as Degas and Pissarro exerted more control over the exhibition. The penultimate Impressionist exhibition - minus Degas - took place in 1882 and essentially represented the fragile group's last stand.

The nest year Manet died having completed his masterpiece "Bar at the Folies-Bergere". He had remained highly supportive of the group but never exhibited with them. By 1886 the final Impressionist exhibition featured the work of Degas, Pissarro, and a new generation including George Seurat, Paul Signac and Paul Gauguin.

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