Impressionist - Post Impressionist Motifs

Impressionism: Art and Modernity

... While conservative critics panned their work for its unfinished, sketchlike appearance, more progressive writers praised it for its depiction of modern life. Edmond Duranty, for example, in his 1876 essay La Nouvelle Peinture (The New Painting), wrote of their depiction of contemporary subject matter in a suitably innovative style as a revolution in painting. The exhibiting collective avoided choosing a title that would imply a unified movement or school, although some of them subsequently adopted the name by which they would eventually be known, the Impressionists. Their work is recognized today for its modernity, embodied in its rejection of established styles, its incorporation of new technology and ideas, and its depiction of modern life.
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This seemingly casual style became widely accepted, even in the official Salon, as the new language with which to depict modern life.
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Such images of suburban and rural leisure outside of Paris were a popular subject for the Impressionists, notably Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Several of them lived in the country for part or all of the year. New railway lines radiating out from the city made travel so convenient that Parisians virtually flooded into the countryside every weekend. While some of the Impressionists, such as Pissarro, focused on the daily life of local villagers in Pontoise, most preferred to depict the vacationers' rural pastimes. The boating and bathing establishments that flourished in these regions became favorite motifs. In his 1869 La Grenouillère (29.100.112), for example, Monet's characteristically loose painting style complements the leisure activities he portrays. Landscapes, which figure prominently in Impressionist art, were also brought up to date with innovative compositions, light effects, and use of color. Monet in particular emphasized the modernization of the landscape by including railways and factories, signs of encroaching industrialization that would have seemed inappropriate to the Barbizon artists of the previous generation.



Impressionism and Open-Air Painting

The idea of "motif" is often associated with "open-air" painting, but actually represents the idea of the the overall "basis" / "idea" of an art work.
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"... During the first half of the 19th century, the clear-cut distinction between landscapes painted out-of-doors and those executed in the studio began to break down. From the 1820s there was a greater degree of crossover between the two methods with a more careful finish evident in open-air oils and the use of motifs taken from nature in studio compositions. Artists such as Corot and Constable extended the practice of painting directly from nature to their work as a whole and the fashion for oil studies of this kind soon swept across most of Europe and the United States."

Motifs of "Real Life"...

... "Although it may seem different to imagine now, Impressionism – a departure from the traditional paintings of its day – was considered radical and even offensive at first site by some people.

Academic paintings tended to glorify human actions by dramatizing figures in historical, religions or mythical theme. In Caillebotte’s painting, a bridge and some anonymous strollers form the focus of the work. There is no obvious moral lesson or story being told in this image.

Nature was included in traditional paintings, but largely as a dramatic background for allegorical themes. Sisley considered nature to be worthy subject matter in its own right."

"The Impressionists liked to paint scenes of everyday life, of contemporary people at work and play. Caillebotte has painted a moment of everyday life from the world he knew. A middle class man and woman stroll along the bridge, and working class man pauses to gaze onto the train tracks. A dog trots by as if by accident.

"... a group of people seem to be enjoying the spring in groves of trees. The Impressionists shared a fascination with the countryside as a result of the growth of a Parisian middle-class, with leisure time and the arrival of the railroad system giving them access to travel outside the confines of the city."


El hospital de Saint-Rémy

Vincent Van Gogh Hospital
à Saint-Rémy, 1899
The Armand Hammer Collection.
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.
Gift of the Armand
Hammer Foundation

The Painting of Modern Life



Below... Motifs of Impressionism / Post-Impressionism were always to show "real life"; this issue was probably equal in importance in their minds as the issues of painting style and color.  In contrast, Classical Painting in most cases dealt with Religion, including lots of Greek / Roman gods and goddesses, kings and nobles, and largely contrived historical / military / naval excitements.

PAUL CEZANNE on painting art; the painter of
Mont St. Victoire– landscape, still life

" ... - Wouldn’t it be wonderful to paint a nude there? (along the river near Aix, fh) There are innumerable motifs here on the banks of the river; the same spot viewed from a different angle offers a subject of the utmost interest. It is so varied that I think I could keep busy for months without changing my place., simply turning now tot the right and now to the left.
* Paul Cezanne, his quote from: a conversation, in Aix near the river, in 1896; as quoted in “Cezanne”, by Ambroise Vollard, Dover publications Inc. New York, 1984, p. 74 (studio in Aix en Provence, near the Mont St. Victoire, of which he made several landscape-paintings

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" ... - In that Renaissance (Cellini, Tintoretto, Titian..) there was an explosion of unique truthfulness, a love of painting and form… …Then come the Jesuits and everything is formal; everything has to be taught and learned. It required a revolution for nature to be rediscovered; for Delacroix to paint his beach at Étratat, (coast of Normandy, France, fh), Corot his roman rubble, Courbet his forest scenes and his waves. And how miserable slow that revolution was, how many stages it had to go through! …These artists had not yet discovered that nature has more to do with depth than with surfaces. I can tell you, you can do things to the surface… … but by going deep you automatically go to the truth. You feel a healthy need to be truthful. You’d rather strip your canvas right down than invent or imagine a detail. You want to know.
* quote on rediscovering Nature by the painters Corot and Courbet and truth in painting: ‘What he told me – The motif’, ín “Cézanne, – a Memoir with Conversations” (1897 – 1906) by Joachim Gasquet, Thames and Hudson, London 1991 pp. 157-158 "
Impressionist / Post-Impressionist Motifs


Classical Motifs