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.
This seemingly casual style became widely accepted, even in
the official Salon, as the new language with which to depict
Such images of suburban and rural leisure outside of Paris
were a popular subject for the Impressionists, notably Monet
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
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
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.
"... 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."
... "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
"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."
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.
on painting art; the painter of
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
" ... - 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,
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
* quote on rediscovering Nature by the painters Corot
and Courbet and truth in painting: ‘What he told me –
The motif’, ín “Cézanne, – a Memoir
Conversations” (1897 – 1906) by Joachim Gasquet, Thames and
Hudson, London 1991 pp. 157-158 "
Impressionist / Post-Impressionist Motifs