|Influenced by the technical perfection of photography and the innovations of the Realists, the Impressionists went on to break new ground. They experimented with expressing 'reality' that went "beyond the representational or photographic" (Witt, et al. 357). Another influence on their rendering of reality came with the introduction to Europe of Japanese woodblock prints. "Opened" in 1854 by America's Commodore Perry, Japan embarked upon a process of rapid modernization and industrialization; at the same time, Japanese aesthetics exercised a profound impact on the Impressionists. Hiroshige was the most famous of the ukiyo-e artists of the Edo period. At left, Hiroshige's Evening Snow at Canbara (1857.)|
image source < http://www.monash.edu.au/~jwb/ukiyoe/hiroshige.html >
Moonpine 1857 (left) and Plum Estate 1857 (right)
(from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo series)
image source < http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/hiroshige/
|Hokusai's most famous woodblock print, The Wave, which he rendered over and over again, not unlike Monet's repetitive reproductions of haystacks, the cathedral at Rouen, waterlilies.|
Art historian and commentator, Michael Delahunt, made up
acronym "ELBOW" to define Impressionism's characteristics:
|E||EVERYDAY LIFE/La vie moderne|
|O||OUTDOOR SETTING/en plein air|
|Manet brought a new direction to painting as he concentrated on "recording with accuracy the appearance of the physical world" along with an "authentic representation of...color and light..." (Tansey and Kleiner 980). Some art historians credit Manet with launching Impressionism with his Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass,) which he exhibited at the Salon des Refusés in 1863. He said he was trying to speak with a new voice. It's clear how influenced Manet was by his great predecessors, such as Titian, Giorgione, and Watteau. Manet's brother Eugène and a friend posed for the two clothed male figures, while his favorite model, Victorine, posed for both of the female figures. What struck his contemporaries as "new" was the way the nude figure "is not only a distressingly unidealized figure type, but she seems disturbingly unabashed...looking directly at the viewer without shame or flirtatiousness" (981). In this and other works, Manet acknowledged his debt to the old masters, photography, and the new Japanese woodblock prints.|
|Manet "set out to create a personal style..." (Witt 358) after which painting was never the same. Manet exhibited the controversial Olympia at the Salon in 1865. A painting of a reclining nude does not seem so shocking, having looked at The Naked Maja and various Renaissance nudes. However, the critics went wild, "hooting and hollering in derision at her pose, the position of her left hand, the "come-hither" look in her eye. In 1865, Manet had sold few paintings, eclipsed by the more famous (but nowadays virtually unknown) Meissonier, whose dramatic, historic scenes sold for upwards of 30,000 francs--a fortune in those days! (King). See link below for Meissonier painting of Napoleon on Campaign.|
image source < http://www.witcombe.sbc.edu/modernism/roots.html
To see Meissonier's Napoleon on Campaign, visit
< http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/detail/Detail_meissonier_jean-louis-ernest.html?noframe >
|In 1867, Manet painted his first The Execution of Maximilan, at least in part as a protest against Napoleon III's Mexican adventure. Maximilian, brother of Emperor-King Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary, was seduced into participating in Napoleon III's ill-fated foray into Mexico in 1863. In 1867, the Republican forces of Benito Juarez captured and executed Maximilian, along with his two generals, Mejía and Miramón. Manet studied Goya's The Third of May, taking his "basic composition from Goya..." (King 209). The painting is generally not considered Manet's best artistically, but interesting politically. Manet composed and painted the scene on ever larger canvases trying to express his horror at the act and its perpetrator--that is, the Emperor not the Juarístas. He submitted his fourth version of it, a gigantic 10-foot wide canvas, to the 1869 Salon. It showed "the executioners in French uniforms as well as the soldier who looked like the Emperor Napoleon delivering the coup de grace" (King 245). It was not accepted by the Salon juror. and was destroyed; Edgar Dégas bought up the fragments and reassembled them. This painting, and its historical setting, provided the centerpiece of an exhibition at MOMA in January, 2007. In critiquing the exhibit, Holland Cotter called Manet "one of art's great guerrilla path-finders..." and this painting "wry, infuriated, and ambitious..." (B27). He went on, Manet's thoughts "shoot out in bold, impetuous strokes, richocheting off multiple targets" (B27). Cotter revealed his own political perspective, linking The Execution with the photographs released of Abu Graib and the famous photograph of a Viet Cong prisoner being shot at point blank range.|
|For the Salon in 1868, Manet submitted a portrait of his friend, Émile Zola. Zola, an ardent republican and socialist, was not one to shy away from causes, and he long advocated for Manet and other réfusés such as Cézanne and Monet. Note how Manet placed Olympia in the upper right hand corner of the painting. Critics "faulted Manet for inelegant brushwork, flawed perspective, undignified subjects, and...insincerity..." (King 271). He had sold only a few of his works, and a Medal from the Salon remained outside his reach. Literary critics viewed Zola with the same disdain that art critics viewed Manet. Le Figaro accused Zola, on the publication of Thérèse Raquin, of being part of a "monstrous school of novelists " who filled their writings with a "cesspit of blood and filth" (223). Zola, of course, achieved even greater notoriety with his famous J'accuse article defending Alfred Dreyfus in the 1890s.|
|Another Manet masterpiece, The Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882) shows his interest in the play of light "spilling from the gas globes onto the figures and objects around them" (Tansey and Kleiner 982). His portrayal of the barmaid is stark and impersonal. The painting itself is "cool, objective," characterized by "abstraction" and "indifference" (983). "The table, together with its bottles, fruit, vase, and flowers, consititutes a formal still-life composition, but unlike traditional still lifes, this one shows objects of commercial consumption in a setting where leisure itself is commercially consumed" (Kagan, et al. 809). Art historians have debated an inner meaning for this work, searched for a social commentary from Manet. "...[I]t was commonly assumed in Paris that many barmaids and shop girls needed to supplement their meager wages through prostitution..." bringing some scholars to wonder if the "woman in the painting, like the liquor and the fruit, is simply another object of commerce" (Kagan, et al. 809). This painting was one of Manet's last and is thought to reflect the influence of Monet.|
|Manet painted Boating in the summer of 1874, while working with Renoir and Monet at Argenteuil, during his en plein air period. He submitted it to the 1879 Salon, where it was accepted. The identity of the sitters is unknown, but the man may be Manet's brother-in-law Rodolphe Leenhoff.|
image source < http://www.mystudios.com/manet/1870/boating/manet-boating-off.jpg >
Éduard Manet never considered himself an Impressionist, though by the time of Boating (1874)
some of the ideas and innovations of Monet and other en plein air artists were evident in his
work. The first use of the term, Impressionist or Impressionism, came in 1874 when printer,
caricaturist, and photographer, Nadar, commented on viewing yet another of Monet's paintings
of yet another sunrise at Argenteuil, "Why not call it, Impression: Sunrise!" (King 358).
In 1876, a group of artists, led by Claude Monet, adopted the title Impressioniste, published a
journal, and put on a show.
Cotter, Holland. "Manet Finds Fodder in the French Debacle in Mexico." The
New York Times.
November 3, 2006.
Kagan, Donald. et al. The Western Heritage, vol. C, Since 1789, 9th edition.
Upper Saddle River: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2007.
King, Ross. The Judgment of Paris. New York: Walker and Co., 2006.
If you are interested in impressionism and how it fit into a larger French context,
I strongly recommend this book.
Rosenberg, Karen. "Soigné Parisians, Fit for a Grand Canvas." The New York Times: Weekend Arts.
February 10, 2012.
Tansey, Richard and Fred Kleiner. Gardner's Art through the Ages, vol. ii, 10th edition.
Fort Worth, et al.: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996.
Witt, Mary Anne, et al. The Humanities, vol. ii, 5th edition. Boston and
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.