This weekend, my husband and I took a delightful trip with friends to the De Young Museum in San Francisco to view the Birth of Impressionism exhibit. The first of a two part exhibition, this first half focused on the French state-approved Salon art, then gradually introduces pieces by the radical Impressionist group.
The Salon art sought to edify and educate the public by depicting straightforward religious and mythological themes. Women’s bodies were idealized, flaws were invisible, men were noble and legendary. Ironically, I did not recognize any of the Salon art, which has fallen from fame today. Instead, the modern art lover recognizes the work of the rebels of the day - the group of artists called the Impressionists. An art critic dismissed an early presentation of their work by calling them "just a bunch of impressionists" and the name stuck.
The Impressionists sought to convey their a private perception of reality rather than the solid, photographic-like representations of Salon-approved paintings. Common scenes of everyday life became the source of "high art" as subject matter the Salon deemed "coarse" was captured and immortalized on canvas. Varying degrees of light and diverse weather were favorite points of interest, and the artists would often paint outdoors, presenting the same scene in a variety of seasons and at different times of day.
I have always favored Monet since viewing much of his work and home while studying abroad in France. This visit taught me much more about his Monet’s fellow artists including Manet and Cezanne, along with their favored subject matters and individual painting styles.
Renoir was quoted as saying that he liked to paint scenes you wish you could step into and walk around in! That’s just how I feel about scenes like this:
I find myself liking the art of Pisarro more and more, with his focus on the connection between agriculture and society, people and the land, nature and beauty.
I was also impressed to find that a female Impressionist artist named Berthe Morisot was well respected amongst her peers for her ability to capture the domestic scenes that were familiar to her as a woman in that time period such as the maternal scene below.
If you get a chance, be sure to visit the exhibit while it's still there. Coming soon is Part II - I look forward to it very much!