The Insurgency of Independent Publishing


presented by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

to the

College Art Association, New York, New York

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A hundred and forty years ago, the art world in Paris faced a self-imposed crisis—or to be more precise—refused to face the crisis. Like most crises, this one had been brewing for years—symptoms had been noted—but had been misdiagnosed as problems to be solved. [1] At issue was the centuries-old system [2] of training artists—-judging and evaluating their efforts—exhibiting their art. [3] It was impossible to imagine that such a venerated process could possibly go wrong. After all, the quality of the French education was superb; the quality of the art from the Academy was unsurpassed. The French Academy was envied and emulated throughout the Western world. The academic system had produced eminent artists and the art was justly celebrated. [4]

Given all this quality work, it was hard to imagine how anyone could be dissatisfied with continuing excellence. [5] Even the most vocal critics demanded to be included. Even the most unlikely candidates were given a fair hearing. [6] The jury system gave all comers and opportunity to be accepted and to shine, achieve fame, acquire wealth. [7] What could possibly be wrong? [8]

To those outside the system of quality, [9] the Academy, its elaborate apparatus of rules built level by level over hundreds of years, for the sole purpose of preserving the classical ideal and the methodologies of the Renaissance, in order to maintain the power of those in charge—-to the outsiders—to those not in the in crowd, [10] the Academy was training students to uphold an outdated status quo, all in the service of a repressive government, intent on controlling the visual culture of France. These outsiders—-mostly a motley crew of indifferently trained painters—-confronted—not a jury of their peers—but a group of old men, who were hostile to interlopers. From the standpoint of the outsiders, [11] the judgment of the aging academicians, long past their prime, seemed implausible, inexplicable, implacable, improbable, unrelentingly ruthless and capricious.

The Academy and the exhibitions it controlled, the Salons, was, in fact, a bastion of unassailable power that ran a rigged game, [12] designed to generate losers, [13] not winners, created to guarantee, not quality, [14] as was claimed, but a great prize, [15] available only to a very small number of aspirants, who obediently [16] responded appropriately to all the prerequisites—-genuflection to authority, [17] acceptance of submission to tradition, [18] willingness to forego rebellion against the paternal figures.

By making the prizes so difficult to achieve, the number of winners so small, the Academy made the ultimate rewards—such as they were—-seem intensely desirable worthy of being won. [19] Many were called but only a few succeeded. Perversely, the young artists, instead of recognizing that the roulette wheel was tilted, that the system was structured for failure, [20] only increased their desire and intensified their efforts to succeed against the odds—not understanding that the ruthless winnowing indicated, not that their art was less worthy, but that the system [21] simply could not handle the growing number of supplicants.

For hundreds of years, the Salon system had built a mindset of acceptance of the rules of this game—a victim mentality that was as unassailable as the castle of the Academy itself. Some artists, it seems, did recognize that the Academy was in crisis—was ossified and inflexible—that the Salon was eating its young—and that the selection system was unfair. [22] These artists refused to play the game, refused to resign themselves to rejection by the Salon juries.

Instead they formed their own alternative [23] to the massive salon exhibitions and the willful and antiquated whims of the jurors. [24] These painters—acting as independent entrepreneurs—as enterprising business people—started their own self-generated alternative art exhibitions. Rather than challenging the paradigm of the Salon, they simply created another paradigm—exhibit your own art, in your own way, on your own terms.

We are speaking, of course, of the Impressionists. [25]

True, there had been earlier attempts by previous artists to free themselves of the constraints of the Salon—David, Courbet, Manet, [26] Whistler [27]—but the psychological grip of the Academic system was so powerful that, rather than being impressed by the efforts of those artists, the art audience was mostly bemused and puzzled. These independent exhibitions were significant cracks in the fortress wall, but the most famous alarm bell had to be what became the historically significant Salon des Refusés (1863), [28] ten years before the Impressionists’ first exhibition in 1874. [29]

The anger of rejected artists [30] against an unusually punitive jury signaled a genuine crisis: there were too many artists for too few places [31] to satisfy the demand for inclusion. [32] Indeed, one mollifying exhibition would not suffice to ease the growing tension between the guardians of the watchtower and the armies of talented young people [33] assembling at the portcullis—battering at the gates. [34]

It is important to pause and consider the courage of the Impressionists. They would be laughed at—they knew that—the establishment would feel threatened, if it noticed the artists at all, the critics who accepted the system would be unkind, and call them names, established artists invested in academia would reject them—the Impressionists knew all that—-and all of these indignities came to pass. [35] True, the Impressionists yearned [36] for validation and acceptance in the Salon but the painters headed for open territory, [37] the unguarded terrain of the independent exhibition, building upon the nascent artist-dealer system. [38] The Impressionists initiated today’s art world.

Although the myth of the Impressionists posits them as the shock troops of the avant-garde of the Third Republic, the painters were reacting to real financial needs. [39] The Salon system acted as a barrier to economic success. [40] The gatekeepers prevented an entire class of creative thinkers from earning an honest living at the trade [41] of their choice and the casualties were not just the renegade rebels. Academic artists suffered as well. [42] The system of enforced failure [43] guaranteed that they too must be sacrificed. They too must fail. Undoubtedly, the defenders of the Salon system had their explanations, their reasons for ensuring failure—-those who were rejected by the juries were simply bad artists who deserved to fail. Really? Paul Cézanne—a bad artist?

The upholders of the status quo [44] would argue that their system was responsible for artistic leaders, such as, Jean-Léon Gérôme. [45] But, in reality, the system had no room for new ideas, could not accommodate artistic innovation, and could not tolerate artistic freedom or new innovations. [46] If the Impressionists had not found their way around the artificial barriers and created new opportunities [47] for themselves, then it would not have been possible for artists in the twentieth century to exist—-even thrive—and find success—entirely outside [48] the Salon system. [49] Pablo Picasso could have been the failed son of an obscure Spanish artist.

Impossible you say? Everyone knows that talent will always be discovered; true art will shine through. Really? The eventual success of long dead avant-garde artists rested upon fragile foundations of arbitrary chance. Vincent van Gogh had a brother, Théo, was an art dealer who financed his difficult younger brother, and Théo’s widow was inclined to preserve the paintings of her unstable brother-in-law who had sold one painting in his lifetime. [50] Other people simply threw his art in the dustbin. [51]

To say that the Impressionists challenge [52] to the bulwark that was the Salon system made it possible for the art of some of the most valued artists of the modern avant-garde to be recognized [53] is to state the obvious but sometimes emphasizing the already known is necessary. Even in the year of our Lord 2011, or especially in our own time, it is necessary to recall the revolution of the Impressionists, for we are facing a similar crisis in art history. Like the crisis of the nineteenth century avant-garde, [54] our crisis is demographic also, an expansion of an aspiring educated middle class exemplified by an increasing number of freshly minted PhDs who are pumped out of graduate programs—but for what future? Reeling from yet another economic downturn, our own academia is downsizing, and to add to this perfect storm of too few jobs and too many job hunters, the entire publishing industry is shrinking. [55]

Are those who are outside the magic circle of the privileged and the published any less intelligent, any less gifted, any less capable, do they have less to offer the profession of art history? Surely the academic system of producing art historians works, doesn’t it? The academic stars are not lucky stars, well situated in the northeast corridor, enjoying unrecognized advantages in publication. [56] These (privileged) people are truly deserving of their success, no argument. Just as it would be wrong to insist that Bouguereau was technically deficient, or that Gérome lacked imagination, [57] there can be no argument that the academic stars have not earned their rewards, their books, their articles, and their reputation for excellence. Therefore, I am not concerned with them. I am concerned about everyone else—those art historians who are intelligent and capable, who have a lot to offer, but have no outlets for publication, that all-important stepping stone to a job, to tenure. [58]

The chances of getting published today are less that of wining on a slot machine in Vegas. [59] There are those who would argue that the current system of publication works perfectly well. [60] But we cannot argue today in good faith that our process of publishing is allowing talent to be developed for the same reason as those who in the nineteenth century could not—in good faith—maintain that the Salon system of exhibiting art was efficient. [61] Likewise, we cannot state that our system allows the cream to come to the top, that only the worthy are rewarded and that those who never rise deserved to fail. [62]

Just as it was illegitimate to make those claims in the nineteenth century, we cannot make them today, because we simply don’t know if we are correct. There is no way of knowing. There is no way of measuring the loss, the lack, the silence of new voices never heard, new words never written, new insights never illuminated, years of training never coming to fruition, scholarship wasted, careers never realized…all because there are not enough outlets for publication. Surely the loss of art historical talent must outweigh any gains. [63] Such a limited field for publication is not efficient. Any system that wastes its best and brightest, allows them to disappear, and fail to thrive, consigned to invisibility, is a system that values status quo over change, supports vested interests over innovation. [64]

Let us imagine—if the Impressionists had never tried—and remember that many of these artists died long before Impressionism was accepted. Imagine—if their courage had faltered—there would be no Claude Monet, no Pierre Renoir, no Mary Cassatt, no Vincent van Gogh, no Paul Gauguin, no Georges Seurat. These artists would have lived, painted futilely, and died in obscurity. [65] Instead the impressionists changed the avant-garde, from the presence of a few outliers to a genuine movement, inspiring large venues for Independent art shows, the Salon des Indépendants–jury-less, the Salon d’Automne–radical–jumpstarting a new way for artists to sell their art outside the Salon system. [66]

Challenge and change are equally difficult but out of crisis comes—-not opportunity—but the willed creation of opportunity. [67] Today the will exists, the technology is available, allowing art professionals, art historians, art critics, theorists to take their careers in their own hands—like the Impressionists—to make themselves heard and read and seen. [68] It is possible to open a new field [69] of cultural production, [70] to run a new game, played by new rules, to establish a new paradigm, to build an alternative system that allows the players to win. [71] And all that is necessary is to forego voluntary psychological handicaps, to give up a constricting mindset [72] and take advantage of the first real game change [73] in the art world since the establishment of the artist-dealer-gallery system for artists.

Revised and updated ending:

Today it is possible to open a closed field [74], the contained field of art historical publication, with independent petit revues or hybrid e-journals, that are open and inclusive, democratic, professional, and dedicated [75] to the intellectual growth and development of art historical colleagues [76] who have a great deal to say and no place to publish it. My website, Art History Unstuffed, and my recent book New Artwriting (2014), are examples of a professional taking charge of a career, publishing on her own terms and on her own timetable and in her own style. While others follow the rules of the Academy and frequent the Salons, it is possible to establish outposts on the frontiers beyond the borders and become part of the small group of forward observers.

You deserve to be heard.




[1] Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, p. 179

[2] Ross King, The Judgment of Paris. The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism, p.31.

[3] King, ibid, p. 32.

[4] Bourdieu, RA, p. 119.

[5] Bourdieu, ibid. p. 260-1.

[6] King, op. cit, p.82.

[7] Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, p. 241.

[8] Bourdieu, ibid. p. 251.

[9] Bourdieu, ibid, p. 83.

[10] Bourdieu, ibid. p. 83.

[11] Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, p. 225.

[12] Ibid., p.167.

[13] Ibid., p. 243.

[14] Ibid. p. 169.

[15] Ibid. p. 230.

[16] Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, p. 133.

[17] King, p. 67.

[18] Bourdieu, RA, p. 148

[19] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 164.

[20] Ibid. p. 164.

[21] Ibid, p. 251-2.

[22] King, p. 34

[23] King, p. 57.

[24] Ibid. p. 57.

[25] Ibid., p. 354

[26] Moscovici, Romanticism and Post-Romanticism, p. 65

[27] King, p. 72

[28] Philip G. Nord, Impressionists and Politics: Art and Democracy in the Nineteenth Century, p. 6 and 7.

[29] King, p. 357.

[30] Ibid., p. 171.

[31] King, p. 52 and 59

[32] Ibid., p. 337.

[33] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 60.

[34] Ibid., p. 231.

[35] Wynford Dewhurst, Impressionist Painting: Its Genesis and Development, p. 35-36.

[36] King, p. 197.

[37] Robert Herbert, “Impressionism, Originality, and Laissez-faire,” p. 25.

[38] King, p. 48

[39] Ibid. p. 26.

[40] Ibid, p. 27.

[41] Dewhurst, p. 33.

[42] Jon Whitely, in Transformations in Personhood After Theory. The Languages of History, Aesthetics, and Ethics, p. 37.

[43] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 79 and 83.

[44] Ibid., p. 252

[45] Bourdieu, RA, p. 157

[46] Ibid., p. 105.

[47] Nancy Austin, “Naming the Landscape,” in Transformations in Personhood After Theory. The Languages of History, Aesthetics, and Ethics, p. 51-55.

[48] Bourdieu, RA, p. 236

[49] ibid., p. 125

[50] See Kendell, Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

[51] Paul Barlow in Denis, Rafael Carsoso, Art and the Academy in the Nineteenth Century, 20-26

[52] Swinth, Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern America, p. 39.

[53] King, p. 371

[54] Bourdieu, RA, p. 122

[55] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 84

[56] Cown, In Praise of Commercial Culture, p. 112

[57] ibid., p. 127

[58] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 84

[59] King, p. 75

[60] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 41

[61] Bourdieu, RA, p. 132-133

[62] King, p. 201

[63] Schneider, Creating the Musée d’Orsay: The Politics of Culture in France, p. 45, 53, 63

[64] ibid., p. 75

[65] Ibid., p. 197

[66] Cowen, p. 112

[67] Bourdieu, RA, p. 215

[68] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 183

[69] Ibid., p. 95

[70] Cowen, p. 163

[71] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 58

[72] King, p. 372

[73] Bourdieu, RA, p. 249

[74] Ibid., p. 253

[75] Ibid., p. 267

[76] Bourdieu, FCP, p. 106



Bourdieu, Pierre, The Field of Cultural Production (New York: Columbia University Press) 1993

The Rules of Art. Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field (Stanford: University of California Press) 1995

Chadwick, Whitney, Women, Art and Society (London: Thames and Hudson) 1990

Cown, Tyler, In Praise of Commercial Culture (Cambridge: Harvard University Press) 2000

Denis, Rafael Carsoso, Art and the Academy in the Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press) 2000

Dewhurst, Wynford, Impressionist Painting: Its Genesis and Development (G. Newnes, Limited) 1904

Herbert, Robert, “Impressionism, Originality, and Laissez-faire,” from Critical Readings in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: An Anthology by Mark Tompkins Lewis (University of California Press) 2007

Kendell, Richard, et al. Van Gogh’s Van Goghs: Masterpieces from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1998

King, Ross, The Judgment of Paris. The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism (New York: Walker and Company) 2006

McDonald, Christie and Gary Wihl, editors, Transformations in Personhood After Theory. The Languages of History, Aesthetics, and Ethics (Pennsylvania State University Press) 1994

Moscovici, Claudia, Romanticism and Post-Romanticism (Lexington Books) 2007

Nord, Philip G., Impressionists and Politics: Art and Democracy in the Nineteenth Century (Routledge) 2000

Schneider, Andrea Kupfer, Creating the Musée d’Orsay: The Politics of Culture in France (Pennsylvania State University Press) 1998

Swinth, Kristen, Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern America (University of North Carolina Press) 2007


Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity, Part Four


Musée d’Orsay, Paris, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago

September 2012-September 2013

Part Four: Fashion as Costume

Often though of as an unsatisfactory attempt at a large scale painting by a young and untrained artist, Claude Monet’s (1840-1926) Luncheon on the Grass (Study) (1865/6) makes sense now that it is understood in relation to fashion illustrations and the sketches of Constantin Guys (1802-1892). The close relationships among the fashion designers and illustrators and photographers only enhance the wisdom of Charles Baudelaire’s (1821-1867) choice for “the painter of modern life” as a journalist who reported on the latest trends in fashion. If one understands fashion to be a form of both popular culture and design, it is now plain that the distinction or cleavage between fine and applied art was and is problematic now and then was unrecognized or unknown.


Monet’s Luncheon on the Grass (Study) (1865/6)

Imagine if we could give fashion illustrator Anaïs Toudouze (1822-1899) the status of, say, the Belgium artist, Alfred Stevens, because the only difference between the two artists is that she “illustrated” the fashions and he “painted” the gowns. The same would be said of prominent illustrator Héloïse Lelior and fine artist Albert Bartholomé (1848-1928)—she illustrated and he painted; and of designer Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) and photographer Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819-1889)—he made the fashions and he photographed the fashions. Indeed, it is clear that the ensemble motif and poses of the fashion plates are carried over into photography studios and into the painter’s atelier and that all portray the modernité of modern life–the singular importance of fashion.


Anaïs Tousouze

Although it is clear that clothes are used in the Second Empire and the Third Republic for a new class to identify itself through a ritual of self-fashioning. The right to create an individual identity would have been deeply significant to women but interestingly male artists went to some pains to divest her of her means of selfhood. With the Impressionist paintings we see the beginnings of the separation of individual women from their clothes. Pierre Renoir (1841-1919), especially, effaces his female models in favor of displaying their dresses, but the blank face, washed of animation and drained of expression were common to both fashion photography and fashion illustration and still are today. Nineteenth century female faces are often averted or otherwise disengaged and the occasional look or stare—a fixture today—directed out of the canvas was disconcerting to the Salon viewer. Édouard Manet’s (1832-1883) Olympia, who is distinctly well bejeweled and excellently accessorized, upset male visitors to the Salon, who preferred the voyeurism of Henri Gervex’s (1852-1929) déshabille in Rolla (1878).


Henri Gervex’s Rolla (1878)

Due to the decline of portraiture and the rise of genre painting, the psychological disengagement of women as objects offered for examination in nineteenth century paintings marks them off from those assertive female aristocrats of the eighteenth century. Manet’s followers do not follow his interest in the woman who looks back. Over and over in the paintings of Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Pierre Renoir and Edgar Degas (1834-1916), we see women turned away or aside, lacking the confidence of Victorine in The Railway (1873) to meet the viewer on his or her own turf. While the traditionally celebrated and renowned Impressionist males usually painted out the individuality of their female subjects, James Tissot (1836-1902) granted the women he painted personhood in contrast to objecthood.


Tissot’s July: Specimen of a Portrait (1878)

Tissot, in his attention to detail, is the artist closest to the fashion plates. According to the catalogue, like many of the painters of modern society, Tissot had dresses especially made for his paintings and these dresses show up over and over in his many paintings. Despite the detailed delineation of English modernité, Tissot’s fashionable women in their ravishing beautiful gowns have personality and agency. Some, as in his Portrait of 1876 and July: Specimen of a Portrait (1878), The Circus Lover (1885) and The Shop Girl (1883), look directly at the viewer, level considered looks, serene and unconcerned, calm and unthreatening, the same natural return of a passing glance that we see in Manet.

More than any other of the Impressionists’ women, it is the women of James Tissot who were the avid consumers of fashion. Berthe Morisot’s (1841-1895) Woman with a Fan. Portrait of Madame Marie Hubbard (1874) wears one of those beguiling simple floating white dresses that stand out so strongly in an era of deep jewel tones and heavy fabrics, but those were plain clothes or “day dresses” or at home costumes. But James Tissot’s lovely young woman on the arm of an older escort goes to Le Bal (1878) in an outrageously glorious orange and lemonade concoction of lace and ruffles. Essayist Gloria Groom notes that the beautiful dress, worn by Tissot’s mistress, Kathleen Newton (recently divorced), was out of date. Judging from Tissot’s Ball on Shipboard (1874), the artist was mainly concerned with using fashion as a metaphor for “social striving.” The women of Tissot are the modern women who appear in public, as shop girls, as wives, as mistresses, as ambitious women who are chancers on the make. Compared to the passive faceless women of the Impressionists, these women are more appealing to us today. They were the shoppers who stalked the new department stores, seeking to score a fashion coup.


Tissot’s Le Bal (1878)

Department stores, a very French invention, stemming from the French dominance in the world of fashion, dated back to the eighteenth century. In the beginning, the main consumers of fashion were the aristocrats but by the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a substantial middle class with limited income, some of which could be directed towards what would best be termed a “response to fashion.” A woman in Paris could visit a department store, such as Printemps, and a lady in London would shop in the fashionable West End in perfect respectability, because it was important for businessmen to create consumers for their wares. In order to sell consumer goods to women, it was necessary to allow them to leave the home, use a restroom in the store, to have lunch on the premises, while she strolled, examined the goods and dreamed of outfits and eventually purchased. These were the women who gazed upon the fashion plates and learned from the dress patterns—a new invention—outlined on the back of these illustrations. These women could afford to buy sewing machines and make their own clothes. With this new invention by Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-1875), the woman with a modest income could buy some dress patterns and gather up some nice trimmings and voilà, she could afford her big dreams. If the Emperor Napoléon III (1808-1873) had been more intelligent and had not antagonized the Prussians, the seductive spell of the Empire could have gone on for decades and the compliant Parisians would have enjoyed being the “Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” as Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) put it, heedlessly drinking the champagne of pleasure quite possibly until the beginning of the Great War.


Boulevards of Paris

Manet and the Impressionists and the other artistic observers of the Empire of Fashion were part of the enchantment and were conveyors of a sense of luxury and well-being and comfort.It would be illegitimate to confuse intent with effect, but the effect of the artistic and imaginative fashions invented by the British couturier Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) was to provide the surface appearance of a political anachronism that was self-indulgent and retardataire. Likewise clothing for women were also backwards, reflecting not only the new wealth of the industrial and merchant class but also the doomed aspirations for female equality. Swaddled in swollen garments, women were given an emotional compensation for the personal bleakness of their lives—department stores. Department stores were surely the offspring of the Grand Exhibition of 1851 in London but they were children of France, progeny of the art and craft of fashion. While men went to tailors, who were confined to a proto-Mies philosophy of “god is in the details,” women were granted passage around a cathedral of deliciousness where clothing was displayed like relics for the worshippers to adore.

Elegant Man On A Terrace Henri Gervex

Henri Gervex’s An Elegant Man

Here in these great plate-glass lined structures, holding what writer Françoise Tétart-Vittu called “the ostentatious presentation of merchandise spread to the vast window displays…” The idea of merchandise in a window coincides with Manet’s Olympia—a prostitute laid out for the next customer—and with another kind of eye candy, fashions for the otherwise unemployed women of the middle classes. Through fashion plates, fashion illustrations, and fashion writers (mostly male, including the poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898)), these women with disposable incomes were trained as consumers, purchasing dresses that were prêt-à-porter and augmenting the constant itch to spend with accessories, hence the stupefying splendor of the hats. More than the haute couture dresses, the hats were testaments to this in-between pre-industrial era, linking hand craft and mass production. For the middle class women, a nice hat could be a stronger fashion statement than a dress, for the wealth woman the hat could be come a large and unwieldy work of art, perched on top of a large bundle of hair, immobilizing her as surely as the top hat forced her male counterpart to remain calm and still.


Women’s Hats

One of the sub-themes of the exhibition is sublimation and the role that fashion played in compensating for the loss of democracy and a republic for the males and for the loss of status as sentient human beings for women. The charges of frivolity and decadence against the Second Empire that would surface after the Franco-Prussian War were born by women during these two decades of extreme fashions. The exhibition and the catalogue is very polite and glides gracefully past the social and political issues I brought up in the first part, alluding here and there to the unequal status of women compared to men, hardly mentioning the class issues. Like the exhibition, like the art and fashion it celebrates, the texts skim the surface of the appearance of the Second Empire, which was all about surface and all about appearance and all about voyeurism and spectacle. The catalogue essays note the interest of the male artists in shopping and fashion, if not for themselves alone but ostensibly for their female friends. Even after the Franco-Prussian war, the keen interest in fashion continued, just as it did after the Second World War. For the Parisians, male or female, fashion obviously soothed and healed and heralded national recovery—both economic and psychological. It is noteworthy that the essays barely mention the War, and why not, fashion barely faltered, paused for effect and then sauntered on, gliding towards the rest of the century.


Carte-de-visite by Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri of the Princess Bonaparte

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Podcast 45 Painting 11: Photo-Realism and Conceptual Art

Painting in the Seventies

The 1970s presided over the widely publicized “end of painting.” What the phrase really means is the Modernist painting came to an end. One one hand, the object itself disappeared, swallowed up into Conceptual Art. On the other hand, a movement in painting, still marginalized, Photo-Realism revived painting in all its technical glory and added a touch of the taboo—photography. Following the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, Conceptual Art can be seen as either the ultimate expression of the purity of Modernism or the extinction of the “objecthood,” but it is important to understand that Photo-Realism is an early expression of “conceptual painting.”

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
[email protected]

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This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

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Expressionism in Europe 1900-1910



What caused the aesthetic crisis in European art at the beginning of the Twentieth Century? Somewhere around the very first years of the century, around 1904 and 1905, artists became aware that an old century was ending and that a new one was beginning. The question became now what? But the artistic crisis was caused by more than a new uncertainty about the beginning of a new and modern era. After more than five decades, the very basis for art making—the materialistic view of nature—was being interrogated. Philosophers were shifting away from positivism and moving toward a new form of idealism. Idealism returned to the Kantian position that the mind made the world, and, if human cognition played an active part in ordering reality, then naturalism was seen as not “realism” but as a false passivity. The artist could take the position that s/he was a mere transcriber, but was that a valid position?

But it would take more than a shift in philosophical perspectives to move the art world in a new direction. Two major issues emerged. The first problem was that of the prevailing artistic styles. Impressionism was the last “great style,” which was based in the reality of the visible world, upon the unquestioned agreement with external world. For the avant-garde artists, Impressionism was a master style, against which one measured oneself. The Post-Impressionists either accepted and expanded Impressionism, such as van Gogh, or rejected and expanded some of its formal innovations, such as Gauguin. By the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Impressionism was thirty years old and out of date and was ripe to be challenged by new movements led by a new generation. These new movements would confront Impressionism on the grounds of the passivity of empiricism and mere optical response. Romanticism, which had always exulted the subjective over the objective returned in a new form called, “Expressionism.”

The second problem that led to Expressionism was cultural—-the changes of the Twentieth Century that made Impressionism look quaint. Impressionism had been, for the most, part an art of suburban well-being. The city was viewed from a careful distance, as in the bird’s eye paintings of Camille Pissarro. By the beginning of the Twentieth Century, urban living had become the new norm, bringing with it profound feelings of alienation from the community and a sense of being alone within the crowd. The backlash against the materialism of realism caused a profound skepticism and questioning of the true relationship between the self and the world. Faith in the reality of visual impressions and sensual perceptions was now challenged. Objectivity was interrogated and subjectivity was reevaluated. Feelings became more important than outer appearance, and in a sort of neo-Romanticism, the gaze of the artists turned inward with the goal of expressing their personal reactions and feelings.

Stemming from Symbolism, this new tendency in the arts had as its goal the redefinition of representation. To represent was not merely to reproduce nature but to react to the visual in a personal and unique fashion. The job of the artist was now to deal with the dialectic between the inner world of the mind and the outer world of nature. The problem was finding a way beyond the scientism of Impressionism and to free the artist from the tyranny of a passive response to reality. The solution was suggested by the critic Émile Zola was that of “nature, as seen through a corner of the temperament,” meaning that the artist’s personality would shape the content. Another solution was suggested by the art of Vincent van Gogh: to use the medium itself to express emotions. The “Nocturnes” of James Whistler were case in point. The artist used thin, almost murky paint, layered wetly onto a canvas. The indistinct quality of foggy London on the banks of the Thames was captured, not in an act of illustration but in an act of painting.

This new cultivation of personal sensibilities had its precedents in the Symbolists and the Aesthetic movement, some artists and writers using drugs, alcohol, religion, or magic as paths to creativity. But most artists were more rational in their quest for new subject matter and new methods of expressing new content. The Fauve movement extended and exaggerated certain Post-Impressionist artists, such as the expressive line of van Gogh and the symbolic color of Gauguin and the color relationships of Seurat to explore the ability of line and color to convey feeling through form. The artists of the Blue Rider movement in Germany discovered the “irrational” and “primitive” art of tribes, popular art of the lower classes, caricature, children’s art. The outsider artist, the dounier, Henri Rousseau, opened the minds of avant-garde artists to other possibilities in art. By the beginning of the new century, realism was effectively defunct and expressionism surged forward to replace it.

By 1910, the formal elements were manipulated beyond the currently accepted aesthetic conventions of the late Nineteenth-century in order for painting to become more personal and more expressive. In a reversal of the Academy hierarchy, there is a new emphasis on color at expense of line. Color was considered to be very suspect and dangerous, possessing the uncanny ability to arouse sexually within the innocent viewer. Women especially were, of course, very susceptible to the blandishments of intense hues. But the artists who began to favor color had other thoughts on their minds. First, they sought a reduction of dependence upon objective reality for the absolute validity of a personal vision. Very quickly, some artists, such as Vasily Kandinsky and Georgia O’Keeffe, would dispense with reality entirely, leading to abstract art. For O’Keeffe, her Blue Lines (1916) are a projection of artist’s inner experience, an aggressive and courageous response to music, her anguished but lyrical revolt against rationalism.

The first movement of the new century after Art Nouveau was Fauvism, named after the “fauves,” meaning wild beasts. The large group of artists was supposedly led by Henri Matisse but was more indicative of shifts to expressiveness through formal means. The name “Fauve” was derived from a critical condemnation uttered by the startled art critic, Louis Vauxcelles. He was horrified by a room full of paintings that were, in his conservative opinion, too brightly colored for the safety of art. The Fauve artists were leading what was an essentially technical revolution involving the liberation of color from description and the direct use of color to express feelings. Accustomed to mimetic realism, the public was shocked by the use of non-local color—the purple tree trunks by André Derain—and the critics offended by the uninhibited use of color to define form and feeling—the heaving and striving colored lines of Maurice de Vlaminck. But regardless of the conservative factions, the new emphasis in the art world had shifted to the inner world and towards the subjective personality of artist.

The Second movement in Expressionism took place in two distinct sites in Germany. Located in the south, the Blue Rider, Der Blaue Reiter, just outside of Munich, and in the northern city of Dresden, the Bridge, Die Brücke, these were two different and distinct parts of the shift towards subjectivity in northern Europe. Germany had a long tradition of art based upon strong feelings, such as the Isenheim Altarpiece (15056-15)by Matthias Grünewald, and a long history of wood carving, equally expressive, dating back to the medieval period. But only Die Brücke, not Der Blaue Reiter, was interested in this indigenous inheritance. Led by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Die Brücke was nationalistic and sought the essence of all that was Germanic, cleaving close to the forests around their home base of Dresden and venturing into “primitive” carved polychromed wood sculptures. Based in the south, closer to France, Der Blaue Reiter was a more internationally inclined group that learned a great deal from French art. The leader of Der Blaue Reiter, a Russian expatriate named Vasily Kandinsky, had, like so many of his generation, out of Art nouveau and the Post-Impressionists of France. From both French movements, Der Blaue Reiter borrowed the curvilinear line, the non-local use of color, and the large forms filled in with bright colors. Under the influence of Theosophy, Kandinsky moved quickly into complete abstraction, but the other members of the group remained representational artists.

The single most important factor in development of the Expressionist movement was the new demand for audience participation. Stemming from Symbolist poetry, the interaction of the reader forced the reader to be active and to creatively “make” the poem. Painting demanded a similar empathy or leap of faith from the viewer. The Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch, freed himself of the task of recording reality in order to express a reality engendered from the artist himself. If the public must be prepared to accept the artist’s subjective vision, then the artist him (or her) self had to be prepared to assert that he/she spoke for his/her audience. The artist no longer showed reality to the public, no longer demonstrated or illustrated; the artist had to go much deeper into the subjective. Exposed, the artist took on the role of a medium through whom the feelings of his (or her) time flowed towards the audience.

The Northern European artists, such as Edvard Munch in Norway and James Ensor in Belgium, and the Germans in Dresden were concerned more with content than form. In other words, form was in the service of content, the artistic elements were tasked with expressing the feelings of the artist for which the content was merely the carrier. The Germans wanted to penetrate behind inert objects to disclose the underlying significance beneath appearances. The German artists emphasized voyages of discovery of the self, as seen in the auto-portraits of Kirchner, who is the leading player in the theater of his own emotions. The artist Emile Nolde, briefly aligned with Die Brücke, was a rarity in the Twentieth-century, carrying on the faded tradition of religious art. He was involved with the spiritual but sought the primal impulse that led to religion. Nolde was uninterested in doctrines or Church teachings and looked to pagan impulses, to mystery “religions,” resulting in paintings alive with psychological tension and ecstatic physical distortion. The Last Supper (1909) is one of the great religious paintings of the new century, far more profound than any work by his Russian counterpart, Marc Chagall.

Expressionism, especially in Die Brücke asserted the innermost self and the right of art to be ugly and grotesque. Ugliness, naked fears and neuroses appear unmasked in the work of Kirchner, especially after the group moved to the modern city of Berlin. Compared to the French, the Germans were comfortable with a more savage, angular, aggressive, nervous and brutal style. For the northern Germans, Expression was their prime aim to evoke pictorial passions whether ecstatic and pleasurable or shimmering with anxiety. French Expression, or Fauvism, was, in contrast, an art of purity of strong colors, decorative balance and sensual repose. The French were escaping the new century while the Germans were meeting modernism head on, probing the troubling undercurrents. For Die Brücke, for instance, personal expression had to fuse with a now activated object, meaning that art was subordinated to experience. For Fauves, the approach to the concern for the object was completely the opposite: there was balance between sentiment and form, between emotion and composition, but the art had to be an experience, with the experience being subordinated to form and its expressive possibilities.

Both Germans and Fauves looked to Gauguin, van Gogh, Seurat, Munch and Toulouse-Lautrec, and the so-called “primitive cultures;” but the two nationalities developed in different directions. The Fauves, including André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck, had came together around Matisse around 1903 but by 1907 the group fell under the very different spell of Paul Cézanne. For a time, Matisse’s colors, as seen in The Blue Nude of 1907, became darker, echoing the limited color palette of Cézanne with its dull blues. Derain was attracted to the art of African tribes and fused Cézanne’s dark colors with clumsy nudes, hacked into shapes of sharp angles and hard edges. Georges Braque fell under the spell of Matisse’s great rival, Pablo Picasso, and with his new colleague began a prolonged study of Cézanne, an absorption of the master’s thought process that would lead to Cubism. After a few years, Fauvism was dispersed by the new interest in tribal art and Cézanne, but German expressionism took up where Fauves left off and would continue with the representation of personal points of view until 1933 when a man named Adolph Hitler put an end to “degenerate art.”

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Paul Cézanne

Post-Impressionist Artists: Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906)

Famous for wanting to reform Impressionism, Paul Cézanne approached nature in quite a fashion that distinguished him from the Impressionists and the other Post-impressionists. Like Paul Gauguin, he understood the need to order nature, like Vincent van Gogh, he responded emotionally to the world around him, and like the avant-garde artists of his generation, he was faced with the problem of representation. For Cézanne, the solution was found by walking a tightrope between his mind and his feelings, between his “optique” and his “logique,” between the past and the future. He returned the classical French tradition, the Grand Manner of Nicholas Poussin, to the avant-garde by restoring the importance of the object, just as surely as the Symbolists restored the significance of the subject. Unlike the Impressionists, Cézanne did not accept the world of chaos and flux but attempted to render its permanent and solid qualities, to find structure and order. Unlike Gauguin, he did not impose abstract patterns upon nature but by swept away incidentals and details in search of an organizing rhythm and unity. Unlike Vincent van Gogh, Cézanne did not seek to animate the object but to contemplate it, to seek its inherent and essential structure, to connect it to its surroundings, to reveal the inner harmony of nature. Art had to reflect this natural harmony. Thus, art, too, must be as seamless and as unified in its materiality.

But Cézanne is not important to art history because he distinguish himself from his predecessors and his colleagues. The painter is considered significant because his art acted as a gateway to the Twentieth-century. Gauguin and van Gogh were both concerned with how to render their feelings, their emotions and reactions in relation to nature. Seurat attempted to see nature through the lens of science, reordering his colors according to the laws optical mixing. Georges Seurat was closer to Cézanne in the sense that both artists were concerned with the process of seeing and with how the artist’s (and the viewer’s) perception coincides with the traditional language of painting. Compared to Gauguin and van Gogh, these other Post-Impressionists were more objective. Reading Cézanne’s letters lead to the conclusion that he literalized what he saw, calling the transference of light to his eyes to his brain, his “sensations.” The problem that Cézanne gave to himself was how to translate what is a physical process into an art that expressed, not a worn-out set of artistic conventions, but a new visual language that explained, not expressed, what was actually seen, not what was known.

The accomplishment of Cézanne was his creation of a new language, a new set of marks, which recorded only what he saw: his “sensations.” We “know” that when we look out over a landscape that there is space between the objects that are close and the objects that are far away, but we don’t “see” these spaces. Renaissance perspective was an abstract diagram, which “mapped out” the space that existed but could not be seen. Over the centuries, as the art historian, Erwin Panofsky, pointed out, those of us in the West have become so accustomed to the invention of Renaissance architects, Alberti and Brunelleschi, that we believe that we actually see in terms of perspective. Cézanne figured out that perspective was a code with a signifying function, based upon knowledge. The diagram or abstract design got in the way of real seeing or the actual process of looking. He also realized that perspective depended upon an ideal and impossible condition: the viewer had one eye, stood in one place, at one point in time. But we have two eyes, we move, and time passes. How can the painter account for this “natural vision?” This question would absorb the artist for thirty years, but the younger generation would be able to build upon his research. The lessons of Cézanne can be summed up in a few sentences. Nature is represented and interpreted artistically and art became parallel to nature. Art can represent nature only through artistic means; art cannot reproduce nature. These are the ideas which led to the new art of the new century. The “Modern” is said to begin in 1880 when Cézanne exiled himself in Aix to solve the great riddle of how to strip knowing from seeing—how to paint perception.

Paris – 1860s


Cézanne’s awareness of the role of color in determining the structure and depth of natural objects and his awareness of the role of brush work on a flat surface, set him apart from his century and catapulted his art into the next century. In many ways, the artist took an artistic journey into self-denial and redemption. His early works were marked by subject matter full of violence and sex, displaying a deep confusion about women and a consequent anger toward their sexuality. The philosopher Merleau-Ponty remarked, “His first pictures up till about 1870 are dreams in paint: a rape, a murder…” In 1991, art historian, Robert Simon, noted the connection between these paintings of violence against women and the popular imagery of the day, “The cheap, quickly made, sensational news bulletins known as canards…a sort of low journalism.” In other words, Cézanne was inspired by a combination of his own psychological dis-ease and was given “permission” to express his anxieties by the equivalent of “The National Enquirer.”

Upon viewing The Murder of 1867 and A Modern Olympia (1872 – 3), boyhood friend, Émile Zola (1840 – 1902) described this disturbing phase of his art:

It was a chaste man’s passion for the flesh of women, a mad love of nudity desired and never possessed, an impossibility of satisfying himself, or creating as much of this flesh as he dreamed to hold in his frantic arms. Those girls whom he chased out of his studio, he adored in his paintings; he caressed or attacked them, in tears of despair at not being able to make them sufficiently beautiful, sufficiently alive.

The writer had grown up with Cézanne in the southern town of Aix and had suggested that the artist come to Paris. Zola defended Manet by ignoring the issue of subject matter and concentrating on the artist’s formal innovations. Beauty, Zola, insisted was not a verifiable or universal phenomenon, but was entirely personal and internal. Cézanne landed in a very sophisticated art world, where artists gathered together and debated theories. Cézanne’s parents had wanted him to become a lawyer, but, like the typical avant-garde artist, he rebelled against family expectations. His family, connected to banking, was solidly middle-class and his father reluctantly supported his son’s ambitions to be an artist. The decade that Cézanne spent in and out of Paris is one of deliberately provocative art hurled at the establishment, guaranteed a rejection in the Salon.

The artist was as deliberately confrontational himself. “All my compatriots are ass holes compare to me.” Elegant and chic, Manet despised the uncouth provincial with the awkward accent. Cézanne in turn was hardly respectful to the revered master by saying that he would not shake hands with Manet because he (Cézanne) had not bathed for a week. Clearly, Cézanne needed someone to temper his misdirected and unguided temperament. That person was the “father” to the younger generation, Camille Pissarro ((1830 – 1903). Cézanne met Pissarro at the Académie Suisse, where he claimed to be “painting with one’s balls.” By the 1870s, his riotous and unruly style was disciplined with heavy black contour lines, suggesting that he needed for Impressionism to become more structured.

Estaque and Pontoise and Melun – 1870 – 1880

This decade was the last era in which the traditional Salon system really mattered. Thanks to the critics, such as Zola, who said, “the Salon of our days is not the work of artists; it is the work of a jury…” and to the Impressionist exhibitions, the old order was a dying one. But Cézanne’s early years in Paris as a follower of Manet and as an “Impressionist” were years of rejection by the Establishment followed by a self-imposed exile in southern France. In between Paris and Aix, he learned a great deal from Pissarro. The older artist removed Cézanne from the futile exercise of trying to force the Salon to change and taught him to not define himself negatively. Pissarro’s contribution to the volatile younger artist was to teach him that each individual had a unique vision or way of seeing, called “sensation.” The artist had only to execute to create: paint what he saw and an individual vision would emerge naturally. Maurice Denis, also a painter, stated, “…each one takes the law unto himself…we love order passionately, but the order that we create, not the order we receive…”

Writing in the 2009 catalogue for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Beyond Cézanne,” art historian, Richard Shiff, quoted a comment made by the artist to Maurice Denis, “Sensation above all else.” Shiff also quoted Charles Morice, an art critic, who in 1907 said, “We hardly dare say that Cézanne lived. He painted.” Shiff then went on to define “sensation,” as “Every sensation that Cézanne felt, no matter what the cause, would be the equivalent f a painting sensation: every physical gesture, a potential paint mark…”

In contrast to today’s assumption that only the “young” artist is capable of making exciting art, artists of this generation took decades to mature. Cézanne was forty before he became “serious.” Working with Pissarro in the small towns along the river Oise, Cézanne began to paint, not what he felt, but what he saw, and he saw, he stated, “ only patches.” Cézanne had learned from the Impressionists to apply paint in patches of color, but they thought in terms of color-as-light. Cézanne began to think of color-as-form or color-as-object.

Whatever Cézanne may have thought of the avant-garde artists in Paris, the Franco-Prussian War ended his time in the city. He had met a docile and submissive women, Hortense Figuet, gotten her pregnant, had a child by her, before he eventually married her. He sent her to Estaque for safety during the Franco-Prussian war. Finished with Paris, he painted in Estaque and put himself under the tutelage of Pissarro in Pontoise and Auvers. It is in Estaque that we see Cézanne absorbing the lessons learned from Manet—using color to eliminate depth. (“View of L’Estaque and the Château d’If,” 1883 – 5) Working against distance, Cézanne pushed the sea away by using deep blue but pulled the distant shore forward with lighter colors (“The Gulf of Marseille Seen from L’Estaque,” 1876 – 79). The compositions of Estaque were broad and simple and clearly showed the basis of his structure: Cézanne’s paintings can almost always be divided down the horizontal middle, as if the two parts, top and bottom, were hinged. (“Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley,” 1882 – 85) The Post-modern painter, Mark Tansey took advantage of Cézanne’s manner of composition as division in his re-visions of “Mount Saint-Victoire” in the 1980s.

Working in situ with the older artist, Cézanne eliminated contours for the moment. The countryside of the Oise valley lay stretched out before the artists, crowded with small red-roofed houses. Edges were defined by placing contour-to-contour, patch-to-patch, form-to-form, leaving blank spaces to complete the definition. Drawing was eliminated and forms were constructed or built by laying on blocks of color, which were built up, the way a bricklayer creates a wall, into a series of “sensations.” (“The Pont de Maincy, 1879) By leaving breathing spaces or blank areas between the patches, the artist was painting in reverse or taking the negative into account. The entire composition was built, constructed, literally through rhythmic strokes of paint that knitted the landscape into an all over unity (“Large Pines and Red Earth,” 1890 – 95).

Although Cézanne exhibited with the Impressionists in 1874, he left Paris and returned to Aix and seemed to find psychic peace in his rigorous study of nature. He took with him the lessons learned from Pissarro–a clarified palette, the knowledge that form could be achieved by color. He began to paint with heavy layers of color in an effort to capture every nuance, like the building of a mosaic. He observed that there were no lines in nature—“Pure drawing is an abstraction.”—and that there were no shadows without color. However, Cézanne was convinced that observation alone was never enough and that thought was essential.

Aix-en-Provence – 1880 – 1906

There are ample indications that Cézanne was a borderline personality. Eccentric to the point where normal relations were difficult, Cézanne spent the rest of his life in a self-imposed exile. He was tormented by the extended infantilism of his financial dependence upon his father. He hid his mistress, keeping her in the shadows for fifteen years. But his reluctance to interact with the Parisian art world resulted in a barrage of letter writing, especially to the young and impressionable Émile Bernard. Cézanne apparently needed only a kind father, Pissarro, and unthreatening admirers, Bernard, and his solitude to thrive. Like the letters of Vincent van Gogh, Cézanne’s letters are his legacy to the art world. His musings constitute a theory of painting. “There are two things in the painter: the eye and the brain. The two must cooperate,” he wrote. Cézanne wished to reform a now waning Impressionism, “to become classic again through nature, that is to say, through sensation…” “…to revive Poussin through contact with nature…” “…one must interpret it…by means of plastic equivalents and color…” he declared.

Isolated in Aix by 1890, Cézanne assumed the task of “making out of Impressionism something solid and durable like the art of museums…” A small measure of success in Paris came to him as the result to an exhibition given of this art in 1895 by Ambroise Vollard but he remained in the south to paint at his home, “Jas de Bouffan,” until it was sold in 1899, after his mother’s death. His last years were spent painting the Bidémus quarry and the Chateau noir. The artist painted selected motifs and the quarry and the mountain, Mont Saint-Victoire became part of his obsessive quest. Later he was to say, “It took me forty years to find out that painting is not sculpture.” Renoir echoed this discovery by saying of the paintings of Cézanne that “Later, his study brought him to see that the work of the painter is so to use color that, even when it is laid on very thinly, it gives the full result.”

Cézanne used the quarry as part of his pattern of construction. Because the quarry had been mined for centuries, human activity had regularized the steep sides, which showed the linear marks of carving out large blocks. The patters left on the walls of the quarry were reflections of his method of painting in patches. By the 1880s, the artist had gained enough confidence to turn Manet’s play with color into his own personal method, called “passage,” by art historians. Cézanne also felt fee to distort the landscape and to force it to submit to the demands of composition and structure. Mont Saint-Victoire was a huge looming triangular shape, dominating the countryside, but Cézanne shrank the mountain to a small triangle hovering above the edge of the quarry. The walls fall straight down, below the center hinge of the canvas. (“Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry,” 1887) The tops of green pine trees project upwards, growing form a ground unseen in the bottom of the quarry. The blue of the sky above the triangle pours onto the sides of the mountain, down the walls of the quarry, spills into the green of the pines. The green and oranges of the trees and stone climb upwards, advancing along the slope of the mountains and into the blue and white sky above.

This method of composing and creating forms and working out the inherited problem of Renaissance perspective placed Cézanne in the position of “fathering” the 20th century. His studies of Mount Sainte-Victorie became increasingly abstract: planes were faceted into geometric shapes, surface was turned into patterns of lines and colors and his techniques drew awareness to the flatness of the two-dimensional picture plane. The flattening of the picture plane was based upon his study of the motif in nature, which was received flat to his eye. His essential aim was to represent what “pure” vision could discover about the visible world. This is a world of everyday things, this is a vision cleansed of allegory, symbolism, emotion and intellect. The viewer, like the artist, must see nature in a state of complete dissociation and disinterestedness–a pure act of perception. In this personal conception of space, Cézanne attempted to show objects linked to each other in such a fashion that perspective developed as the result of the halting of movement. In his 2009 essay, “Lucky Cézanne (Cézanne ‘Tychique’),” Richard Shiff also described the “motif” in terms of movement,

“Appropriately, the term motif connotes movement. Cézanne’s motif could not be Mont Sainte-Victoire regarded solely as a concept or an ideal; it was instead a movement associated with a particular experience of he mountain as his experience played out in an active process of painting…it merely feels like an instant or a moment, that, is, it feel momentary, transient, changing….”

In the decade of the 1880s, contours returned to Cézanne’s art, but the outlines were new. We see the new use of outline clearly in his still lives. Confined to his studio, the artist could study the act of seeing in isolation. If the landscapes were flattened into stillness by the way in which he recorded his “sensations,” then Cézanne’s still lives were put in motion. The artist seemed to understand that the movement of the viewer or the painter had to be incorporated. The time spent in working produced shifts in perspective what also had to be accounted for. He eliminated, as far as he could, any indication of a horizon line or a level place for the eye to rest. Patterned wallpaper stops the backward movement into the room. Cloth backdrops were used to obscure the flat surfaces for the still life objects (“Still Life with Apples,” 1893 -94). The objects are shown from many different perspectives, as though the artist sat down, stood up, leaned to the side, as he examined his set up. Bright patches of color, dappled here and there, indicated where the light source had touched to object. The sheer motion of looking was signaled to the spectator by the uneasy and unsettled contours, which were slightly separated from the edges of the forms. The result is that the forms quiver slightly as though they are unsteadied by innate movement.

Only when we view Cézanne’s paintings of human figures do we realize the other accomplishment of the artist: that of removing the hierarchy from painting. Human beings are treated the same way as inanimate objects. In her stolid stillness, the expressionless artist’s wife, Hortense, resembles the coffee pot next to her (“Woman with Coffeepot,” 1895), the nudes of the “Bathers” series are forced to bend and reshape themselves to conform to Cézanne’s composition. In “The Large Bathers” (1906), the artist grouped the nude women, shaped like the trees that surround them, into a triangular group, located inside a rectangular landscape. As early as the 1870s, the artist began to tone down his palette, eliminating a wide range of colors and damping down the intensity of his hues in favor of a limited selection of tones of blues, greens, and ochre buffs (“Chateau Noir,” 1900 – 1904). On one hand, the artist was painting the bleached out stone ridden landscape of Provence, on the other hand, he had created a new palette that would end Fauvism’s bright colors and the monochrome suggestion would be taken up by the Cubists.

Cézanne in History

The artist remained in exile and, over the years, became a legend as in the late 1890s exhibitions increasingly influenced younger painters. The shop of Père Tanguy was the one place in Paris where his art could be purchased and studied. As Émile Bernard, Cézanne’s faithful correspondent, stated, “One went there as to a museum, to see the few sketches by the unknown artist who lived in Aix…” The critic, Gustave Geffroy, noted, “For a long time, Cézanne has had a curious fate. He might be described as a person at once unknown and famous, having only rare contact with the public yet considered influential by the restless and the seekers in the field of painting…” Yet it was through his correspondence with Bernard that the older artist formulated his theory of art and he advised the former follower of Gauguin “to see in nature the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, putting everything in proper perspective, so that each side of an object or a plane is directed toward a central point.”

The legend of Paul Cézanne grew as his exile lengthened. Had he been truly isolated and out of touch, the artist would have been forgotten. But, in contrary to the legend of the neglected artist who was discovered due to his shining “genius,” Cézanne was very aware of his place in the art world and in history itself. His voluminous correspondence with well-placed individuals and the tantalizing inaccessibility of his paintings added to the myth of the reclusive artist who was changing art. Coupled with the aura surrounding Cézanne and the important exhibitions of his work, late in his life, the only solidified his reputation. For the young generation of artists, he vanquished the lingering influences of Impressionism, swept aside the curves of Art Nouveau, and vanquished Fauvism’s intense, expressive colors. Immediately the color palette of the artists narrowed and dulled, the forms sharpened, and composition returned.

Cézanne’s study of planes and volumes attempted to express a consciousness of structure. Beneath the colored surface presented by nature laid the forms of nature. “The main thing is the modeling; one shouldn’t even say modeling, but modulating.” Cézanne built forms with color and the lines that could have described these forms hovered tentatively around the objects, activating them. Even though his compositions were grid-like in their rigidity, his paint handling kept the surface lively, the trademark hatch marks knitting the surface together, pulling distance to the foreground. To the new artists, his lively surfaces, always active and always in motion, Cézanne’s work suggested shifts in space and time, as shifting forms were distorted and light skimmed surfaces, skipping from place to place. Regardless of Cézanne’s intentions, the young artists saw the end of the Western tradition of perspective. Building on the three decades of Cézanne’s work, their responses were sometimes awkward and tentative, but Picasso and Braque and the other artists persisted and something called “Cubism” began to emerge around 1910.

Cézanne was considered the “great divide” in art. His work was determined by many art historians to be the beginnings of modern 20th century painting because he dismantled the Renaissance conception of intellectualized space. Composition, with Cézanne did not exist prior to its contents and construction depended upon its objects. His last and greatest portrait was of his gardener, Vallier, worked on until his death in October of 1906. “If I succeed with this fellow, it will mean that the theory was correct,” Cézanne said. And Matisse said, “If Cézanne is right, I am right. A year after “the master” died, Picasso would paint “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in1907. The Nineteenth Century was over and the Twentieth Century could begin.

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Podcast 36 Painting 2: Manet to Post-Impressionism

The Painters of Modern Life

Although the Pre-Raphaelite artists initiated the artistic interest in contemporary urban life and the problems of modern people, the Parisian artists are given credit for learning how to express modernité in formal terms. The French painters found the seventeenth century Dutch painters important precursors. Inspired by the depiction of ordinary moments of daily life among the middle class in Holland, the emerging avant-garde artists began to rethink, not just how to handle modern content, but also how to use paint itself so that their art could be “of its own time.” The result of this experimentation was an evolution of painting into the twentieth century.

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Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

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Impressionism: Class and Gender


Gender and Class in Impressionism

The Impressionists were unusual in that they were a group of artists. For artists to function as a group or as a whole, outside the traditional art establishment. was a new phenomenon. Previously, most artists operated alone and created their careers on their own and were then put together by critics who invented categories for their art. Even more remarkable than the group cohesion was the social make-up of the Impressionists: rich and poor, men and women. The unexpected contrasts among the members of the society reflect the growing importance of class mixing during the Third Republic. However, what was most unusual about the Impressionists was the strong presence of the women. Although it was well known that family money greatly facilitated artistic success, even among the so-call socially deprived avant-garde artists, the presence of women in the art world was usually ignored and women who were painters or sculptors were routinely dismissed. For a woman to have any kind of artistic career, she needed support and money, just like her male colleagues; but, unlike her male counterparts, she seldom received family backing. Although there were occasionally tensions within the group, for the most part, the Impressionists supported each other financially and professionally, regardless of class or gender.



The fact that the Impressionists had both men and women in the group resulted in art that showed the different point of view of the two genders. Edgar Degas followed the dubious fortunes of lower class women who worked hard, such as Laundresses (1884) and his many paintings of ballet dancers. His perspective is that of a male voyeur, peering at women presumed to be available. Degas also produced a number of intimate private prints of the women who worked as prostitutes and endured sexual slavery. The prints of nude prostitutes, the lowest in the sex trade food chain, show the interactions between the female sex workers and their well-heeled male clients. Degas’ close friend, Mary Cassatt was a wealthy American who led the life of a respectable female expatriate in Paris. Her paintings were also intimate but the voyeurism disappeared in favor of detached observation. Cup of Tea (1880) shows two well-to-do women and the confinement of their lives. One woman is visiting the other and they sit, barricaded by furniture in an elegant room with wallpaper stripped like bars of a cage.

Like Cassatt, Gustave Caillebotte came from a wealthy background, but what separated him from Manet and Degas was the way in which he depicted the life of a man of that class. He allowed the viewer to peer into the interiors presided over by these privileged males. One of his most surprising paintings shows the back view of a nude male, just out of his bath, scrubbing his back with a towel. The male-on-male voyeurism of Man at His Bath (1884) is unusual and mirrors the feeling of spying on a private activity that is so clear in Degas. Berthe Morisot was also from a family that was comfortably well off and her paintings showed the social confines for women. Once she married Eugène Manet, Morisot’s paintings depicted her life in her suburban home. One of the best known is a painting of a maid in In the Dining Room (1886). Neatly dressed, alert, and ready to serve, the maid is shown within the limitations of her domestic domain. Without over determining the reading of these paintings, it can be said that what characterized the male point of view was a position of control while the female point of view reflected the perspective of confinement. All of these artists, whether male or female, were depicting an upper class way of life. Morisot painted her maid in the dining room, wearing her servant’s apron; Cassatt showed how upper middle class women spent their time; Caillebotte revealed that only the wealthy have access to a private bath.


These very different gazes demonstrate the relative positions of men and women in the Third Republic: men were free and enjoyed unchallenged positions of social and political control and women of a certain class were expected to protect their virtue and contribute to society by getting married, staying home, and having children. It is possible to see indications of class distinctions among the Impressionists in terms of where the artists painted. Edgar Degas and Gustave Caillebotte painted places of privilege, familiar to the wealthy, while Claude Monet and Pierre Renoir showed the pleasures of the lower classes. Degas, as a man of power and privilege, would be allowed to observe the practice sessions of the young women of the ballet troupe of the Opèra. (Dance Class at the Opèra, 1872) These little girls, called “rats,” were working class people with aspirations and a surprising number of middle class young women. A pretty girl could attract the attention of a wealthy male and the artist also shows the bourgeois male, watching the young girls from the edges of the paintings, contemplating his choice of a “companion.” Like Degas, Caillebotte did not stray far from the world of the wealthy, even when he painted the grounds of the family estate in the country, and showed the lives of those who purchased the elegant townhouses built by Haussmann. (Man on a Balcony, Boulevard Haussmann, 1880) The effect of Haussmannization of Paris, recently completed, can be measured by the displacement of the lower classes to the edges of Paris.

Renoir’s most famous paintings are his observations of life in Montmartre where the working class people came together and danced to the music in places like the Moulin de la Galette (1875). The attractive and well-dressed young people, dappled by sunlight, enjoy the new possibilities opened up to their class—mass manufactured prêt-a-porter clothes and popular entertainment. But there are some interesting undertones in Renoir’s paintings of Montmartre, for this was the neighborhood of the Marquis, the Communards, and this was the site of the uprising of the Commune. Monet also preferred the outskirts of Paris and the new suburbs that were spreading along the banks of the Seine. The old moneyed classes tended to stay in Paris while the newly upwardly mobile middle class could create a very nice life in the newly developed outlying areas. Like Renoir, the artist is meticulous in his rendition of the fashionable clothes now available to all. Indeed, Monet shows the almost vacation atmosphere of bathers and sailboats along the sunny banks of the Seine. From 1871 on while he was living in Argenteuil, Monet painted the new iron bridge, destroyed by the French as they retreated from the Prussians, in its various states of reconstruction. As the art historian, Alfred Boime, pointed out, Monet was also making an economic point: the nation had recovered from the reparations imposed upon France by Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. The selection of site was important: the sailboat glides down the river towards the triumphal bridge at the suburban town of Argenteuil. The Parisians who, a few years ago, were eating rats during the Siege of Paris, now owned sailboats. The citizens of Montmartre who had fired the first shots against the French government were now dancing in the sunlight of an open-air café. The class war seemed to be over.

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Impressionism and Technique


The concept of the “impression” is central to Impressionist practice. As early as 1742, the British philosopher, David Hume, distinguished between “impressions” and “ideas:” “..lively perceptions, when we hear, or see, or feel, or love or hate, desire or will…impressions distinguished from ideas, which are less lively perceptions of which we are conscious, when we reflect on any of these sensations or movements above mentioned.” The tradition of recording an immediate mental impression with a rough sketch, made on the spot, was isolated by the young artists from its subordinate academic position and elevated into a specific art form. Impressionism combined a late Romantic taste for the personal and subjective with Positivist philosophy. The primordial fact of the senses was united with the impression that could belong only to the perceiving individual. The term “sensation” was used interchangeably with “impression,” which “to feel,” but the Impressionists changed the meaning to “to perceive.”

What did the Impressionists do as painters that made their work distinctive? “They are Impressionists in the sense that they render not the landscape, but the sensation produced by the landscape,” stated the critic Jules Castagnary in 1874. And Paul Cézanne concurred, “To paint after nature is not a matter of copying the objective world, it’s giving shape to your sensations.” As Claude Monet explained, “..the first real look at the motif was the truest and most unprejudiced, and…that the first painting should cover as much of the canvas as possible, no matter how roughly, so as to determine at the outset the tonality of the whole…”

The result of such a seeing was the painting of patches of light and color, rather than objects. To paint without knowing objects was to paint as the English critic, John Ruskin, recommended, with an “innocent eye.” “I see in stains,” said Cézanne, who attempted to emulate the regained vision of the blind and to record the new sensations as color patterns, without informational or cultural content. Impressionism can be contrasted with the artists supported by Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites of the 1840s and 50s. What the Pre-Raphaelites and the Impressionists had in common was their use of the white ground, their study of nature in the full light of day, and their use of bright colors.

The Pre-Raphaelites painted on white canvases in bright colors but their subject matter was historical, moralizing, and didactic. The Brotherhood rendered carefully and precisely, like scientists meticulously recording nature in all its glorious God-given detail. Days would pass before a PRB artist completed a section of canvas as big as a large coin, while the Impressionists painted in patches of hastily applied color. With narrative and literary topics, the Pre-Raphaelites sought to teach a lesson to the Victorian audience, while the Impressionists sought to passively render spots of colored light flickering across the surfaces of the landscape.

Although the French had greatly admired the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, by the time the Impressionists founded their organization, the PRB was already almost twenty years old. Claude Monet spent the Franco-Prussian War in London and discovered Joseph Turner and his freely painted landscapes. Monet responded to Turner because he and his friend, Pierre Renoir had already established their distinctive styles of broken brushwork, painting out of doors at La Grenouillère (The Frog Pond) in 1869. For the young artists, Realism had evolved into its late manifestation, Naturalism, and, during the Second Empire, neutral content was advised to avoid censorship. Even when the Empire fell and the Third Republic was established, the Impressionists showed little interest in confronting the bourgeoisie as their enemy. As was discussed in “Impressionism and the Art Market,” (Art History Unstuffed), the Impressionists wanted to sell art, so they painted scenes that would be familiar and appealing to their audiences. With the Barbizon painters as their mentors and predecessors, the landscape artists, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Cézanne, and Sisley, sought out attractive landscapes.

Just as the Impressionists extended Naturalism, they also took the ideas of the Barbizon School artists a step further. They would sketch, not objects but the light that composed them, not color but the fact that light and color are one. Although the subject matter of Impressionism is discussed in “Impressionism and Content,” it should be said here briefly that their chosen motifs were not as neutral or as non-committal as some art historians insisted. However, what is of interest here is the sketchy techniques of the Impressionists. The painters were painting, not a landscape, but colored light. The problem was that light moves and changes, so the act of seeing and capturing an impression speeded up enormously. With their habit of painting in the open air, on small, prepared canvases primed with white ground and using portable paint in tubes, these radical artists changed the artistic game. The traditional quarrel in the Nineteenth Century had been over subject matter, but the Impressionists deemphasized the “what” of subject matter and concentrated on the “how” of the subject: how the subject was perceived and recorded. It was necessary to paint fast and to cover the canvas as quickly as possible before the light changed.

Once the light changed and the colors were altered, the picture was gone and the painting was finished. “Finished,” for the Impressionists meant that the artist could do no more with the painting. In the past, the artist had used the quick sketch, the impression, to capture a fleeting effect, but the study would be taken to the studio and translated into a more generalized version of the site. These old practices stemmed from the historical unimportance of the landscape, which had played the role of a backdrop for something else, a story in the foreground. Once the story disappeared, the landscape became the sole content. For the Impressionist, the landscape was a patchwork of ever-changing colors, devoid of artificial studio inventions such as lines and blacks. Another artificial convention that disappeared was the structure or composition, for the Impressionists painted only color and out of the colors, forms emerged. The demands of plein air painting brought about an identifiable style of free and broken brushwork that dissolved under close scrutiny but coalesced into recognizable images at a distance. Later, Cézanne criticized the Impressionists for passively painting only what the eye perceived, the mere surface of an object, and demanded a return to the classical composition which was the conceptual underpinning of traditional art.

Impressionism had evolved gradually and the artists developed a style and a manner of painting that was founded upon a number of predecessors. However, the long gestation from Romantic sketch to the new concept of “finish” did not prepare the art public for accepting these avant-garde artists. While the public laughed at the artists’ “impressions,” other artists were taking notice of he loosened brushwork and the brightened colors and it is through conservative Salon artists, that Impressionism breached the Academic bastion breached of style. Regardless of whether they painted indoors or outside, the Impressionists artists established as their signature look the loose, causal quick notational stroke. Conceptually the practice of painting quickly was how the ever-changing “modern” was captured. Slick and solid painting, smoothly and painstakingly finished was too slow and exacting for modernité. Impressionism as a “style” entered into public acceptance through the watered down version Salon Impressionism. The pretty pictures in pretty colors with slightly freer brushwork enabled the more radical Impressionists to achieve fame and fortune—forty years later. Nevertheless, the idea of one style, such as Neoclassicism, and one technique, such as Ingres’s “licked surface,” as being the only way to paint was no longer tenable.

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

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Podcast Episode 32: Whistler, Part One

Whistler, Manet and The White Girl

One of the most overlooked avant-garde pioneers was the American in Paris (and London), the expatriate, James Whistler. Whistler was one of the first international artists, who showed in London and Parisian Salons. Although overshadowed in art history by his good friend, Édouard Manet, Whistler was the other scandal in the Salon des Refusés of 1863 with the controversial painting known as The White Girl. and instituted installation techniques later adopted by the Impressionists. Always controversial, Whistler’s art, like that of Manet, established Modernist tenets with his groundbreaking paintings.

Also listen to “Whistler, Part Two”

and “Whistler, Part Three”

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]


Podcast Episode 24: Realism in Europe, Part One


Part One

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Revolution of 1848 broke out like a series of brushfires across the continent of Europe. Although the uprising of the lower classes and the peasants was the last significant attempt to achieve political equality, the Revolution brought the plight of the lower classes to the cultural forefront. Realism challenged and replaced the rubrics of Romanticism. Although Realism is usually associated with the artistic movement in France, Realism was an international movement that was both visual and literary and philosophical. Idealism in philosophy was replaced by Materialism and empirical thinking, giving rise to an artistic need to be “of one’s own times.” Realism in the nineteenth century was not just a political or social impulse, it was also a set of concepts that stressed the contemporary in the visual arts.

Also listen to “Realism in Europe, Part Two”

Read “Avant-Garde Realism inFrance” and “Realism and the Role of the Realist Artist”

and “Realism and Naturalism in Art” and Avant-Garde Realism in England”

and “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood”

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to
Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.
[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline