Vincent van Gogh

Post-Impressionist Artists: Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)

Writing to his devoted brother, Théo, Vincent van Gogh said, “I have a terrible lucidity sometimes when nature is so beautiful these days and then I do not feel myself anymore and the painting comes to me as if in a dream.” Vincent van Gogh has long been the subject of myth and legend: the tormented artist, committing suicide in despair and dying in the service of art. Although van Gogh’s works are always representational, they are also intensely personal and expressive. His brief career became legendary after his suicide at Auvers in 1890 at the age of thirty-seven. He sold only a few paintings in his lifetime, but by 1901, he was the subject of a historic exhibition at the well-known Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, which influenced the future Fauves, Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck. Like all myths, there is just enough truth to keep the flame burning but the story hides an important question: if the artist was so obscure in his own lifetime, then how did Vincent become so famous? The answer is, like all the Post-Impressionists, van Gogh had significant art world connections. His uncle, Cent van Gogh was associated with Parisian art dealer, Adolphe Goupil. If Vincent had not learned his trade working at the art firm of Goupil’s and if his brother Théo had not been an important dealer in avant-garde art, the paintings of the artist would most certainly have never seen the light of day.

Dutch Period (1881 – winter 1886)

Always a difficult child an unruly adolescent, Vincent van Gogh seemed unsuited to any trade. He failed at Goupil’s in London (1873) and in Paris (1874). He disliked having to promote the works of “official artists,” such as Gérôme and Bourguereau, over the artists he preferred such as Millet. Having literally walked away from his job in the arts in 1876, Vincent decided upon the ministry, the occupation of his father. Utterly unsuited temperamentally to this vocation, van Gogh was sent to the bleak Borinage coalmining district on the Dutch-Belgium border to minister to the miners and the peasants. He wrote copious letters to his brother Théo who was now working for Goupil’s, now known as Boussod et Valadon et Cie. in Paris. These letters were illustrated with tableaux from these impoverished lives. After many false starts, the would-be minister had found his métier. A passionate idealist, van Gogh turned to art in 1879 only after his career as a preacher faltered. He studied briefly at Haarlem and worked under his cousin, Anton Mauve, adopting a, shall we say, “highly personal” (using his fingers) style of dark thick painting of humble subjects and Dutch landscapes in Drenthe and Nuenen. The following Dutch period, during which he painted the peasants of his homeland, dates from 1881 to 1885. It is late in this period that he began to collect Japanese prints, which would be important to his later work. “Painting comes easier to me than I imagined. I know for sure that I have an instinct for color and …that painting is in the marrow of my bones…” he wrote to his brother.

The most famous of the paintings from the Dutch period was “The Potato Eaters” (1885), sent to Théo, intended for the new Salon des Indépendants. Based upon an real life scene glimpsed through an open door, Vincent, the Naturalist and self-described painter of peasants, revered these people who “I have tried to emphasize that these people eating their potatoes in the lamplight, have dug the earth with those very hands they put in the dish, and so it speaks of manual labor and how they have honestly earned their food…” The dark brown and green painting, illuminated by a strong central light of deep yellow was bound to the dark tones of the Dutch Masters and of the early French Realists, such as his role model, Jean-François Millet. In other words, the now famous work, done in a three-day marathon, was completely out of date. Nevertheless, Vincent thought, “…to record the peasant at work is essentially the modern objective, the heart of modern art itself, something that neither the Greeks nor the Renaissance nor the Dutch School never did….”

While his friend, Paul Gauguin, had been trained by Camille Pissarro, Vincent had his roots in Seventeenth-century Dutch realism, and arrived in Paris equipped with only a rather provincial art school training. “Just now my palette is thawing, the barrenness of the early time is over…” In 1886, Vincent joined his younger brother, Théo. Over the time the artist painted, he filled his brother’s apartment with hundreds of works of art. Living with a manic-depressive alcoholic must have been difficult on the tidy Théo. Van Gogh thought that they should both get married, because, as he put it, “In intercourse with women, one especially learns so much about art.” After a few transitional paintings of Montmartre, his new home with Théo (“The Hills of Montmartre with Stone Quarry,” 1886), Vincent abandoned his dark manner and adopted the strong light colors of Impressionism, a movement he had ignored his first stay in Paris, a decade before. “The best pictures, seen from near by, are but patches of color, side by side, and only make an effect at a certain distance…” (“The Seine with the Point de al Grande Jatte,” 1887)

Paris (March 1886 – January 1888)

 

His two-year stay in Paris introduced him to the Impressionists being handled by Theo’s gallery and the gallery next door, that of Paul Durand-Ruel. The Impressionist Camille Pissarro acted as van Gogh’s mentor and said later that “Vincent would either go mad or leave all of us far behind. But I did not know he would do both.” Vincent met the Neo-Divisionist painter, Paul Signac, at the legendary shop of Père Tanguy (“Père Tanguy,” 1887-8), who presided over a shop (“a tiny chapel of art”) of art supplies and had an instinctive ability to recognize artists of promise. It was here in this little shop, where the owner refused to sell black paint, that artists could come and see the works of an obscure artist like Vincent or a reclusive artist like Paul Cézanne. While his work and his working methods had been ill tolerated in Holland and Belgium, in Paris, Vincent was admired for his independence and eccentricities. His early training in academic structure gave his paintings in Paris an anti-Impressionist organization combined with luminous high key color (“The Harvest,” 1888), a combination of science and expression (“Factories at Asnières, Seen from the Quai de Clichy”).

Vincent educated himself further in Paris through his associations with avant-garde artists and his study of a diverse group of earlier painters, from Rosa Bonheur to Eugène Delacroix to Ernst Meissonier to Henri Fantin-Latour. He became part of the atelier of an “official artist,” Fernand Cormon, and met the very young and rebellious Emile Bernard and the very sophisticated Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (a bad companion for the alcoholic Dutchman). Tempted by women and alcohol in Paris, the artist was worn down during the bitterly cold winter of 1887 – 88 as these vices began to harm his health. When not sipping absinthe with the count, he busily organized exhibitions, such as at the Restaurant de Châlet, and lightened his palette and dreamed of an artists’ colony somewhere in the south of France, a part of the nation he imagined to be like Japan. He experimented with Japanese prints (“The Courtesan,” 1887), neo-Divisionism (“A Park in Spring,” 1887) and its color theories, and Impressionism before he finally developed his own post-Impressionist brushwork, which he brought to fruition in Arles.

Arles (February 1888 – May 1889)

 

Yearning for the “primitive,” Vincent went to Arles, an ancient Roman town, still dominated by its arena. On his way to the Provencal city, he and Théo had stopped by the studio of Georges Seurat. Of his journey to Arles, Vincent said, “Wishing to se a different light; thinking that looking at nature under a bright sky might give us a better idea of the Japanese way of feeling and drawing. Wishing also to see this stronger sun….” Here, Vincent absorbed all the information and influences of Paris and reinvented himself in the “limpidity of atmosphere” from “a day spent in the full sun.” “…a light that for want of a better word I can only call yellow, pale sulphur yellow, pale golden citron! How lovely yellow is! And how much better I shall see the North!” He also asserted, “What I learned in Paris is learning me, and I am returning to the ideas I had in the country before I knew the Impressionists.” (“The Drawbridge,” May 1888) But the artist had learned to think commercially in Paris and began painting with the potential buyer in mind. Buyers wanted still lives and landscapes and portraits. “We must win the public over later on by means of the portrait: in my opinion it is the thing of the future…” He painted forty-six portraits of twenty-three people (“The Zouave,” June and August 1888 and “L’Arlesienne. Madame Ginoux,” November 1888). Van Gogh wanted his art to win “…general acceptance as decoration for middle class houses…” and he began a series of paintings of sunflowers.

Many of the paintings at Arles continued to show the influence of Japanese prints, begun in Paris (“Flowering Plum Garden,” 1887) Vincent evolved from using Japanese prints as background for “Père Tanguy” (1887-8) to a full blown Japanese manner in”Flowering Almond Tree” of 1890, indebted to Hiroshigi and Hokusai. But he was lonely and needed colonists for his colony that he would, of course, head. “I kept watching to see if I had already reached Japan.” During the Fall of 1888, he painted two paintings of a local café, including the famous “The Night Café” of which he said, “I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green…I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin one’s self, run mad or commit a crime…” No wonder the café owner refused to accept the painting as payment for outstanding bills. Speaking of unpaid bills, meanwhile, Paul Gauguin, a slight acquaintance, returned to Paris from Pont-Aven, leaving behind him a trail of angry creditors. Théo sent Gauguin to be a companion to his unstable brother in return for paying the Breton debts. In October of 1888, Gauguin was welcomed the famous Yellow House, “an artists’ house,” by Vincent’s paintings of sunflowers.

For two artistically productive months, until December 23, the two artists lived, worked and quarreled. While Gauguin worked carefully from preparatory sketches, van Gogh worked directly from nature and the two completed seventeen and twenty-five paintings respectively during the year 1888. Gauguin’s reliance on memory versus van Gogh’s inspiration from nature was a revival of the old quarrel between line and color, between imagination and observation. Although Vincent was using color arbitrarily, he found himself unable to become as abstract as Gauguin, saying that he felt as if he were hitting “a wall.” “Personally, I like things that are real, things that are possible….I am terrified of getting away from the possible…” But despite the number of extraordinary works painted by both artists, Vincent became increasingly unstable. He became a direct threat to Gauguin and a danger to himself. After the local police found Vincent, passed out in his bed, bleeding from his ear, Gauguin decamped, saying, “After all, I must go back to Paris,” and Théo was forced to put his brother in protective custody for the rest of his life. Vincent wrote,

Is it not intensity of though that we seek, rather than a calm brush? And in the conditions of spontaneous work, work done on the scene in the immediate presence of nature, is a calm and well-controlled brush always possible? To me it seems no more possible to be calm at such times than when lunging with a foil…

Saint-Remy (May 1889 – May 1890) and Auvers (May 1890 – July 1890)

 

Vincent’s strong attachment to the environment reasserted itself in Arles during a period of explosive fecundity, matched only by the fertility of the nature he painted. The land is calm, ordered and stable, natural forces are in a state of upheaval, the objects acquire a monumental transcendental character, the people radiate universality and a uniqueness paralleling the qualities of their region. Only color and a nervous gesturing line–short and sharp–hint at the difficult times to come. Color would rev up to a high pitch of excitement–bright, clashing and vivid; but always, like the line, respecting or enhancing reality. Color is arbitrary but only in relation to convention, never in relation to mood, a mood that changed tragically at Saint-Remy and Auvers. Confined to an asylum in Saint-Remy, Vincent used art to recover and a series of paintings record his painful journey out of his room to the courtyard of the institution, culminating in the remarkable and unfinished “Irises” (May 1889).

Vincent van Gogh spent the rest of his days in a mental institution or under the care of a doctor. When Théo felt that his brother had stabilized enough to be more or less on his own, he arranged for his brother to live in Auvers-sur-Oise, near to Pissarro and to Doctor Gachet (“Doctor Gachet,” 1890). Vincent lived in a tiny rented attic room and tried to put his life back together. These last landscapes were unstable, convoluted, convulsed, and often ecstatic (“Wheatfields,” 1890). The work of Vincent van Gogh was based in nature, soothing the inner turmoil of his mental disturbances. His life was chaotic and painful, ruled by his emotional turmoil and yet guided and controlled and ultimately saved by the anchor in reality: the real world and its objects. Clinging to materiality like a drowning person to a life preserver, van Gogh seized upon nature in an intensely empathetic relationship that involved people and things. In his Dutch period, van Gogh responded feelingly to the people in his care and to their lives (“The Women Miners,” 1882), while at the same time, investing inanimate objects with personas–lives–individualities–sheer being (“A Pair of Shoes,” 1885 and “Still Life with Quinces and Lemons,” 1887).

During the seventy days he spent in Auvers, Vincent painted seventy works and thirty watercolors and drawings, as if in an end-of-life frenzy. The famous, “Crows in the Wheatfields,” although not his last painting, pointed to the end with the tracks through the fields, disappearing in the horizon and the carrion birds circling the sky. Shortly before he died, Vincent had been distressed by a review written about his work by Albert Aurier, “Les Isolés” in “Le Moderniste.” Defending van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at Les XX Exhibition, Aurier was a leading Symbolist writer and re-cast Vincent’s work into a mold rather more mystical than the artist would admit to. Despite his objections, this important article by an important writer in an important journal did a great deal to future Vincent’s reputation, even before he was sent to Auvers. Indeed, it could be said, that of all the Post-Impressionists, Vincent was the closest to a successful career. In the context of near-success, his suicide was puzzling. It is not quite clear if Vincent meant to kill himself, but the shooting, intended or accidental, was a messy affair. “I think I can conclude that my body will hold out for a few years more, say six or ten…I do not intend to spare myself…”

“I tried to shoot myself and I missed,” he explained, “What I have done is nobody else’s business. I am free to do what I like with my body.” It took him three days to die of an inoperable gunshot wound, in his brother’s arms. A century later, Don Mclean would sing, “You took your life as lovers often do/But I could have told you, Vincent/This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.” The funeral of Vincent van Gogh was attended by Père Tanguy, Doctor Gachet, Lucien Pissarro and Emile Bernard. “Oh mother, he was so my own, won brother,” Théo wrote to his mother. “We are still in a terrible mess and don’t know where to put all these things…people must know he was a great artist…” Théo said.

Writing in the 1999 catalogue, “Van Gogh’s Van Gogh’s,” John Leighton described the gathering of the paintings and the preservation of the legacy. After his brother’s death, the art dealer reproached himself “…by permitting these masterpieces to go ignored I would hold myself to blame…” He was determined to “…do everything in my power to try to bring this (exhibition) about…” Less than a year later, Théo also died in 1891, perhaps of the same mysterious illness that plagued the life of his brother. He left behind his brother’s legacy, hundreds of paintings and drawings, and hundreds of letters, dating from 1872. It was the widow of Théo, who acquired unwanted works of art spread out among family and acquaintances, bringing them together along with the many works Vincent had shipped to his art dealer brother. Vincent conceived of an arrangement wherein his brother supported him, as his dealer, and he painted and sent the paintings to Théo. The result of this quasi-professional relationship was a large collection, almost complete, of the oeuvre of Vincent van Gogh.

Upon Théo’s death, the task of safeguarding his life and works fell to his widow, Johanna and her two-year-old boy, Vincent Wilhelm. The collection of paintings was shown in part at a memorial show sponsored by Emile Bernard in 1891, who followed Vincent’s instructions on how to hang paintings, “…to place a color scale of yellow next to a scale of blue, a scale of green next to a red, etc…” Although Théo’s planned show at Durand-Ruel did not take place, the following year there was an exhibition at Bernheim-Jeune Galleries in 1892, and later a large scale retrospective in 1905 at the Salon des Indépendants. Leighton points out that Johanna did not want the audience to get the work mixed up with the artist’s tragic life, her mourning for her husband became entangled in the atmosphere of sadness that enveloped Vincent’s paintings. But until her death in 1925, the widow carefully dispersed the art works to important collections, elevating the artist’s reputation. But the romantic legend of the doomed artist remained potent. During the last few weeks of his life, Vincent van Gogh wrote, “I am risking my own life for it and my reason has half-foundered because of it…”

Influence on Later Artists

 

More than any other Post-Impressionist, Vincent van Gogh developed a personal style that set the younger generation free from the late Naturalism of Impressionism. Without sentimentalizing the artist or committing the “pathetic fallacy,” and using van Gogh’s own words, it can be stated that the artist combined nature and human feeling. The interjection of the subjective is what made him so attractive to Aurier and the later Expressionists, weary of the pretense of objectivity. Vincent’s response to observed nature was personalized through formal means, line and color. The powerful color became subdued and subordinate to line, which took over and assumed the role of expressing the turmoil of life that is always growing, always moving and changing. But nature is never expressive only of Vincent van Gogh; it always expresses itself through an artist immersed in its plays and forces, attuned to all its rhythms (“Cypress, Crescent Moon” (1889). The combination of formal aspects of painting turned up to a high pitch and an adherence to the real and the visible laid the foundations for Twentieth-century Expressionism in France and Germany.

Nature was a world in motion, animated, almost convulsed, and painted in a state of ecstasy and involvement. This always-animated nature was perhaps best expressed in his “Starry Night” (1889), which was both an illustration of an actual astronomical event and an expression of the striving of humans to reach upward to the sublime through nature. Line and color became symbolic or metaphorical, and above all, arbitrary. Although his colors were based upon actual hues, van Gogh intensified the tones, making them darker, brighter or lighter. “Color, by itself, expresses something,” van Gogh insisted. In Paris, he had acquired knowledge of alternative techniques of painting and made contact with members of the avant-garde, but beneath the veneer of his version of the pointillist technique laid his innate intense response to nature that overrode color theory in the intense desire to express not himself but organic activity. Immediately before his death, van Gogh’s paintings were characterized with a new pathos, as his powerful brushstrokes seemed explosive and uncontained as though seeking an anguished release (“Church at Auvers-sur-Oise,” 1890). The contribution of Vincent van Gogh was to free painting of the Impressionist passivity and to activate the artist and the way in which an artist should paint. Marks ceased to stand for something material and began to imply an immaterial, even spiritual, element, reaching beyond nature. The artist wrote, “I see in the whole of nature, for instance in the trees, expression, and, so to speak, soul.”

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Podcast 35 Painting 1: Preface to the Avant-Garde

Advanced Guard before the Avant-Garde

There is some historical disagreement over when and where the avant-garde movement in the visual arts began. But it is clear that that the notion that changes in art come from the margins not the center came into existence and began to impact painting by the middle of the nineteenth century. What were the aesthetic and cultural conditions that made the avant-garde possible?

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The Barbizon School

THE BARBIZON SCHOOL AND LANDSCAPE PAINTING

On the edge of the Forest of Fountainebleau—once the hunting domain of French kings—lay the tiny village of Barbizon. As Paris grew more and more urbanized, its inhabitants yearned for a taste of the country and the Forest became a popular weekend tourist attraction. By mid-century guides to the forest trails had been published, taking the hikers on a proscribed and safe route through the ancient trees. Nature no longer existed in the city and had to be visited, not only by weary city-dwellers but also byphotographers, such as, Charles Marville and Gustave Le Gray, and by painters who sought a true and real “nature,” not the rarified nature of Poussin or Lorraine. As early as 1836, the painter Theodore Rousseau settled in the village in order to paint “pure” landscapes, meaning landscapes without narrative or metaphorical figures. From the standpoint of the Academy, landscapes were then considered an inferior category of art. It was no accident that landscape painting emerged as a popular subject in reaction to the encroachment of industry. The Forest now belonged to the people, who explored the terrain of French kings, democratizing the natural. This combination of feelings of nostalgia and an ownership of “nature,” there was a growing bourgeois audience for plain, down-to-earth pictures that would look well in a prosperous middle class interior.

The “School”

 

Theodore Rousseau, the first major artist to take up residence, was soon joined by Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet, Narcisse Diaz, Constant Troyon, and Charles Daubigny. Here, in the rustic landscape, the artists could indulge their longing for solitude and communion with nature. At the end of Romanticism, the painters shared in the pantheistic admiration for Nature but observed their forest domain with the passion for observation that would become one of the leading tenets of Realism. The name of the Barbizon School came from a small town in the forest and a popular inn, which was an informal gathering place of artists and their followers, such as a young Pierre Renoir. The landscape paintings without narration established important precedents for the Impressionists. In common with the Realists, the Barbizon artists were determined to forget previously learned academic formulas and replaced painterly rhetoric with a devotion to nature and heeded Millet’s advice to “keep in mind virgin impressions of nature.” For the painters, Barbizon was a new Arcadia, a place where art that belied the fact of industrialization could be made in this wooded place. The area surrounding the village of Barbizon served as a latter day Roman Campagna. The artists turned away from the melancholia of modern life and sought release in the rural past, seeing the great trees and the peaceful peasants as evidence of timeless values and their idealized vision of life in the past.

By the 1860s, the Barbizon School painters began to achieve success under the careful guidance of their dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel, one of the pioneers of the new artist-dealer system. Constant Tryon actually won the coveted Legion of Honor and many medals in the Salon. Daubigny, in fact, became a member of the Salon jury and aided in the acceptance of the fledgling Impressionists to the 1869 Salon. But when Monet, who was singled out for the rancor of the jury was excluded, Daubigny resigned his position, along with Corot. Diaz came to the aid of Renoir and set up an account for the improvised artist, enabling him to buy brighter colors. Daubigny and his colleague from Le Harvre,Louis Eugène Boudin(Monet’s tutor), were the only landscape painters of their era to work directly from nature–plein air painting. Although the Barbizon School artists painted en plein air, the works were completed in the studio. Nevertheless, their paintings were routinely attacked as “rough drafts” because they juxtaposed spots of color, a technique used by Delacroix, rather than blending colors into a seamless fusion of teints. By 1865, the members of the Barbizon School were referred to as “impressionists,” a term that had a long academic history.

Pure Landscape

 

Landscape—pure landscape—received academic sanction in the Salons only by 1817, but the theoretical principles of pure landscape painting had been laid by 1800 by Pierre-Henri Valenciennes. Valenciennes claimed that landscape painting was a distinct branch of art and was not subordinate in the academic hierarchy. He established two kinds of landscape painting: rural, representations of nature as it was; and paysage historique, nature as it ought to be. The rural, or picturesque, landscape would evoke an emotional response, while the historic landscape provided the opportunity for an intellectual appraisal. The work of Valenciennes was continued by his pupil, J. B. Deperthes, who wrote Théorie de paysage (1818) and claimed that landscape painting should be ranked second only to history painting. Landscape, insisted Deperthes, had a greater social value because, unlike history painting, which was accessible only to the educated, paintings of the countryside could be appreciated by the masses. Like Valenciennes, Deperthes advised the study of landscape in the open air (en plein air) so that the artist could achieve a “general effect” of the view. Dutch and Flemish masters and Claude, he said, should be studied for their compositions and use of light.

As the Nineteenth Century progressed and, with it, industrialization, theoreticians felt that only in rural settings could there be a relationship between the artist and nature. Under Romanticism, all of the advanced painters began to use landscape as a carrier of their emotions and as the bearer of artistic experiments. Despite the insistence of the Academy of the inferiority of the genre, there was a Prix de Rome landscape competition and students were encouraged to sketch from nature and to sketch from memory. By 1806, Holland was under French “protection,” and Dutch artists were sent to study in Rome and the Dutch tradition with its emphasis on genre and landscape, was incorporated into the French system. It should be noted that the works most admired by the French landscape painters were the least admired by the Seventeenth century Dutch buyer. Dutch landscape paintings and seascape paintings were mass-produced, painted quickly for the sake of volume. They sold cheaply on the open market and were considered to be of lesser quality, compared to the carefully painted and minutely observed still lives.

Nevertheless, the low horizon lines of Dutch landscapes and the quick sketchy quality that gave the scenes so much vitality were greatly admired by the French artists, especially the Impressionists. The Barbizon artist, Troyon found his preferred subject in Holland, where he saw the paintings of the famous painter of Dutch cows, Paulus Potter. Following the Nineteenth century taste for animal painting, Troyon became, along with Rosa Bonheur, one of the most famous depicters of French animals. During the Second Empire, the arch conservative Comte Nieuerkerke abolished the landscape competition in 1863, but it was reestablished in 1869 with the Prix Troyon, sponsored by the artist’s mother after his death.

Plein-air Techniques

By mid-century, when the painters began to move to the village of Barbizon, an appreciation for sketches in natural settings had grown up among collectors. This appreciation for the first thoughts of the artist was an outgrowth of Romanticism and the idea of the artist as a “genius,” whose mere marks were to be savored and revered. An entire vocabulary grew up around the stages of creation, from sketch to finished work of art. The “impression” was the first take, the original sketch, which was greatly valued by collectors in the Romantic period as evidence of first thoughts of the artist and of the authenticity of his genius. The fact that there were so many terms for this quick impression, effet, ébauche, and équisse, indicates the growing importance of the preliminary works. In contrast to the quick impression, the étude was a study of light and shade, and Corot first to accept the étude as primary work of art. The etude was a study of valeur or of the total surface quality. Another term for this kind of preliminary work was the pochade, or study, meaning a self-contained work of art focusing on dark and light values.

Making preliminary sketches in situ, or on site, was followed by actually painting out of doors, en plein air. Being able to paint out of doors was due to the invention of the small portable easel and of portable paints in tubes, around 1840. Until that period, paint was made by hand, with pigments ground by the artist who could “feel” green or blue and the different tactile qualities of each pigment. But in 1836, a company, Blot, offered the first machine ground colors for sale. The artists were now liberated from the studio and from the tyranny of layering transparent colors. These new pigments were opaque colors, in contrast to the transparent colors and traditional glazes, pioneered by the Flemish artists of the Renaissance. The artists employed poppy seed oil, which created a smooth, buttery surface, and, rather like cake frosting, retained the marks of the brush. The artists now used a kind of paint that was slow drying, creating a wet-on-wet technique. They loaded their brushes or used the palette knife to slather the creamy paint, which had been stiffened with additives, beef and mutton tallow, onto the canvas.

The “ground” of the mid-century canvas would have been dark. The combination of the use of tar based bitumen, for the ground of “brown sauce,” led to darkening and cracking over time; and the additives to the paint, led to yellowing over time. We cannot know what Courbet’s original works looked like, but his use of thick paint and the palette knife, intensified his identification with the laborer and the sensuous “realism” of his surface. Courbet’s impasto indicated a lack of elevated moral tone and a lack of rational picture conventions, reducing his paintings to a raw imitation of nature. In other words, his paintings were too materialistic, too marked as paintings, as nature. For “art” to be “art,” the object had to rise above nature, an elevation signaled by the slick or “licked” finish. The sheer physicality of the portable and convenient paint would have prevented the appropriate fini, or “finish,” referring to the quality of surface. The acceptable fini was smooth as enamel, as seen in the highly crafted paintings of Ingres. But the new kind of paint ushered in a new kind of finish.

The otherwise inoffensive paintings of the Barbizon School were attacked by the critics on many grounds, not the least of which was the manner of applying paint. Delacroix would later be admired by a new generation of artists, who would call themselves, “divisionists,” because he divided his colors and applied them separately. Delacroix would lay red and green next to each other to intensify the colors and make them visually vibrate. The idea of laying down paint in touches or as a tache, a patch, or a local tone that was not blended was continued by the Barbizon artists. To work with tones and divided colors was to eschew traditional chiaroscuro or the strong contrast between lights and darks. Chiaroscuro was an Academic aesthetic ideal, which carried an ideological meaning of following traditional ways. This academic chiaroscuro was a studio chiaroscuro artificially constructed by the cool north light, created under controlled conditions, which allowed an ideal of demi-teints or half-tones. To reject studio chiaroscuro for the light and colors of nature in situ was to reject high ideals of painting and the established conventions of academic art.

Impact of the Barbizon School

The Barbizon School was most important as a precursor to the Impressionists and as a part of a growing number of “outsider” artists. The “outsiders” were either half-trained, like Courbet, or chose to position themselves apart from the mainstream. They explored new subject matter and new ways of painting. Some were in search for a “truth” or “sincerity,” others were seeking a way to be “modern.” Although Deperthes had urged for artists to look for the “picturesque,” fifty years later, such charm and quaintness was out of date. The cloud studies of John Constable were better role models than his paintings of village life. The cloud studies of Eugène Delacroix were more interesting than his dramatic content. “Studies” were connected to the idea of scientific study of nature, required a quick and objective eye, that looked without hierarchy. The emotional landscapes of the Romantic artists were set aside for the unassuming quick sketches of pieces of nature. The Barbizon School found “humble” subjects in ordinary landscapes, rendered without uplifting narration or romantic symbolism. The nostalgia of the past and the tourism of the guidebooks were ignored in favor of recording a nature, which was as old as France itself, using a new way of painting.

The impact of the Barbizon School was by no means confined to Paris. Tachistes referred to artists who favored the new “patch” style of painting. The Macchiaioli, or the Italian “spot painters,” met at the Café Michelangelo, where Edgar Degas and James Tissot would join them. The Macchiaioli formed as a group as early as 1859, and the members of the group admired Corot, Troyon, Decamps, and the Barbizon School. The Italians were opposed to the Italian establishment, which, of course, followed the precepts of the Academy. Insisting on the need to be contemporary and unpretentious, they referred to the classical tradition with coglionèlla or derision. Led by Telemaco Signorini and Diego Martelli and the journalist and theorist, Giovanni Fattori, the Italian painters simplified the distribution of light and shade into contrasting spots, which they referred to as macchie. The Italian artists lived in a nation that was locked in the past, but France was changing from year to year and the idea of “nature” changed as well, from a forest to suburban pleasure grounds. It would take twenty years for the lessons of Courbet, Manet, the Italian artists, and the Barbizon School to come to fruition in the Impressionists, who made their debut in 1874, clearly showing the intersection between modernity and nature.

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Gustave Courbet

AVANT-GARDE REALISM IN FRANCE: COURBET

In 1845, The art critic, Théophile Thoré (who “discovered” the Dutch artist, Jan Vermeer) complained that French art was “…without system, without direction, and abandoned to individual fantasy.” According to another critic, Eugène Fromentin, “…We revolve in a viscous circle. Public taste is injured; that of the painters is no less; and we vainly seek to know which of the two should seek to elevate the other. Sometimes we say that the opinion ought to act as the quality of the work and elevate it; and again, according to a new idea, it must be the works themselves that must act upon opinion and convert it by good example.” Echoing the complaints of other observers, the famous Salon artist and Academic teacher, Thomas Couture, stated, “Alas, we have fallen low…Art has become small and commercial.” The social changes across Europe combined with the lack of purpose within the art world itself combined to give art a new goal, that of social critic and social revolutionary, as artists began to take notice of the neglected peasant, laborer, and the inherent morality of the “timeless” countryside. This new approach, focusing on “low” subjects was called Realism.

For the Realists, art had to be “sincere.” By “sincere,” the artists and writers meant that art had to be of its own time in content, as opposed to imaginary scenes of events that never happened. To sincerity, one can add “authentic.” Art had to be real. Realism can be broken down into two phases in France. The first phase was diverse, including the censored and outspoken political cartoonist and painter, Honoré Daumier, the cautious Socialist, Jean François Millet and his careful social landscapes and the radical lesbian Socialist, Rosa Bonheur and her patriotic celebrations of Second Empire prosperity. Realism developed out of literary Naturalism and became more radical after the Revolution of 1848 with the art of Gustave Courbet (1819 – 1877).

In the beginning of his career, Courbet’s sympathies were with the petit bourgeoisie, the small town dwellers outside of Paris in provinces considered “provincial” by the Parisians. Courbet came from a small town in the undefined middle of the country, called Ornans, and migrated to the sophisticated urban milieu of Paris, where he stressed his “country bumpkin” origins. As a wily outsider artist, with little training, Courbet took what were deficiencies—his accent and his relative lack of training—and transformed them into virtues—only an “outsider” could reform the Academy. The academic artists and their traditional ways were being tested by social and political changes, which were bringing new ideas and new people into the capital, and Courbet was a harbinger of challenges to come.

After a decade of being on the fringes of the closed and rarified world of the Salons, Courbet witnessed, from the safety of the sidelines, the fall of the regime of Louis Philippe and the Revolution of 1848. This Revolution was the moment that Louis Napoléon had been waiting for and the nephew of the Emperor Napoléon returned from exile in London to establish himself as the new head of government. But the Revolution was an opportunity for Courbet as well, because this was the year that the artist changed his entire approach to art. When Courbet arrived in Paris, Romanticism was breathing its last and a nascent realism devoted itself to accurate genre paintings. At first Courbet did not seem inclined to follow the example of Honoré Daumier and use the possibilities of painting contemporary life in order to critique the government.

According to the art historian, Petra Chu, in The Most Arrogant Man in France (2007), Courbet took advantage of the presence of journalism and the spread of newspapers to generate publicity for himself and his art, which was very mainstream. He also made himself a virtual presence through a series of self-portraits that were acceptable and inoffensive. It might seem as if Courbet had built his career backwards: he had a persona, an established identity, he had supporters, but the artist was a man in search of a purpose and a style. However, the inoffensive late Romanticism of his art proved to be a good training ground for the shift in style that would be responsible for his sensational success.

The breakthrough for Courbet came in 1847 when he visited Holland in search of the newly discovered Dutch paintings of the Seventeenth century. The Dutch artists provided an important precedent, and, indeed, the only possible precedent, for an art of the middle class. Painting outside of Holland was classical, devoted to Europeans courts, but the Netherlands was a new country, independent of the domination of the Spanish crown. The Dutch ruled themselves in republic free of class and devoid of aristocrats. Adventurous sailors and tenacious traders, they became prosperous, forming the first European middle class, who created an identity through art. It is perhaps less important to know what the Dutch artists actually intended than to understand what the French artists made of the art.

What the French artists needed was a way out of academic subject matter and a way in which to address the reality of their own lives, from an objective perspective. What the French artists saw in Dutch were paintings of contemporary life, a kind of realism of the ordinary. Without an overt narrative, the Dutch artists captured frozen moments in time, enriched by carefully observed detail, which created a portrait of a particular group of people at a specific point in time. What was especially compelling to the French artists was the sheer ordinariness of the everyday lives of simple people who were unremarkable and unpretentious. Above all, for the French artists, Dutch art was an alternative to Romanticism and a doorway to a new form of Realism.

Courbet used the occasion of the Salon of 1848 to present a summation and a closure to his outmoded Romanticism, and by the time of the Salon of 1849, Courbet was ready to take advantage of his next opportunity: this Salon was juried by his peers—artists who knew him and how understood that he was a good painter. If this salon had been juried by the gatekeepers of the Academy, the painter would have been a modest footnote in art history with his mild romantic paintings. But Courbet’s previous paintings did not prepare the Salon audiences for the work that took the Salon of 1849 by storm: After Dinner at Ornans. Based upon Dutch painting, the genre scene was dark in tone and ordinary in content. It was not the sight of country folk listening to music that was impactful, but the artistic tactics, read as political after the Revolution, caused a sensation.

The strategy of Courbet was to celebrate the everyday world of the inconsequential petit bourgeois, not in small sized genre paintings but in large sized canvases, heretofore reserved for history paintings. That said, the content was neutral enough for Courbet to win himself an award of being hors concours or out of combat. Although technically, this honor meant that his art could not be excluded from the Salon, some of his later works, judged to be pornographic, were refused. But his status allowed, the admission of paintings that were more overtly political in the next Salon. In the Salon of 1850 (which actually took place in 1851), life sized paintings, such as the The Funeral at Ornans, The Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair, and The Stonebreakers (destroyed during the bombing of Dresden), asserted the social importance and historical significance of the petit bourgeois class and the sans coulottes. Unlike the middle class elites, these classes had lost all the revolutions of the past four decades, especially the one of 1848.

It would be incorrect to think of Courbet as a “peasant painter,” such as Millet or Jules Bastien-Lepage. The Parisian audience of the Salon was more accepting of traditional labor, especially if the images were sentimentalized, like Jules Breton. The Salon goers liked the images of peasants toiling, where they belonged, in the country, consumed with timeless labor. Instead of maintaining the traditional myth of the countryside as a classless society where all lived in harmony with nature, Courbet revealed the social changes that had transformed the provinces. As a painter of the lower middle class in a small village, Courbet used his own family as models for the newly empowered and newly upwardly mobile petit bourgeois. The Courbet family was typical of the kind of people who had marginally gained from the social changes, wanted no further disruptions, and were, therefore, conservative and apolitical.

But, as T. J. Clark pointed out in his book of 1999, Image of the People, the sophisticated city dwellers were distressed at the sight of the pretentions of the villagers who played at being “upper class.” Although the Dutch of the Seventeenth century had lovingly and unsparingly depicted the lower middle classes, the precedent mattered not to the offended Parisians. Courbet was acknowledged as a great painter but his paintings were condemned as “ugly,” that is, the people he rendered were unattractive and badly dressed. Funeral, a long horizontal painting, crowed with mourning villagers in black and white, was an unlikely combination of a Roman sarcophagus and a Dutch group portrait. Devoid of drama, the sheer boredom of the content was broken only by the open grave at the bottom of the canvas. Perhaps most offensive to the audience was the lack of story and the absence of the opportunity to identify with any of the characters in his paintings. The man and the young boy in The Stonebreakers are in profile to the viewer and no narrative is offered. Instead of eliciting sympathy, the artist presented blunt facts of social deprivation and the toll of unending labor.

Equally disconcerting to the Parisians were the “primitive” techniques employed by the artist, who based his compositional devices upon popular images. The images d’Epinal were widely circulated in the French countryside, made by untrained printers for an unsophisticated reader. The Stonebreakers deliberately failed to integrate the bleak figures into the un-scenic background. The same disregard for the convention of Renaissance perspective was present in Funeral, where the bleak landscape of Ornans stretched out behind the isocephalic composition, like a backdrop in a theater. But these paintings were at least well-organized compared to the deliberate disorder of The Peasants of Flagey Returning from the Fair, which was a clutter of stolid peasants and their equally unremarkable animals. None of these paintings accounts for spatial distances and all ignore academic conventions. Using popular imagery, Courbet succeeded in discarding outmoded training and insisted on the artist’s liberation from tradition.

To back up these unconventional techniques and subjects, Courbet and his supportive critic, Champfleury (Jules Husson), co-wrote their “Realist Manifesto” as the catalogue for his independent exhibition of 1855. Excluded from the Second Empire extravaganza, the Exposition Universalle, Courbet set up his own Pavilion of Realism in opposition to the “official” artists, Delacroix and Ingres. “I have simply wished to base upon a thorough knowledge of tradition, the reasoned and independent feeling of my own individuality,” he said. The Manifesto was a statement against Romanticism and idealism, against exoticism and fantasy, and elitist politics. It was a statement for the ordinary and everyday, for what was apprehensible to the senses alone, even if what was real was unaesthetic to the Salon sensibilities. “To be able to translate the customs, idea, the appearances of my epoch…in a word to create living art, that is my goal,” he stated. Courbet was very modern in the way in which he built his artistic career. First, he created a persona, created a series of artistic scandals, and, finally, in a rare move, he set up his own independent exhibition in 1855. Although the show could hardly be called a financial success, Courbet had asserted himself against the forcible artistic controls of the Second Empire.

For five years, Courbet painted what he preached but in 1854, he once again summed up a phase in his career, with a painting, titled An Allegory of the Last Seven Years of My Life. That The Artist’s Studio was subtitled as an “allegory,” was a signal that Courbet had abandoned optical realism. The Artist’s Studio was a testament to his success in the art world, a masterful exhibition of egoism, a confounding statement about his political concerns, and the beginning of a new phase of his career as an Insider Artist. The Artist’s Studio featured Courbet himself in the center, painting a bright and natural landscape. He is surrounded by allegorical figures: “the nude,” a female model and “the innocent eye,” two small boys. Other allegorical figures are arranged on the left, while on the right, he gathered together his friends and patrons. The iconography of this work is complex, signaling the artist’s next career move.

As the artist acquired more important patrons, his subject matter became less confrontational and more conservative, veering often towards pornography. The lesbian theme of The Sleepers was part of the discourse of la bohème, but outside of the demimonde, the works that were sexually explicit, such as Woman with a Parrot and the very private, The Origin of the World brought Courbet into conflict with the Salon and the public and his friends. By 1858, Courbet had serious disagreements with early supporters, his patron, Albert Bruyas and his best critic, Champfleury, over his suggestive paintings. Meanwhile aristocratic patrons in Germany were demanding princely themes, such the hunt. For many of his former supporters, it seemed that Courbet had lost his way.

Courbet’s political conscience reasserted itself in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 with his involvement with the short-lived and ill-fated Commune. In the post-war confusion, radical socialists, or the “Reds,” attempted to seize power and bring about some kind of social equality, but the new French government, the Third Republic, defeated the Communards in a long and bloody massacre. Courbet was one of the many sympathizers who were punished after order was restored. Given that thousands were slaughtered, Courbet, who had had the bright idea of toppling the Vendôme Column, got off easy. He was put on trial for the felling of the Vendôme Column and the government made an example of him in its reassertion of authority. Forced to pay the expenses for repairing the Column, the politically naïve Courbet spent the rest of his life in exile in Switzerland, painting for aristocrats, finally abandoning his Realist subject matter. In one of his last works, he painted a Trout, which was helplessly caught on a hook. Less of a hunting picture and more of an autobiography, Trout summed up those last years before Courbet’s time ran out.

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

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

[email protected]

Charles Baudelaire, Author of Modernism

BAUDELAIRE AND MODERNITY

Every age needs its observer and every era requires an interpreter. To elevate the culture above mere description, that individual has to be an odd cross between a poet and a reporter. Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) was a renegade poet, a syphilitic art critic, and, above all, a disaffected and alienated student of a society undergoing the pressure of a transition. That Baudelaire was a marginal character who lived on the fringes of a cynical consumer society was crucial to his ability to describe and define the new phenomenon, “modernité.” Although the poet wrote extensively on a variety of topics, he is especially significant for essays, prose poems, poetry and art criticism that articulated a new way of life. In 1947, Jean-Paul Sartre accused Baudelaire of “bad faith” due to the many contradictions in his life and work. However, a self-destructive poet and drug addict, who lived in debt on the run from creditors, while, at the same time, taking part in the intellectual and artistic life of Paris, can hardly be expected to be consistent. The very times of Baudelaire were paradoxical.

The art critic straddled the divide between waning Romanticism and emerging Realism, watching the painter Eugène Delacroix after his creative peak but not living long enough to see Èdouard Manet reach his full artistic potential. While there may never have been an artist who coincided with the poet’s desire to describe modernité, Baudelaire addressed the unfolding of a new way of life in a dense urban environment of the “crowd” and noted the impact of industrial technology upon society and art. By the 1840s, not only was Romanticism over but the art being produced by the salon system was also becoming increasingly irrelevant. The excuse for academic art was that it portrayed the “heroic” life of the ancient world, but, for Baudelaire, it was necessary that artists to be of their own time. But what did that “their time” mean?

The industrial revolution came slow and late to France, not in small part because many of the technological changes had been developed in the homeland of their hated enemy, England. While England was already adjusting to industry, France, by mid-century, was just beginning to cope with the transition from an agricultural society to an urban and industrial one. It is possible to see the process of artistic adjustment to these changes in the paintings of Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet. Millet presented the countryside as frozen in time while Courbet showed the class tensions even in small villages. Meanwhile, the mainstream salon artists chose to ignore the present in favor of the historical past. In Baudelaire’s time, few artists had to ability to see their age in all its uniqueness. To be fair, the cultural changes caused by the Industrial Revolution were so extensive and far-reaching that it was easier to look away. The problems for the artists during this long transition period were, first, content of art—contemporary or traditional? and second, what new artistic techniques would be appropriate for the new age?

More than anyone, Baudelaire articulated both the new content and the new way of expressing the new content. In doing so, he impacted many of his contemporaries and influenced later generations of writers and poets who would be known as Symbolists. As an art critic who had to work the salon beat, it was his job to discern a trend or a concern with each annual exhibition. One of his most important salon statements was penned in 1846. In this early essay published as a section of “The Salon of 1846″: “On the Heroism of Modern Life,” Baudelaire argued that modern life was as heroic as ancient life and that men in frock coats were as brave in their own time as the Roman gladiators were in the arena:

It is true that this great tradition has been lost, and that the new one is not yet established. But what was this great tradition, if not a habitual everyday idealization of ancient life—a robust and material form of life, a state of readiness on the part of each individual…? Before trying to distinguish the epic side of modern life, and before bringing examples to prove that our age is no less fertile in sublime themes than past ages, we may assert that since all centuries and all peoples have had their own form of beauty, so inevitably we have ours. That is the order of things…But to return to our principle and essential problem, which is to discover whether we possess a specific beauty, intrinsic to our new emotions…The pageant of fashionable life and the thousands of floating existences—-criminals and kept women—which drift about in the underworld of the great city; the Gazette des Tribunaux and the Moniteur all prove to us that we have only to open our eyes to recognize our heroism. For the heroes of the Iliad are but pigmies compared to you—-who dared not publically declaim your sorrows in the funeral and tortured frock coat which we all wear today!—you the most heroic, the most extraordinary, the most romantic and the most poetic of all the characters that you have produced from your womb!

The “hero” is male but not just any male. The poet’s hero is not the contented businessman who had prospered under the Citizen King, Louis Philippe, but the hero of la bohème, a cultivated and well-educated man who was also an outsider: the dandy. “…a dandy can never be a vulgar man,” Baudelaire said. The dandy wears the new uniform, the habit noir, the black suit, with distinction, proclaiming his proud middle class status. And yet the dandy keeps himself apart from the bourgeoisie, the newly rich and powerful class, by moving with the “crowd,” where classes mixed and mingled, without ever being part of the crowd. Being a dandy, meticulously well-dressed, standing aside and watching the stream of life flow past, is a strategy of self-defense in an urban landscape. Although he moves in cadence with the ebb and flow of pedestrians, all of whom have destinations and purpose, a dandy, par excellence, is also a man who is able to walk the city, free of ties and responsibilities.

Baudelaire is the new man, the flâneur, the detached man who strolls the side streets, peruses the new arcades and watches the ostentatious carriages pass down the wide boulevards, made for spectacle. At the same time the arcades were ushering in a new form of looking, the art and craft of window-shopping, a new nocturnal Paris sprang into being with the introduction of gaslight in the 1820s. Here, in the darkness, is where we find the poet’s world of marginal people who live a “floating existence,” and it is here were we find the female counterpart to the dandy, the prostitute, the only kind of woman allowed to go abroad at night. Modernism and its heroes is not for the respectable nor for the faint-hearted.

Baudelaire, like many inhabitants of the changing city, felt the stresses of the transition. The city he had been born in was vanishing before his very eyes, crumbling under the determination of urban renewal and bending to the will of Georges Haussmann. Former inhabitants were being pushed out and a new group of aspiring writers, poets and artists moved into slums, scratching out a living before Haussmannization eliminated the buildings. According to one of Baudelaire’s greatest biographers, the German writer, Walter Benjamin, Baudelaire was part of Bohemia, la bohème, the new avant-garde, the alienated, the aspiring artists in waiting. A Marxist writer, Benjamin linked Baudelaire to the territory of the dispossessed by quoting Marx on the precarious position of this social class:

…Their uncertain existence, which in specific cases depended more upon chance than on their activities, their irregular life whose only fixed stations were the taverns of the wine dealers—the gathering places of the conspirators—and their inevitable acquaintanceship with all sorts of dubious people place them in that sphere of life which in Paris is called la bohème….the whole indeterminate, disintegrated, fluctuating mass which the French call la bohème….

By the time of the Second Empire, the chasm between rich and poor had stranded a number of middle class people on the wrong side of prosperity. “It is bourgeois society that Baudelaire holds guilty of the suffering of the post-aristocratic period, and not the least that art has gone to rack and ruin, that poets and artists like himself now belong to the déclassés,” John E. Jackson remarked in 2005. Baudelaire actually came from a well-to-do family, but he was terminally unable to manage his finances. His family put him on a budget with an allowance, which he always overspent–usually on clothes–causing him to go into debt. Being reduced to a child was highly irritating to the poet, who was always at pains to remove himself from the class that fed him. Thus Baudelaire wrote as an outsider, not an insider, taking advantage of an unprecedented expansion of the press. But the press, while expanded, was not free or uncensored, as he learned with the publication of Les fleurs du mal in 1857, a scandalizing collection of poems (some of which were withheld from the public) for which Baudelaire was prosecuted.

Over the past two decades of the early nineteenth century, new opportunities had emerged for writers, such as Baudelaire, who was able to find his unique voice as a poet and to carve out a position as an observer and witness, a stance that appeared in his essays and in his art criticism, where he mixed art and social observations. This poet was a character composed of unabashed contractions who had no problem in proclaiming, “Any newspaper, from the first to the last is nothing but a web of horrors….” As a writer (who wrote for newspapers) he tried to defend traditional art making against the onslaught of technology, mainly photography, while, at the same time, rushing out to be photographed many times.

In “The Salon of 1859,” there was a section, “The Modern Public and Photography,” where Baudelaire complained about the clash between art and photography:

Poetry and progress are like two ambitious men who hate one another with an instinctive hatred, and when they meet upon the same road, one of them has to give place. If photography is allowed to supplement art in some of its functions, it will soon have supplanted or corrupted it altogether, thanks to the stupidity of the multitude, which is its natural ally.

These two essays, “On the Heroism of Modern Life” and “The Modern Public and Photography,” written over ten years apart, are indicative of the contradictions and confusions over the role of modern life in art. On one hand, Baudelaire was convinced that the “heroism of modern life” was worth of depiction, but, on the other hand, that depiction had to be hand-made, done in the old fashioned “art” way. A machine can never replace art. But more should be said of the difficulty of writing in a moment of social becoming, for Baudelaire, like Denis Diderot, was looking for the artist who could capture modernité or the pulse of his (or her) own time. Courbet painted contemporary life, but this life was rural and, hence, not the “urban modern” condition that was the daily life of Baudelaire. The poet was clearly looking for someone who expressed modern life in Paris, the city that Walter Benjamin called “the Capital of the Nineteenth Century.”

Baudelaire found his candidate, “The Painter of Modern Life,” in a fellow member of the fringes of society, an obscure illustrator named Constantin Guys. The result of the relationship between the poet and the illustrator, both inhabitants of la bohème, was a long essay, almost book length, which described the social condition Baudelaire called modernité. That essay was the famous The Painter of Modern Life. The poet states, “By ‘modernity,’ I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable…” Guys, an illustrator and a quick sketch artist, was the outsider, who, because of his position on the fringes, was able to produce hundreds of quick studies of all that was fast-moving and fleeting in modern life. Modernism, for both Baudelaire and for Guys, becomes defined by the concept of constant change, or what the art critic, Harold Rosenberg, would term, a hundred years later, “the tradition of the new.”

See also: “Baudelaire as Art Critic” and “Baudelaire and The Painter of Modern Life

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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Podcast Episode 26: Sincerity and Artifice in Realism

SINCERITY AND ARTIFICE IN REALISM

England and France

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Realism was an international movement. In England, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were the rebellious Realists, challenging the classicism of the Academy. The English artists worked in natural light and celebrated the narrative in visual art. The PRB quickly found support though the art critic John Ruskin and began to focus on modern problems in the modern world. It is this penchant for the literary and this British interest in urban contemporary life that separates the Pre-Raphaelite Movement from the Realism across the Channel.

Realism in France was a fragmented movement. On one hand there were the so-called “official Realists,” or those who pleased the government, and on the other hand there were the avant-garde Realists. However within the group of artist who challenged the Academy standards, there was a philosophical split—is art a reflection of reality and therefore capable of being “sincere,” or is art in and of itself “artificial” and therefore is a cynical artifice? Within this aesthetic question is the differing political stances, with sincerity as being more politically active and artifice as being more of a social commentary. In France, “realism” divided along two poles, “sincerity,” as with Millet and Courbet, or “artifice,” as with Manet.

Also listen to “Realism in Europe, Part Two” and “Realism in Europe, Part One”

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

and “Realism and Naturalism in Art” and “Salon Realism in France”

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

Podcast Episode 25: Realism in Europe, Part Two

REALISM IN EUROPE

Part Two

Because art history tends to focus towards all things French, French “Realism” is often considered the exemplar of European Realism. Given that the British did not experience a violent Revolution in 1848, it is certainly correct to say that in France the tensions between classes was most acute. Although Realism is usually associated with its principle figures, Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet, there were many important Realist artists in France whose ideas about art and whose realist principles were quite varied. For decades, the broader movement of Realism produced works of art that were supportive of the dominant forces in society or that interrogated the prevailing norms. The podcast discusses Realism in the context of the political and social conditions in late nineteenth century France.

Also listen to “Realism in Europe, Part One”

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

and “Realism and Naturalism in Art” and “Salon Realism in France”

and “Charles Baudelaire and Art Criticism” and “Charles Baudelaire, Author of Modernism”

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

Avant-Garde Realism in France

THE AVANT-GARDE IN FRANCE

The Generation of Realism

In 1845, The art critic, Théophile Thoré (who “discovered” Vermeer) complained that French art was “..without system, without direction, and abandoned to individual fantasy.” According to another critic, Eugène Fromentin, “We revolve in a viscous circle. Public taste in injured; that of the painters is no less; and we vainly seek to know which of the two should seek to elevate the other. Sometimes we say that the opinion ought to act as the quality of the work and elevate it; and again, according to a new idea, it must be the works themselves that must act upon opinion and convert it by good example.” Echoing the complaints of other observers, the famous Salon artist and Academic teacher, Thomas Couture. stated, “Alas, we have fallen low..Art has become small and commercial.” The social changes across Europe combined with the lack of purpose within the art world itself appear to have combined to give art a new goal, that of social critic and social revolutionary, as artists began to take notice of the neglected peasant, laborer, and the inherent morality of the “timeless” countryside. This new approach, focusing on “low” subjects was called Realism.

Realism can be broken down into two phases in France. The first phase was diverse, including the censored and outspoken political cartoonist and painter, Honoré Daumier, the cautious Socialist, Jean François Millet and his careful social landscapes and the radical lesbian Socialist, Rosa Bonheur and her patriotic celebrations of Second Empire prosperity. Realism developed out of Naturalism and became more radical after the Revolution of 1848 with the art of Gustave Courbet. In the beginning, his sympathies were with the petit bourgeoisie, the small town dwellers outside of Paris in provinces considered provincial by the Parisians. Courbet came from just such an environment, a small town called Ornans, and migrated to the sophisticated urban milieu of Paris where he stressed his “country bumpkin” origins. After a decade of being on the fringes of the closed and rarified world of the Salons, Courbet ushered himself in to history in the unjuried Salon of 1849. His strategy was to celebrate the everyday world of the inconsequential petit bourgeois, not in small sized genre paintings but in large sized canvases, heretofore reserved for history paintings. In his paintings in 1850, such as the Funeral at Ornans and the Stonebreakers, Courbet asserted the social importance and historical significance of a class that lost the revolutions of the past four decades.

To back up these unconventional subjects, Courbet and his supportive critic, Champfleury, co-wrote their “Realist Manifesto.” The Manifesto was a statement against Romanticism and idealism, against exoticism and fantasy, and elitist politics. It was a statement for the ordinary and everyday, for what was apprehensible to the senses alone, even if what was real was unaesthetic to the Salon sensibilities. For five years, Courbet painted what he preached but in 1854, he redid his manifesto as a painting, titled An Allegory of the Last Seven Years of My Life. That The Artist’s Studio was subtitled as an “allegory,” was a signal that Courbet had abandoned optical realism and was allowing ambiguity, allusion, and symbol to infiltrate his work. This work is an homage to his success in the art world, a masterful exhibition of egoism, a confounding statement about his political concerns and the beginning of a new phase of his career as an Insider Artist. As the artist acquired more important patrons his subject matter became less confrontational and more conservative, veering often towards pornography. By 1858, Courbet had serious disagreements with early supporters, his patron, Bruyas and his best critic, Champfleury, over his suggestive paintings and patrons in Germany were demanding princely themes, such the hunt, and other pursuits preserved for the wealthy.

Courbet’s political conscience reasserted itself in the aftermath of the Franco- Prussian War in 1870 with his involvement with the short-lived and ill-fated Commune. In the post-war confusion, radical socialists attempted to seize power and bring about some kind of social equality, but the Communards were ultimately defeated by the French government. Courbet was one of the many sympathizers who were punished after order was restored. He was implicated in the infamous incident of the felling of the Vendôme Column and was made an example of the government’s reassertion of authority. After his downfall, following the failure of the Commune, the politically naïve Courbet spent the rest of his life in exile in Switzerland, painting for aristocrats, finally abandoning his Realist subject matter for elitist pictures. Courbet, like David, lived in difficult times that were marked by political changes and, like David, he had to be able to invent and reinvent himself in order to survive, no matter how sincere his democratic principles were.

Whatever Courbet’s intentions towards his patrons and the art public, the socially radical subject matter equated to artistic damage that had been done and the more “advanced” artists were sundered from the public and severed from the Academy. There was no going back. The failure of the Revolution caused a cleavage in the French culture as democratic ideals fell victim to the new Emperor Napoléon’s support of finance capital and big industry. Enjoying the high tide of economic prosperity, Courbet’s successor to the mantle of Realism, Edouard Manet, seems to have been able to negotiate the political shoals with more ease, but he encountered trouble in the Academy. Courbet disturbed the status quo by insisting on elevating the common people to social and moral importance, a rebuke to the middle class for abandoning its own origins (according to the art historian, T. J. Clark). Manet disturbed the powers that be by attempting to update timeless and classic subject matter and, in the process, exposing the emptiness of academic conventions. Between Courbet and Manet, Realism is divided, in the timeless manner, between the country (Courbet) and the city (Manet).

The Revolution of 1848 allowed Courbet the opportunity to present scenes of country life but the same Revolution also extinguished the hopes of the oppressed and the interests of the culture shifted decisively away from the country to the new and exciting modernism of the city. When artists return to the country, they do so in the 1880s and paint its sights as tourists and anthropologists, recording the vanishing life of another species–an attitude that would later be called “primitivism,” but which is more aptly thought of as a kind of nostalgia. The day and time of Courbet was long past and the era of the flâneur, the dandy and the courtesan and the consumer world predicted in the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 had come into being. Modernité was a fact of life and the question was–how should the artist react to the moderne?

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Salon Realism in France

REALISM IN THE SALONS IN THE 1850s

Realism had many faces. As an international impulse seen in European and American art, Realism was not so much a style or a look as a new approach to art, overtaking the old ideas of exhausted Romanticism. By the 1840s, due to the impact of science and technology, a more materialistic and positivist approach to philosophy emerged. Idealist philosophy, based upon abstract principles and models gave way to empiricism and pragmatism. Social change accelerated and demanded serious attention from progressive thinkers. In an age of growing discontent over the failures of the Revolutions in France, there was a growing interest in the arts with the problems of contemporary life there was an increasing interest in the arts with the problems of contemporary life.

Universal enfranchisement to all citizens was still a dream. The failure to alleviate the economic imbalance between the classes and to grant political power and rights to the lower classes meant that both France and England were faced with the choice between reform or repression. England would grant reforms to the lower classes by carefully calibrated degrees, staving off serious unrest and outright rebellion. The French, ever wary of the dangerous classes, suffered yet another Revolution in 1848 and went through another political upheaval. This Revolution was eventually brutally suppressed and all hopes of reform were snuffed out when Louis Napoléon, nephew of the Emperor, returned to France and seized power in 1850.

When the Nephew crowned himself Emperor Napoléon III, any traces of Romanticism evaporated. In addition to philosophical and social forces that ended Romanticism, the rise of Realism was very much linked to the rise of the Middle Class as a major force in society. By mid-century the bourgeoisie has become the dominant cultural force. Unlike the traditional upper classes, the status of the middle class was based upon wealth and a distinct value system which was based upon social mobility. It was the middle class that divided the genders and subjugated women to the rule of men. For the newly wealthy males, it was important that their wives were shown to be at leisure, like an aristocratic woman. Each man wanted his home to be his castle, and it was important to him to have power over his own family.

This new class was not widely read or particularly well-educated, nor was its taste particularly refined, but the bourgeoisie were eager to make its influence felt in the realm of culture. Because it was easy to understand and accessible, the middle class art public preferred the kind of art that was legible or realistic. For the bourgeoisie the mark of artistic talent was not creativity but the ability to copy nature. Artistic experimentation and innovation was not appreciated, and the public shied away from extreme Romanticism and Realism, seeking an art that was more “middle of the road” or juste milieu.

As the result of the insistence on technical skills in painting demonstrated in “academic art,” the mid-century art public was trained to appreciate approved Salon art and looked for precise delineation and entertaining stories. But, like any dominant class, the bourgeoisie wanted to see themselves reflected in art. Greek and Roman scenes might be exciting and full of beguiling female nudes, but the audience could not recognize itself in the history paintings. As an artist knows, it is important for the audience to imaginatively and emotionally invest in the art. The viewer must identify with the painting or the sculpture for the work to be successful. Being remote in time, the art dictated by the Academy was not in tune with the modern age and was ultimately unresponsive to middle class needs. The preferred art of the Academy referred back to the classical past of Greece and Rome and only a well-read person could grasp all the classical illusions.

The audience gravitated to realism on two levels. First, people liked to see genre scenes of ordinary everyday life, preferably with an interesting narrative. Second, the average spectator preferred realism over expressionism in terms of how the artist should render the subject. Another important factor in the rise of Realism was the invention of photography in 1839. Photography was a hugely popular art form and the public avidly flocked to photographic studios to have themselves immortalized. Photography was, of course, an accurate mirror of nature, an exact copy. The public liked the precision of the daguerreotype better than the fuzzy surface of paper photography and began to expect the artist to live up the process of Dauguerre. Artists were at the mercy of this new public and had the choice to comply with its demands or to drift into the avant-garde where another type of Realism was being developed.

The artists who wanted to succeed steered a middle course between Romanticism and Realism and between academic art and photography. The result was a form of art, called juste milieu, that was both popular and official. Early on, juste milieu art, fulfilled the need of the growing middle class audience for a popular art and for subject matter that was about them and their lives and that was easy to understand. This art was “easy,” rather like today’s television: realistic and entertaining and enjoyable, giving the audience what philosopher, Roland Barthes called “the effect of the real.”

The juste milieu artists were successful and rich and respected and were often the implacable foes of the avant-garde. They found the right formula to please audiences. The subject matter really wasn’t “modern” or about the current age. Indeed, given the current political climate in France, the juste milieu artists tended towards the historical escapism of Jean-Léon Gérome or idealized depictions of the countryside and its inhabitants from Jules Breton. The middle class favored landscape painting, once considered a “low” genre of art. In an age of social turmoil a scene of unscathed countryside or untouched forests were soothing and non-political. And landscape painting was well suited to middle class needs for interior decoration: it was pretty to look at and avoided any unsuitable or controversial content.

The size of painting began to change. The successful artist was well advised to divide his or her time between the large paintings, destined for the Salon, and smaller works, designed for the bourgeois home. Sculpture suffered during the waning of classicism and academic art. Like history painting, classical sculpture was not well-suited to the modern era and sculptors struggled to translate contemporary life into bronze and marble. Like the painters, the sculptors had to divide their endeavors between large-scale public commissions and small scale works, destined for the private market.

It is important to understand how the juste milieu artists approached their subject matter. Paul Delaroche, Jean-Léon Gérome and Ernst Meissonier were all respected and wealthy painters by the 1860s and they rejected the tradition of academic history painting. However, these artists were painters of history, but for many of them their content was contemporary or the near and national past. Gérome was particularly successful with a new art form: the historical genre painting or scenes of everyday life from distant and exotic lands, especially the Near East. The art public enjoyed Gérome’s depictions of ancient Romans living in a way that seemed to resemble their own lives. But Gérome also gave the audience thrilling scenes from the past, such as the assassination of Julius Caesar and gladiatorial contests in the Colosseum. To today’s viewer, Gérome’s paintings are eerily like a Hollywood production, and, indeed, Gérome was typical of his time in his rigorous attention to historical detail and accuracy.

Paul Delaroche is famous in the history of photography because he greeted the invention of photography with the cry, “From today, painting is dead!” Delaroche actually mentored many painters who became photographers and his work, like that of Gérome had that intense realism that resembles the high gloss of a movie. Delaroche is best known for his dramatic scene of the beheading of Lady Jane Grey in 1833. As might be expected, beheading was a sensitive topic in France, and many art historians have suggested that Delaroche’s painting allowed the public to consider the execution of a ruler from a distance of time. The painting is well-executed (no pun intended), as are all the works of the juste milieu artists, and dramatically effecting in the heart rending depiction of the last moments of the Nine Day Queen.

Ernst Meissonier was also a history painter, but his works were about French history and small in size. His popular specialty was scenes of the first Emperor, Napoléon, around whom a cult of nostalgia had formed. A contemporary of the Realist painter of peasants, the unpopular, Jean-François Millet, Meissonier was one of the most successful and respected history painters of his time. Renowned for adherence to accuracy—he even owned one of the Emperor’s saddles—-won him the adulation of the art public and the scorn or the avant-garde critics.

By the end of the Nineteenth Century, the art world had split into opposing segments, the conservative, the juste milieu, and the avant-garde—all of which had a stake in Realism. Avant-garde Realism, which is covered in another chapter, did not use a realistic style to make history look “real,” instead the Realism of Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet was contemporary, of its own time, and provocative.

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

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Realism and Naturalism in Art

REALISM IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND

The main goal of a Realist artist in France was to create an objective and detached description of banal reality, as it existed, in all its ordinariness. Realism, tended to adhere to a particular social point of view that of championing the poor or the lower classes. Depending upon the artist, Realism could be very confrontational, like the art of Gustave Courbet or very conservative, like the paintings of Rosa Bonheur. Basically Realism, expressed a modern desire to look at that which existed in the here and now, rather than re-create a dead world in a dead language, such as Neoclassicism, or to imagine a fantasy world, in the way of Romanticism. Realism demanded, not only new content, but also a new way of making art, based upon the question of how to see, really see, and to look at the “real.” The result of these Realist experiments was a certain consistency in subject matter but a variety of approaches to executing a response to the world, as it existed. But Realism was far too complex from nation to nation to be reduced to a simple-minded contrast to Romanticism.

Like Romanticism, Realism was never a style and was never uniform in content. Full of contradictions, Realism could include, in France, the daughter of a Saint-Simonist, Rosa Bonheur, the petit-bourgeois painter, Gustave Courbet, the narrator of amusing tableaux of middle class life in America, Lily Martin Spencer, the elegant portraits of British society by James Tissot, and the international provocateur par excellence, international artist, James Whistler. Realism incorporated a number of artistic and literary impulses, including Naturalism and Impressionism, and would be a longer movement, lasting at least forty years until the 1880s.

Although the Romantic imagination is often compared to Realist observation of every day life, Realism contained elements of escapism, just as Romanticism had contained elements of Realism. France continued its dominance in the world of the arts, but Realism was far from a French phenomenon. Realism begins, in fact, in England in 1848 with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The PRB was founded while the rest of Europe was embroiled in yet another Revolution. The Brotherhood was inspired by the events on the continent but concentrated, at first, on religious subjects.

Perhaps because the artists in France experienced the uprising directly, their artistic response was more political and more politicized by the art audience. The Revolution of 1848 was the final blow to Romanticism and all illusions of the French Revolution of 1789 died on the barricades. The impact of the Revolution of 1848 is the chief reason why realism in America is a special case and why when the term “Realism” is used in art history, the speaker often thinks of England or France, and especially France.

First, Realism was a revolt against the Academies in both England and France, where classicism still ruled. For the Realist artist, the transcendence of time seen in the academic worship of the past should be—had to be—replaced by the particular and observable events of the contemporary era. The universal event was replaced by the unique event, taking place in a fleeting moment of time. In Academic art, “history” signified an entire narrative that had moral and ethical importance. Within Realism, the anti-academic approach told no story and imparted no significance to the depicted scenes. Contemporary history was approached with the same deadpan viewpoint used for more banal moments. There is nothing romantic or glorious about Manet’s Execution of Maximilian (1867), only embarrassment and tragedy. Realism was also anti-Romantic by rejecting the escape into the unreal.

The Romantic artist’s struggle for self-expression was replaced by the desire to depict one’s own time. Honoré’s statement, “Il faut être de son temps” was the battle cry of the Realists who preferred humble subjects compared to the exotic and fantastical narratives of the Romantics. The rejection of both Academic art and of Romantic ideals signaled a new understanding that even the ordinary is important and should be rendered as seriously as a noble deed from the past. Taking note of the funeral attire, the black suits of the bourgeoisie males, Charles Baudelaire argued that there was a unique kind of “modern” heroism of everyday life. In the Salon of 1946, he wrote,

But to return to our principal and essential problem, which is to discover whether we possess a specific beauty, intrinsic to our new emotions, I observe that the majority of artists who have attacked modern life have contented themselves with public and official subjects – with our victories and our political heroism. Even so, they do it with an ill grace, and only because they are commissioned by the government which pays them. However there are private subjects which are very much more heroic than these.

Realism also turned away from the concept of style, particularly as a personal trait that expressed one’s personality. Delacroix and Ingres asserted themselves by flouting or by exaggerating the academic style. The Realist artist resisted academic conventions and rejected the influence of the trained artistic eye that came between an honest depiction of reality and the hand of the artist. Many Realist artists expressed the desire to see as innocently as a child and this need for nonconventional innocence resulted in a challenge to the received techniques of the Academy.

The Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Millais, obliterated academic style with his obsessive delineation of closely observed nature. Gustave Courbet mimicked the clumsy and naïve approach of outsider artists. The result, as Emile Zola expressed it, was “nature seen from the corner of a temperament.” In order to see freshly, conventional composition and chiaroscuro were disregarded and color became local rather than emotional or formal. Like philosophy, art came to increasingly rest upon empiricism and close observation. However, there was a genuine desire on the part of the artist to throw off the weight of the dead history of classical art (to paraphrase Karl Marx) and to defy the authority of the previous generation.

The role of the Realist artist was to tell the truth. Reasons for telling the truth and for making objective art varied. Some artists, such as Ernst Meissonier, used the idea of photographic realism to recreate a historical scene with accuracy. Some artists, such as Rosa Bonheur, used realism to celebrate the working animals of the rural life of her country, la belle France. It would be incorrect to assume that those two artists were not political, for both were very nationalistic in their intentions to celebrate France and its heritage.

Other Realist artists, such as Jean-François Millet or Gustave Courbet were considered to be “political,” “Red,” or “communist,” because they did not uphold the existing artistic order and challenged its social preconceptions of rigid class stratifications. Millet’s The Gleaners of 1857 showed the plight of the landless peasant in the age of the collective corporate farm. In England, Holman Hunt took up the theme of the “fallen woman,” the social problem of the Victorian era, and presented a morality tale to the audience with The Awakening Conscience. Edouard Manet had no such moral pretentions in his equally graphic images of the woman in her fallen state, such as Nana, a smiling courtesan inspired by Emil Zola’s novel of the same name.

Whatever the artist’s motivations, Realism was based upon the scientific method. Like scientists, they observed nature and recorded it faithfully. Like scientists, they supposedly sat passively before nature and copied it without comment or judgment. But the vaunted objectivity of any of these artists should not be taken literally, for no human is ever completely objective or nonjudgmental. Courbet had every intention of confronting bourgeois complacency with his realistic depictions of ordinary life among the petit bourgeois of his home territory of Franche-Comté.

The later accusations of passivity that were leveled against the Impressionists especially do not reflect the fact that artists are actively selecting their content. The Impressionists, who extended Realist to its logical outcome, painted their optical impressions of light and color. But the Impressionists eschewed the provocative content of their predecessors and did not confront the audience with social challenges. The last of the Realist groups, the Impressionists selected suburban scenes of middle class life, where the sun always shone and the skies were always blue and the people were always joyous.

Keeping in mind that “impressionism” was a derogratory term, it is also important to be aware of the reception of the Realist artists. The art audience was often hostile towards Realist art in terms of subject matter while accepting, however, grudgingly the talents of the artist. Although there were those who objected to his workman-like use of the palette knife, Courbet’s painting skills were universally acknowledged. Manet, on the other hand, would be roundly condemned for is complete abandonment of academic technique. And the Barbizon School and the Impressionists would be excoriated for their neglect of the rules of academic “finish” when it came to completing a painting in the appropriate manner.

When examining the critical reception of the Realists, it seems that even provocative content could be somewhat tolerated as long as some semblance of recognizable “skill” was visible. When painterly technique diverged too radically from the academic standards, the audience was scandalized, regardless of the subject matter. Gustave Courbet and Edouard Manet, both transition artists, would be the last of their kind in their quest for Salon acceptance and the recognition of the Academy. The Impressionists would completely reject the academic system and would make their case to the avant-garde collector. It is here with this last generation of the Realist artists, that the avant-garde matured with Impressionism.

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

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

[email protected]