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Vision After the Sermon (1888)

Artist: Paul Gauguin

Artwork description & Analysis: Gauguin studied in Brittany in the
north of France where the unique history and customs represented a
certain degree of spiritual freedom and primitive candor for Gauguin.
While there, he painted Vision After the Sermon.

The painting, which depicts a revelatory vision of Jacob wrestling with

an angel, clearly delineates reality and spiritual manifestation through
aesthetic form. While the crowd of churchgoers who experience the
vision is in the foreground, the Biblical struggle appears in the
background, surrounded by a two-dimensional and vibrantly colored
plane. Gauguin relied upon the abstraction of the red ground to
communicate the space of the vision as well as the heightened
emotions present at a religious revelation. As this work demonstrates,
Gauguin rejected the conventions of industrialized modern society, in
both his art and his life, through romanticized evocations of the
primitive, the incorporeal, and the mystical. In doing so, he helped
initiate the individualized expressionistic vein of avant-garde art that
influenced generations of artists throughout the twentieth century.
Oil on canvas - National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

The Starry Night is an oil on canvas by the Dutch post-

impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Painted in June 1889, it
depicts the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room
at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, just before sunrise, with the addition of an
idealized village.[1][2][3] It has been in the permanent collection of
the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 1941, acquired
through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. It is regarded as among Van Gogh's
finest works [4] and is one of the most recognized paintings in the
history of Western culture.[5][6]
The Large Bathers (1900-1906)
Artist: Paul Cézanne
Artwork description & Analysis: Many consider Cezanne's The Large
Bathers his defining masterpiece. In it, Cezanne employed the
technique of constructing visually complex images composed of
simple shapes, lines, and geometric forms built up from the canvas
with thick impasto. He composed the bathers, trees, and landscape
from planes of color and applied the paint with a palette knife, not a
brush. These color planes highlighted the fact that the viewer's eye
observed a scene both simultaneously and consecutively. This visual
effect caused the forms of the bathers' bodies in the foreground to
merge into the branches of the trees in the landscape behind them.
This visual slippage heralded the future of modernist painting. The
spatial ambiguity of the Bathers and Cezanne's emphasis on formal
structure paved the way for the visual experimentations of Cubism.

The Dream (1910)

Artist: Henri Rousseau
Artwork description & Analysis: In The Dream, his last and largest painting,
Rousseau presented a unique interpretation of the traditional theme of the
reclining nude. She is resting on her side, surrounded by the tropical flora
and fauna of the mysterious depths of a jungle. Curiously, the woman
reclines on a couch, not a patch of grass, observing her exotic surroundings
as if at a great remove. Rousseau explained that he depicted the woman as
she sat on her sofa in her Parisian apartment, dreaming of the tropical jungle
that surrounded her. The lack of perspectival depth, use of bright color, and
distorted representations accentuate the dream-like quality of the painting.
Although Rousseau repeatedly painted images of jungles, he never even left
Paris. Instead, his exoticized images of the non-industrialized world were
creations of his own imagination that emphasized his rejection of modernity
as well as the preeminence of his individual artistic vision. Like many of his
other works, Rousseau's The Dream displays the artist's disregard for
naturalistic depiction and realistic content in favor of surreal renderings.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art

Impressionism can be considered the first distinctly modern

movement in painting. Developing in Paris in the 1860s, its
influence spread throughout Europe and eventually the United
States. Its originators were artists who rejected the official,
government-sanctioned exhibitions, or salons, and were
consequently shunned by powerful academic art institutions. In
turning away from the fine finish and detail to which most artists of
their day aspired, the Impressionists aimed to capture the
momentary, sensory effect of a scene - the impressionobjects made
on the eye in a fleeting instant. To achieve this effect, many
Impressionist artists moved from the studio to the streets and
countryside, painting en plein air.

Key Ideas

The Impressionists loosened their brushwork and lightened their

palettes to include pure, intense colors. They abandoned traditional
linear perspective and avoided the clarity of form that had previously
served to distinguish the more important elements of a picture from
the lesser ones. For this reason, many critics faulted Impressionist
paintings for their unfinished appearance and seemingly amateurish
Picking up on the ideas of Gustave Courbet, the Impressionists
aimed to be painters of the real - they aimed to extend the possible
subjects for paintings. Getting away from depictions of idealized
forms and perfect symmetry, but rather concentrating on the world
as they saw it, imperfect in a miriad number of ways.

At the time, there were many ideas of what constituted modernity.

Part of the Impressionist idea was to capture a split second of life,
an ephemeral moment in time on the canvas: the impression.

Scientific thought at the time was beginning to recognize that what

the eye perceived and what the brain understood were two different
things. The Impressionists sought to capture the former - the optical
effects of light - to convey the passage of time, changes in weather,
and other shifts in the atmosphere in their canvases. Their art did
not necessarily rely on realistic depictions.

Impressionism records the effects of the massive mid-nineteenth-

century renovation of Paris led by civic planner Georges-Eugène
Haussmann, which included the city's newly constructed railway
stations; wide, tree-lined boulevards that replaced the formerly
narrow, crowded streets; and large, deluxe apartment buildings. The
works that focused on scenes of public leisure - especially scenes
of cafés and cabarets - conveyed the new sense of alienation
experienced by the inhabitants of the first modern metropolis.
Most Important Art

Vetheuil in the Fog (1879)

Artist: Claude Monet

In 1878, Monet moved his family to the town of

Vetheuil in northern France. They temporarily lived
with a wealthy magnate who became Monet's patron.
His Vetheuil in the Fog is among his finest works,
offering a subtle, albeit distinct impression of a figural
form. As was characteristic of many of Monet's
paintings, he applied his brush rather quickly to the
canvas in order to capture the exact image he wanted
before the sunlight shifted or faded away altogether.
Monet's emphasis on the fleeting changes in the
natural world was a central aspect of his oeuvre that
captures the ephemerality of nature and preserves it
within the picture plane; thus, the momentary
perception is crystallized in the replication of the
optical experience of it.
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Impressionism Artworks in Focus:


Gustave Courbet and The Challenge to Official Art

The Realist movement, championed by Gustave Courbet, first

confronted the official Parisian art establishment in the middle of the
nineteenth century. Courbet was an anarchist that thought the art of
his time closed its eyes on realities of life. The French were ruled by
an oppressive regime and much of the public was in the throes of
poverty. Instead of depicting such scenes, the artists of the time
concentrated on idealized nudes and glorious depictions of nature.
In his protest, Courbet financed an exhibition of his work right
opposite the Universal Exposition in Paris of 1855, a bold act that
led to the emergence of future artists that would challange the
status quo.

Exhibitions in Paris and The Salon des Refusés

In 1863, at the official yearly art salon, the all-important event of the
French art world, a large number of artists were not allowed to
participate, leading to public outcry. The same year, the Salon des
Refusés ("Salon of the Refused") was formed in response to allow
the exhibition of works by artists who had previously been refused
entrance to the official salon. Some of the exhibitors were Paul
Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, James Whistler, and the early
iconoclast Édouard Manet. Although promoted by authorities and
sanctioned by Emperor Napoleon III, the 1863 exhibition caused a
scandal, due largely to the unconventional themes and styles of
works such as Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863), which
featured clothed men and naked women enjoying an afternoon
picnic (the women were not classical depictions of a nude, but
rather women that took off their clothes).
Édouard Manet and the Painting Revolution
Édouard Manet was among the first and most important innovators
to emerge in the public exhibition scene in Paris. Although he grew
up in admiration of the Old Masters, he began to incorporate an
innovative, looser painting style and brighter palette in the early
1860s. He also started to focus on images of everyday life, such as
scenes in cafés, boudoirs, and out in the street. His anti-academic
style and quintessentially modern subject matter soon attracted the
attention of artists on the fringes and influenced a new type of
painting that would diverge from the standards of the official salon.
Similar to Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, his other works such
as Olympia (1863) gave the emerging group ideas to depict that
were not previously considered art worthy.

French Cafés and Diversity

One of the popular venues for the individuals that were to become
the Impressionist to meet and discuss painting and art were
Parisian cafés. In particular, Café Guerbois in Montmartre was
frequented by Manet starting 1866. Renoir, Sisley, Monet, Degas,
Cézanne, and Pissarro would visit that cafe, while Caillebotte and
Bazille had studios nearby and would often join the gatherings.
Other personalities attracted to the creative group including writers,
critics, and the photographer Nadar, and most notably the writer
Emile Zola that both added to the ethos of the group, and later
championed their work in print.

Part of the interesting dynamics of the group was the variety of

personalities, economic circumstances, and political views. Monet,
Renoir, and Pissarro had lower and working class backgrounds
while Morisot, Caillebotte, and Degas were from haute
bourgeoisie roots. Mary Cassatt was American (and a woman) and
Alfred Sisley was Anglo-French. This diversity of personalities may
be the reason so much success arose from all these individual, and
group, efforts.