There was anger, bloodshed, hatefulness and anarchy.
All that turmoil turned out to be for naught, however, as the conservatives took control of the government by 1849, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of those who demanded change. The newly prosperous bourgeoisie (middle class) - along with the poor and the aristocracy - were experiencing "widespread distrust" and paranoia, according to Teach Impressionism. Add to this mix of explosive social conditions the Industrial Revolution, which placed a newfound sense of faith in the individual, and the individual's "unlimited potential." Along came romantic painters who began to get out of their studios and paint the landscape they saw; artists like Corot, Millet, and Rousseau, along with Gustave Courbet, went out and painted what they saw in the community of poverty and despair. These influences had an affect on the impressionists, who were to come later. The beliefs and styles of the impressionists led them to a natural distaste for and even contempt for the Academy - and once the Academy rejected the impressionists, then the deal was sealed for the impressionists. They know knew that there was a world out there they could capture with their revolutionary styles and themes, and it was exciting, not just to be in the rebellion that was sweeping the land, but to show a new frontier of expression, to lead the way for others in music and theater, who also were restless for change.
The Industrial Revolution had brought economic prosperity to Europe, and in particular to France, and people felt this new power through their ability to earn and spend in ways they hadn't previously known.
One of the reasons the first impressionist exhibit meant so much to the impressionists was that the Salon required artists to submit their work "to a jury that applied outmoded standards in deciding which works were acceptable," Thompson explains. In particular, they were indignant over the say the Salon had responded to the work of Edouard Manet's Le Dejeuner sur I'herve in 1863. The painting showed a pair of men in contemporary clothing seated next to a naked woman in a picnic setting. Nudes were off-limits in painting, which was a rule the Academy had established. You didn't try to break Academy rules, and if you did, not only being snubbed punished you, but your world would be chastised and publicly smeared. This rejection of Manet's beautiful impressionist painting helped the younger artists who admired Manet rally around the idea of impressionism. However, Manet himself still respected the Academy and the Salon.
That nude painting by Manet featured the woman posing and directing her gaze at the person looking at the painting was "out of step with the taste of the time, and many people (not just the Academy) considered the painting an affront to morality." Indeed, the painting was labeled immoral by the Academy, because it was not "suitably distanced from real life" (Thompson, 2007). It could have been okay if it had been placed in a setting that was mythological, say, or another non-realistic context.
And so Manet became something of a hero to other rebellious artists "who were trying to break away from outmoded conventions" (Thompson). Indeed, though Manet never put his paintings in with the impressionists in their exhibits, he did socialize with them and his brushwork became "looser and more spontaneous, his composition freer, and his subject matter more contemporary," which was moving closer to the impressionist style of painting.
Another superstar in the impressionist movement was Pierre Auguste Renoir, who became one of the greatest, most revered, and most "independent painters of his period" (http://encarta.msn.com).His work was definitely out of bounds as far as the conservative Academy was concerned, because he presented nude female figures (for example, "Bathers") that was unacceptable at that time to the powers that were in charge of art. He had an extraordinary ability to "depict the lustrous, pearly color and texture of skin" which gave the viewer of his paintings, a kind of "lyrical feeling," Encarta's narrative continues.
According to the Timetables of History the first impressionist exhibition in 1874 was preceded in 1873 by Cezanne's "The Straw Hat," Manet's "Le bon Bock" - and in 1875, Monet presented "Boating at Argenteuil." Many more paintings were to be produced and displayed in the following years, of course, as society gradually accepted this style, and the Academy indeed became a place the reflected the past.
Stylistically, the impressionists advocated the idea of artistic freedom - not so much in a political sense, but through their actions and their talent - and painting outdoors was a big part of their effort. Most of the impressionists had camera, and so they were adapting their brushstrokes and their visions to what technology could do in the similar genre.
What the eyes sees, and the hand puts down, was important to the impressionists. Most of the impressionists, including Monet, Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet and even Henri Matisse, had been students of academic artists to begin with, before they broke away on their own. They came to reject academic art as too narrow stylistically, and they also rejected, according to Thompson, the style that the academic artists used. That is, the academics would draw a picture with pencil, then bring oil onto the canvas and polish the drawings that way. The impressionists rejected this style as cheating, saying it was not really a product of sight, but rather it had a mechanical technique as part of its presentation.
It is also true that there were scientific advances that helped the impressionists. Thompson of the University of Edinburgh writes that there was a newly available kind of oil paint in metal tubes, which for the first time made painting outside of the studio, in grassy fields or on city streets, far easier. The new paints were made with "artificial pigments" and provided mush brighter colors, notably greens, yellows, and blues. There were also scientific theories about color that the impressionists embraced. "To enhance the intensity of colors in their paintings," Thompson notes, they avoided black and earth tones - usually used to present shadow and shading - and instead substituted complementary colors." For example the underside of a red apple would be "dappled with shades of green."
These new painting approaches also embraced "impasto" (thick, textural dabs of paint) rather than the glazes that had been traditionally used (thin, transparent layers of paint). All in all, the impressionists were unafraid of the Academy, of the Salon, and were willing to be criticized because they knew they were onto something important.
Grun, Bernard. "The Timetables of History." New York: A Touchstone Book, 1963.
Merriam-Webster. "Impressionism" Retrieved March 3, 2008, at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/impressionism.
Teach Impressionism. "Radicalism of Impressionism: "Trees are Not Violet; the Sky is Not
Butter!" Retrieved March 3, 2008, at http://www.impressionism.org/teachimpress/browse/aboutimpress.htm.
Thompson, Belinda. "Impressionism." Encarta. Retrieved March 3, 2008, at http://encarta.msn.com.(2007)