The collection of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen boasts several important masterpieces of French Impressionism. These include, for example, the paintings of Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir.
The Impressionists left their studios and ventured out into the countryside, where they recorded what they saw with quick brush marks: they gave an impression of their surroundings. This movement gave an important impulse to the development of modern art in the second half of the nineteenth century.
For centuries, artists were confined to their studio by their materials. The invention of the paint tube in 1841 by John Goff Rand made it possible to paint outside. Paint in a tube doesn’t dry out and can be taken along in manageable amounts. That had a considerable influence on the development of the visual arts in the 19th century, including Impressionism. ‘Without the tube, no Impressionism’, said the French artist Auguste Renoir.
Did you know
that the most popular subjects in Impressionist paintings are landscapes and views of modern cities? Many of the people depicted in Impressionist paintings are middle class in contrast to the people in ‘serious’ paintings.
The young Impressionists who around 1860 went outside to paint saw how the colours of the landscape constantly changed under the influence of the sun and the weather conditions. They tried to commit that on the spot to their canvas. That explains the hasty manner of painting and why their depictions were out of focus.
Only an impression
Impressionism was initially a negative description. The name was borrowed from a painting by Claude Monet, ‘View of Le Havre’. The compilers of an exhibition where the work was exhibited for the first time thought that you couldn’t really tell that it was supposed to be Le Havre. Monet therefore gave the painting the title: ‘Impression, soleil levant’ (Impression, sunrise). The critic Louis Leroy subsequently used the term for a satirical description in the magazine Le Carivari: it doesn’t represent very much, it was only an impression.
The short, quick brush marks are clearly visible when viewed closely.
The official Salons, the exhibitions that were organised by the Academy of Paris, frequently rejected progressive and innovative art. The development of modern painting in the 19th century is closely linked to the reaction against the conservative taste of the Salons. In 1863, for example, an official ‘Salon de Refusés’ (Salon of the Refused) was founded for all artists who had lodged complaints against the refusal of their work by the Salon.
This alternative salon caused considerable commotion and ridicule, but also placed important new developments in the spotlight. Many of the Impressionists would exhibit their work in later editions of the Salon des Réfusés in 1874, 1875 and 1886. Paul Signac was one of the founders of the Société des Artistes Indépendants in 1884. Both Marquet and Dufy exhibited at these salons.
The paintings of the generation of French painters following the Impressionists seem less hasty than those of their world-famous predecessors. The idea of painting reality as immediately as possible made way for a more thoughtful observation, in which technical aspects such as use of colour and consistency of shape were important.
Paul Signac was, together with Georges Seurat, who died at an early age, one of the main pioneers of Pointillism, a technique based on colour theory in which unmixed paint was applied in regular dots and the colours mixed themselves optically when viewed from a distance.