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        What was it?

      • Impressionism was the derisive name given to the most important artistic phenomenon of the 19th century and the first of the Modern Movements. The name was derived from a picture by Monet, Impression, Sunrise (1872: Paris, Musee Marmottan), which represents the play of light on water, with the spectator looking straight into the rising sun. The occasion of the derision was the first Impressionist Exhibition, held in 1874, when Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Cezanne, Degas, Guillaumin, Boudin, Berthe Morisot and others held an independent exhibition. In fact, the true aim of Impressionism was to achieve ever greater naturalism, by exact analysis of tone and colour and by trying to render the play of light on the surface of objects. This is a form of sensualism in which traditional ideas of composition and drawing - that is, putting a line round a concept were bound to suffer. Impressionist interest in colour and light was at least partly due to the researches into the physics of colour carried out by scientists like Chevreul; and the idea that an object of any given colour casts a shadow tinged with its complementary (though known already to Delacroix) suggested one ofthe principal ways in which they animated the surface of their canvases. The flickering touch, with the paint applied in small, brightly-coloured dabs, and the lack of firm outline, combined with the brightness of the colour, even in the shadows, and the generally high key, undoubtedly alienated the public. In the course of time these technical devices became petrified into a quasi-scientific method of applying paint (Neo-Impressionism) which was supposed to give the maximum of truth optical truth - to nature: it also led naturally to Post-Impressionism; that is, to a purely artistic and anti-naturalistic movement.

        The great decade of Impressionism was 1870-80, but most of the major figures, such as Monet, Pissarro and Sisley, continued to produce masterpieces in a more or less Impressionist style for many more years. Degas, and Cezanne were only dubiously Impressionists even in the l870s (many of the original group felt that Cezanne was more than they could swallow) and they very soon moved away from it. Cezanne said that he wanted 'to make of Impressionism something solid and durable, like the art of the Museums', thus clearly defining the main weakness ofthe movement, its lack of intellectual rigour. Nevertheless, most painting of the last 100 years has been profoundly affected by it, and even the RA and the Salon would nowadays be lost without it.

        There is a large collection in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and there is now also an important collection in the Mus. Marmottan, Passy, Paris; but the very nature of the movement, with its emphasis on painting landscapes out of doors and catching the fleeting impression, meant an enormous output of pictures so that they are not difficult to find. The eight Impressionist Exhibitions were held in 1874, 1876, 1877, 1879, 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886.

      • Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)

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essential impressionism books @ ebay.com (direct link to books) - just checked and a bigger selection than I have seen anywhere else