Essay: Compare and Contrast Two Art Periods

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Art History/Impressionism

Paintings of the French Impressionists have long enjoyed tremendous popularity among museum-goers in the United States. "The Impressionist galleries at the Metropolitan Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston serve as the crowning spaces in their larger installations of European easel painting, and most of these Impressionist galleries have the highest attendance of any permanent collection spaces in the museums" (Brettell, 1995). The purpose of this paper is to compare impressionism and post impressionism in terms of their characteristics of style and historical origins and significance. Impressionism was all about the changing light in natural settings. Post impressionist artists took these notions about light and the natural world and imposed on them more form and structure, fitting for the transition into the more modern world of the twentieth century.

In the mid-nineteenth century, when Impressionism was born, France was undergoing great change. Paris began its ascent as a capital of luxury and fashion. As well, the city became more industrialized, upsetting the social order (Hill, 1980, p. 9). Those who benefited from the advances in technology wanted cultural symbols that represented continuity and stability. Classical art was France's official art, to the dismay of art student Claude Monet, who said of the Greek busts and bas-reliefs favored by the upper classes, "there is no sincerity" (Hill, p. 10). Monet and some of his fellow students -- Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, and Pissaro -- rebelled against their classical training and exhibited their work as part of a group exhibition in April, 1974. Critics were appalled and French society was enraged (Hill, p. 10). To some, the paintings looked as though they were unfinished.

The Impressionist painters responded to the classical style and the people of Paris it represented to them. They responded to an increasingly industrialized society by embracing the natural world. Their aim was not to represent the natural world in a careful, controlled way, but to use vivid colors and quick, bold brushstrokes to capture the essence, or impression, of nature and the play of light. An excellent example can be seen in Monet's painting c. 1872, Regatta at Argenteuil, which is housed at the Louvre.

Regatta shows some sailboats on what appears to be a clear summer day. The sky is comprised of a series of short, horizontal brushstrokes that the artist made with various shades of blue, white and gray. The water is even brighter blue than the sky, and in it one can see reflections of the sails as well as the people, buildings, and trees on shore. The trees are bright green; the buildings are shades of orange and red. It is easy to see that the painting depicts sailboats on a lake, but the painting appears to have been done in haste. Edges and details are blurred and the viewer's overall impression is of an explosion of color and light. The last great works of Monet illustrate this point quite well. Monet created a water garden at his house in Giverny and completed a series of paintings based on the garden. Whereas the earlier painting Regatta featured the natural world, it also included people and man-made objects such as the boats and the buildings. Water-garden… [END OF PREVIEW]

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