Sparkling with sunlight, these pictures appeal to people who find pleasure in rivers and boats. Looked at from close to, the dabs and swirls of colour on the canvas have a broken effect — as if our eyes are not properly focused. But viewing them from a distance we can almost feel the atmosphere of the real scenes. In Paris more than a hundred years ago this kind of painting was labelled Impressionist, because the rough brushwork looked unfinished. However, the artists here are now recognised as having explored an exciting new way of painting. Today, the names Monet, Renoir and Pissarro are among the very famous in modern art.
These Impressionists were determined to capture — on a flat surface — the actual colour and light of the natural world. Therefore, they worked with oil paints in the open air, instead of sketching out-of-doors for a painting that would be made indoors in a studio. They investigated new scientific colour theories. By close observation, they found that they did not see objects separately, each with their own colour; but rather a bright medley of tints that seemed to blend in the mind’s eye. They were especially fascinated by the play of light on water.
The First Impressionist Exhibition was held in Paris in 1874, and severely criticised. But, undeterred, this group continued to work and exhibit together. They produced between them hundreds and hundreds of paintings, which can be seen in museums and art galleries all round the world today. In The Seine at Argenteuil (1873) CLAUDE MONET (1840-1926) concentrated on the reflections in the river made by the autumn trees and sky. CAMILLE PISSARRO (1831-1903), who was more conscious of the changing world of his time, stressed the smoking factory chimney in his Beside the Seine at Pontoise. AUGUSTE RENOIR (1841-1919) preferred to paint people enjoying ‘modern’ life in Paris. Here he has found them at Chatou, where he and his friends amused themselves at weekends at the boating club. BERTHE MORISOT (1841-95), at first the only woman in the Impressionist group, painted many waterside scenes. Her sister posed on the wall for Harbour at L’Orient.