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  • Writer's pictureTerri Tomoff

Impressionists - Rebel Artists!

I knew I liked those impressionist artists, and not just for their amazing body of work that is loved the world over, still today. They were rebels in the 1860s and 1870s and beyond. Some could not get into the traditional 'artist' Salons of the day, so they pivoted and made their own. Maybe you've heard of Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and Sisley. Some critics of that time period lumped them together because they"stabbed" with their brush strokes and didn't fully make their paintings as realistic as what was being painted then. That was the entire point!

The first impressionist exhibition was a low-key affair. Not many journalists in Paris were interested in this "new" kind of artwork and had no ambition to learn and write about it. Although his little exhibit was mentioned in the press at the end of March 1874, only thirty journalists came out to review these new art initiatives. Some thought it was funny and not really "art." They also wanted to support those with institutional backing, not the very different cooperative spirit that was planned to be displayed.

Art collecting was a thing in Paris from the 1850s onward and was most popular among the bourgeoisie. They honored "respectable" and "academic" artists as well as the traditional Salon (a stepping stone for serious artists), not the new thing in town 20 years later.

Then, Impression, Sunrise by Monet, became a special place in the history of Impressionism. According to the book Paris 1874, it's both true and false that the above title gave the movement its name. Although, along with other landscapes, it inspired the satirical journalist Louis Leroy to coin the term impressionism. This word had been used to refer to the rapidly executed sketches drawn from nature that artists traditionally kept in their studies for themselves. Monet asserted loudly and clearly that he sought to portray a subjective sensation to transcribe a momentary effect, not to depict a time or place.

I can't even imagine the gossip at that time, with all the painters vying for art collectors and buyers for their own ideas and images, certainly not willing to welcome new ideas and the artists implementing them. Perhaps they were threatened by the originality of impressionism. Perhaps they were jealous of how well the rebels got along and exhibited their work without the staid traditionalists.

In the spring of 1874, the creators of the most original, daring paintings of the time were exhibited on the Boulevard des Capucines in photographer Nadar's former studio. The amount varied on how many items were displayed at that time, so I'll round it to about 100 works give or take about 10 or 20. It was during this exhibit that the painters officially represented themselves as "impressionist painters."

Some painters never looked back. Some painters still strived to be accepted into the Salon and were selected. Some were able to do both.

Lastly, the 1874 Impressionist exhibit was a success. The works shown celebrated the emergence of an urban, bourgeois lifestyle. High society is most often represented with its fashionable clothes, horse races, and seaside vacations. However, at the turn of the new century, many of the painters enjoyed even more success and notoriety, though many were quite old or passed away.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you would have thought Mick Jagger was in the "house" (Musee d'Orsay) when we were there with the crowds, shouts, and screams over all those impressionist paintings! Those rebels with a cause were certainly onto something! One hundred and fifty years later, the world is still gaga for this type of art.

If you like/love Impressionism and can plan a trip to Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery of Art, it is the same show I saw in Paris. Click here for more details:



Photos taken in Paris: 1) Auguste Renoir - La Balançoire, 2) Giuseppe De Nittis - Avenue du bois de Boulogne, 3) Édouard Manet - Le Chemin de fer



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