The purpose of this exercise was to collect some images of rural life by the Realist and Impressionist painters and then some of city life by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters both of which I really am very interested in. As I research both sets of images the course material asks you to think about how the rural paintings represent stereotypical figures and also about how the urban images tell you about the city everyday life at the time along with reflecting how close both sets of artists were to their chosen subjects – Edgar Degas was very much an observer who painted his works in his studio but did studies on site but many painters worked on their canvases on location for instance.
Another thought to consider was one asked in the course material of whether the rural images gave an impression of a working environment or one of a holiday one and finally on whether the fact we now see these images on calendars and souvenirs and whether this influences how we in the modern era respond to them.
The first painting I have chosen is by one of my personal favourite artists Alberto Pisa who is not strictly speaking he is not an Impressionist painter himself but rather he was an artist of the Macchiaioli movement which is closely associated with the Impressionist movement and hence why I take the liberty of including him. The painting ‘Girl selling birds in the Via del Campidoglio’, a street in Rome is a well-known piece and on that is full of emotion and atmosphere.
For me this image is one where I have the impression that Alberto Pisa was sat directly in front of the girl even if at least to do a simple sketch if not the whole painting. This image is one which very much depicts a typical urban scene of a working-class girl trying to earn a living at the turn of the century with an impression of a grimy street perhaps near the centre of Rome and the tourist areas visited perhaps by those men and women of the upper-classes on the Grand Tour – it was painted in 1905.
In contrast ‘Paris street, rainy day, by Gustave Caillebotte which was painted in 1877 is considered to be one of the best impressions of 19th century Paris ever painted. Caillebott combines both an academic and Impressionist style in his works – for me personally this is seen in his sharp focus of this image very deliberate style but it also feels that the spectator is viewing the scene through the eyes of the artist but with an emotion that speaks from the soul. I feel this image is one of the middle classes if not the upper classes and the street is almost too clean and perfect for the period – it has none of the griminess you associate with the 19th century and is a sanitised version of what the artist witnessed. Comparing Pisa and Caillebotte I feel one is very much of an artist who had more humble beginnings than the other – Caillebotte was born into an upper-class family and his work very much depicts figures of his class whilst Pisa, although there is not a lot of information available, seems to have come the aforesaid more humble beginnings and both portray the figures of their status perhaps.
If I am considering rural works I have found an image that in my opinion does depict a stereotypical scene that although in France could also be in England of the same period – Haymaking at Eragny is by Camille Pisarro and was painted in 1887. The scene is very much of a work environment and you do feel that the artist is involved in the scene rather than just being an observer – if I think of a quote that states that the Impressionist period changed from being art whereby the spectator viewed the works as windows into a world to that of a window into an artist’s mind and soul for me this image is very much of the latter. I feel Pisarro was not merely an observer in his series on haystacks and haymaking but was more closely involved perhaps in the community whilst he worked. However this is still very much a stereotypical working scene of the time in any rural community during haymaking season.
This was one of a series of paintings done of the same image but to show the changing light and this series consequentially had sub-series works painted from different angles. The information on this painting states that it was painted from Pisarro’s apartment window so was a direct observation and is one very much of a working everyday scene in Paris of the period. It is a more distant image than that of the series he did on haymaking where you feel the artist was much closer to his subjects and they became portraits as well as rural scenes whereas this is almost a panoramic image in contrast.
Another image I discovered during the course of this research is one by Monet of Le Gare Saint Lezare painted in 1877 and is very much of an urban scene albeit one at the train station. For me this is one that is also reminiscent of the progress of the Industrial Revolution of the period and I feel that Monet was a direct observer as he worked on this piece – it does not strike somehow as if this piece was done in a studio such is the way Monet captured the light and the atmosphere in front of him.
Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergere is mentioned in the course material and although I am an admirer of the piece I found this work by Edgar Degas simply entitled ‘l’Absinthe’ but also known as ‘Dans un cafe’. Absinthe was deemed a dangerous drink and eventually became prohibited and this piece is seen by some as a painting that depicts the harmful effects as the man and women sit side by side but with empty and for me forlorn expressions. Although the cafe was identified as being a real one and one that in fact was a meeting place of artists and intellectual bohemians it seems this work was done in fact in the studio so the realism is contrived and the figures depicted were models chosen by Degas. It seems that the off-centre framing was inspired by Japanese prints but done to depict an image of drunkenness and he further gives an impression of a busy cafe by the silhouettes of two further figures on the wall behind the models. Does this tell of a typical urban scene of the period? yes I feel it does particularly if the intention was to depict the aforesaid dangers of what is even now considered a very strong alcoholic drink that comes with its own reputation. I do have an impression that this painting although contrived and set up was one done from observance in life and hence Degas was close to his the people he later used models to portray.
Lastly I discovered a Spanish artist Joachim Sorolla whose painting of ‘La hora del bano’ I cannot resist including due to the simple innocence of the scene with children coming out of the sea to be wrapped in a dry cloth or towel. Impressionism had no presence in Spain but Sorolla’s works were clearly influenced by the movement and hence my inclusion – the piece incidentally was painted in 1909 so clearly towards the end of the Impressionist period of art.
The girl and the small boys contrast perfectly with the men and the oxen behind them and this for me is a scene perhaps typical of life in a rural location near the sea of the period and in fact in some communities such scenes may still be part of everyday life even today or certainly the very recent past. I also take note of the boat in the background and question whether the figures are heading off for a days fishing as further young boys play in the surf between the boat and the oxen. This is a simple scene with complex compositional elements but for the purposes of this exercise I must concentrate and ask myself how close the artist was and is it a holiday or working environment? with this painting the feeling is it is a working environment with the fishermen and men tending the oxen but it is also one that depicts playfulness in the young figures who were not necessarily on holiday and possibly just part of the local community. The artist may have been a direct observer sat on the beach or he may have sketched the scene in front of him and like Degas took those sketches back to his studio to work from further. The light and the movement has been caught with elegance and the atmosphere is very much one of a window into the soul of the artist as well as a window into a time gone past.
As I have researched the different images that could answer the questions post I have come to the conclusion that some of the artists of the periods immersed themselves totally in the scenes they wished to portray whilst others did sketches and then worked in their studios using additional notes of the light or colours. The images I personally prefer are the ones worked directly with the source in front of them as the light is captured in a way that is more fleeting and the images are more realistic and less romantic. I am intrigued by the differences between Alberto Pisa and Gustave Caillebotte and how the latter has captured the figures who are very much of the same social status as he was whilst the former has captured a simple working class girl.
As a final image I discovered Konstantin Korovin who was a leading Russian Impressionist painter and painted this work in 1917 and is simply entitled ‘Spring’. The image has no figures but still manages to capture the simplicity of rural Russian life in a period of great turmoil throughout the world – in this particular year I know my grandfather was in Belgium with his regiment and yet this is a scene of undisturbed simple life unaffected by the conflicts raging in World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917.
The painting shows accurately the Impressionist movement of which Korovin was undoubtedly part of but with the colours used by the Russian art movement but the work is one of spring and atmospherically and emotionally it feels one of hope and renewal with the sun streaming through the trees and over the rural farmhouses in the background.
I do not feel this a stereotypical image but one painted from close observation and at source – you feel the artist is engaged with his surroundings and this is again the type of works I personally prefer.
Finally the question of how the reproduction of calendars and souvenirs affect the way we respond to these paintings? it is without doubt that many we know from calendars etc and this does influence how we view them – some by Monet are almost considered ‘too trendy’ for many or you have been subject to seeing an image too much so dismiss the artist. Our sub-conscious is flooded with popular images and this flooding means the spectator is, as I state dismissing the artists whose works are so well known and this for me is wrong – both myself and my fiance like Monet for instance but it is only by looking at other works by him I can find works that I feel I personally prefer over the better known ones and by studying his work the well-known works (such as Waterlilies) have new meaning. By doing this research I have discovered the likes of Korovin and Caillebotte which are not necessarily so well known through the aforesaid calendars etc and this in some ways is a shame – the saturation by the printers of certain artists mean that many lesser known ones are not known or appreciated by the public.
It is difficult to find a balance with printing – Klimt, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Seurat, (thinking in particular the Bathers at Asnieres), most people have heard of them or know certain works but Gustave Caillebotte for instance I have only just discovered and would love a calendar of his works so there is no doubt the reproduction of images affects our lives and how we view them. There are many lesser known artists whose works could be brought to the wider public through reproduction but the publishing houses seem to prefer the more popular ones as they in turn make them the most money and perhaps this is where the problem lies – people know of Renoir, Constable, even the Renaissance artists but how many know of Joachim Sorolla outside of Spain or the art world but in turn how many would love La Hora Del Bano if they had the opportunity to see it on a calendar? art is a personal choice but the publishing houses responsible for reproductions are influencing that choice.
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