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Picturing a World

Impression: Sunrise

Monet’s Impression: Sunrise is the iconic one, the quintessential example of rapid brushwork used to capture a moment painted out of doors. I knew from The New Painting: Impressionism 1874–1886 (2 vols.; 1996) that it hung at the 4th Impressionist exhibition (April 10–May 11, 1879), but I chose not to mention it specifically during my characters’ visits to the show because other paintings served my thematic and narrative purposes more pointedly. For this blog, however, what better to pair with the study in the previous post?

It also gives me an opportunity to acknowledge how I learned much about artistic Paris from the many, many books and exhibition catalogues devoted to the movement, including Impression: Painting Quickly in France, 1860–1890 from a special exhibition at the Francine and Sterling Clark Art Institute, where I did much of my research.

Impressionism is probably now the most popular and widely recognized style of painting in the world, but letters and diaries show that in 1879 American art students in Paris were largely unaware of it (or, if they knew of it, downright hostile). I could have made my heroine prescient; but what I set out to do was imagine my way into a typical student’s experience, not to project current taste onto the past. My Jeanette was happy with the training she was getting from more conventional masters. Nevertheless, it would have been priggish to deny readers and myself the pleasure of visiting the exhibition. Dramatically, it contrasted with the feverish Salon that so damaged Charlie Post, and it allowed Jeanette and Edward’s flirtation to advance. Furthermore, at the time, there were, in fact, people who did like the new art. Edward’s visits allowed me to show him opening up to new experience and joy.

For a brief, informative article on the 4th Impressionist exhibition, click here.

For a longer Muséd d’Orsay pdf on all six Impressionist exhibitions (in English), click here.
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