The Impressionists didn’t start out trying to be impressionists.
They began in France in the 1870s as a group of painters who did not like the way that the French cultural czars controlled what the public saw. The French academics dictated that paintings should take on a certain look and that they should be executed in a certain way. Paintings that did not follow these rules were excluded from many exhibitions.
Some of the Paris-based artists of the day had a different vision. They believed in broad, free brush strokes in the manner J.M.W. Turner and Eugene Delacroix, and they believed that getting out of the studio and painting where the subjects were could enhance their work. They were the urban sketchers of their day.
They also had the temerity to organize their own exhibitions. The first one was in April 1874. Once they showed their work, the critics took aim and fired away. One of those critics was Luis Leroy, a journalist, critic, and humorist of the day. He took the opportunity to make fun of the exhibition, seizing on the title of one of Claude Monet’s works, Impression, Sunrise.
He wrote a fictional dialogue between viewers of the paintings that include this:
- Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it … and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.
His article was derisively titled The Exhibition of the Impressionists.
Derisive or not, the name stuck, and a century and a half later we know — and honor — this group of painters for their vision, creativity, and courage.
Be careful what you make fun of.
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