Impressionism was the name given to one of the most important movements in art history. It was the first of modern movements. Its aim was to achieve ever greater naturalism by a detailed study of tone and colour and, by an exact rendering of the way light falls on different surfaces. This interest in colour and light was greatly influenced by the scientific discoveries of the French physicist ‘Chevreul’ and by paintings by Delacroix. Instead of painting dark shadows using mainly different tones of grey and black, the Impressionists- like Delacroix – realised that when an object casts a shadow, that shadow will be tinged with the complemntary colour of the object. They did not use firmly drawn outlines but instead applied paint in small brightly coloured dabs, even in shadowy areas of their pictures. This lack of outline and multiplicity of small dabs of pure colour, when combined wih the impressionists interest in fleeting effects of light, give their pictures a constant air of movement and life, but also of Impermanence.
There was nothing as formal as a manifesto or even an agreed programme among the Impressionists. They were all individual artists working in their own way, developing their own style. They were, however, agreed in a general way on a number of points regarding subject matter. Their work should be modern, observed with detachment, and not historical or emotional. The view being that the subject itself is not of particular interest, but the way in which the light and colour decorate it, as described by Monet, “for me, it is only the surrounding atmosphere which gives subjects their true value”. The impressionist artists often painted together in small groups, depicting open-air scenes on the banks of the Seine and in the parks and recreation places of the middle classes around Paris. The bathing place and floating restaurant at La Grenouillére provided the location for a number of sketching trips for Monet and Renoir.
In the later years of Claude Monet’s life, he devoted himself to creating a beautiful water garden at his home in Giverny, and painted this garden continuously. ‘Water Lily Pond – Harmony in Green’ is one of the many paintings of his garden and truly epitomizes the characteristics of the Impressionist style. The painting depicts a Japanese style bridge(which he designed himself) with a small pond, largely covered in lilies, running underneath it. Monet had a huge collection of Japanese prints, with many of the plants in his garden being ones that he saw in these prints. It is quite possible that this painting was inspired by one of these prints.
In the painting, the weeping willows in the background are reflected in the water between the lilies. Although Monet loved plants and flowers and collected rare species, he was not interested in distinguishing them in a painting. It was their reflections in the water which interested him. The surface of the painting is a rich carpet of colour, with brush strokes of yellow, pink and lavender woven in with the shimmering green of the plants. The colours reflect a brilliant sunshine with the flowers indicated by blobs of white tinged with yellow and pink. He painted this view of the bridge from a small boat he kept moored for painting the water.
Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), painted ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ in 1881 and it marks the end of his Impressionist phase. The painting is one of his last in an Impressionist style and truly captures the concepts and styles native to the movement. Soon after, he and Pissarro would divert from the ideals of Impressionism and change the course of their art. The scene is set in a restaurant at the riverside. This was a favourite spot for boating enthusiasts and their girlfriends. It is the end of the lunch and the remains of the food and drink are on the table. All appear to be enjoying themselves after the boating expedition.
The composition of the picture is linked together by the interchange of glances among the members of the group. The girl in the centre leaning on the rail leads the eye to the three on the right. A relationship of some kind seems to be suggested by the artist. Among the group is the actress Ellen Andrée, who posed in ‘Absinthe’ for Degas. The woman on the left-hand side with the dog is Aline Charigot, Renoir’s future wife and favourite model. The figures are posed in a natural manner and the composition is open, so the spectator feels part of the group.
Both Monet and Renoir, were two of the leading members of the Impressionist movement, both epitomizing the ideals and characteristics of Impressionism in their art work. With the examples discussed above, the brushwork and colouring styles of the Impressionists are clearly shown in Monet’s ‘Water Lily Pond-Harmony in Green’. Equally significant, the subject matter and content agreed upon by the members of the movement, can be seen in Renoir’s ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’, the painting being free of emotion, historical reference, it is viewed with detatchment and depicts the modernity of the time. Personally, I believe both Renoir and Monet to be some of the greatest artists of their time, adopting the different styles and establishing Impressionism, they were truly at the forefront of the movement. With all its characterists of the movement evident in their work, they are the perfect representation of the Impressionism.