In the painting Street Scene, Pink Sky, Paris, there are several elements that make the painting a unique piece of art reflecting the contemporary feeling of the expressionistic and post impressionistic movements of the early twentieth century. James Wilson Morrice expresses these movements completely in this painting, which is a masterwork of form, color and balance. In this painting, the first thing the eye goes to s the upper right hand part of the painting. Here there is a series of four buildings that are well lit and in shades of yellow and gold.
The roofs are in shades of charcoal and burnt umber.
One notices that the buildings grow progressively smaller as thy move down the street. Next, you notice the people. There appear to be three women and a man. The man appears all in black, black overcoat and black hat. Next to him, facing him is a woman in a red dress and hat in brown and umber.
She is wearing gloves. One’s eyes then drift to the front left of the painting where the other two women are walking by the cafe. One appears to have brown hair and be wearing a white dress with a matching white hat. The hat has a pink flower on it. The woman next to her, to her left, is wearing a dress of yellow-brown, and a black hat.
She also has brown hair. To the extreme left, there is another building that appears to be a series of shops.
This building has a dilapidated feel to it and is not as brightly lit as the buildings across the street. It presents a very stark contrast. The eyes then drift to the sky. It is a cacophony of steely blues and pinky mauves. It looks like an evening storm sky, but it is just the settling dusk. One can feel the hurry of the people to get home after a day of social gatherings or work. Finally, one gets to the bottom of the painting. Here one sees the edge of tables and chairs as one sits and contemplates as the world goes by.
It is at if the viewer is at a cross street. Looking down one street as they watch people pass by on another. That brings the viewer to another element of the painting—mainly, the street. It is vacant save for the people. There is not a carriage, horse, car, or anything on the street. Everyone is on foot. Though they are walking, there is no sense of urgency in their movements. It is as if everyone is out for a Sunday stroll and the viewer is there watching as they drink their coffee and eat their croissant. This feels like a fairly typical street scene.
The final element of the painting is just to the left of center. It is a cluster of trees and shrubbery. It ties the light and dark elements of the painting together, as the trees have dark greens and blacks combine with light greens and yellow-greens to make a unifying element that brings all the elements together. The elements are arranged as if one is looking on a street and down a street at the same time. It is almost like a “T” intersection. The paining has a balance to it that takes the shape of a triangle. The lighter shaded elements are on the right side, and the darker shaded elements are on the left side.
The browns, creams, umbers, and ocher colors confine themselves to the left. The golds reds, and blacks confine themselves to the right. The trees tie the light and dark elements together and blend them into a coherent style and picture of everyday life on a Paris street. The trees also provide a much needed balance. If it were not for the trees, there would be a harshness to the painting that would make it unbalanced and off-center. Morrice picks mostly muted shades for his painting, even the ocres and golds have a slightly muted quality about them. The colors blend one into another, giving the painting a much needed fluidity.
Morrice also arranges his larger elements to the back of the painting, forcing your eyes into the aforementioned triangle of the sky and the people. These are his main elements, and the ones your eyes go to after the brightness of the building. He wants the viewer to see the sky and the people and see both as time stopped, a moment that is captured forever. As mentioned before, the people are unhurried, and the sky is unhurried, which are the two elements that are the most important in this picture. Stylistically, the painting is a wonderful example of twentieth century post-impressionism.
While it lacks the subtlety of Monet, it generates the same feelings that the impressionists do—that is the sense that you are there, leaving you to interpret the details. That is the very nature of impressionism. The viewer is given an idea, and they have to fill in the details. Post-impressionism at its soul is a revamping of the style without the subtle colors. Where Monet used pales and shades to make his point, Morrice uses muted bolds to bring the viewer to the scene. There is more a sense of making the impression more realistic instead of making it stylistic.
This generates the move to the more bold moves of Picasso and his followers. Morrice’s work is in the vein of Cezanne. The use of color and element is similar in form and function, and the overall sense of the move to realism is there. Cezanne and Morrice both fit into the same mold, simply because they are both scene painters that use people as a focal point. The main difference is that Cezanne tends to use darker colors while Morrice uses brighter tones. They both tend to mute their tones, though Cezanne tends to do it more effectively than Morrice.
Morrice borrows heavily from Cezanne. He uses blocks of color and focuses on sky, and the traditional views of the plane of the painting become obsolete. Additionally, the conventions between foreground and background begin to become ambiguous. There is also a spatial ambiguity to the painting, as the sky becomes a patchwork of color, flowing seamlessly one into another. Even in the two women walking down the street seem to blend into each other, the only differences seem to be in the distinction of their faces. The woman in brown seems to almost blend into the shops in the background.
The woman in white appears to blend seamlessly into the scene. Faces are the only distinctions between people and background. There is only a bit of street and the black hat and face that even distinguishes her as an individual. The blocks of yellow are the only things that distinguish that there are four buildings. This is very much in the style of Cezanne. Even the trees and shrubbery seem to be in a block of color. Though the greens, blacks, and yellow-greens seem to blend, the eye can easily pick out the distinct shades and can see the summer look of the trees against the dusky sky.
Looking at the style of both Morrice and Cezanne, one sees incredible talent and gracious style. The overall impressionistic feel that we get from both painters is evident. As both move towards the twentieth century, there is a shift from the previous impressionistic movement to the post impressionistic movement. The movement also shifts to the use of color in blocks to give movement and a sense of fluidity to the painting. Additionally, the focus on sky and people shows a movement away from the still lives and landscapes of the past to a movement of expressing people as the object and main idea of the painting.
Thought the movement was not a long-lasting one, it left an impression on the art world that has affected painters and artists for years. The use of texture and color and form and function blend together flawlessly to create a new and exciting use of elements that added to the art world and still give us much to talk about today. The fact that we are able to draw comparisons to the present and the past shows us the relevance of the new art forms and how they still relate to today’s art world.
We as art historians cannot forget the contributions of the past as they will and do affect our futures.