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The Impressionism movement in art was followed by the Realism and Romantic periods. In complete contrast to Realism and Romanticism, with its detailed, accurate and photo-like paintings of contemporary life, Impressionism brought about more of a blurred reality to the canvas. Specific techniques Impressionist artists used were unblended colors and quick, short brush strokes with a unique play on light. An Impressionist artists’ goal was to “objectively paint reality in terms of transient effects of light and color.”(1) The Impressionist artist would place vibrantly contrasting colors directly on the canvas; which was a great contrast to the traditional art of blending somber colors. Not understanding, or accepting these new techniques, the Salon of the French Academy consistently rejected most artwork by Impressionist artist. These rejections from the Salon eventually forced a group of Impressionist painters to organize their own exhibitions; Exhibitions of the Independent Artists.
Claude Monet was the chief pioneer of the Impressionism period. Monet was born in Paris (1840-1926) and moved near Le Havre at a young age. At only the age of 15, Monet created his first successful drawings of caricatures. Monet continued to study drawing until he met Eugene Boudin, who is responsible for intruding Monet to a new style of painting; stepping outside the studio and painting in the open air. This style would give way to more than 60 years of art that used “effective methods to transform perception into pigment.” (1)
During Monet’s later years of life he began to paint series of paintings, each one based on a certain subject. Each series offered different views of the same subject, by painting at different times of day or seasons. One series in particular, which is exhibited at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, is the “Water Lilies” series. This series by Monet are also personally my favorite paintings from all the ones that were covered this semester. The death of his wife and stepdaughter took a great toll on his spirit, fortunately, Monet he was able to find peace in the water of his pond and garden. Monet was captivated daily by the opening and closing of the lily’s blossoms. He meditated while watching the reflections the clouds drift across the pond’s surface. Although he began to lose his eye sight due to cataracts around this time, he did not let that hinder his paintings. Monet painted approximately 250 oil paintings that completed his series of “Water Lilies.”
The “Water Lilies” series was the last series of paintings by Monet. There is a noticeable difference in his portrayal of light and air in most of his “Water Lilies” series. Despite the loss of light, color seems to be more expressive, along with curling movement of his brushstrokes. Monet’s Impressionist style starts to become more subjective with this series- which may be due to the loss of his eyesight. The lilies have large pads and blossoms which look as though they are floating in space. Monet was able to spatially embrace his canvas which allowed us to feel and know the painting went beyond the frame. He encompassed the canvas with flowing clouds, which are only seen as reflections on the lily pond with an open composition. “Imagine a circular room, the dado below the wall molding entirely filled with a plane of water scattered with these plants, transparent screens sometimes green, sometimes mauve. The calm, silent, still waters reflecting the scattered flowers, the colors evanescent, with delicious nuances of a dream-like delicacy.” (3)
Edgar Degas is another Impressionist painter who also was born in Paris (1834-1917.) Degas came from a proud, wealthy, Parisian family who were related to minor aristocrats. He was fortunate enough to attend a prestigious all boys’ school, the Lycee Louis-le-Grand. Music played a huge role during his upbringing. His mother was an opera singer and his father arranged recitals. Degas’s mother passed when he was only 15 years old, leaving behind 5 children. With encouragement from his father he enrolled at the prominent Ecole des Beaux-Arts school in 1855. Only one year later, Degas left Paris and went on a three year study and travel in Italy. During this time, he saturated himself with antiquity paintings and sculptures and the Renaissance. He filled his sketchbook with hundreds of copies of art by Michelangelo, da Vinci and other artist.
After his return home, Degas began to paint portraits of family members with the intentions of submitting them to the Salon. However, Degas was never satisfied with his own work. ” humbled by his exposure to the Italian masters, Degas scraped down and reworked parts of his own canvases, initiating a habit of technical self-criticism that was to last a lifetime.” (4)
Degas painted many history paintings; however, he began to find himself drawn to paintings of the everyday life. His transition to paint modern subject matter was a very gradual one. He was able to apply his knowledge of past artist but steer it towards people of the modern day and subject matter like no other artist. Degas’s variety with his use of mediums and subjects matters seems to be endless. “His drawings include examples in pen, ink, pencil, chalk, pastel, charcoal, and oil on paper, often in combination with each other, while his paintings were carried out in watercolor, gouache, distemper, metallic pigments, and oils, on surfaces including card, silk, ceramic, tile, and wood panel, as well as widely varied textures of canvas.” (4) Combine his talent with his knowledge of traditional art makes him the most accomplished draftsman of the Impressionist. While he is most well known for his works with humans (particularly females) he also painted a great deal on the modern life of Paris and successfully sketched many landscape pieces.
In Degas’s later years can began to combine his love for the female body with his love for landscapes. The pastel “Russian Dancer” (exhibited in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts) is a great example of how Degas united both of his loves to reveal his true abilities as an artist. This pastel also is reflective in his shift toward his series work. Degas executed these pastels by studying the poses of the Russian women and sketched them first in charcoal on tracing paper, then transferred particular poses and gestures from work to work. Degas invented the technique of superimposing layers of pastel, which created a sort of transparency in the art piece. Layering the pastels intensified the hues and contrasts within the landscape. Through his use of vibrant colors, mediums, innovative techniques and explosively drawn movements, make “Russian Dancers” and “Degas’s other late pastels among the most extraordinary in the history of that medium.”(5)
Romantic Period with works from Francisco de Goya’s Still Life with Golden Bream and Joseph Mallord William Turner’s Sheerness as Seen from the Nore
The term Romanticism in art is given to a time period from about the mid 18th century through mid 19th century. Romanticism, like most other art movements, was an art that was trying to push away from the previous (neoclassical) styles of arts. This movement renounced the neoclassical styles of balance, precise lines, clarity, order, unity and symmetry. Romantic artist emphasized on emotion, including terror, awe, joy, and loneliness. These artists wanted nothing to do with the harmony, rationality, and order of the neoclassical painters. They rejected the tiny brushstrokes of previous artist and celebrated their works with active, stimulating brushwork. Nature landscapes were also a major part of the romantic period. Romantics felt a strong connection with nature and had a deep interest in capturing the serenity or exoticism of it. Also, they used nature to convey emotions. During this time period, the works of art derived from the individual, opposed to collective reactions of others. Romanticism can basically be described as irrational, imaginative, personal and mostly emotional. “The Romantic movement first developed in northern Europe with a rejection of technical standards based on the classical ideal that perfection should be attained in art.”(6)
Francisco Jose de Goya was a famous romantic artist born in Spain (1746-1828.) Goya was trained in Naples, Madrid and Italy. It was in Rome that Goya received his first significant commission for frescoes in the cathedral. It took Goya 10 years to finish all the frescoes; however, these first works of art from Goya are considered Rococo style. In 1771, Goya began a career as a court painter. These painting consisted mostly of contemporary life aristocratic and popular pastimes. “In 1785, he was appointed deputy director of painting at the Academy and the following year painter to King Charles III.”(7) During this time, Goya’s painted portraits of figures in full-length, mostly of society women. “The death of Charles III in 1788, a few months before the outbreak of the French Revolution, brought to an end the period of comparative prosperity and enlightenment in which Goya reached maturity.”(7) An illness in 1792 left Goya permanently deaf. At this point, is when Goya begins to take on a new personality with freedom of expression and imagination is his art. His experiences allowed him to have a more critical point of view, which in turn, allowed more maturity in his art work.
Goya’s Still Life with Golden Bream (exhibited at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts) is one still life painting, out of only one dozen still lifes, that Goya painted, all being painted in the last decade of his life. This painting depicts a pile of bream fish. The incredible use of light makes it seems as though the fish are very much alive and staring directly at you. The detail captured in the blank expressions have the audience feeling that at any moment, the fish will stop playing dead and start whaling about on the table. The eyes of the fish are yellow, huge and wide opened and give this painting an unbelievable eeriness. “Although the subject of this work is simple-a pile of dead fish-it expresses a moving pathos reminiscent of Goya’s etching series Disasters of War, one of the artist’s great achievements. Both the print series and Still Life with Golden Bream were completed during the terrible war between Spain and France, and both serve as meditations on death and violence.”(8)
Joseph Turner was an English Romantic landscape painter born in 1775. There are several professional drawings on record from Turner starting at the age of only 12. At the age of 14, Turner enrolled in the Royal Academy and soon began to exhibit his watercolor paintings there. His early works of art were traditional in techniques and in character, painting mostly topographical places. “Welsh landscape painter Richard Wilson helped broaden Turner’s outlook and revealed to him a more poetic and imaginative approach to landscape, which he would pursue to the end of his career with ever-increasing brilliance.”(7) Turner began publishing a series of 100 plates known as the Liber Studiorum in 1807. The goal was for Turner to document a vast variety and range of landscapes.
In 1808, Turner completed a seascape named Sheerness as Seen from the Nore. This painting depicts the smaller boats being thrown about in angry part of the ocean. The white peaks on wave give way to unsettling events that seem to take place more in the future than the present. The fearful emotions from the swirling clouds only add to the anticipation “The composition is dominated by the light of the sun rising at the left, and by the vigor of the foreground swell; as so often in Turner, the distant ships are silhouetted against a strip of light at the horizon, the guard ship at the left forming an area of repose in otherwise turbulent design.” (9) Turner ruled the art world with his range and sublimity of his expressive study of light, color, and atmosphere and is commonly referred to as “the painter of light.”
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