Grade 8 History Lesson 41

The Impressionists: Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Cassatt

1874

     Today we will take a break from all the wars and battles and look at art. This type of art is called impressionism and we will learn how it got it’s name. And also learn about four of the most famous impressionists. Impressionism is a form of painting that essentially catches the first impression of something. Like when you suddenly turn your head to look at something. This type of art abandons the fine lines of the Renaissance, and uses fuzzy, vibrating images using thousands of dots of paint. Cameras were being invented at this time so this new field of photography probably inspired artists to take snapshots of things around them.

Our first impressionist is Claude Monet (Moh NAY). He was born in Paris France in 1840. He aspired to be an artists and started heading to art school. However instead of copying the works or the masters in the Louvre, he found himself sitting next to the windows of the museum to paint what he saw outdoors. While in Paris, Monet was influenced by the brushstroke techniques of Édouard Manet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. And while he was in England he was influenced by the vivid colors of landscape artists. As early as 1866, when Monet was just 26 he gained recognition for a panting titled Camille, or The Woman in the Green Dress. The woman in the painting would later become his wife. Monet’s art style was growing in popularity, however it still lacked a name.

This would change in 1874 when Monet displayed a work in Paris titled Impression, Sunrise. When an art critic tried to make fun of Monet’s funny broken strokes. He used the title of the work to discredit it in the news column. Stating the work left him with the “impression” of unfinished wallpaper. Instead he just gave a name to the new style of painting. And artists adopting this style would then on be known as impressionists. Claude Monet would remain “loyal” to Impressionism for the rest of his life. Painting beaches, his son on a hobbyhorse, and poppies in a field, he loved painting nature. One of his most touching paintings was one of his wife on her deathbed. At only 32 she died, probably of tuberculosis in 1879. In grieving for his wife, Monet painted the more dismal landscape of France in the fog and the bitter cold for about a year. But with time he came back to lighter themes. He traveled and painted in Italy and settled in Giverny in northern France. Some of his most famous works were painted at Giverny including Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies (1899) and numerous scenes titled Water Lilies. He died at 86 and is buried at Giverny. Thousands visit Monet’s gardens today in memory of the artist’s contribution to Impressionism. Though many Impressionists were just as famous as Monet, or even more so, all were compared to him.

Edgar Degas was also born in Paris, France in 1834, just a few years before Monet. He started his career in Italy where he studied the masters of the Renaissance. He at first wanted to follow suit with the past and paint historical scenes, but something in him begged him to be more modern. In Paris, Degas met Édouard Manet, the same painter who influenced Claude Monet. After seeing the realism of the Impressionists, he knew he had found the modern style he was looking for. Though Degas liked the realism of Impressionism, he didn’t like unfinished it looked. As he was trained in the classic style he liked to plan out his paintings and work in a studio. Though he and Monet spent time together in Paris and displayed works at the same shows, they were not good friends. Though there were few who were good friends with Degas. He also took his work to seriously to have a family.

What he did excel in was blending his classic techniques with the realism of the impressionists. Realism to the point that some people in the painting were literally cut in half, like in a photo. Degas also specialized in mood and movement. He displayed movement at the racetrack and the ballet. Also unique to Degas was his scene selection, rather than paint the ballerinas on stage he would paint them during rehearsal, standing around. And with the horses he painted the shuffling around instead of on the racetrack. The mood in his paintings such as in L’Absinthe perhaps represented his own isolation. Though he was famous and well paid in his lifetime his personal life was not so sweet. He struggled with his eyesight in later years and appeared to be miserable. He died in 1917 in Paris.

Our next artist, Pierre-Auguste Renoir was also born in France, just one year after Monet. And like the others he was also influenced by Édouard Manet and followed the trend of the Impressionists. Unique to Renoir was his magnificent ability to paint “soft”. He like Degas blended the techniques of the renaissance with the realism of the Impressionists. But instead of finding his subjects on the race track he found his subjects in the streets and cafés of Paris. For that the French loved him. In Paris, in the 1860s, Renoir met Claude Monet. Sometimes painting side by side the two artists experimented with outdoor painting and the real color of shadows (which you will find aren’t always brown or black).

Remember the show where an art critic made fun of Monet’s painting? It was at that show that Renoir presented six paintings in 1874. That was the beginning of Renoir’s fame. In 1890 Renoir married one of his models. And later enjoyed painting his wife and children. One of the many paintings of his children is Girls at the Piano (1892). He even painted a painting of Monet standing outdoors at an easel in a garden. Unfortunately as he aged he developed a serious case of rheumatoid arthritis. For the last twenty years of his life he was wheelchair bound and had crippled hands. So to accommodate for his failing posture he created a rolling canvas that could move to where he needed it. Renoir got to see his works hanging in the Louvre next to the to the masters that he admired and learned from. He died in 1919 in France.

The last artist we will be looking at today was Mary Cassat. She was born in the United States, in 1844. Her family took her on a trip to Europe when she was eleven to the Paris World Fair. There she was exposed to the works of Edgar Degas. Never would she imagine she would be one of the few friends that Degas had. Back in the United states she would attend art school, only to find it disappointing. There was a great stigma associated with being a female artist at the time. So she went to Europe, where she found more opportunity, but was considered as an outsider. She would spend most of her career overcoming the obstacle of being a American female artist. When she found out about Impressionism she was lured in like Degas and Renoir. As time passed she became one of the two women who ever displayed works with the famous French Impressionists. Her specialty would be the theme of mothers and children in everyday life. In her older age she struggled with diseases and nearly went blind. This caused her to stop painting in 1914. However she went back to the United States to fight for women’s suffrage. She died in 1926.