Those Crowd-Pleasing Impressionist Art Exhibits!


Mini Exhibit
March 2018


Dozens of art books pass through my hands every day, either pleasing or displeasing my eye. But no matter how many wonderful and captivating other paintings, images and art in general I have the privilege to consider, Impressionist works always impact me the most profoundly.

Nancy Locke, Associate Professor of Art History at Penn State writes: "I think these paintings are so popular because we see ourselves in them: we see the bustle of the modern city, the rise of the suburb, a very modern concern with fashion” (M.B. Moss, Penn State News, Aug. 28, 2014, my emphasis). I very much agree with this statement. The Impressionists depicted scenes of leisure, such as cafés, hotels, beaches, gardens, and public parks.  But they also captured mundane life, albeit with nude figures, while it was happening.

Impressionism can be considered the first distinctly modern movement in painting. Developing in Paris in the 1860s, its influence spread throughout Europe and eventually the United States. Part of the Impressionist idea was to capture a split second of life, an ephemeral moment in time on the canvas: an impression.

It has become such a natural daily pleasure to find and enjoy Impressionist art today; it is hard to believe this was such a novel and revolutionary style of painting for two reasons:

  • Technique: Small, thin, yet visible brush strokes.  This was called the broken color technique, achieved by mixing colors on the canvas instead of paints on the palette.
  • Mundane expression: Roughly contemporary works, Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal were put on trial for offending public morality.  Similarly, Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet had painted nudes that were shocking due to their overt references to prostitution.

Amongst some of the movement's major figures other than Courbet and Manet are Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh.  Claude Monet was probably the most influential of the group; he lived the longest and had perhaps the greatest commercial and critical success.

Abandoning the fine lines and detail in their paintings, these artists took hard critiques, but as radical as they were in their time, they were not opposed to marketing themselves because they were trying to find audiences.  With exhibits and auctions today attracting over half a million visitors to major Impressionist displays, we can safely say, they found their market.

Sonia Natalias
Marquand Library temporary staff member


On display:

Gache-Patin, Sylvie
Claude Monet au Musée d'Orsay
Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 2004
Marquand, ND553.M63 G119 2004

Mary G. Morton, George T. M. Shackelford, and Gustave Cailleboitte.
Gustave Caillebotte: The Painter's Eye
Washington: National Gallery of Art; Fort Worth: Kimbell Art Museum; Chicago: in assoc. with University of Chicago Press, 2015   
Marquand, ND553.C15 A4 2015q

Monet, Claude
Monet: L'Oeil Impressioniste/The Impressionist's Eye
Paris: Musée Marmottan Monet; Hazan, 2008
Marquand, ND553.M63 A4 2008b

Renoir, Auguste
Pierre Auguste Renoir​
New York: Abrams, 1983
Marquand, ND553.R2 P54 1983q

Sagner, Karin
Gustave Caillebotte: Neue Perspektiven des Impressionismus
Munich: Hirmer, 2009
Marquand, ​ND553 .C15 S33 2009q


March Exhibit