Posted in Project 1: Debussy and Impressionism

Research Point 4.0: Impressionism and Symbolism in Art

This research point is about investigating impressionism and symbolism in art and poetry, finding the chief exponents and noting down their principle works. Personally, I am very pleased to discuss this topic, especially since I have a personal artistic connection to impressionism through my former classical painting teacher, Predrag Rajacki, who studied and directly imitated artists like Monet. As such, a lot of my own paintings were influenced by the aesthetics of this style, like the oil painting of a violin below, which I have painted for my former violin teacher, and the landscape of an old village house I did a few years ago at an art colony in Rogljevo. (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2) However, as the topic is quite general and the brief didn’t specify the exact word count, I tried to make this research post not overly long as I often would when the subject-matter is directly relevant to music.

Fig. 1. Violin (Still-life oil painting)
Fig. 2. Landscape of Rogljevo (oil painting)

To start out, impressionism is a major art movement that emerged in the late 19th-century France. It emerged initially in painting, descending from the current of artistic traditions from the earlier half of the century, which stood against the dominant academic neo-Classicism and instigated a collapse of its traditional values. Among these are the French Romantic painters, such as Delacroix, who, opposing the usual, polished and seamless fusion of teints used by the academic painting, reworked the brilliancy of color found in the English landscapes into his flochetage technique with visible brushstrokes. Under this influence, the French Romantics adopted the sketch-like aesthetics, although the landscape itself was in the backdrop, providing different natural settings for the main historic and religious subjects. Meanwhile, the Barbizon School of painters, while initially indebted to the Romatics and Delacroix’ flochetage technique, soon rejected the flamboyant subject-matters in favour of pure landscapes, and turning towards Dutch landscapists, initiated a move towards plain air painting. At the same time, the Realist movement developed by Millet and Courbet, completely rejected the neo-Classical and Romantic styles and caused contraversy in their ‘unheroic, unhistorical’ representation of the contemporary everyday life, which is ‘entirely unconcerned with religious symbolism or patriotic propaganda.’

With this fragmention of styles, many young artists found themselves at the crossroad of influences, such as Manet, whose Luncheon on The Grass “re-contextualized the age-old subject” in the “initiation of a new freedom from traditional subjects and modes of representation.” This work astronished the future impressionists who were studying at the ‘Nursery of Impressionism’, the independent Paris atelier of the Swiss artist Charles Gleyre, including Monet, Bazille, Renoir and Sisley. Although Gleyre had a certain disdain towards landscape as a genre, the students had complete freedom while “acquiring knowledge of technique and craft of painting, mastery of classical composition precision in drawing and beautiful paint handling” (Brodskaya)
 Despite the disparate background and education, the artists bonded and their cicrle extended to include Pissaro and even Manet himself.

In another strand of art, Delacroix’s passion for the exotic inspired the Symbolist movement. It first developed in literature, when Jean Moreas laid down his ideas in the Symbolist manifesto, while in the visual arts, it was developed by Albert Aurier as ‘the painting of ideas’. The aesthetic was inspired by a mix of Platonic philosophy, mystical and occult doctrines, psychology, linguistics, science, etc. In poetry, Mallarme was a leading figure in his use of complex syntax, subtle turns of phrase, his verse being abstruse in creating rich and detailed edifice from simplest ideas, objects or occasions. Yet, his poetry is also associated with absence and emptiness.

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