Did you know that the Impressionists favored the elimination of the color black from their painter’s palette? According to Wilkins et al, Impressionism encouraged this:
“The new color theory emphasized the presence of color within shadows and, in asserting that there was no black in nature, inspired the Impressionists to ban black from their palette.”
The founder of Impressionism is Claude Monet (1840-1926), a French painter born in Paris. He was a close associate of the French painter, Edouard Manet, who helped art move away from Realism in the nineteenth century. Monet served along with fellow artist Edgar Degas and author Emile Zola as a pall bearer at Manet’s funeral in 1883. Degas later created ballet scenes including 1874’s Ballet Rehearsal which showed some qualities of Impressionism.
Early in his career, Monet created a style of painting that focused on the light in the shadows. This study of natural light is the focus of his landmark painting, Impression – Sunrise, completed in 1872. This work is the source of the term “Impressionism.” Impression – Sunrise is full of powerful shades of blue, gray, and orange, and a few fishermen in small boats float in the foreground as the sun rises at the top of the painting.
Art historians note that Impressionist paintings such as Impression – Sunrise were rejected by the Paris Salon, leading the painters to hold their own autonomous shows. Monet first exhibited this work in Paris in 1874 in a non-Salon-approved exhibition. Honour and Fleming note that the independent exhibitions by the Impressionists showed how the artists were trying to escape the “tyranny of the official art-world.” In other words, if an artist could not get accepted by the Salon, he or she would have no method of becoming a professional artist in France.
Monet contributed many other paintings to the art world over the remainder of his career. He consistently explored how the human eye sees landscapes or scenes in the outdoors. He wanted to capture real events and watch how they related to the light. In Gare St.-Lazare (1877), Monet showed that a Paris train station could be the center point of the natural light shining through the glass roof on a sunny day.
The Impressionists also painted “a typically middle-class vision of happiness” in keeping with their bourgeois backgrounds, according to Honour and Fleming. The authors use the example of Monet’s sketch for The Picnic which predates Impression – Sunrise by six years. It was never finished, but it shows middle-class ladies and gentleman at a picnic beneath a beautiful canopy of trees.
As the founder of this a new style of painting, Monet left a huge mark on the art worlds of the 19th and 20th centuries. He died of lung cancer in 1926 and was buried at the church in Giverny, France.