Monday, November 2, 2015

Who's your favorite Impressionist?

I was going to call this post "Great shapes" and realized it had all pictures of women...didn't want to attract the wrong kind of cyber traffic, so I'm making it a kind of survey: Which Impressionist sends YOU...and WHY?
Lots of good choices (remember, there were Impressionist painters in nearly every developed country at that time - even Japan!) For variety's sake, include the Post Impressionists because frankly they were all contemporaries.
 Over time, I've settled on Toulouse-Lautrec. I may have finally become my father...he hung Lautrec reproductions in his bedroom. Perhaps seeing them so often was subliminal? In any case, Lautrec had an eye for great shapes...and always divided up his picture plane interestingly. Even better than Degas and Manet, though doubtless there was mutual influence. His color is pretty amazing too, whether his palette was low chroma, high chroma or flat out garish. And he may have been the best draftsman in the bunch. But of course we're all going to say that about "our guy" (or girl...don't forget Celia Beaux, Mary Cassat or Berthe Morisot).
 I don't know who this girl is but when you find one like her you don't paint just one picture!

The shapes of her nose, jaw line, hair, blouse are just simple geometrics but with a bit of unusual contour somewhere. It pays to find that odd bit and get it just so. The background is simplified to feature her features. The limited palette (black, white, yellow ochre and some red? The Zorn palette!) doesn't compete with the shape-fest.
 Look how he's "joined" the blouse to a window to create an interesting COMPOSITE shape. And that wisp of hair!! Klimt HAD to have seen this.

In both pictures he avoided splattering his lights around willy-nilly - the big light shape is the draw and other light shapes are either smaller and/or different in character (geometric versus organic for example - a hat tip to the Japanese).
 This woman, her hair, and her blouse unite as almost one engaging shape.

Lautrec has avoided the temptation to paint each separately and has instead seen them in the light that falls on all three - probably because of its unusual color. We also see his gift for making both the positive and negative shapes interesting.
Check out this amazing bedsheet shape with two disembodied heads floating in it like eggs in a bird nest. Yet you feel the bodies under the covers - barely. 

Take out the heads and the color nuance in the sheet shape reminds me of Cezanne's watercolor's of Mont St. Victoire in Provence. Again, minimizing the details of the headboard and wall confirms what he saw and he wants us to look at. We've all seen furniture but perhaps missed the fracture of a particular light on a particular surface.
 I think this is Lautrec's mother (quite attractive...whoever she is).

Anyway the color in this rivals anything Monet or Pissarro did outdoors. Lautrec handled indoor light whether dim, bright or sickly artificial. There's a rainbow in his whites. Edges lost in strong light tie expected shapes to other surfaces and draw the eye all over. This is a masterpiece of drawing in paint with a brush too.
Last is this remarkable puzzle piece collection of weird yet recognizable shapes. It would take C4 to separate them - they interlock so beautifully.

 This picture straddles Lautrec's painting and poster work. The drawing on the face of the girl at right wavers between realism and cartoon. Turn of the century European Anime, almost. The central figure has such an odd expression...either she's drunk or a bit confused because someone appears to have inserted a carrot with its green top intact into her d├ęcolletage...or both. I'm told that sort of thing can happen on girl's night out. Anyway, great pictures...share about your favorite painter?


  1. Hands down Manet is my favourite. He would agree with you on the part where you say you have to paint her more than once. He painted Berthe Morisot at least 11 times.
    I really like Eugene Boudin too, his beach scenes are great.

  2. Hmmm...Boudin WAS really good. So perhaps we should include Millet and the Barbizon guys too. They were contemporaries, and Monet and some of the others painted there with them.

  3. My favorite has always been Mary Cassat. You do make a good case for Toulouse-Lautrec. I have only been familiar with his poster art. Manet and Boudin are also impressive.

  4. In college the professors were very dismissive of the Impressionists, not for serious people. It wasn't until I started to paint again that I took another look and was completely humbled....oh my answer is Cezanne...

  5. Given that Impressionism was the first movement to depart from the status quo in a radical fashion you'd think it would be celebrated as ground zero for Modernism.

  6. It does strike an odd chord hearing this about your professors Carroll. I remember setting up slides for my art history teacher, Richard Dutton, and he LOVED Van Gogh. My favorite?...I'm with Carlene on this one....Mary Cassatt. Maybe it's subject was a master of telling a story with color and light.

  7. Interesting that most people are picking the artists who did mostly figures. That kind of subject provides more opportunity to exploit shapes. Landscape tends to impose strong horizontal bands on us. It's also telling that Cezanne and Van Gogh tended to avoid those in their landscapes.

  8. Asking me to pick a favorite Impressionist artist is like asking one to pick out a favorite chocolate dessert - impossible! Degas - his graceful dancer images. Monet - water lilies. It is amazing to visit the Musee D'Orsay in Paris and see their collection. You really appreciate the amount of color on the canvas and how your eye does the blending. I sent my husband away for the day so I could soak it all in.