To See A Heaven in a Wild Flower
May 12, 2013 § 5 Comments
Their inspirations were Constable, the Dutch masters, Delacroix, Corot, Rousseau, Daubigny, Millet, Courbet, Boudin and Jongkind; Condorcet and the new scientific spirit; Eugene Chevreul’s theories of colour, above all; the failed revolution of 1848 and the Anglo-Prussian war of 1870; the realism of Balzac; the poetry of Baudelaire; the spirited debates at the Cafe Guerbois.
Their style: cool, impersonal, pastoral; like Flaubert, they cocked a snook at the flamboyant, fussy, self-indulgent Romanticism of lofty subjects and rich treatment, and insisted on seeing the sublime in the mundane; they represented a democratization – a petite-bourgeouisification, in fact – of taste.
Their credo: To transcribe nature is not art. Cameras can do that faithfully. Abstraction and representation, not of reality itself, but of an artist’s experience of reality, is art.
A story, or a moral, is not necessary for a painting. Human forms are optional. Form: not critical. Construction: not important. Lines: trivial. Objects need to be suggested, that is all – suggested by color.
Color is everything. No black, however – there’s no black in nature. Objects only have the colour that light and shadow confer upon them. Only basic colours are to be used, complementing each other, modifying one another. Colors: not mixed on palette, but juxtaposed on canvas, and merging in the viewer’s mind.
Every canvas is a careless-looking but precise arrangement of space and colour, a unique solution to a unique puzzle; the puzzle of accurately representing, in two dimensions, a moment experienced by the artist.
The moment passes, and now the light is different. The shadows are elsewhere. Other colours are indicated: it is now a different moment, a different picture. Moments are hard to capture. Speed is essential, and spontaneity. Detail: not so much. No – scratch that – yes, detail, but a different kind of detail.
The lives of the artists: the poverty, the ridicule, the rejections, the friendships, the restlessness, the strange dissatisfaction with their genre, and even as grudging and belated recognition came their way, their striving to go beyond and innovate further, and ultimately, the disillusionment.
The book itself: plain and shabby, not a lot more that a decent primer, giving a good sense of the history, the events and the personalities involved. I’d bought it on an impulse, for a pound, at a second-hand bookstore in London – I am sure there are better books around on the subject.
Its biggest two shortcomings: it does not study a single painting in detail, and it depicts a huge number of them in black-and-white plates: what a cruel shame, for a book on Impressionism.
You’ll notice the abrupt nature of this post: it is my homage to those solemn souls in crumpled suits who stare out of portraits with wild eyes in a hundred museums today: Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley. The homage was written up in a hurry, before my memories of the book can fade. The post may look raw and incomplete.
But that, I assure you, is deliberate.