The Impressionist Movement was far more revolutionary than any casual observer would realise.France had gone through almost a century of extreme change and turmoil from the Revolution of 1789 to the time of classical and far from egalitarian colonial empire Emperor Napoleon III with Napoleon and his Grande adventures in between with foreign invasions from the British and Continent to Boot.This caused great social upheaval with swings from revolution to imperialist expansion.But the Poor always remained poor and outcasts , held in contempt always and feared sometimes by the elites who never seemed to fail to be at the crest of all these developments.
Finally with the restoration of "republican" monarchy and colonial expansionist ambitions came a sustained period when the arts were made subservient to the glories and visions of the State.The order , quite literally, was to create imperial illusions , grand military prowess themes , banquets , celebration of past glories , marches and show the grandeur of unassailable symbols of Imperial Power.
Another part of this process was to initiate the re-designing of Paris for the very practical purpose of clearing the populous narrow streets in quarters into wide avenues and boulevards which were far more difficult to barricade and make into urban fortresses like previous period of resistance like 1848.The motivation for the pleasant vistas we enjoy in Paris today owe less to the pursuit of aesthetic beauty than they do to fear of the poorer sections of society rising up in effective protest.
To underline this state take over of Art for Its Sake the state maintained The Academie des Beaux-Arts ( an institutions created after the defeat of Napoleon by the occupying Allied Powers) to be the commissioner , censor and arbiter of national taste.The Academie under Napoleon III had a very Imperial and Conservative agenda for Art that enhanced the visions of Policy and the Prestige of the Emperor.With Royal Patronage is effectively had a license to encourage or silence Artists with an agenda favouring Historical or Allegorical paintings and portraits of Nobility and State Heroes.Landscapes , Still Lifes and depictions of Ordinary people or anything that revealed anything of the artists personality or point of view were taboo.Even brushstrokes that could be determined by the eye of the onlooker were discouraged.
The State held an annual show of the "best" works selected by the officially appointed jury of the Academie called the Salon De Paris which determined which artists would enjoy State patronage and to be rejected from this event would in effect amount to loss of licence to show any works in Public in France or its State institutions or the wider public without attracting censure from the apparatus of The State.In those days there were no Independent Art Galleries.
Just outside the exhibition proper is a painting which tells a story about the artistic climate before Impressionism came on the scene , it is called "Charity of a Beggar at Ornans" by Gustave Courbet the painting is named after the locale in which he was born and depicts subject matter that would have been an anathema to the establishment on many levels , firstly we have the main subject being a beggar ( in France at the time there were many destitue People , some from the Military campaigns of the Napoleons) who is given a personality and seen to be Human , a person, who is giving the very kindness and charity that the state completely failed to give those that were maimed and pauperised by its home and foreign policies.The other is that the charity is being given to a Gypsy child , a community then as now which is seen as the unacceptable other , a figure to be shunned rather than embraced.And with the Mother and the Cur completes the set of the disenfranchised in a land were there is no welfare and the have-nots are quite literally painted out of the picture.
Gustaves works were mainly shunned by the establishment but his efforts to show them independently attracted a lot of attention and ultimately inspired a School of Realist painting in France which led to the Impressionist mode of expression.His famous declaration of independence was "I am fifty years old and I have always lived in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: 'He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.".
This excellent article by The Glasgow Herald captures the mood of the exhibition and highlights what will be the most memorable painting in the exhibition by the little known , highly talented Henri Le Sidaner , whose painting give an atmospheric subtlety those can only be appreciated when seen with the naked eye.
" The relatively unknown Henri le Sidaner, who was influenced by Monet but became more interested in the atmospheric melancholy of twilight, remains an enigma. He showed an exhibition in Glasgow in 1903 and it was advertised in the local newspapers, but there is no catalogue. The curator has been in touch with the artist's grandson but so far it appears no copy of the catalogue exists. There are three Le Sidaners in the Burrell Collection, purchased in 1917 and 1919, that will be on show."The image below barely captures its eerie majesty
Another of his works is a painting called "Snow" which captures a haze of a cold winters evening when looking through the the prism of coldness into the differing lenses of reflecting snowfall.
"Polly Smith has carefully removed the yellowed, century-old natural resin varnish used by Le Sidaner on his Snow, 1901 – the material used by artists and restorers at the time. Once removed, it is replaced by synthetic resin varnishes which age slowly and well.
"It's very exciting to see this painting in its original form for the first time since it was unveiled 1901," she says. "I feel we're revitalising and enhancing the artist's work. The passage of time can be good for a painting, but removing the obscuring part of it also informs us of the intention of artist."The painting below gives an example of his brushstrokes evoking a three-dimensional light with the personality of the moment being captured for eternity , which was a key motif of the Impressionist painters.
The official period of Impressionism is only from 1870-1880 when the advent of paints in tubes meant that Artists could travel on the other new invention of the age , Trains , to places in the countryside or the coast.Tube paints could not mix so colours were juxtaposed to give impression.Black was never used , they showed shadow and shade in complimentary colours such as blues or browns.The works of Fantin Latour in the collection are Chrysanthemums which have an almost 3-D effect when seen upclose such as the example below.
Though to us today the paintings may appear benign and cute but no more , they were at the time very radical and revolutionary with everything about them being anti-establishment from the subject matter,themes,brush strokes , landscapes and bright use of colours , a very proletarian symbolism.Everything that was a no-go for the Academie and Salon judges and arbiters of official imperial taste.
Impressionists set up their own exhibitions , they held 8 in all , when some 4,000 painting were rejected by the Salon , in 1873 Napoleon III decreed the rejected painting could be exhibited , most people went to mock or demean them but some appreciated their artistry , no doubt susceptible to their social and political undercurrents and broader based themes of life as opposed to celebration of pomp.
Ironically it was another major defeat for a Napoleon that brought Impressionism into the Mainstream.This time they were allowed , with the newer Allied impositions after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 changed the Artistic landscape , gone were the days the establishment favoured the Glories,Heroes,Nobles and Imperial expansions of France and in came the subtle subjects of landscape , colour, portraits of non-threatening ordinary People and Still Lifes which Impressionists had been painting underground for a while.The subtleties both the Allied Government which would not patronise any overt show of France regaining past power and the cultural shift from establishment domination to the shift towards the piecemeal radicalisation and under the radar revolutionary expression.