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During the 1880s, the Impressionists consolidated their technical innovations of the previous decade, while a new generation of artists emerged who began to question Impressionist ideas and adapt their techniques to new ends. From 1879, the cohesion of the original Im-pressionist group was eroded by the introduction of newcomers. The appearance of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), and soon after of Georges Seurat (1859-1891) and Paul Signac (1863-1935) at the Impressionist group exhi-bitions fanned the flames of disagreement which were growing among the older mem-bers. Some, like Pissarro, were in favor of moving with the times. Others, like Monet and Renoir, resented the newcomers. Thus, while individual friendships and allegiances were maintained during the 1880s, the overall cohesion of the Impressionist group began to disintegrate early in the decade. Symptomatic of this change was the final Impressionist group show in 1886, which was dominated by the newer artists, the Neo-Impressionists.
The legacy of the 1870s
By the late 1870s, most artists in the Impres-sionist group were beginning to find more tightly organized, structured ways of depicting their visual 'sensations' of nature. Paul Cez-anne (1839-1906), early in the second half of that decade, began to adopt what has since been termed his 'directional' brushstroke. This meant that his brushmarks were all generallyplaced in parallel lines, similar to a hatched drawing technique, usually running from top right to bottom left in his paintings. This par-ticular direction is logical for a right-handed painter. Originally, in more traditional and academic painting, the underlying composi-tional structure was based on line. on the use of drawing by contour and by edges of forms, on a conventionalized fall of light and shade, to give a linear or tonal skeleton on which color was then laid.
BertheMorisot's In the Dining Room shows the artist's
maid in her house, rue de Villejuste, Paris. It was painted in 1884. In
the 1880s, like most of her Impressionist colleagues, Morisot continued
to make studies of effects of natural light and color on outdoor and interior
scenes. Here, dayhght floods from the large windows behind the figure,
but as in Pissarro's portrait of his wife sewing (1879), harsh contrasts
between light and shade are eliminated. Shadows, like that from the maid
falling toward the spectator, are filled with reflected light, and the
contrasts are between warm and cool hues. Brushwork is lively, dragging
the pale opaque colors to create the blurring effect of light dissolving
form and contour.
In the first half of the 18 70s,'the Impressionists had relied on descriptive brushwork --brushwork which echoed and followed forms in their painting - to aid the modeling produced by color values. But during the latter half of the 1870s, brushwork became more independent of form and took on a life of its own. This gradual freeing of touch from its more basic role of describing form had import-ant consequences. It meant that the artist's visual sensations of patches of colored light were more accurately conveyed and also that a greater awareness of flat, plastic qualities in painting were stressed. The size of brushstroke was kept relatively uniform over the entire canvas, and so it no longer aided an illusion of recession, but emphasized the physical surface of the picture. Thus, the artist forced the spec-tator to remember that the picture confronted was a painting, which had its own reality, and was not simply an extension of the spectator's world. The Impressionists were not concerned to produce an art which fooled the eye into believing it saw the 'real' world, but rather to stress to the viewer the individual nature of the artist's perceptions.
By the end of the 1870s, Renoir and Pissarro had both developed their individual equivalents to Cezanne's constructed 'directional' brush-work. It is clearly apparent in Renoir's fore-ground figure in Place Clichy (1879-1880). which sets up a striking contrast with the blurred, rubbed effects which evoke the back-ground bustle of the crowded Parisian street. The tightness of the brushwork on the cut-off female figure acts as a device to focus the viewer's attention on her. Pissarro, who had worked regularly beside Cezanne during this decade, used a more controlled, directional touch in works like The Backwoods ofFHermitage. Pontoise (1879), a magnificent, large canvas which can be seen as a summation of his work of the 1870s, and in Peasants Tending Cows of 1882. Pissarro's technique was to develop, along with his association with the younger generation of Neo-Impressionist painters, into his pointillist style of the late 1880s. By 1886, this new group of artists, who developed a more scientific approach to Impressionism, were dubbed the Neo-Impressionists. In Renoir's work, the new tightness heralded a return to more traditional painting, methods, in which he revived the practice of making preparatory drawings and studies, and did many large-scale studio figure compositions, while remain-ing committed to Impressionist brilliance of color and luminosity.
Cezanne's The Castle of Medan was probably painted in the summer of 1880, when Cezanne was staying at Medan with his friend the novehst Emile Zola. He owned the small island in the Seine from which the view was painted. Cezanne has aligned the riverbank and the village parallel to the picture plane. A series of bands thus run horizontally, echoing the top and bottom edges of the pain ting. Combined with the verticals of the trees, they form a strong compositional grid. Hatched strokes of paint are used almost uniformly over the picture, and the color is of almost the same saturation throughout. These devices stress the flatness of the picture surface.
Renoir completed his work, Monet Painting in his Garden at Argenteuil around 1874. This shows the artist with his outdoor painting tools in the early 1870s. A three-legged, collapsible easel is used for easy portability and a small paintbox can be seen on the ground below. Nearby is a folded, whi t e pain ting parasol. This would have been used during bright sunny spells to shade the work and eliminate bnlliant reflections off the wet paint surf ace. An overcast sky here gives bright light but no cast shadows to enhance form. Horizontals and verticals of the fence and buildings run parallel to the picture plane, a geometry softened by the varied bmshwork suggesting foliage and flowers. Colors were premixed and worked wet in wet. But this is -for Renoir- quite a heavily loaded surface and paint was also added wet over dry.
Seurat and the Neo-Impressionists
The new Impressionist style of ordered brush-work was adopted by the young Georges Seurat (1859-1891), short-lived leader of the Neo-Impressionists, when he first began paint-ing oil studies from nature in the early 1880s. His personal variation was a criss-cross applica-tion of hatched strokes which gave his studies a surface uniformity comparable to that found in Impressionist paintings of that date. This technique may in part have originated with
Delacroix (1798-1863), who occasionally used it, and in the oil sketching methods which Seurat learned at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Like Degas, Seurat trained - if only briefly in the late 1870s - in the atelier of one of Ingres' pupils. Like Degas too, Seurat retained from this experience a commitment to drawing, to careful preparatory studies, both drawn and painted, and to a monumental classically har-monious symmetry in his finished studio compositions. In a way, Seurat was a modern classicist, fusing aspects of that tradition, in particular a belief in strong modeling of form, with the Impressionists' dedication to the rendering of natural outdoor light. However, Seurat's novelty lay in his desire to find a sys-tematic, scientific mode of rendering natural atmospheric light which, unlike the approach of the Impressionists, would leave nothing in his paintings to chance. During the first half of his brief career until the mid 1880s, he con-centrated upon systematizing the depiction of color and light in his paintings, adopting a variant of the Impressionists' limited palette of bright colors.
Nineteenth century writers on technique had recommended widely accepted, if slightly varied formulae of different combinations of colors for depicting each category of painting - figure, landscape, portrait, genre scenes, and so on. By contrast, the limited palette of the Impressionists - which improved the portability of their equipment - required of these artists greater versatility and an intimate knowledge of their few colors, to enable them to adapt their palette to suit a wide variety of different subjects and weather conditions.
The Impressionists' palette colors were not strictly speaking 'prismatic'. None conformed precisely to the full, pure chromatic saturation found in the spectrum of colored lights pro-duced by a prism for the simple reason that they were combinations of chemical pigments. What the Impressionists did was to choose pig-ment colors which approximated most closely to the common notion of the chromatic circle. concentrating on primary colors (red. yellow. blue) and one or two secondary colors (orange, green, violet) which, when mixed, produced a wide range of bright hues. Relative degrees of darkness or colorful neutral tints were made by mixing complementary or near complementary colors. Complementary col-ors are those colors opposite each other on the color circle - red and green, blue and orange or yellow and violet. This enabled the artists to avoid the sullying effects of adding brown or black to give darker tones. For pale tints, increased amounts of lead white were usually added to the initial mixture.
Documentary evidence and scientific pig-ment analysis together with visual examination of the paintings can give a reasonably accurate idea of the colors generally used by the Impressionists. The most common colors were lead white, chrome yellows, cadmium yellows, yellow ochre, emerald green, viridian green, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, red and crimson alizarin lakes, and vermilion. Black virtually disappeared from the palettes of all but Renoir and Cezanne after the mid 1870s, and even they used it only as a color in its own right, and not as a means to darken other colors for tonal shadows. Chrome yellows were in fact abandoned by most of these artists in the late 1870s, when it was realized they tended to blacken in contact with pigments which in-cluded sulphides. Renoir commented on this problem, and the change it necessitated in his work. emphasizing one important aspect of coloring. This was that brightness of color depended more upon the relationship of colors within a picture, than on the brilliance of the individual colors. For this reason, he adopted the dull Naples yellow in place of the bright chrome yellows.
In Apple Picking (1886), Pissarro was experimenting with the decorative properties of a square canvas format. A n um ber of prepare! t ory drawings for this major. large-scale work survive. They show the care mth which the artist planned the picture. Three figures recede in space. They echo the strong diagonal of the violet shadow, which runs from center bottom to off-center, right. In the upper right, a second triangle of sunlight repeats in reverse that at lower right. The power of these shapes and the shadow, in relation to the square canvas shape, gives the painting a patterned flatness. The brushwork consists of small hatched touches which are, however, not yet PointiUist in size. The brushstrokes create a web of texture which strengthens surface quahties, while also evokingfomis. Colons richer and more muted than in the artist's later Pomtillist variant of this theme, which dates from 1888.
In the late 1870s, Monet substituted cad-mium yellows for the problematic chromes. He, Pissarro. Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) and Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) all used cobalt violet relatively unmixed from the early 1880s on. This pigment had, however, been used by them much earlier, but only in mixtures. Cez-anne and Renoir both used some of the duller -but pale - earth colors, like yellow ochre, raw sienna, green and red earths, and also Naples yellow. Renoir called these 'intermediaries', by which he meant colors which could be ob-tained by mixing the brighter primary colors and white. However, these artists tried to avoid dangerous overmixing. so the duller tube colors were adopted only as an expedient.
The more colors are mixed together, the darker the resulting hue, because pigments react 'subtractively'. This means that the amount of light they reflect back to the eye diminishes proportionately with each additional color in a mixture. Colored light reacts in the opposite manner, or 'additively', so that adding colors of light together produces an increasingly pale mixture, resulting finally in the pure white light which is a reconstitution of the entire prismatic rainbow. Thus, avoiding overmixing of pigment colors was also a means of retain-ing the maximum light-reflective power of each individual pigment color, as, for example, Naples yellow direct from the tube would be paler than would a palette mixture.
The Neo-Impressionist palette
The Neo-Impressionists were even more rigor-ous in their
attitude toward color mixtures than were the Impressionists. The latter
often slurred together or even premixed colors opposite each other on
the chromatic circle, because these gave colorful neutral-to-gray hues.
The Neo-Impressionists rejected such mixtures as too sullied. Instead
they advocated only the mixing of hues next to each other on the chromatic
circle, which gave brighter, purer mixtures. Like the Impressionists,
they increased the reflective luminosity of their paint surfaces by adding
white to most of their colour mixtures. Although as late as 1883 to 1884.
when Seurat completed his first major canvas Bathing. Asnieres, earth
colors were included in his palette, after that date he banished them
from his color range. His first follower, Paul Signac, recorded the typical
Neo-Impressionist palette, which was an extended version of the Impressionist
palette, excluding the earth colors. For their yellows they used the cad-miums,
from deep through to pale, and the alizarin lakes and vermilion were their
reds. Cobalt violet, ultramarine and cobalt blues, and cerulean blue covered
the purple to blue range. They used more greens than the Impres-sionists
- viridian green, and two 'composed' greens, probably different hues of
chrome green, which was a commercially produced mixture of chrome yellow
and Prussian blue.
Mary Cassatt's Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly (1880) shows the artist's sister Lydia, who was an invalid. It was exhibited at the sixth Impressionist exhibition of 1881, and Degas remarked that it looked well in studio light. The subdued tint of the ground harmonizes with the predominance of middle tonal values of this picture. It was painted in shadowless overcast lighting. The figure is cropped and pushed close to the viewer, against a band of rich, reddish plants. This band seems like a solid slab of color. This produces a flattening effect which is reinforced by the flat color of the path andthe grid of windows behind. All of these devices draw attention to the figure.
Louis Hayet, painter friend of Pissarro and his son Lucien, painted a color circle based on Ogden Rood's color wheel. Such charts aided Neo-Impressionist painters in their choice of hues for their meticulously colored canvases. By contrast to Chevreul's earlier color circle, here there is greater stress on the range of greens. Only colors found adjacent on the circle werepremixed by these artists so the colors retained their purity of hue.
However, the Neo-Impressionists continued to use certain methods developed by the Im-pressionists. For instance, they, like the Impres-sionists, were convinced of the advantages of mat paint surfaces and of mixtures with white which gave greater light-reflectiveness and therefore a more luminous, accurate evocation of natural atmospheric light. Similarly, like the Impressionists from the 1870s, the Neo-Impressionists shunned the use of varnish over their finished pictures. Varnish distorted the carefully calculated, delicate color relations, darkened the pale opaque surface effects and destroyed the matness of their paintings. The Neo-Impressionists also adopted the Impres-sionists' use of relatively oil-free paints because the mat paint surfaces these produced provided a superb visual analogy with the matness of natural surfaces under sunlight. The Neo-Impressionists sought new ways of recreating the effects of vibrant outdoor light. One such method was the adoption of canvases prepared with absorbent grounds.
For oil painting, artists had traditionally preferred relatively non-absorbent, oil-based grounds, because they enhanced the oil colors by leaving the paint layer with the glossy finish and rich colors which were considered desir-able. However, absorbent grounds were rein-troduced by color merchants in the early nineteenth century. These were similar to the gesso grounds made from chalk and glue which had been used with tempera before the Renaissance. The merchants' motives were purely economic, as absorbent grounds dry more quickly than the oil-based variety. How-ever, absorbent grounds draw oil from the colors, producing a dryer, chalkier paint layer than is possible on oil-based grounds, and this was ideal for the Neo-Impressionists. This mat paint finish, in combination with the while absorbent ground gave a brilliant light-reflective quality which was perfectly suited to creating the visual effects sought by the Neo-Impressionists.
A sample of an ordinary weight canvas dates from about 1900. It has a white 'absorbent'ground of the type-preferred by Neo-Impressionist painters. This sample was primed probably with a single coat of glue and chalk based primer, and was widely sold by French color merchants. Left
The Attributes of the Arts (1766) by the French artist Chardin (1699-1779) shows a palette, knife, paintbox and brushes. Thepalette is oval in shape and shows a tonal layout of colors. They are set out in a row, starting with white nearest the thumbhole, working round to the darkest hues. Hog's hair brushes here are attached to their handles with leather thongs. This makes them round in form. With the introduction of tin ferrules, a flat shape could be made. This was popular with the Impressionists. A metal dipper to hold painting medium or diluent is clipped to the edge of the palette. Dark hardwood was usually used for palettes, and this made it difficult for artists painting on light grounds to judge their color values when mixing on the palette
Although in his large finished canvases from the first half of the 1880s, Seurat used an opaque paint layer which obliterated most of the white ground, this still adds to the general brilliance and durability of his paint layer. However, in his studies - often from nature - his open criss-cross brushwork often left the ground showing through. It is clear, especially from earlier examples, that he was then also using tinted grounds, particularly gray, in a manner similar to that employed by the Impres-sionists. On occasions, unlike the Impressionists. he also used small wood panels, usually cigar box lids, which were often left unprimed so that the warm reddish-orange wood played an active role, unifying and complementing the openly applied colors in the paint layer. As in academic practice, these little paintings were either etudes, which served as memory aids. annotating Seurat's first impressions of light and color on the scene, or they were rapidly executed compositional sketches in which he experimented with various alternative compo-sitions for large-scale works. All these elements, together with his careful tonal drawings of individual pictorial components, were finally used as the raw material for his controlled studio pictures.
Seurat's drawing technique, which was adopted by many of his followers, was quite individually distinctive, despite a similarity to the drawing techniques of Millet's late works which clearly inspired them. In the early years of his career, although pursuing his interest in color through reading, and studying masters like Delacroix, Seurat concentrated almost ex-clusively on developing his drawing technique. This was very much in line with academic practice, yet the resulting images achieved their lucid, timeless classicism with little refer-ence to accepted academic methods. Seurat's preferred drawing medium was black Conte crayon, an artificial chalk so fine as to be almost waxy in feel. He worked on rough hand-made Michallet paper - a famous French brand -which had distinctive paper-mold marks and was commonly called 'Ingres' paper. By vary-ing pressure with the soft chalk on this irregular creamy-white surface, he could achieve great variations of tone. Gentle marks caught only on the protruding ridges or tufts of the paper, leaving the hollows white, while heavy marks crushed the tufts, forcing the crayon into the hollows and resulting in a totally blackened surface. Thus. by varying his touch, Seurat was able to create every possible nuance of tonal gradation, from the white of the paper through to solid velvety blacks. This mature drawing method totally renounced the use of line to create the edges of form, relying completely on subtle tonal modeling instead, enabling Seurat to evolve his strong handling of form through tonal contrast, which he translated in his painting into color modulations and contrasts.
Photograph of Sisley's Snow at Louveciennes (cl874) was taken during cleaning by the Courtauld Institute Department of Technology in London. It shows the dramatic effects of dirt and discolored varnish. Yellowed varnish makes the blues appear green, and casts unintended warmth over all color values. To avoid this danger, most Impressionists and Neo-Impressionis ts preferred unvarnished paintings. They also preferred to leave works unvarnished because they sought mat effects. and varnish not only made the surf ace glossy, it also darkened the pale tints selected to evoke naturaihght.
The Gleaner (cl 883) by Georges Seurat was drawn in black Conte crayon or. Ingres paper. Seurat built up the tonal gradations in his drawing by varying the pressure and the density of the marks. The white of th e paper glows through, giving the sensation of light emanating from the drawing itself. Although the criss-cross web of strokes may seem bold and disordered, the technique may in fact have been inspired by the approach for oil sketching taught by his academic tutor Lehmann. Seurat used similar handhng in his small oil sketches of this period. Of even greater importance in the formation of Seurat's distinctive drawing style were undoubtedly pastel works by Millet. Seurat's mature drawing, hke this one, is completely tonal in style, avoiding hatched hnes or contours that contain form. Instead, the forms loom out of theprevaihng darks.
Seurat developed his dot touch during the summer of 1885, when this work, Le Bee du Hoc at Grandchamp, was executed. The detail from the center cliff edge fright shows that, despite a reduced size of touch, the shape of mark still varies, subtly differentiating textures and following forms. The dot method enabled Seurat to note minute gradations of tone and changes of hue, giving him great control over his depiction of form and colored light.
Pointillism and color theory
Seurat's mature pointillist technique, in which almost uniform 'mechanical' dots of pure color were built up over the entire paint surface, was already inherent in his work before 1885, although it was handled quite differently. Thus a dotted effect is discernible in his Conte drawings and in a painting technique adopted from the Impressionists. In this. his use of dragged, chalky paint catching on the raised canvas grain or on earlier dried brushstrokes in works like Bathing (1883-1884) presents the eye with an erratically speckled effect as broken layers of color reveal previous colors. How-ever, his methodical application of colored dots, developed in works like Le Bee du Hoc (1885). was a systematization of previously 'accidental' effects. Recent scholarship suggests that Seurat's use of the dot technique was in-spired by contemporary developments in color printing. Seurat showed great interest in this popular art form, both because of its techniques and its stylized designs. Seurat's radical taste for popular, 'democratic' art forms - which had precedents in the sources used by. for example, Courbet and Manet - and his fascin-ation with modern science and technology, reflected his radical political leanings.
Seurat found the theoretical basis for his use of individual dots of prismatic color to depict the fusion of color and light in nature in the important treatise Modern Chromatics written by the American color theorist Ogden Rood and published in 1879. However, these ideas had been prefigured in the writings on color by theorists and critics such as Michel-Eugene Chevreul. Charles Blanc and John Ruskin which Seurat also consulted. Rood maintained that optical mixtures of rays of colored light, reflected from the paint surface and fusing on the spectator's retina, would be far superior in luminosity to the effects afforded by conven-tional, dull palette mixtures.
In Seurat's painting, the rays of colored light emanating from each separate spot of colored pigment were not intended to result in optical mixtures of greater intensity than their original individual components. They were also not intended to fuse completely on the retina, for the dots were generally too distinct for that. Rather, when seen at the appropriate viewing distance, which was considered to be of three times the length of the pictures' diag-onal, the incomplete fusion of colored dots resulted in a flickering optical sensation. This was because, as the influential French Symbol-ist critic Felix Feneon perceptively noted in 1886, 'the retina, expecting distinct groups of light rays to act upon it, perceives in very rapid alternation both the disassociated colored elements and their resultant color.' For Seurat, this gave a pictorial equivalent for the shimmer-ing subtleties of transparency and reflected light found often in the halftones and shadows in nature. Seurat's use of small touches of color enabled him to achieve a twofold objective. On the one hand, it lent a limpid atmospheric luminosity to the painting. On the other, it gave a powerful sense of modeled forms. This was because Seurat could create minute variations of tone, from rich saturated color through to the palest tones, by increas-ing the proportion of white added to his color.
Between 1886 and 1888, Seurat began to extend his desire to systematize painting, searching for methodical means to convey pre-dictable emotional effects in painting through precise combinations of line, color and tone. This new preoccupation was inspired both by the writings of his contemporary, the psychologist and aesthetician Charles Henry, and by the ideas of the literary Symbolists, who were then coming to prominence. In the late 1880s the Symbolist movement in painting grew out of the literary Symbolist movement. Reacting against accepted ideas of naturalism and against modern society and technology, Symbolism emphasized the inner, emotional world of the creator as against the external natural world which had for so long been the chief source of artistic inspiration.
Aspects of Symbolist ideals pervaded most artistic developments during the late 1880s and 1890s, and the movement represented the first widespread repudiation of Impressionist ideas. Despite this reaction, the Impressionists' painting methods continued to provide a rich source of inspiration for many artists. Develop-ments in the 1890s and after, which appear to be reactions against Impressionism, in fact owe much to the lively potential unleashed by Im-pressionist stylistic and technical innovations.
This is an example of a chromotypogravure, published in the magazine L'Illustration in December 1885. In this early method of color reproduction, colors were reproduced as a series of dots. This may have inspired Seurat's development of his Pointillist method. He is known to have been fascinated by both modem technology and images derived from popular culture. This detail shows the similarity between Seurat's method, and that used here in color printing.
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