From impressionism to cubism

In the late nineteenth century, French painters known as impressionists—named after Claude Monet's painting Impression: Sunrise (1872), shown in Picture—inaugurated the first in a series of modern artistic movements that utterly changed styles and attitudes toward art. Rather than depicting things realistically, the impressionists sought to convey atmosphere and sensuous impressions from nature, adopting a stance of detached observation rather than direct emotional engagement. The idea was to capture an instant in time, as one apprehends a scene, before reason can process it. In Monet's paintings, objects and people are suggested by a few brush strokes, often of starkly contrasting colors, leaving it to the viewer's eyes and mind to blend the colors and fill in the missing details. The effect of light on an object is often as much the subject of a painting as is the object itself, as in Monet’s series of paintings of haystacks (1890–91) and of the Rouen Cathedral (1892–93) captured at different times of day. The distinction between foreground and background is blurred, flattening the perspective and focusing our attention on the overall impression. Although impressionist paintings are widely popular today, they were at first poorly received, derided as lacking in artistic skill and opposed to traditional aesthetics. Such reactions would also greet other modern styles of painting and music.



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