Just an Impression

When one travels on the train one sees the world fly past us in flashes of color, texture and light. It’s not an exact representation of the passing scenery but something a lot more succinct… a first impression. There is something very whimsical, even nostalgic about seeing the landscape colors merge into one another as they create pictures for the mind. Next time you take the train observe the scenery through the window and you will come to understand how the first Impressionists caught fleeting glimpses of reality with which to paint their canvases…

This winter the Bruce Museum is hosting an exhibit entitled “Divided Light and Color: American Impressionist Landscapes” until January 29, 2012. The show will highlight two dozen of the finest examples in American Impressionism with works by noted artists: Childe Hassam, Theodore Robinson and John Henry Twachtman. Childe Hassam is much loved for his depictions of France, New England and Greenwich, most notably his impression of the Bush Holley House and the Mill Pond and Railway Bridge in Cos Cob which all played their part in the history of the Cos Cob Art Colony. For more information about the exhibit log onto Brucemuseum.org.

Impressionism started in the mid-19th century and rose to popularity in the last quarter of the century. The movement was inspired by a variety of factors, including anti-establishment and a desire to paint modern life instead of academic subjects from history and mythology.

Anti-establishment artists such as Gustave Courbet, Jean Francois Millet and Rosa Bonheur had already started to paint real life images instead of mythology, fantasy and historical topics, but they were still painting using traditional techniques of applying paint, applying paint smoothly to the canvas and blending it to create a flat surface. Even artists like Edouard Manet, who began his career as a controversial realist but would later add impressionist touches to his work, tried to keep the surface of his canvas flat and smooth.

The invention of the train greatly impacted the Impressionists. There was no more aggressive symbol of modern technology than the new railroads. The rail system became a large part of many Parisians’ lives, including the Impressionists. They painted locomotives and railroads and stations. The age of the train was recorded forever in art by the Impressionists.
If you can, try and make it down to the Bruce to see these incredible specimens of American Impressionism. I am a huge fan of the Impressionists, partly because their work is so intensely beautiful and evocative, but there’s something else too… maybe it’s the hidden message of it all, the way the images on the canvas don’t fully get to define themselves and remain unobtrusively connected to the whole. Maybe that’s what makes great art…a reflection of the human experience, recording our efforts to define ourselves and the futility of trying to disconnect from the whole. After all, in the grand scheme of the universe, we leave this world leaving nothing but an impression on the whole…

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