movement its name. This small harbor scene is done in
unblended dabs of color without clear outlines. To critics, it
seemed to be merely a sketch—an impression, not a finished
painting—and they objected strongly to it.
Monet, however, continued to use this manner of painting to
give his works a feeling of spontaneity, as if he were painting
them extremely quickly to capture a fleeting moment in time.
Of course, the pieces were not painted instantly, and close
observation of a
typical Monet
painting reveals a thick layer of paint made up of short strokes of varied colors. Although these dabs of
paint are not uniform or “pure,” they do interact and blend to create form similar to the way the eye picks
up isolated sensations that are blended and shaped into coherent forms in the mind.
Monet wanted viewers to feel his paintings were composed of light, so he avoided outlines and shadows.
As a result (and also because of the obvious strokes of paint), Monet’s works emphasize the surface of the
canvas rather than encouraging us to look through the surface to an illusion of reality. Among Monet’s
best-known works are his series of train stations, haystacks, church façades, and water lilies. In all of the
series, Monet attempted to capture the particular appearance of the light at different times of day and in
different seasons.
DEGAS
AND
CASSATT
The works by Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt typically show
interior scenes, often focused on the lives of women. Degas,
who created etchings and pastels (chalk) as well as oil
paintings, often showed intimate scenes of women bathing,
which are made more erotic because the women seem
unaware of the spectator’s presence. Degas also painted
ballet or theater scenes. Works like these show the influence
of Japanese prints, which were extremely popular in France
in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In The Tub we
see from a high point of view, and the floor seems to slant
upward rather than recede to a vanishing point. Japanese prints also use parallel diagonal lines to create
space. In addition, Japanese prints depict the “fleeting world”—the lives of geishas and actors in the
pleasure quarters of Tokyo. These subjects parallel those that Degas was interested in—entertainers and
the intimate daily activities of women. Although Degas never abandoned firm drawing and modeling in
favor of loose brushwork, he often created a feeling of spontaneity in his works by showing figures in
awkward or unbalanced poses, or by having them cut off by the frame or some other object in the painting.
Mary Cassatt was an American-born artist who moved to France and became associated with the
Impressionists through her friendship with Degas. Like him, she collected Japanese prints, but she went
further than Degas in embracing Japanese subject matter, color, and techniques, and adapting them for
modern audiences. A series of etchings Cassatt made in 1891 shows the activities of women throughout
the day and is similar to a series by Kitagawa Utamaro, a Japanese artist who depicted the activities of
courtesans, prostitutes, and everyday women. Although Cassatt’s women are more decorous than
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