Sunday, April 16, 2017

Let's Celebrate Spring and Rebirth with the Impressionists

Claude Monet, Jeanne-Marguerite Lecadre in the Garden, 1866
(Hermitage Museum, St. Peterburg)
After months of freezing cold and rain of biblical proportions, spring seems to have arrived. Looking out the window and seeing bright sunshine, being able to finally put away my dark, heavy coat and seeing flowers bloom everywhere gives me the little kid going out to play kind of happiness. I can hardly sit still. There is a bigger, a deeper reason for recognizing the beauty of the weather, the flowers, and the birds and the bees. We are living through such dark and unhappy times that we need to get any kind of joy wherever we can get it. I am sick of being the victim of political opportunism at every turn, war, death and a world that lacks concern for the whole of humanity. So, enough of all of that. Let’s enjoy this very moment when the sun is shining bright and the birds are singing so loud you would think there was a competition to who can announce, “Spring is here!” the best and the loudest. Spring is the time of rebirth and on a day when the Christians are celebrating the resurrection, and a major referendum can determine the future of secular, democratic Turkish Republic, I just want to be able to hope for a better tomorrow.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La Promenade, 1876
(The Getty Museum)
I am no singer or artist but merely an observer of life. On my more fanciful days, I like to think of myself as a flâneuse… one who strolls the city to observe. Not getting involved but merely seeing and taking note of all the happenings in the urban environment of modernity. Spring always puts me in the mind of the Impressionists. It may be due to the weather allowing me the opportunity to stroll along city streets and observe the interactions of humanity with their urban environment, or it may simply be the colors and the light that was the trademark of the impressionists. No matter what it is, I am in the mind of a flâneur and want to stroll the internet to visualize the season in terms of Impressionist paintings.

Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre Spring, 1897
(Private Collection) 
The Impressionist paintings were a visual manifestation of modern life. They captured instantaneous moments of modernity with staccoto brushstrokes and a variety of subjects that captured the effects of industrialization in France and especially Paris. The invention of portable tubes for oil paints, allowed them to paint en plen air, and produce paintings that told the story of and would appeal to the emerging bourgeoisie class. The Industrial revolution beget factories that created a new working class and advances in technology such as trains, which effected the way people could travel. The concept of leisure time as well as how and where one spent that time emerged along with the visibility of the working classes in some type of leisurely pursuit. These elements of modernity contributed to the subjects of Impressionist paintings.

Claude Monet, Women in the Garden, 1866
(Musee d'Orsay)
Impressionists painted nature and light, how light touched upon different surfaces and changed,  producing a variety of colors, as the sun made its progression from morning to night. Fashionably dressed men and women displayed in gardens, fields and conservatories became another one of their favorite subjects. La mode (fashion) as a harbinger of modernity due to the birth of department stores and ready-made fashions as well as the elegant Parissiene could be seen as the main protagonists of paintings by Monet, Renoir and Manet.  

Édouard Manet, Jeanne (Spring), 1881
(The Getty Museum)
I must add the two female Impressionists, Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morissot, who produced a large body of work that also included parent and child themes. Mary Cassatt posed her family members, and children in their natural habitat doing their daily pursuits. There are mother and child paintings with women sewing, reading or bathing their children, and even titled, Woman and Child in the  Driving Seat. It is interesting to note the perspective of a woman on a woman's pursuits and spaces as opposed to the more romanticized, sexualized or oppressed male versions. 

Mary Cassatt, Auguste Reading to her Daughter, 1910
(Private Collection)

Berthe Morisot has a special place in my heart for reversing the traditional mother-child genre by painting her daughter with her husband Eugene Manet. These women were part of the Impressionists due to their use of color and paint techniques but their point of view in regards to the people and places of modernity differed revealing a more insightful picture. 

Berthe Morisot, Eugene and his Daughter in the Garden, 1883
(Private Collection)
These were not the only subject matters that the Impressionists limited themselves to but they are the first ones that come to my mind on this beautiful spring morning. As I listen to the birds sing and look out at the budding tree full of green leaves of promise outside my window, I visualize the world in terms of Impressionist paintings and for just this moment forget the darkness and the chaos that is consuming our world.

I will borrow from the 17th century English poet, Robert Herrick and for today, will interpet them to suit my purpose and say…
Gather your rose buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Enjoy life, enjoy spring, enjoy the sunshine while you have it.  

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