European History through Art & Architecture to Impressionism


    I will be giving a talk this week on Impressionism and how it fits into European history. I've done it before - relating Impressionism through history and its place in the bigger picture. A topic I seem to find endlessly fascinating, so I'll give you a (somewhat) brief synopsis and overview.

    Take a moment, sit back and travel through time with me - through Art, architecture and culture.

    We begin around 12,000 BC with cave paintings....

    This one is from the Niaux Caves in southern France. We visited in December - literally walking through art history! Many caves in the area depict similar motifs from the artists of that time period. The desire to create is evident from very early on...

    Then skipping up to the Greek Era of around 800 - 400 BC

    (Archaic Period 800-500 BC)

    (Classical Period 500-400 BC)

    Greek Ruins in Paestum, Italy - Temple of Hera II - with John in there for scale.

    Built 460-450 BC...Awe-inspiring architecture to say the least.

    The remains of their lap pool in Paestum, once named Poseidonia Italy.

    The Roman Empire 800 BC - 500 AD...

    The Roman Colosseum (I photographed a couple years ago when we visited) - an amazing architectural feat and statement on their culture.

    Mt. Vesuvius erupts in AD 79

    The culture and architecture of the Roman Empire left behind in Pompeii, Italy is absolutely incredible... an 'average' city in the Roman Empire preserved so we are able to see their refinements and way of life...

    They had pottery, glass vessels, sculpture, beautiful mosaic tile floors, gardens, murals...

    And then...

    The fall of the Roman Empire and

    Into the Dark Ages of 500 AD - 1000 AD

    with frequent wars and disappearance of urban life.

    A cultural and economic deterioration.

    Not much is left for us to study from this time period.

    No Art or beautiful architecture - much of it lost to this 'dark' time.

    Middle Ages of 1150 - 1450 AD saw social change and rebellion

    Hill towns in Italy and...

    walled cities in France...

    Built to provide protection from invaders.

    Beautiful old stone architecture that is being used today...

    Aigues- Mortes - We were inside this walled city in France a couple years ago.

    Italian Renaisance 1400-1600 AD

    The Duomo built in Florence Italy - begun in 1296 and completed structurally in 1439. An astonishingly innovative approach architecturally for the times... a spark of 'awakening' of what humans were capable of creating.

    Rome, Italy

    Art was appreciated, encouraged and supported in the Italian Renaissance... with the likes of Italian born Leonardo da Vinci (born in 1452) , Michelangelo (born in 1475) and more.

    Bernini sculpture in Rome

    There were great artists emerging and the swell of ideas, knowledge and creativity spreading through Europe...

    1600-1800 AD France emerges as a major world power and cultural center

    The Louvre in Paris - originally a fortress in the 12th century became the Royal Palace.

    (and eventually the museum we know today)

    Art and Architecture are flourishing!

    And the perfect storm is brewing for Impressionism...

    In 1826 the earliest know surviving photograph was made in a camera in France.

    VERY far from our photographic standards of today, this scene was photographed out an upstairs window in France, vaguely showing the outlines of the buildings.

    But photography was born!

    (Developing rapidly, Eastman Kodak's camera went on the market in 1888.)

    In 1841, the portable paint tube was invented,

    (replacing the pig bladder... really!)

    and the seeds of Impressionism began to sprout in France!

    Now, with the metal paint tubes, artists could carry their paints anywhere AND the tubes preserved the paints longer. This made it not only easier to transport, but to try new colors and be more experimental with the paint application.

    Pierre-Auguste Renoir said, “Without colors in tubes, there would be no Cézanne, no Monet, no Pissarro, and no Impressionism."

    At the same time, the need for artists to be the 'photo record' of the day was waning with the camera beginning to take hold.

    That set the stage for a group of artists in France - men and women, rich and poor - to take their paints and step out of the confines of their studio spaces to capture the moment, the light, the energy of 'real life'...

    Monet under the umbrella painting the water lilies in the pond

    They were aiming to be the painters of the 'real'... with color, natural light and fresh subject matter. Shocking to the masses who were used to the somber colors, forms and subjects of the academic paintings of the times.

    by Claude Monet...

    born in 1840 in Paris France, a year before the metal paint tube was invented -

    What good timing!

    by Camille Pissaro

    The Impressionists were viewed as 'radical' and pushing the Art envelope of the day. But slowly the momentum took hold and the critics were drowned out. The appeal of capturing the outside landscape, the true natural light and the freshness of the moment was blossoming.

    by Edouard Manet

    The paintings were fresh, loose and more vibrant - reflecting the energy of the times.

    by Claude Monet

    by Mary Cassatt

    by Edgar Degas

    by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

    Officially, Impression began around 1870 ....a controversial movement in art which became an inspiring time for Art and Culture. The Impressionist's influence spread throughout Europe and eventually into the United States and is at the roots of many paintings today.


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    Shirl Ireland, Artist

    Elk River Art, Lodge & Studio

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