The decorations are packed away, and the Christmas tree is on the compost heap. Outside it’s grey and miserable, and spring seems a long way off.
At this time of year, we all need cheering up a little bit, and if you’re looking to add a splash of colour to your wardrobe or your home, why not turn to the Impressionists for inspiration?
Impressionism rocked the art establishment when it emerged in the mid-nineteenth century. It pushed aside accepted norms of traditional painting techniques, gave us some of the most recognisable artworks of all time, and remains as popular as ever today.
But what exactly is Impressionism, and who were the artists who led the movement?
The Impressionists were a group of artists who emerged onto the Paris art scene in the 1870’s: they included Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, and Paul Cezanne.
The term ‘Impressionism’ was originally derogative: a reference to Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise, one of a number of paintings the group presented at their first exhibition in1874. The show was not a great success and was ridiculed by art critics who coined the name to describe the new style.
Before Impressionism, most artists would paint in their studio, working from sketches. In contrast, the Impressionists preferred to work outdoors (en plein air), painting on the spot and working quickly to capture the ‘impression’ of a moment as it happened – Impression, Sunrise was painted in just 40 minutes by Monet!
Choosing landscapes and everyday scenes as their subjects, the Impressionists used bold brushstrokes, applying paint rapidly in separate dabs to better reflect the transient nature of light. The result was fresh, innovative – and very different from anything that had been seen before.
Traditionalists initially scoffed at the new approach, dismissing it as simplistic and naive. But subsequent exhibitions of the Impressionist’s work were increasingly well received, and by the late nineteenth century, the general public and art critics alike had embraced the genre.
By this time, a new generation of Post-Impressionist artists such as Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Vincent van Gogh had taken up the Impressionist mantle and were further developing the ideas of the movement’s founders.
As you’d expect given the importance of the place they hold in the history of art, the Impressionists are well represented within Signare’s collection of designs. You’ll find many of the most famous Impressionist paintings lovingly reproduced onto fashion bags, wall hangings and cushions.
The artists behind the works are almost as colourful as their art, and we thought we’d take a closer look at four leading lights of the Impressionist revolution – all of whose designs feature in our collection:
Claude Monet (1840 - 1926)
Monet was a French artist, a founding member of the Impressionists and a key driving force in the movement. Although he was born in Paris, his family moved to Le Havre when he was very young – it was his painting of the town’s port that gave the Impressionist movement its name. With his friend Renoir, Monet painted water, colour and light in a style that had never been seen before.
Monet is best known for his series of works featuring the water lilies in the garden of his home at Giverny, near Paris. To capture changes in the seasons and light conditions, Monet would paint the same scene again and again. He began painting water lilies in 1899, and the project took up the next 20 years of his life as he produced numerous paintings on this theme.
Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917)
Along with Monet, the French artist Degas was a founding member of the Impressionist movement – although he preferred to refer to himself as a Realist. He studied classical art and planned to be a historical painter, before a change of heart saw him instead turn his attention to contemporary subjects.
Degas perfected the art of depicting movement in the human form, and he was particularly fascinated by dance and ballet. More than half of all the works he left behind are of dancers – the pair of exquisite ballerinas on the cushion cover in our own collection are a great example of his work.
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
Arguably one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art, Van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist who took the movement’s philosophy to a new level through his use of bold colours and swirling brushstrokes.
The Dutchman struggled with mental illness throughout much of his career, eventually taking his own life aged just 37. But his star burned exceptionally brightly, and during his tragically short life, he created over 2,100 artworks and nearly 900 oil paintings including Sunflowers and Starry Night.
Between 27th March – 11th April 2019, Tate Britain will host ‘Van Gogh and Britain’, an exhibition bringing together 45 of the artist’s paintings including Starry Night. We’ll be blogging about this in more detail next month.
Georges Seurat (1859 – 1891)
Like Van Gogh, Seurat was in the second wave of Impressionism, and he is considered one of the most important Post-Impressionist painters. Together with another artist Paul Signac, Seurat is credited with developing a new branch of impressionism known as ‘Pointillism’ – a technique which involves applying small dots of colour in patterns to create an image. Our wall hanging A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte reproduces the most famous example of Seurat's Pointillist style.