Eugène Boudin – Inspiration to Monet


I’m in Honfleur, which is a beautiful old town on the coast in Normandy in France, for few days. Its just the beginning of my 2019 European holiday and I’m excited as my mother’s family are from Normandy.

I did a little research before I left to find any galleries in the area, and discovered an artist named Eugène Boudin, after whom the local art museum is named.

Boudin was born in 1824 in Honfleur where his father operated a ferry service across the Seine estuary between Honfleur and Le Havre.

Following an accident on the ferry when he fell almost drowned, his mother sent him to school. Boudin’s abilities were recognised and he was encouraged to develop his artistic talent.

His family moved across the river to Le Havre in 1835,  where his father started a picture framing and stationery business. (Although the research I did was a little contradictory, it is likely that Eugène also had a share in this business.)

During Boudin’s lifetime the Channel coast between France and England was transformed by tourism. By the 1830s some small fishing villages were accommodating visitors from both countries. This included tourists in search of the healthful benefits of sea water and air, as well as artists who took the opportunity to paint scenic locales and peasant life.

Both Jean-Francois Millet (1814-75), a founding members of the French Barbizon School of landscape painting, and Constant Troyon (1810- 65) sold their paintings at the Boudin family shop, and Eugène was able to study their works, and talk such to artists as miniature painter Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767–1855) and the history painter Thomas Couture (1815–79).

However, his art hero at the time was Dutch landscape master Johan Jongkind (1819-1891).

Louis Gabriel Isabey, Low Ebb Tide, 1861
Johan Barthold Jongkind, Quay in Honfluer, 1866

In 1846 Boudin started painting full-time.

Sponsored by former artist clients of the framing business, Boudin went to Paris to study and copy in the Louvre, and in 1851 the town of Le Havre awarded him a three-year scholarship to support his study. In Paris he developed an interest in the paintings of Realist painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

In 1857 Boudin met the young Claude Monet (who also lived in Le Havre) who spent several months working with him in his studio. The two remained lifelong friends and Monet later paid tribute to Boudin’s early influence.

Drawing of Monet, presumed to be by Boudin
Drawing of Monet, presumed to be by Boudin

Monet later commented,

If I have become a painter, I owe it to Eugène Boudin.”

Claude Monet, Winter Sun, Lavacourt, c1879-80

By the middle of the 1850s, plein-air painting was becoming an established tradition. Painting styles were changing and artists began to paint nature with a spontaneous approach. Boudin, together with Camille Corot, was a strong influence on young Impressionist painters.

Boudin wrote:

anything painted directly, on the spot, always has a strength, a power, a lively touch that is lost in the studio. Your first impression is the right one. Stick to it and refuse to budge.

Boudin made his debut at the Paris Salon in 1859, and continued to exhibit with the Salon for years. (He participated in the Impressionist’s first exhibition of 1874, but not in any subsequent exhibitions, preferring instead to exhibit within the Salon system.)

He began to paint tourist scenes in 1862; at about the same time as a new rail line opened from Paris to Trouville-Deauville, making travel to these resorts much easier. Beach vacationers were unconventional subjects for artists at that time. They had leisure time and money to spend, and were the patrons as well as the subjects of his art.

(Prior to this, paintings of seascapes, if they had figures, they were more typically of fishermen or peasant washerwomen.)

Also, by this time it was much easier to paint out doors portable with easels being available, as well as oil paint  in tubes.


Boudin quickly established the pattern he would follow throughout his career: in summer he traveled to paint outdoor sketches that he would complete in his Paris studio over the winter. He stayed along the Channel coast, mostly in Normandy and Brittany.

Boudin’s growing reputation enabled him to travel extensively in the 1870s. He visited Belgium, the Netherlands, and southern France, and from 1892 to 1895 made regular trips to Venice. He continued to exhibit at the Paris Salons, receiving a third place medal at the Paris Salon of 1881, and a gold medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. In 1892 Boudin was made a knight of the Legion d’honneur.

He died in 1898 in Deauville, not far from Honfleur, at the age of 74.

It was against this background that I visited the Eugène Boudin Museum in Honfleur – unfortunately I couldn’t take photos in the gallery so the ones below are some I found online which are representative of works I saw there.


Eugène Boudin, Concert at the Casino of Deauville, 1865, oil on canvas
Eugène Boudin, On the Jetty, c. 1869 1870, oil on wood
Eugène Boudin, Bathing Time at Deauville, 1865, oil on wood

I think they are nice little tourist paintings, but my real surprise came when I visited the Museum of Modern Art at Le Havre the following day and found many more of his artworks. 


You can see from his use of colour, light and his loose brushstrokes why he would have been such an influence on Claude Monet and other Impressionists  – these artworks capture the time and place beautifully, and are wonderfully modern paintings.

Boudin was nicknamed the “king of the skies” by Camille Carot, and the images above demonstrate why he earned this nickname.

Eugène Boudin was a wonderfully talented artist whom I was delighted to discover, and it’s a shame that he isn’t more well known. Again, another reason why I love to visit galleries when I travel – there are always wonderful surprises.

Sources include:

The Eugène Boudin Gallery in Honfleur

The Art Gallery of New South Wales

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC

MuMA d’art Modern Andre Malraux

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The Heidi Horten Collection at the Leopold Museum

Another in my 2018 European holiday series.

It’s wonderful to discover artworks that you haven’t seen before and the Heidi Horten Collection at the Leopold Museum provided me with another opportunity to do just that.

The Heidi Horton Collection contains more than 170 works spanning a hundred years from Expressionisn through to pop art.

Heidi Goesse-Horton has been expanding her collection since the 1990s and has built one of the most impressive private collections in Europe. It contains over 500 paintings, graphic works and sculptures.

You can see more more about the Collection at and

Luckily the exhibition had been extended from the end of July to early September or I would have missed it. 

The standout pieces for me included the Rothko I saw as I entered the exhibition,

A beautiful Joseph Albers demonstrating his use of colours and design (the photo doesn’t do it justice),

a simple Matisse drawing,

This Kees von Dongen, with its controlled design and muted palette,

and another Expressionist work, this time by August Macke.

And finally a work by Michelangelo Pisteletto, simply because of its creativity (a mirror with two figures appearing to look over a railing). 

Surprised at the Leopold

Another in my 2018 European holiday series.

Today I am in Vienna for my first ever visit. One of my priorities has been to visit the Leopold Museum to see an exhibition of a well known artist – and I am surprised by his beautiful early works which I hadn’t seen before.

I wonder if you know who the artist is from looking at these pics? 

The artist is Gustav Klimt and I think that these beautiful examples demonstrate the depth and breadth of his abilities. 

After studying at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts, Klimt opened an independent studio in 1883 specialising in mural paintings.

His early work had a classical style that was typical of late 19th-century academic painting.

In 1897 Klimt’s mature style emerged, and he founded the Vienna Sezession, a group of painters who revolted against academic art in favour of a highly decorative style similar to Art Nouveau.

Klimt’s most successful works include The Kiss (1908–09) and a series of portraits of fashionable Viennese matrons, such as Fritza Riedler (1906) and Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907). In these works he treats the human figure without shadow and heightens the lush sensuality of skin by surrounding it with areas of flat, highly ornamental, brilliantly composed areas of decoration. Source:

As stated in the Britannia bio above, it appeared that his style began to change from the style shown above to his more recognised style from the late 1890s. The first one below was completed in 1907.

This exhibition was a wonderful surprise, and the surprises kept coming as I discovered the Heidi Horton collection, also at the Leopold Museum – see pics in next blog.

Postscript: here are some photos of the paintings that Klimt was commissioned to do for the Kunsthishistorisches Museum in Vienna which I discovered during my visit.





Learning to Appreciate Art – My Accidental Journey

Arthur Streeton, The Purple Noon's Transparent Might, 1896
Arthur Streeton, The Purple Noon’s Transparent Might, 1896

I grew up in just outside a country town in NSW in Australia in the 1960s – no galleries nearby, few art books and no conversations about art at the dinner table.

On our walls we had quite lovely, but predictable, paintings of landscapes (usually with rivers – see the Streeton above as an example). I remember that in my shared bedroom there were also two prints; one of an oriental lady in muted green and orange, and a brightly coloured clown.  I don’t remember paying them much attention as I was much more interested in playing outside on the farm, or reading books, and more books.

My first visit to a gallery was when I was about 12 when my French grandmother (who was then living in Sydney) took me to the Art Gallery of NSW. Sadly, about all I recall other than perhaps more landscapes, was being approached by a boy about my own age who wanted to know the time. As he was wearing a watch, it was clear that he wasn’t much interested in art at that age either.

At my high school you had a couple of choices – you followed the academic stream or the not so academic stream (which included such subjects as woodwork, home economics and art). Bookish me followed the academic stream, so I had no exposure to art – except for obligatory prints of the Queen in full regalia, and landscapes by Hans Heysen and aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira, which hung prominently near the Principal’s office.

Then after school it was more study (Professional Writing), marriage, children and work as a career public servant in Canberra.

So I remained blissfully unaware of the joy of art until just before I turned 40.

When my parents sold the farm and retired into town I borrowed a camera and took photos for future memories. Lots of photos of paddocks, trees and gardens, fence lines, outbuildings and the interior of our home (sadly now mostly filed away somewhere ‘safely’).

Beaufort c1990
“Beaufort” c1990

I had by then discovered that I had an interest in DYI and woodwork, and decided that rather than buying expensive frames I would either do up old ones, which was great fun, or make them myself, so off to the hardware store for timber, saws and router. I developed such a love of framing that I began framing for friends (later in life I left the public service for a year and  bought a framing business and learnt professionally).

early framing
Early restoration framing

Taking photographs and framing taught me how to “see” pictures. I learnt about composition and colour by looking carefully at how I could best present a scene in front of me, or the bring out the best in a picture I was framing. Over time, I found I could tell when a picture appeared balanced, how it drew the eye in and around, whether the colours were harmonious or didn’t appear to work together. I could work out how to crop a photo so that it didn’t contain elements that didn’t add to the overall effect. I was learning intuitively;  it was trial and error.

Although I’ve tried from time to time, I’ve discovered that I have no talent whatsoever for drawing or painting artworks (although I’ve pretty good at painting walls) so I am much happier just working ‘around the edges’ of visual art.

Not surprisingly by my 40s I was interested in visiting galleries. Like most ‘new comers’ to art appreciation I was primarily interested in pictures I could relate to and which appeared to be ‘easy on the eye’ so mostly landscapes, and Australian landscapes. Bookish me has always loved learning so it was with much enthusiasm that I read as much as I could about the Heidelberg School and Impressionism in Melbourne – Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Condor and  Frederick McCubin (there wasn’t anything much written about the female Impressionist artists that I can recall, although in fact there were several prominent ones such as Clara Southern, Jane Sutherland and Alice Bale).

I also worked for a number of years at the Australian National University (ANU) and the Australian collection to be seen in offices throughout the campus was amazing and eclectic. So now I was starting to look at Modern and Contemporary art – intrigued, but not really understanding it, and this led to my search to appreciate what I was seeing in earnest.

Grace Cossington Smith, Interior in Yellow, 1962
Grace Cossington Smith, Interior in Yellow, 1962


I’m indebted to Roy Forward who conducted a number of evening adult education programs on art appreciation at the uni. I absolutely lapped up all the information he had to give and my eyes were really opened by the range of paintings he showed. So many ‘a ha’ moments!

Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending the Stairs 1912
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending the Stairs, 1912

Another watershed moment. My eldest son, Michael, was living in London in the early 2000s, and as a birthday present he gave me a ticket to travel overseas to visit him. So, travelling with a friend from art appreciation class, I set off for Italy, France and England. I don’t remember how many galleries we visited, but can you imagine going to Rome, Florence, and Venice  for the first time and seeing centuries old paintings that we simply have no access to in Australia.  It was a sensory overload, and we were awestruck. We saw religious iconography, beautiful portraits with luscious colours, heroic painting of battles, idyllic scenes, workers toiling in the fields – masterpiece after masterpiece. Our first stop was Rome and it was perfect for setting the historical context for what was to follow. One artist that I particularly recall seeing at the Florence Uffizi was Bronzino – the detail in the costumes he painted in the 1500s was incredible.

Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni
Bronzino, Eleonora of Toledo with Her Son Giovanni

And then to Paris. Now we were standing in front of the actual paintings we’d seen in Roy’s classes – soft pretty impressions, cubist shapes, explosions of bold colours, distorted faces and objects.

Degas, Little Dancer
Degas, Little Dancer

In London, on my own, I visited an exhibition and remember the disdain of a fellow visitor when I remarked on Degas’ beautiful little dancer sculpture (see more images in the link), mispronouncing his name, but I couldn’t help but express my delight at seeing this exquisite work, with a real fabric tutu and bow around her hair. I personally think it’s great when you are standing next to some-one at a gallery who is just so impressed by what they are seeing that they need to tell a fellow enthusiast (and mostly they are forgiving if you aren’t sure about pronunciation).

At the Tate Modern I stood in absolute awe for about five minutes in front of a Rothko painting – it was a really large painting and almost totally black. I had to tell the young student next to me how the paint layers created the most beautiful lights and shadows. I’m so pleased that he did stop and look before racing off to find his friends.

Having fallen in love with all the places I’d visited, it was time to start saving for future trips, and I also started to collect art on my visits, not many paintings because they were too expensive, but beautiful and unusual prints. My French grandmother and her sister had both been both fashion designers and Tante Jeanne worked for Gallery Lafayette in Paris for most of her career, so over time my collecting extended to French fashion design from the early 1900s – these beautiful prints I mostly found on-line.

Gazette Du bon Ton, 1921 No 3 Plate IX Costume, de Worth c
Gazette Du bon Ton, 1921

What was still missing in my discovery was a clear understanding of art history and how and why one art style progressed from the ones before and who influenced whom. Though Roy’s classes I  had realised that it was Modern Art (the period between the late 1800s and mid 1900s) that I was most drawn to, but his primary focus had been on artists and individual images. Just like my need to understand Australian Impressionism, I started reading as much as I could to put what I was seeing in context.

And it was also time to find an on-line art history program. I found one run by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and it all started to click into place. I could now understand the progression from Romantic art in Europe through to Abstract art.  I was also learning so much more about the personal stories of the artists and their interrelationships. Their lives and loves are as interesting as any of the ‘celebs’ you might read about today.

I’ve mentioned that I had begun to collect art, and also that I loved picture framing, so as I was nearing “retirement” from my professional career, I decided I would open my own small gallery. But firstly, more study. This time in Museum Studies at Deakin University, where I learnt about art museums, curating, the importance of conservation and responding to audience needs.

chris and I
Kiama Art Gallery, with my son Chris

Having the gallery in a coastal town in NSW opened up a whole new world in art for me. I met lots of local artists (whose work I also included in the gallery) and became involved in the local arts scene. I was invited to judge several art shows, served on the local art society committee, established the local arts trail, co-conveyed a major arts festival to celebrate iconic Australian artist Lloyd Rees, and co-project managed a major arts restoration project – again, it was all more learning and very rewarding!

Back in my early public service days, I had conducted lots of management training programs, so I knew about adult learning  and I enjoyed giving presentations, so now I was able to start conducting my own art appreciation programs through local art and community bodies – both on Modern European art and Australian Impressionism. My approach was different from Roy’s at ANU – as I combined art appreciation with art history.

Because I enjoy writing, the next logical step was to turn my eight week evening European course in to an on-line e course –  and I set myself the goal of equalling or bettering the quality of the MoMA program I’d completed.

I knew what I wanted to achieve. I want my readers to have the ‘a ha’ moments I had had when I did Roy Forward’s classes so many years before, combined with the social, political and economic context for the evolution of art, plus some information on the elements of art, that might assist in critical ‘seeing’ and evaluation of paintings.

I had learnt through my research, not surprisingly, that artists are products of their time. The social, political, industrial and economic circumstances had a huge impact on the styles that artists adopted, as did scientific discoveries. As a simple example, Impressionism largely occurred when it did because artists were able to travel by train to the country side, with portal easels and paint in paint tubes.

Revolutions and wars encouraged artists to rebel against norms and express their responses to the political turmoil, to the extent that they needed to find new ways to present their artworks, which were entirely unsuitable to be displayed in the established exhibitions such as the Paris Salon.

Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869
Claude Monet, La Grenouillere, 1869

Also, generally, artists don’t work alone; they meet, discuss art, share theories and make discoveries together, in the same way that we all tend to move in and out of communities at different points in our lives.  For example, I think that Claude Monet and Auguste Renoir had a major influence on how artists reflect the light after they painted together at La Grenouillére.

Many of the avant-garde artists were attempting to present their theories, or manifestos through their art, such as Wassily Kandinsky who sought to explore the relationship between visual art and music, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti who developed the Futurist Manifesto in 1909. He also declared that “Art […] can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.”  Futurism disappeared after the first World War, as artists decided they’d had enough of violence.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913
Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913

Art is also intimately linked to an artist’s emotional state, and perhaps one of the best example of that is van Gogh, or Edvard Munch (the Scream).

Part of the challenge of writing the course has been to put aside knowledge of artist’s personal life and focus on the quality of the work that they produced – Gauguin is one such artist whose relationship with his family and then later natives in Tahiti left a lot to be desired.  It’s always led to an interesting debate in class when I’ve questioned whether knowing about  an artist’s personal life affects the appreciation of their art.

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idyll, 1902
Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Idyll, 1902

Whilst the visual impact of paintings must persuade us of their merits in order for them to endure, I’ve found that understanding where they sit in history adds to my enjoyment and appreciation of my favourite works.

It took me over a year to do sufficient research and writing to finalise Introduction to Modern European Art. I knew I had come a long way in my art appreciation journey when I read statements on-line and knew they just weren’t correct.

If you’ve ever done serious research on the internet you will have very quickly realised that there are a lot of contradictory ‘facts’, so I found that the most reliable sources were art museum (gallery) websites, hardcopy texts (what a wonderful excuse to visit bookshops),  and a few art websites that appeared to be consistently accurate. I had also been accumulating some early 1900 periodicals that had some particularly articles of their time. As well, I included a few visits to gallery libraries.

Writing the program not only expanded my knowledge and appreciation of art, I also discovered I needed to know about designing websites, SEO, social media, YouTube, marketing … the list goes on and on.

And then, when the course was finally completed, I was advised that a particularly useful way to advertise it was to start ‘blogging’ and this has lead to my series Stories about Modern Art which has proved to be pretty popular. I’ve included snippets from the course in my blog, but re-written them slightly so that each subject is a stand-alone story.

Is that the end of my art appreciation journey?

No, I’m keen to start on my next e-course soon, and not surprisingly it will be about Australian art. (postcript – please see link to this website)

An additional challenge for both programs is the inclusion of women artists, as they have largely been excluded from so many texts. It’s not that they didn’t exist, or that their work wasn’t worthy of being recorded, it’s simply a reflection of what was important to (mostly male) art historians at the time. I just have to dig deeper into historical records so that I can share their work and stories. So, I hope my journey will never end.

Funny to think that it all began with a borrowed camera, a handful of photos, and some handmade picture frames. Now I wonder how different my art appreciation journey might just have been if I’d chosen to study art as school as well!

Andrea Hope

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Australian Art History


What has been your art appreciation journey and what has influenced you most in the way you learn?


James Ensor – Ensor with a Flowered Hat

James Ensor, Ensor with Flowered Hat, 1883 - 1888

Looking at this self portrait by James Ensor, when do you think it might have been painted, and what statement do you think the artist is making?

Take a minute to let your eyes look around the painting and find as many visual clues as possible.

Firstly, aside from the highly inappropriate hat, the man himself could almost be from this decade – as beards and moustaches are popular again. But, cover the hat and feathers, and you could easily imagine that the portrait was a serious academic work, painted centuries ago. Certainly the  expression on his face is serious – here is a man who appears both proud and strong, perhaps with a hit of introversion.

Any suggestion of Rembrandt, or Rubens?

But, put the hat on, and the man appears ridiculous.

Perhaps the hat is just a bit of fun, a bit of fancy dress, but as the wearer looks far too serious – and as we know from the title that it’s a self portrait –  Ensor must be intending to make a statement of some sort.

Back to the hat, with the flowers and downward facing plumage, it’s definitely not one we would expect to see worn today, or during Ruben’s time.  It looks like it could be from a century or more ago.  Another close look at the design of the hat, the flowers, the way in which the colours sit together, the loose brush strokes, and the overall  use of light – and what do we think of? Ah, perhaps it’s an Impressionist painting.

But it couldn’t be, because that doesn’t fit with the rest of the artwork!

It’s not obvious when we first look at the picture, but in the background (also suggestive of a period when darker backgrounds were commonly used) there is a hint of a blue circle (frame)  around the edge. When were portraits with circular or oval frames popular? Back to the 17th Century.


But this is a self portrait, so perhaps it isn’t meant to represent a picture frame, but the frame of a mirror?

Ah, now it starts to make more sense.

Perhaps, it was originally intended as a ‘straight’ academic self portrait, based on the artist’s formal academic training, including the study of Rubens, whom he admired greatly. Perhaps along the way he was influenced by other artists, such as the Impressionists, and wanted at a later time to express this influence. And perhaps as an artist highly interested in fantasy and masks, he saw that combining the two in a frame or mirror would represent who he was as an artist. Perhaps he wanted to make it clear that he was an artist who defied convention.

This work by James Ensor, painted originally in 1883 and then added to (yes the hat, and the twirled moustache) in 1888, is a great example of how artists reflect both the influences on their art through formal training and discovery, and their own personality,  to make a statement in an artwork, and why the study of art history is so interesting.

In my next blog, I’ll tell you more about this intriguing Belgian artist and his life story.

This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you like to see some of the French and Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page.

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Symbolism – Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893
Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Edvard Munch is the painter of The Scream, which is one of the most recognisable works in the history of art.

Both a painter and printmaker, Munch grew up in a household periodically beset by life-threatening illnesses and the premature deaths of his mother and sister.

These tragic events left a lifelong impression on the artist, and contributed to his eventual preoccupation with themes of anxiety, emotional suffering, and human vulnerability. (They were all explained by Munch’s father, a Christian fundamentalist, as acts of divine punishment.)

Much of his work depicts life and death scenes, love and terror, and the feeling of loneliness. He intended that these often open-ended themes would function as symbols of universal significance.

His painting style included the use of contrasting lines, blocks of darker intense colour, sombre tones, exaggerated form and semi-abstraction, which all contributed to create an air of mystery.

In 1879, Munch began attending a technical college to study engineering, but left only a year, and in 1881 he enrolled at the Royal School of Art and Design.  Here he studied the old masters, attended courses in the painting of nudes, and was instructed for a time by Norway’s leading artist, Christian Krohg.

His early works were influenced by French inspired Realism.


He began a series of new paintings in the mid 1880s which departed from this earlier style. One of these was The Sick Child, which he would finish in 1886.  The Sick Child depicted his feelings about the death of his sister nearly nine years earlier. Munch revisited this subject many times until 1925. (His brother, Andreas, also died young in 1895.)

From 1889 (the year his father died) to 1892, Munch lived mainly in France, funded by State scholarships, and embarked on the most productive as well as the most troubled period of his artistic life. While studying in Paris and in Nice in the south of France, he was influenced by the Impressionists’ fascination with light and by the growing Symbolist movement which inspired his symbolic use of colour and simplification of form. He saw the work of Gauguin and Van Gogh, whose Starry Night he paid tribute to in his own painting of the same name thirty years later.

These works had a liberating effect on Munch. “The camera cannot compete with a brush and canvas,” he wrote, “as long as it can’t be used in heaven and hell“.

Munch’s experimentation with different media and techniques was driven by his expressive needs and he explored the different effects he could achieve by reinterpreting the same theme in a different medium. As a printmaker Munch made drypoints, etchings and lithographs in the traditional manner. However, he developed his own unique technique for colour woodcuts.

Despite suffering from mental illness, Munch was spectacularly prolific, creating an astonishing 1,008 paintings, 4,443 drawings and 15,391 prints, as well as woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, lithographic stones, woodcut blocks, copperplates and photographs. (source:


It was during the last decade of the 19th Century that he undertook a series of paintings he called the Frieze of Life, encompassing 22 works for a 1902 Berlin exhibition. With paintings bearing such titles as Despair (1892),  Melancholy (c.1892– 93),  Anxiety  (1894),  Jealousy  (1894–95) and The Scream  (also known as The Cry)  Munch’s mental state was fully exposed. His style varied greatly in these paintings, depending on which emotion had taken hold of him at the time.


The exhibition was highly successful and Munch became more widely known within the art world. Subsequently, he found brief happiness in a life otherwise coloured by excessive drinking, family misfortune and mental distress. From about 1892 to 1908 Munch spent most of his time between Paris and Berlin.

During a stay in Paris he met a number of Symbolist poets,  which resulted in him designing the sets of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt at the Theatre de l’Oeuvre  (at the same time that his Frieze of Life was being exhibited at the de l’Art Nouveau). In 1906 he designed the sets for another of Ibsen’s productions, Ghosts.

In 1903-4 he exhibited in Paris where it is likely that he saw early Fauvist painting and may have found inspiration in them. When the Fauves held their own exhibit in 1906, Munch was invited and displayed his works with theirs.

As the 1900s began, his drinking spun out of control. In 1908, hearing voices and suffering from paralysis on one side, he collapsed and finally checked himself into a private sanatorium, where he drank less and improved his mental health.

In the spring of 1909 Munch moved to a country house in Ekely (near Oslo), Norway, where he lived in isolation and began painting landscapes. Munch painted right up to his death, often depicting his deteriorating condition and various physical maladies in his work.

Munch’s work, which showed so much raw emotion, greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century.

This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


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Pierre Puvis de Chavannes – Symbolism and Hope

Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Peace, 1861
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Peace, 1861

Recognised as a leading Symbolist artist Pierre – Cécile Puvis de Chevannes’ interpretation of Classicism gave his murals and large grand paintings a modern, abstract look which not only appealed to other symbolist  artists and writers of the time, but also led to him being acknowledged as an avant-garde artist from the mid to late 1800s.

He was keenly interested in supporting a younger generation of artists, and although his work is not so well know today, Puvis de Chavannes was a key influence on many artists including Picasso, Gauguin and Matisse.

He was also a leading member and one time President of the  Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, which  aimed to create a Salon that was more selective, prestigious and noticeably more modern than  the Paris Salon.

His painting Hope, from 1872, was his response to the Franco-Prussian war – and the style and theme of this painting can be seen in the work of a number of later painters.

Purvis De Chavannes, Hope, 1872
Purvis De Chavannes, Hope, 1872


Pierre – Cécile Puvis (1824- 1898) was born at Lyon in France.  He later  added  ‘de Chevannes’  to his surname, which originated from his  aristocrat forebears in Burgundy. Independently wealthy, he was able to pursue art without relying on patronage^.

Whilst his contemporaries were Édouard Manet and realist Gustave Courbet, Puvis was more interested in Classicism,  in keeping with academic traditions of the Paris Salon. His subject matter was imbued with religious themes, allegories, mythologies and historical events.

Puvis’ formal training during the late 1840s was limited to study trips to Italy and shortlived work in the studios of  Henry Scheffer, Delacroix and Couture.  He also found inspiration in Romantic artist Théodore Chassériau. Preferring to work alone,  he acquired a large studio near the Gare de Lyon and attended anatomy classes at the Académie des Beaux Arts.

Initially Puvis was most interested in painting grand, public paintings which be began exhibiting at the Paris Salon from 1859 onwards. (After achieving public recognition,  he served on Salon juries.)

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Between Art and Nature, ca. 1890–95
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Between Art and Nature, ca. 1890–95

He was particularly interested in Commissions from the French government and is now mostly remembered for the huge canvases and murals he painted for the walls of city halls and other public buildings in Paris such as the Panthéon, the Sorbonne, and the Hôtel de Ville, as well as buildings in other parts of France and in the USA.

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, murals in Boston Public Library
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, murals in Boston Public Library


His style developed from painting these large works, and he is known for simplified forms, flatness of the picture surface, rhythmic line, and the use of non-naturalistic and muted colours to evoke mood.

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Death and the Maidens, 1872 (sketch)
Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, Death and the Maidens, 1872 (sketch)

As a result, the figures in his paintings seem to be wrapped in an aura of  mystery, as though they belong in a private world of dreams or visions – which is why they are considered to be part of the symbolist style, although Puvis didn’t identify himself as with Symbolist painter. Noneless, he was considered by a younger generation of artists, such as Gauguin, as a leader of the Symbolist movement.

His style can be seen not only in works by Gauguin, but also in Picasso’s paintings from his Pink and Blue period, works by Matisse such as The Joy of Life, 1906, and many other artists who followed.

Hope, 1872

Puvis de Chavannes was deeply affected by the Franco-Prussian war and Paris Commune (1870-71)  and he produced several artworks related to the conflict and deprivation brought about as a result of the war.

Throughout his career, he  had frequently aimed to adapt allegory in modern society to his art, as means to express concepts and  abstract principles in a human form, particularly  in his  mural commissions, and he did this again in his paintings in response to the conflict. 

In particular, in 1872 he exhibited Hope at the Salon (now in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore). The Musée d’Orsay has a smaller version, also painted between 1871 and 1872. In the larger painting, Puvis portrays Hope as a naked girl sitting on a burial mound covered with white drapery. Behind her, a desolate landscape with the ruins of a building and the makeshift crosses of improvised cemeteries evoke the recent war. Dark clouds can be seen in the distance, but are breaking up into a softer hue. Other elements in the painting point to a new era, full of promise. The olive branch in the young woman’s hand symbolises the nation’s recovery from war as does the new growth of flowers from the rocky outcrops, while the white in the dress/drapery suggest the return of lightness.


However, the lack of any historical detail gives the painting a universal sense of symbolism, so that it could apply to Hope in a variety of contexts. The simplified composition of the work, the use of matte colours and the sense of rhythm are very characteristic of his style.

Paul Gauguin had a reproduction of this painting in Tahiti and it figures in his Still Life with Hope, painted in 1901. As well the subject in his painting Te Aa No Areois from 1892 is seated in a similar fashion to the model in Hope.

Puvis de Chavannes’s Hope was also the inspiration for two later works, painted after the first World War.

In 1923, Pablo Picasso painted Woman in White.  In this painting, his 20th century post-war allegory of hope is less obvious than in the painting by Puvis de Chavannes, as he omits the laurel branch and crosses, and the figure is in a more relaxed pose.

Pablo Picasso, Woman in White, 1923
Pablo Picasso, Woman in White, 1923

It’s been suggested by Kenneth Silver^^ that Picasso presents his figure of hope as a general symbol of cultural endurance and women’s fertility (with maternité  (motherhood) themes being popular with avante-garde painters at the time).

Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923
Romaine Brooks, Self Portrait, 1923

Romain Brooks’s Self Portrait, painted in the same year as Picasso’s Woman in White, also appears to be a more modern take on Hope, with the foreground placement of a silhouetted woman towering over a distant landscape, the distinctive horizontals in the painting, the general atmospheric effects and the shape and placement of the large ruined building on the right. Brooks, however, most likely had a different theme in mind than either Puvis or Picasso. It is more likely that she was representing hope a new set of post – war possibilities for women, beyond maternité.

Natalie Barney^^^ commented that that Brooks was seeking to explore a range of modern types of women, including a new post-war single woman who rejected motherhood for masculine attire and her own career – a highly controversial theme for the time.

^ Aimée Brown Price, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010

^ ^Kenneth Silver, Esprit de Corps, The Art of the Parisian Avante-Garde and the First World War, 1914-1924, 1989

^^ ^Bridget Elliott, Deconsecrating Modernism: Allegories of Regeneration in Brooks and Picasso, in The Modern Woman Revisited: Paris Between the Wars, 2003 

This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Post Impressionism – Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women on the Beach, 1891
Paul Gauguin, Tahitian Women on the Beach, 1891

Post Impressionist Paul Gauguin is highly recognised for his focus on colour, two dimensional forms, and the symbolic meaning of his art.

Primarily known for his paintings, he was also a printmaker and creator of ceramic sculptures and woodcarvings.

He was a financially successful stockbroker and self-taught amateur artist,  influenced by the avant-garde  art of the 19th Century through his legal guardian’s collection of works by Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Eugene Delacroix, Honore Daumier, Theodore Rousseau and early works by Camille Pissarro, amongst many others.

His earliest recorded major painting to survive is Working the Land, painted in 1873. The brilliant blue of its sky and the brightness and of the greens and yellows in the field were reminiscent of landscapes of the four seasons that Pissarro had recently completed.

Camille Pissarro, The Four Seasons, Spring, 1872
Camille Pissarro, The Four Seasons, Spring, 1872
Paul Gauguin, Working the Land, 1873
Paul Gauguin, Working the Land, 1873

It is probable that his intimate knowledge of Pissarro’s landscapes was a key factor in his interest in the Impressionists, and the 1870s he began collecting their artworks, and then adopting some of their techniques (under Pissarro’s tutelage). He was also influenced by Paul Cezanne’s parallel, constructive brushstrokes.

Paul Gauguin, Banks of the Oise, 1881
Paul Gauguin, Banks of the Oise, 1881


Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Fruit Plate, 1880
Paul Gaugin, Still Life with Fruit Plate, 1880

Encouraged by both Pissarro and Edgar Degas, Gauguin contributed to five of the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1880 – 1882. He also contributed to the debates and discussions that took place between the artists gathering in Montmartre, questioning  the nature and role of art in modern society.

In 1882, after a stock market crash and recession left him unemployed and financially ruined, Gauguin abandoned the business world to pursue life as a full-time artist.

When working in Brittany and Martinique, the year after the final Impressionist exhibition,  he began the artistic transformation to Post Impressionism with which we are more familiar today, and the creator of “primitive” and exotic images overlayed with symbolic meaning.

In 1886, he  first visited  Pont-Aven in Brittany, a rugged land of fervently religious people. Gauguin had received a seminary education in his youth and his religious beliefs never deserted him  – although he increasingly questioned the strictures of the traditional Catholic church. In Pont-Aven he hoped to tap into the expressive potential he believed he would find in a more rural, even “primitive” culture.

Over the next several years he often travelled between Paris and Brittany, and also spent time in Panama and Martinique.

In 1888, he worked with Émile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, Paul Sérusier and others in Pont-Aven,  developing new theories of painting. They adopted a style of painting known as Synthetism.  Synthetism referred to the synthesis of simplified forms and colour schemes with the main idea or feeling of the subject, in order to produce a bolder artistic statement. Essentially the Pont-Aven artists reduced three-dimensional figures and shapes to flatter two dimensional forms with heavy dark outlines (also known as Cloisonnism).

For Gauguin, painting also had a symbolic focus, with a brighter palette designed to express human emotion. The new style was, in part, inspired by Gothic art (particularly stained-glass and enamel work) and Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints (Japonisme), which were in vogue amongst many artists of the Pont-Aven school. A key painting from this period was Vision After the Sermon which became an important Symbolist  work statement.

Gauguin  also worked  alongside Vincent van Gogh (whom he probably met in Paris during the previous year)  in Arles in the south of France in the summer of 1888, at the time that van Gogh was attempting to set up an artists’ colony.

Both artists continued to experiment with compositional techniques derived from Japanese art,  as well as the symbolic ‘language’  of colour, seeking to emphasise subjective feelings and ideas over naturalistic representation. However,  Gauguin and van Gogh argued badly (it was at this time that Van Gogh reportedly cut off part of his left ear) and Gauguin returned to Paris.

In 1891 he moved to Tahiti, where he expected to find an unspoiled culture which was exotic and sensual. Instead, he was confronted with a world already transformed by western missionaries and colonial rule.  He had to  re-imagine or ‘ invent’  the world he sought, not only in paintings but with woodcarvings, graphics, and written works which generally present an image of an intoxicating earthly paradise where the painter lived as a native among the natives.

However, he also struggled with ways to express the questions of life and death, knowledge and evil that preoccupied him, and he interwove the images and mythology of island life with those of the west and other cultures.

He painted such works as Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going To? in 1898. This work was an enormous contemplation of life and death told through a series of figures, beginning with a baby and ending with an old woman, and is surrounded by a dreamlike, poetic aura.

Paul Gaugin, Where do we come from, Who are we, Where are we going, 1897
Paul Gauguin, Where do we come from, Who are we, Where are we going, 1897

After a trip to France from 1893 to 1895, Gauguin returned to the South Seas. However, by this time he was suffering  from illness and depression. In 1901 he moved to the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa, still searching for a lost paradise. “I think the savage element there, together with complete solitude, will revive the fire of my enthusiasm before I die, give new life to my imagination and bring my talents to a fitting conclusion.” He died there in 1903.

In this blog I have focused on Gauguin’s artistic achievements, but commentaries on his personal life are not so complimentary. A key question you may wish to consider is whether your knowledge of an artist’s personal life influences how you feel about their art.

This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Post Impressionism – Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, 1888
Vincent van Gogh, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, 1888

Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh’s first job  was working in the Hague branch of an  international art dealing firm, Goupil & Cie.  It was 1869 and he was just 16.

He was reasonably successful in the firm so he was then was transferred to the London branch in 1873 and then later to Paris. However, he lost interest in the role, which led to his dismissal in 1876.

Following this, he briefly became a teacher in England, and then, deeply interested in Christianity (his father was a Protestant Minister), a lay preacher in a mining community in southern Belgium. He was also dismissed by the church, but his future artwork was heavily influenced by his spiritual beliefs.

Largely self-taught, van Gogh began his study as an artist by meticulously copying prints and studying nineteenth-century drawing manuals and lesson books. He believed that it was necessary to master working with black and white before working with colour, and  that it was important to concentrate on learning the rudiments of figure drawing and rendering landscapes in correct perspective.

Van Gogh’s admiration for the  Realist Barbizon artists, in particular Jean-François Millet, whose work he’d seen in London, influenced his decision to paint rural life.  During 1884 – 85, while again living with his parents in Nuenen in the Netherlands,  he painted more than forty studies of peasant heads, which culminated in The Potato Eaters.  Van Gogh wrote that he wanted to express that they “have tilled the earth themselves with the same hands they are putting in the dish”.


His style underwent a major transformation during a two-year stay in Paris from 1886 to 1888. During this period he took lessons in the studio of Fernand Cormon – an artist who was very popular with foreign students. It was here that he met fellow students Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Emile Bernard. Vincent’s brother Theo was by this time the manager of Goupil and Cie in Paris,  and he was able to introduce Vincent to the light filled work of prominent Impressionist artists such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro.  Vincent also saw the latest technical innovations (pointillism) by Post Impressionists Georges Seurat and Paul Signac.

Vincent discovered a new source of inspiration in Japanese woodcuts, which sold in large quantities in Paris. Both he  and Theo began to collect them. The influence of the bold outlines, cropping and colour contrasts in these prints showed through immediately in his own work.

He used brighter colours and developed his own style of painting using short brush strokes. The themes he painted also changed, with rural labourers giving way to cafés and boulevards, the countryside along the Seine and floral still lifes. He also tried out more commercial subjects, such as portraits. However, Vincent mostly acted as his own sitter,  as models were relatively expensive,  and he painted more than twenty self-portraits.

By 1888 Vincent began to tire of the frenetic city life in Paris. Unfortunately his mental health  began its decline, resulting in violent mood swings, depression, and drunken and erratic behaviour. He longed for the peace of the countryside, for sun, and for the light of ‘Japanese’ landscapes, which he hoped to find in Provence in the South of France, and so in February 1888 he moved to the “little yellow house” in Arles.

He hoped his friends would join him and help found a colony of artists.  Paul Gauguin did join him for a short period of time, but with disastrous results. Van Gogh’s nervous temperament made him a difficult companion and night-long discussions combined with painting all day undermined his health. It was at this time that he cut off part of his left ear with a razor. Penniless, he spent his money on paint rather than food,  living on coffee, bread and absinthe.

His ongoing depression caused him to seek periodic refuge in a nearby asylum at St Remy.  Over the course of the next year, he painted some 150 paintings, including many still lifes and landscapes.  He also painted copies of works, using black-and-white photographs and prints,  by such artists as Delacroix, Rembrandt and Millet. He described his copies as “interpretations” or “translations”, comparing his role as an artist to that of a musician playing music written by another composer.

In May of 1890, his mental health appeared to have improved and he moved to Auvers-sur-Oise under the watchful eye of Dr. Gachet. Two months later he was dead, having reportedly shot himself “for the good of all”.

Van Gogh’s finest works were produced in less than three years – in a technique that grew more and more impassioned in brushstroke, in symbolic and intense colour, in surface tension, and in the movement and vibration of form and line.

During his brief career he sold only one of his paintings. However, by 1890, van Gogh’s work had begun to attract critical attention. His paintings were featured at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris between 1888 and 1890, as well as in Brussels in 1890, and articles about his work began to appear in major newspapers.


Read more, and see a full range of images at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam

This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Henri Toulouse – Lautrec and his Lithographs

photo of toulouse latrec

Aristocratic and wealthy,  painter and printmaker Toulouse Lautrec inherited a genetic disorder that left him with stunted growth, after two accidents in which he broke both legs as a teenager. Whilst he was recovering, Lautrec turned to drawing and painting, both of which he developed a great love for.

The young Henri moved from Albi to Paris in 1882 to study art, where he met the artists Emile Bernard and Vincent van Gogh, and was attracted by the work of the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas (as can be seen in his lithographs of jockeys and horses, for example).

His career, which lasted just over a decade, coincided with two major developments in late nineteenth-century Paris: the birth of modern printmaking and the explosion of a nightlife culture. As well as paintings and other forms of prints, he produced over 300 lithographs, many of which were advertising posters.

Lautrec lived in the Montmartre section which was the nightlife quarter of cabarets, cafes, restaurants, sleazy dance halls and brothels. Here he became a part of the bohemian community.

In the evenings, he could be seen chatting with friends and drinking, and at the same time drawing sketches on paper. Then the next day, he would transform the sketches into paintings and lithographs.

Lautrec created his first lithograph in 1891. When he was commissioned to create a poster advertising the Moulin Rouge, he elevated the lithograph as a popular medium for advertising to the realm of high art.

Over three thousand copies of his Moulin Rouge, La Goulue were pasted on the walls around Paris, prompting an outpouring of popular and critical acclaim and turning the young artist into an overnight sensation.

Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, 1891
Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, 1891

The style and content of his posters were heavily influenced by  Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints by artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Ando Hiroshige (1797–1858), which typically feature areas of flat colour bound by strong outlines, silhouettes, cropped compositions and oblique angles.


Using new innovations in lithography developed during the late nineteenth century, Lautrec was able to produce larger prints, use varied colours, and introduce nuanced textures which conveyed the rapid pace of contemporary life.

He frequently used the spattered ink technique known as crachis, seen in his series of prints depicting Miss Loïe Fuller. Fuller was an American famous in fin-de-siècle (end of century) Paris for her performances combining dance, multi-coloured artificial lights (her nickname was the “Electric Fairy”) and music. As she twirled and bounded across the stage enormous lengths of fabric would billow outward from her body and reflect the coloured lights which created a spectacular effect.

Lautrec executed about sixty versions Miss Fuller dancing, in a variety of coloured inks, including gold and silver, which evoke the effect of her performances.

Another of Lautrec’s favourite café/concert stars was Yvette Guilbert, who was known as adiseuse or speaker because of the way she half-sang, half-spoke her songs during performances. She had bright red hair, thin lips, a tall gaunt physique, and wore black elbow-length gloves. Although her head is cropped by the top edge of the composition, her elongated body and trademark gloves in the upper left corner of the poster Divan Japonais leave no doubt as to her identity.

Similarly, the pinched features and aloof demeanour of the singer Jane Avril, seated in the foreground of the image wearing one of her famously outlandish hats, is also clearly representative of Lautrec’s style.

As well as his representation of the Paris nightlife, Lautrec is also known for his lithographs of jockeys and horses – horse racing was seen then, as now, as a pleasurable pass-time.

With his lithographs, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec influenced French art through his ability to capture the essence of a subject with economical means, his stylistic innovations, use of large areas of flat colour, and promotion of the use of prints as a popular (and affordable) form of artwork.


Unfortunately his career was short lived, as he died at age thirty-six due to complications from alcoholism and syphilis.

Lithographic prints are based on the principle that water and oil repel one another. To create a lithograph an artist draws on a hard, flat surface, usually a pre- flattened stone such as limestone, with an oil-based material such as lithographic crayon. The stone is then washed with water, which covers the blank areas of the surface but is repelled by the oil based image. Greasy printing ink is rolled over the stone which adheres only to the image. Finally, paper is laid on the surface and pressure is applied to create the lithographic print, which is a mirror image of the original drawing. To create colour lithographs, the artist uses a separate stone for each colour and the image is gradually built up. Lautrec used no more than eight colours in his lithographs (so they never appear too “busy”). The introduction of the steam press allowed for rapid production, multiple colours, and large scale lithographic prints.

This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.


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Georges Seurat – A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, 1884, 1884-86



Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte, 1884,  1884

Seurat is best known for his scientific approach to painting – in particular the optics of  colour – which lead him to develop a particular style of placing small dots of colour next to each other, which became known as either Divisionism or Pointillism.

Although Seurat embraced the subject matter of modern life preferred by the Impressionists, he went beyond their focus on capturing the accidental and instantaneous qualities of light in nature.

He wanted to evoke permanence in his work by referencing art from the past, especially Egyptian and Greek sculpture and even Italian Renaissance frescoes. As he explained to the French poet Gustave Kahn, “The Panathenaeans of Phidias formed a procession. I want to make modern people, in their essential traits, move about as they do on those friezes, and place them on canvases organized by harmonies of colour.” (source:

A key work in which he sought to combine all of these features was A Sunday Afternoon on  Grande Jatte which he commenced work on in the summer of 1884. The painting, which measures two by three metres (seven by 10 feet),  shows members of each of the social classes at a popular park at the island of La Grande Jatte, participating in various activities a  sunny Sunday afternoon.   The work comprises 48 people,  three dogs and eight boats.

It took him two years to complete.

He spent much of his time in the park sketching in preparation for the work, including a smaller version, Study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1885). However, he also completed a number of his studies in the studio.

The planning and choice of characters for La Grande Jatte was as complex as the work itself and Seurat undertook many sketched drafts before he arrived on the final plan for the painted piece. Overall, his painting of the work involved 28 drawings, 28 panels and three larger canvases. (I think that the drawing sketches for this work are exquisite.)

To achieve the effect he was seeking, Seurat began developing the painting with a layer of small horizontal brushstrokes of complementary colours. He later added small dots, also in complementary colours, that appear as solid and luminous forms when seen from a distance. The tiny juxtaposed dots of multi-colored paint allow the viewer’s eye to blend colours optically, rather than having the colours physically blended on the canvas. In comparison, the juxtaposed touches of colour that are woven together with short, patchy brushstrokes in the Study are more systematically applied, with discrete daubs of paint, in the final work.

On Pissarro’s advice, Seurat painted the final canvas with a  zinc chromate yellow pigment  that he hoped would properly capture the highlights of the park’s green grasses however it proved unstable and soon lost its luster. As a result, the Study for A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte provides a vital record of the chromatic intensity he had hoped to achieve, which is not evident in the final painting.

George Seurat, Study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884
George Seurat, Study for A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884

Seurat’s style came to be known as Pointillism (from the French word “point,” or “dot”), but he preferred the term Divisionism—the principle of separating colour into small touches placed side-by-side which is meant to blend in the eye of the viewer. (Note: This style is also sometimes referred to a Neo Impressionism.) He felt that colours applied in this way—not mixed on a palette or muddied by overlapping – would retain their integrity and produce a more brilliant, harmonious result.

The painting was criticised by some for being too mathematical. However, when it was exhibited, it was mostly heralded as a grand work of meticulous proportions. Suerat intended it to be exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants of 1885, but the exhibition was cancelled. The change in plans meant that he went back to add details to the work which  mainly consisted of his most recent thoughts on colour and its use in paintings. He also changed the shapes of some of his figures in order to create more sinuous rhythms.

A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was eventually exhibited in the eighth Impressionist exhibition of May 1886, but its style marks it as a Post Impressionist work.

(The final changes were made to La Grande Jatte in 1889. Seurat re-stretched the canvas in order to add a painted border of red, orange, and blue dots that provides a visual transition between the interior of the painting and his specially designed white frame.)



This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

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If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Post Impressionism – Paul Cézanne

Paul Cezanne, Still Life with Jar, Cup and Apples c.1877

One of the most influential artists in the history of 20th century painting, Paul Cézanne inspired generations of modern artists.

Generally categorised as a Post-Impressionist, his unique method of building form with colour, and his analytical approach to nature influenced the art of Cubists, Fauvists, and successive generations of avant-garde artists.

Cézanne sought to introduce greater structure into what he saw as the unsystematic practice of Impressionism. In his paintings objects appear more solid and tangible than in the works of Impressionist artists.

However, despite this, Cézanne often destabilised the integrity of form through subtle distortions and seeming inaccuracies in his many still-life paintings. Objects don’t rest comfortably on their bases, vases seen from the front have rims seen from above, and the horizontal edges of tables sometimes don’t seem to not match up. It is almost as if Cézanne was dismantling the very solidity he meant to reintroduce to the depiction of objects.

Paul Cézanne, Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, 1893–94
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, 1893–94

Beginning to paint in 1860 in his birthplace of Aix-en-Provence and subsequently studying in Paris, Cézanne’s early pictures of romantic and classical themes are imbued with dark colours and executed with an expressive brushwork in the tradition of Romantic artists such as Eugène Delacroix. His dramatic tonal contrasts and thick layers of pigment (often applied with a palette knife) exemplify the vigour in which Cézanne painted during the 1860s, which is especially apparent in the portrait series of his Uncle Dominique Aubert, variously costumed as a lawyer, an artist, and a monk. (This kind of costume piece is reminiscent of Édouard Manet’s Spanish paintings of the 1860s.)

Paul Cézanne, Antoine Dominique Sauveur Aubert (born 1817), the Artist's Uncle, 1866
Paul Cézanne, Antoine Dominique Sauveur Aubert (born 1817), the Artist’s Uncle, 1866

In his still-life paintings from the mid-1870s Cézanne abandoned this approach and began to look at the technical problems of form and colour by experimenting with subtly gradated tonal variations, or “constructive brushstrokes,” to create dimension in his objects. Still Life with Jar, Cup, and Apples is an example of Cézanne’s development into a refined system of colour scales placed next to one another. The light of Impressionism resonates in this work, but signs of a revised palette are especially apparent in his muted tones.



From about the same time, Cézanne ignored the classical laws of perspective and allowed each object to be independent within the space of a picture, for example in such still-lifes as Dish of Apples and in his landscapes. The relationship of one object to another took precedence over traditional single-point perspective.

In single point perspective, things appear to get smaller as they get further away, converging towards a single ‘vanishing point‘ on the horizon line. It is a way of drawing objects so that they appear three-dimensional and realistic – see the section on art terms in my e-course.

From 1882, he painted a number of landscape pictures of his native Aix and of L’Estaque, a small fishing village near Marseille, in which he continued to concentrate on the pictorial problems of creating depth. He used an organised system of layers to construct horizontal planes, which creates dimension and draws the viewer into the landscape. This technique is apparent in Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley and The Gulf of Marseille Seen from L’Estaque. In Gardanne, he painted the landscape with intense geometric rhythms, which is most pronounced in the houses. (This picture anticipates the Cubism of Georges Braque (1882–1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), especially Braque’s impressions of L’Estaque of about 1908.)


In 1890, Cézanne began a series of five pictures of Provençal peasants playing cards. Widely celebrated as among the finest figure compositions completed by the artist, The Card Players demonstrates his system of colour gradations to build form and create a three-dimensional quality in the figures.


Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, ca. 1890
Paul Cézanne, Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, ca. 1890

Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, a mature work from the early 1890s, reveals Cézanne’s mastery of this style of building forms completely from colour and creating scenes with distorted perspective. The objects in this painting, such as the fruit and tablecloth, are painted without use of light or shadow using extremely subtle changes in colour.

In 1895, the dealer Ambroise Vollard held Cézanne’s first solo exhibition at his gallery in Paris. Although the exhibition met with some scepticism, Cézanne’s reputation as a great artist grew quickly, and he was discussed and promoted by a small circle of enthusiasts, including the art historian and critic Bernard Berenson American painter Mary Cassatt. Posthumous exhibitions at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune and the Salon d’Automne in 1907 in Paris established Cézanne’s artistic legacy (see module on Cubism).

Cézanne was interested in the simplification of naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials – he wanted to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone” (for example, a tree trunk could be conceived of as a cylinder, an apple or orange a sphere).

Additionally, Cézanne’s desire to capture the truth of perception led him to explore how our vision, where  two separate images from our two eyes are successfully combined into one image in the brain,  works graphically, rendering slightly different, yet simultaneous visual perceptions of the same phenomena. This provides us with an aesthetic experience of depth which was different from those of earlier, classical ideals of perspective, and in particular single-point perspective.


This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

If you’d like to see some of the  Australian artwork you’ll find in my gallery, scroll down to the bottom of the page. You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery

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Édouard Manet – Olympia, 1863

Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863

As he had in Luncheon on the Grass, Manet again used paintings by respected artists as a basis for the painting Olympia, 1863. The painting was a nude in a style not unlike early studio photographs, but the pose was modelled on Titian’s Venus of Urbino, 1538.

Titian’s painting is in fact not dissimilar to an earlier work, The Sleeping Venus, painted by the Italian Renaissance artist Giorgione, and it now generally accepted that the landscape and sky were completed by Titian after Giorgione’s death in 1510.

The painting is also reminiscent of Francisco Goya’s painting The Nude Maja,  1800, and Ingres’ La Grand Odalisque, 1814.

Manet began the work after being challenged by the Paris Salon to submit a nude painting. His  depiction of a self-assured prostitute was accepted by the Salon in 1865, but  it created a scandal. According to French journalist and politician Antonin Proust, “only the precautions taken by the administration prevented the painting being punctured and torn” by offended viewers.

The painting was controversial partly because Olympia is wearing some small items such as an orchid in her hair, a bracelet, a ribbon around her neck, and slippers – all of which accentuated her nakedness, sexuality, and comfortable courtesan lifestyle. The orchid, upswept hair, black cat, and bouquet of flowers were all recognised symbols of sexuality at the time.

However, this modern Venus is thin, which was counter to prevailing standards, and so the painting’s lack of idealism rankled viewers.

The painting’s flatness, inspired by Japanese wood block art, serves to make the nude more human and less voluptuous. Olympia’s body,  as well as her gaze, is unabashedly confrontational. She defiantly looks out to the viewer as her maid offers flowers from one of her male suitors. Although her hand rests on her leg, hiding her pubic area, the reference to traditional female virtue is ironic; a notion of modesty is notoriously absent in this work.

A  critic denounced Olympia’s “shamelessly flexed” left hand, which seemed to him a mockery of the relaxed, shielding hand of Titian’s Venus. Similarly, the alert black cat at the foot of the bed strikes a sexually rebellious note in contrast to that of the sleeping dog in Titian’s portrayal of the goddess in his Venus of Urbino.

As with Luncheon on the Grass, the painting raised the issue of prostitution within contemporary France and the roles of women within society.

Olympia was the subject of caricatures in the popular press, but was championed by the French avant-garde community, and the painting’s significance was appreciated by artists such as Gustave Courbet, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and later Paul Gauguin.

What reaction do you have this painting, when compared with earlier works of similar subjects?

This is an excerpt from my interactive online modern art appreciation program

Édouard Manet – a pivotal artist in transitioning to a Modernist approach

Edouard Manet, Young Flautist, or The Fifer, 1866
Edouard Manet, Young Flautist, or The Fifer, 1866

Édouard Manet was one of the first 19th-century artists to paint modern life, and a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His early works, The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l’herbe) and Olympia, both  painted in 1863, caused great controversy and served as rallying points for young painters who would introduce Impressionism. Today, these are considered watershed paintings that mark the genesis of modern art.

Manet put great emphasis on acceptance by the Paris Salon. In fact, he believed that success as an artist could only be obtained through recognition at the Salon.

Spanish Guitar Player, painted in 1862, reflected the Parisian love of “all things Spanish” and was one of Manet’s first works to be accepted by the Salon, however  it was not this painting which brought  his much sought after recognition (notoriety) but the rejected Dejeuner sur l’herbe.

He became friends with the Impressionists Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro through another painter, Berthe Morisot, who was a member of the group and drew him into their activities. She is credited with convincing Manet to attempt plein air painting, which she had been practicing since she was introduced to it by another friend of hers, Camille Corot.

Although his own work influenced and anticipated the Impressionist style, he resisted involvement in Impressionist exhibitions, partly because he didn’t wish to be seen as the representative of a group identity, and partly because he wanted the prestige of exhibiting at the Salon.

He was influenced by other Impressionists, especially Monet and Morisot. Their influence is seen in Manet’s use of lighter colours, but he retained his distinctive use of black, uncharacteristic of Impressionist painting. He painted many outdoor (plein air) pieces, but always returned to what he considered the serious work of the studio.

Some of Manet’s best-loved works are his café scenes. His completed paintings were often based on small sketches he made while out socializing. These works, including At the Café, The Beer Drinkers and The Café Concert, amongst others, depict 19th-century Paris. He sought to illuminate the rituals of both common and bourgeoisie French people. His subjects are reading, waiting for friends, drinking and working. In stark contrast to his café scenes, Manet also painted the tragedies and triumphs of war.

In my next blog more about Manet…


 This is an excerpt from my online art appreciation program

Impressionism – Marie Bracquemond

Marie Bracquemond, Pierre Bracquemong as a Child, 1878
Marie Bracquemond, Pierre Bracquemond as a Child, 1878

Born Marie Quiveron, Marie Braquemond (1840 – 1916) was one of the four key women associated with the Impressionists. She was included in their exhibitions three times; in 1879, 1880 and 1886.

As a young woman she was admitted to Ingres’s studio and worked with two of his students. Although, according to Bracquemond, Ingres “doubted the courage and perseverance of a woman in the field of painting … [and] … would assign to them only the painting of flowers, of fruits, of still lifes, portraits and genre scenes…”, her work was accepted at the Paris Salon from 1857 (when she was only 17).

Marie Braquemond
Marie Braquemond

She began receiving commissions, including one from the court of Empress Eugenie, the Empress of France and wife of Napoleon III. Bracquemond was also commissioned by Count de Nieuwerkerke, the Director-General of French museums, to copy more important paintings in the Louvre.

It was here she met her husband, Félix Bracquemond. He introduced  Marie to his artist friends, such as Millet, Corot, Degas, and Rodin and through them she received more commissions. She also became involved in his work for the Haviland Limoges factory, where he was artistic director.

Marie designed plates for dinner services and executed large Faience (tin-glazed earthenware) tile panels entitled The Muses, which were shown at the Universal Exhibition of 1878. The preliminary sketch used for the design was shown at the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879, and Edgar Degas was among its greatest admirers.

In an article in the 1904 magazine Women in the Fine Arts,  Clara Erskine Clement, author of Women in the Fine Arts from the Seventh Century to the Twentieth Century AD, wrote about Marie Bracquemond’s ability:

“…Madame Bracquemond had the facility of employing the faience colours so well that she produced a clearness and richness not achieved by other artists.  The progress made in the Haviland faience in the 70’s was very largely due to Madame Bracquemond, whose pieces were almost always sold from the atelier before being fired, so great was her success…”

From the late 1870s Bracquemond’s style had began to change. Her canvases grew larger and her colours intensified. She began sketching and painting en plein air, and Monet, Renoir  and Degas became her mentors. Her fascination with the colouristic effects on sunlight on white resulted in paintings such as Woman in White and the more fully realised On the Terrace at Sévres, both of which appeared in the 1880 exhibition.

The “woman in white”, which was captured outdoors in a garden or at the seashore, soon became an archetypal Impressionist motif around the world. Many artists found it a perfect vehicle for the investigation of the formal properties of reflected light and colour.

Bracquemond also experimented with different light effects, moving from work which explored natural daylight, such as Tea Time, to paintings under artificial light, such as Under the Lamp.


In 1886, Félix met Paul Gauguin through Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley, and brought the impoverished artist home. Gauguin had a decisive influence on Marie and he taught her how to prepare canvases. Unlike many of her Impressionist contemporaries, Bracquemond spent a great deal of effort planning her pieces. Even though many of her works have a spontaneous feel, she prepared them in a traditional way through sketches and drawings before starting on the canvas.

Bracquemond was an artist who is considered to have approached the interpretation of her human subjects with particular empathy for their individuality. Her models were usually family members, such as her son, sister and close friends, including Sisley and his wife.

The greatest challenge in her career proved to be the discouragement of her husband, and by 1890 the domestic conflict that her painting provoked led her to giving up paintings almost completely. Her son Pierre recorded in La vie de Félix and Marie Bracquemond the pain and difficulties that his mother suffered and his father’s jealousy of her talent.

However, she remained a fervent defender of Impressionism “Impressionism has produced… not only a new, but a very useful way of looking at things. It is as if all at once a window opens and the sun and air enter your house in torrents“.


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This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.


Impressionism – Eva Gonzalés

Eva Gonzalés, White Shoes, 1879-80
Eva Gonzalés, White Shoes, 1879-80

Eva Gonzalès was the daughter of a Spanish writer and a Belgian musician. She was just 17 when she joined Charles Chaplin’s studio in Paris as a pupil in 1866,  but within three years she became Edouárd Manet’s only formal pupil.

Although Gonzalès is classified as an Impressionist artist, she, like Manet, didn’t participate in any of  their group exhibitions. Instead, with Manet’s encouragement she preferred  to show at the Paris Salon, exhibiting there between 1870 and 1882-3, and at the Salon de Refusés in 1873.

Unfortunately, at her debut showing in 1870, where she exhibited three paintings, her work was overshadowed by Manet’s own submission of a portrait of Gonzalés as a dark haired fashionable model. As a result, she wasn’t considered by the critics to be a serious artist in her own right.

Her major submission was the life-sized Little Soldier, which was an unmistakable reference to Manet’s Fife Player of 1866. However, in her painting Gonzalés transformed the figure of a small boy into a three-dimensional figure with a slightly turned pose, softer focus and extended shadows, unlike Manet’s more flattened two-dimensional painting. She continued to work in the realistic style of Manet’s earlier Spanish period and began to have some success.

In the early 1870s she painted a number of Impressionist plein air landscape studies using the ‘bird’s eye’ viewpoint, flattened perspective and sunlit palette which Monet characterised in his views of Sainte-Adresse during the ’60s.

In her later works she frequently portrayed women (in particular her sister Jeanne, also an accomplished artist) and domestic scenes. Her pastels, for which she is most well known, have a light and delicate touch. Her small pastel domestic scene The Nest which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1873 met with acclaim, but the reviews refer to her ‘feminine technique’. In contrast, her other submission that year was a large realist painting Loge at the Theatre des Italians. This painting was rejected by the critics for its ‘masculine vigour’ because of the strong brushwork and allusion to erotic symbolism through the inclusion of a sumptuous bouquet of flowers.

By the late 1870s her assured pastel portraits demonstrated that she had found her true style, which can be compared with Degas and other Impressionists.

Overall, her life’s work was small (the catalogue raisonné of her works lists a total of 124 works) as she died within days of giving birth in 1883.

This is an excerpt from my interactive online modern art appreciation program

Impressionism – Mary Cassatt; Painter and and Printmaker

Mary Cassatt, Self Portrait, 1878
Mary Cassatt, Self Portrait, 1878

Known for her perceptive depictions of women and children, Mary Cassatt was one of the few American artists in France in the 1800s. She began to show regularly at the Paris Salon in 1868 – with her first work exhibited being a Realist work, The Mandolin Player.

After several tours to Europe, she settled permanently in Paris In 1874. As women weren’t then accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, it is believed that she studied privately with Jean-Leon Gerome, a teacher from the school. Cassatt also attended classes by Charles Chaplin and Thomas Couture and, like Berthe Morisot, she also regularly copied masters at the Louvre.

In 1875 she saw the pastel work of Edgar Degas in a gallery window. Years later, Cassatt described the importance of this experience, “I used to go and flatten my nose against the window and absorb all I could of his art. It changed my life. I saw art then as I wanted to see it.” She became extremely proficient in the use of pastels, eventually creating many of her most important works in this medium. Degas also introduced her to etching, of which he was a recognised master at the time.

In 1877, Degas invited her to join the Impressionists and a close working relationship developed between them. From similar upper-class backgrounds, the two painters enjoyed a friendship based on common artistic sensibilities and interests in bold compositional structure, the asymmetry and high vantage point of Japanese prints, and contemporary subject matter. Their admiration and support for each other endured long after their art began to head in different directions.

Cassatt exhibited in four of the eight Impressionist exhibitions; in 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1886. During this period she revised her technique, composition, and use of colour and light from the earlier and darker Realist works.

In April 1890, an exhibition of Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris inspired Cassatt to begin experimenting with different print techniques. However, she blended the Japanese design with that of the Impressionists. Impressionists didn’t use black so she used light pastel colours instead. (Some art historians believe her blending of the two styles made a lasting contribution to the graphic arts.)

Also, she chose not to employ the woodblock process, instead using aquatint, drypoint, etching, and hand-colouring. She made bold compositional choices—flattening forms and perspective, cropping compositions, contrasting decorative patterns and introducing broad planes of colour. Between 1890-91 she executed a series of ten prints that explored the private activities of women. After painstakingly overseeing the execution of each print, Cassatt exhibited the resulting series at the Durand Ruel Gallery in Paris. Together, the prints combined the spare beauty of Japanese woodcut designs with innovative colour patterns and finely tuned drawing.

The Bath was Cassatt’s first effort in the series, and the only one, according to her, in which she truly tried to imitate Japanese design. She produced seventeen different states for The Bath, more than for any other print in the series. Here she was still mastering the technical difficulties of translating woodcuts into intaglio prints. In The Bath, colour is used very simply for the blue tub, the yellow in woman’s dress and the soft background.

The subject, a mother and child, is a favourite of Cassatt’s, and in the series as a whole, she opens a window on women’s private lives in the nineteenth century.

Mary Cassatt, who chose her independence and a painting career over being married and having a family, continued painting until 1915, when she became virtually blind. As an independently wealthy woman, she acquired a number of artworks from her fellow artists and either donated or bequeathed these to American art museums, where her work was highly regarded.

This is an excerpt from my interactive online modern art appreciation program

Impressionism – Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872
Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872

If you’ve been following my modern art blogs, you’ll notice that this the first time I’ve included a woman artist. It’s from about this time that it’s a little easier to find records of female painters – and for the rest of this blog series (and in my on-line interactive program) you will see a number of artists whom you may not have heard of, even though they were painting and exhibiting with their male counter-parts.

One of the most well known female Impressionists is Berthe Morisot. After receiving private art tuition, and copying artworks from the Louvre, she registered as a copyist with the Louvre, where she met Realist painter Camille Corot, who encouraged her to paint en plein air. In 1864 two of her landscape paintings were exhibited at the Salon de Paris, and she subsequently showed regularly at the Salon until the Impressionist exhibitions.

In 1868 Morisot became friends with Édouard Manet, who painted several portraits of her, and who is also regarded as having a strong influence on her work. In return, Manet appreciated Morisot’s distinctive original style and compositions, some of which he incorporated into his own work, and it was Morisot who persuaded him to attempt plein air painting. It was also Morisot who introduced Manet to the Impressionist circle of painters, where she was one of the most prolific artists.

She was the only woman to exhibit in the first Impressionist exhibition (in 1874), and then continued to show in the next seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions (only missing the  exhibition the year when her daughter was born, in 1878). Also unusual for her time,  Morisot continued to paint professionally after her marriage (to Manet’s brother) and the birth of her only child. Her daughter Julie was the subject of many of her artworks.

During her early Impressionist period her works were almost always small in scale. She worked in oil paint, watercolours, or pastel, and sketched using various drawing media.  From about 1880, when her brushstrokes became looser, she evoked a greater sense of freedom in her works. She was also known for creating a sense of space and depth through her use of colour, albeit with a limited colour palette.

Like most woman artists of her time, her subject matter generally reflected the cultural restrictions on her gender and she often painted domestic scenes.

Her subjects were often posed outdoors, enveloped by sunlight.  She insisted on the “interiority” of her images and refused to include the intrusion of background detail into the very private and intimate study she was portraying. Morisot was concerned with “self” not the interaction of “self” and its environment.   The outer edges of her paintings were often left unfinished, allowing the canvas to show through and increasing the sense of spontaneity.

As one critic noted at the time, “Her painting has all the frankness of improvisation; it truly is the impression caught by a sincere eye and accurately rendered by a hand that does not cheat.”

In my next few blogs, you’ll see more woman Impressionists.

This is an excerpt from my online modern art appreciation program

Impressionism – Alfred Sisley, Landscapes

Alfed Sisley, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, 1872
Alfred Sisley, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, 1872

Alfred Sisley’s English heritage and Parisian upbringing served him well in developing as an Impressionist landscape artist. Early in his career, he spent four years in London studying J.M.W. Turner and John Constable.  However he returned to London in 1861, where, like Pissarro, Camille Corot’s Realist landscape paintings strongly influenced his style. (He first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1867 as Corot’s pupil.)

Through Corot’s  influence he retained a passionate interest in the sky, which nearly always dominated his paintings, and also in the effects of snow, which he combined to create strongly dramatic effects. His  early style was also deeply influenced by Courbet and Daubigny.

From 1862, he studied at the Paris École des Beaux-Arts (at the studio of Charles Gleyr) with fellow students Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. These artists often gathered at Café Guerbois on the Grande rue des Batignolles, where they met Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and others who were part of, or sympathetic to, the Impressionist movement.

Sisley concentrated on painting landscapes more consistently than any other Impressionist painter.  He celebrated the intimate qualities of the places he lived in, exploring the effects of changing light and weather and mapping scenes from a variety of viewpoints in different seasons. Unlike other Impressionists such as Monet, Renoir and Pissarro who developed their styles over time, Sisley stayed true to his love of painting landscapes in the Impressionist style.

He spent some time painting in Fontainebleau southeast of Paris, at Chailly with Monet, Bazille and Renoir, and later at Marlotte with Renoir. He moved his family to Moret-sur-Loing, near Fontainebleau,  in 1880 and remained close to the area for the rest of his life. (He died from throat cancer at the age of 59 in 1899.)  Fontainebleau was a source of inspiration that he would revisit many time on canvas, or occasionally with a camera, as he also seems to have worked from photographs at times.

Sisley had also fled to London during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune in the early 1870s. There Pissarro introduced him to art dealer Duand-Ruel, and he became part of the dealer’s stable. Unfortunately, the war caused him a severe reversal of fortune: most of his paintings were either lost or destroyed, and his father, who had been supporting Sisley, lost his fortune. Reduced to extreme poverty, Sisley had to support himself and his family through modest sales of his work.

In the images below you will see how successfully Sisley captured the world around him, producing very atmospheric and restful landscapes. You’ll also see the influence of his fellow Impressionist artists.

This is an excerpt from my online modern art appreciation program

Impressionism – Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro,  Barges on Pontoise, 1872
Camille Pissarro, Barges on Pontoise, 1872

Camille Pissarro was instrumental in establishing the Impressionists, holding the group together and encouraging individual members. He was the only painter of the group who participated in all eight of the Impressionist exhibitions held in Paris between 1874 and 1886.

It was Pissarro who drafted the convention for the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) and who was the principal organiser of their first joint exhibition. Consequently, he was regarded as a central figure of the group. Although he was the oldest of the Impressionists, Pissarro never ceased assimilating the work of others and developing his artistic style.

In his early career Pissarro was strongly attracted to the paintings of Realist Camille Corot which he had seen on display at Paris’s Universal Exposition in 1855. (Corot taught him informally, urging him to paint from nature.) He then studied at various academic institutions (including the École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Suisse) where he met future Impressionists Claude Monet, Paul Cezanne and Armand Guillaumin. Through Monet, he also met Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley.

His work was exhibited at the Paris Salon throughout the 1860s until 1870, although in 1863 he participated in the Salon des Refusés with Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and others. During the Franco-Prussian War, Pissarro fled to London where he lived between 1870–71. There he met Paul Durand-Ruel, the Parisian dealer who would become an ardent supporter of Pissarro and his fellow Impressionists. (On his return to France, Pissarro discovered that much of the work in his studio had been destroyed by Prussian soldiers.)

Like his fellow Impressionists, Pissarro painted both urban and rural French life, particularly landscapes in and around Pontoise, as well as scenes from Montmartre, and his mature work displayed an empathy with peasants and labourers. Working  closely en plein  air with Monet, Renoir, and Sisley, he revised his method of landscape painting (from his earlier Realist influences), changing the way in which he used colour and applied patches of paint.

Pissarro was also a strong influence on other artists. He was an astute judge of young talent and in 1872 gathered a small circle of painters around him, demonstrating his method of painting patiently from nature.  Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Signac and Matisse all benefited from his generous encouragement and advice. (Pissarro also later adopted the pointillist style of Seurat.)    These sessions caused Cézanne to change his entire approach to art. In 1902 he said of his mentor “As for old Pissarro, he was a father to me, a man to consult and something like the good Lord“. Renoir referred to his work as “revolutionary“, through his artistic portrayals of the “common man“, as Pissarro insisted on painting individuals in natural settings without “artifice or grandeur“.

Art historian John Rewald called Pissarro the “Dean of the Impressionist paintersby virtue of his wisdom and his balanced, kind, and warmhearted personality“.

You can see Pissarro’s Impressionist style in  Barges on Pontoise, 1872 and Houses at Bougival, Autumn, 1870, where he has used a variety of brush strokes in different sections of the works.

This is an excerpt from my online modern art appreciation program

In my next blog there will be more landscapes, this time by Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley.

Impressionism – Monet and Renoir, La Grenouillére (The Frog Pond), 1869


Claude Monet, Bain à la Grenouillère, 1869
Claude Monet, Bain à la Grenouillère, 1869

In the summer of 1869 Monet was living in conditions of extreme hardship with his family at Saint-Michel, a hamlet near Bougival, west of Paris. The two works he had submitted to the Paris Salon that year (The Magpie and  Fishing Boats at Sea) had been rejected, and he was keen to paint a ‘tableau’ (living picture) to submit to the Salon in 1870 that might find fresh mass appeal.

Renoir, also desperately poor at the time,  was staying in the vicinity with his parents, and he and Monet painted together at La Grenouillére (The Frog Pond) a popular meeting place on the Seine river near Bougival, which was easily accessible by train. Here people met to swim, dance and drink.

The restaurant at La Grenouillére, which was located on a barge, was a fashionable place for the emerging middle class to enjoy the new pleasures of suburban Paris.  The small island next to the restaurant, with a weeping willow at its centre, was known as Pot de fluers (flowerpot) or ‘the camembert‘.  Accessible by gang planks,  people would meet and talk before progressing to the bar of La Grenouillére.

The name La Grenouillére was based on its double meaning.  It’s not only the French term for frog pond, but it was also used colloquially to describe women who were, as Renoir’s son in his memoir of his father put it, “not exactly prostitutes, but a class of unattached young women, characteristic of the Parisian scene [at the time], changing lovers easily, satisfying any whim, going nonchalantly from a  mansion on the Champs-Elyseés to a garret in the Batignolles“.

He continued, “Among that group Renoir got a great many of his volunteer models. According to him, the grenouilles, or ‘frogs’ were often ‘very good sorts’. Because the French people love a medley of classes, actresses, society women and respectable middle-class also patronised the… restaurant”.

August Renoir, La Grenouillère, 1869
August Renoir, La Grenouillère, 1869

Both Monet and Renoir were living a ‘hand to mouth existence’.  Monet would literally paint until he ran out of colour, then take up sketching in preparation for the next time he could pull together a few francs from his friends in order to continue.  Renoir was being supported by his family. Thankfully the owner of La Grenouillére, Monsieur Fournaise, accepted some of their paintings in exchange for food.

They painted scenes of boats and swimmers and of couples strolling along the water’s edge or crossing the gangplanks. Painting many views of the same scene quickly, they captured the changes in light and atmosphere as the day progressed. In their surviving works from that summer, it is clear that they usually painted alongside each other.

In experimenting with techniques for painting outdoors, they developed a method for capturing the play of light on water. They painted rapidly with short, comma like brushstrokes, and they juxtaposed sharply contrasting, unmixed colours which brought a shimmering life to water. It enabled them to portray the transitory effects of light and atmosphere – goals they had been pursuing for years. Both came to value the sketchy, unfinished quality of the work.

Renoir’s paintings

Details from Renoir’s paintings

Renoir painted huddles of people on the camembert, experimenting with little patches or taches (French for ‘spots’) which were indistinct wiggling strokes which he applied by putting one mark next to another, creating subtle colour variations. He also dashed off bright white impasto (thick paint straight out of the tube) across the water, suggesting reflections of bright light and the movement of the water created by the bathers and the boats.

Monet’s Paintings

(It’s considered that the lost painting of La Grenouillére,  photographed above, was his ‘tableau’ which he submitted to the Salon in 1870, but was rejected.)

Details from Monet’s paintings

Monet was also experimenting with new ways of reflecting water – using huge broad strokes of brown, white and blue. His preference for treating forms in bold masses, juxtaposing patches of colour and suppressing unnecessary detail echoed Japanese Ukiyo-e woodcuts. (It appears that he began collecting Japanese woodblock prints as early as 1864–65 and owned volumes of work by Hokusai.)

Monet may have incorporated the innovations into his paintings the most boldly, but it is not possible to say who was the key initiator of the changes they made to their painting styles. However, the discoveries Claude Monet and  Pierre-Auguste Renior made that summer from painting together and sharing ideas, and the techniques they developed, clearly influenced the evolving Impressionist style.

 Photos of La Grenouillére

(See more information about Monet’s painting techniques and his use of complementary colours in the free trial section of my e-course.)

(Also,  you’ll find detailed information about 19th Century Painting Inventions and how they influenced  the painting style of Monet, and other Impressionists,  in the full e-course.)

This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art,  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history. 

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism  through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

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Impressionism – Edgar Degas, La Classe de Danse, 1874

Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, 1874
Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, 1874

Edgar Degas was both an avid photographer and a collector of Japanese prints and his The Dance Class (La Classe de Danse) of 1874 shows influences of both.  From the 1870s until his death, one of Degas’s favourite subjects was ballerinas at work, in rehearsal or at rest, and he tirelessly explored the theme with many variations in posture and gesture.

Degas regularly went to the Paris opera house, not only as a member of the audience, but also as a visitor backstage and to the dance studio, where he was introduced by a friend who played in the orchestra. (The imaginary scene was set in the rehearsal room of the old Paris Opéra, which had recently burnt down.)

More than the stage performance, it was the training and rehearsals that interested him.

Degas closely observed the most spontaneous, natural, ordinary gestures, the pauses when concentration is relaxed and the body slumps after the exhausting effort  and rigour of practising.

In The Dance Class the class is coming to an end – the pupils are stretching, twisting to scratch their backs, adjusting their hair or clothes or just sitting,  no longer paying any attention to their demanding teacher,  Jules Perrot. You can also see some mothers waiting more or less patiently for the class to end.

There is just one dancer who is still executing a position for the teacher.


In its asymmetrical composition the dancers are seemingly caught off guard in various awkward poses, leaving an expanse of empty floor space in the lower right section of the painting.

The slightly raised viewpoint looking diagonally across the studio emphasises the vanishing perspective of floor boards, which were such an important part of the vignette.

You can see the influence of photography and Japonisme in this painting.  The scene (image) appears to be cropped – we know that there is more to the musical instrument on the left and more dancers on the right. It doesn’t appear posed, rather just a scene from a normal day in the life of dancer at rehearsal, and we sense that this is just a snapshot in time.


There are also large areas of similar colour, the floor, the dancers’ tutus, the walls, and the ceilings. Degas has  relieved these colours with splashes of red and brown, so that the painting doesn’t lose interest.

As an added touch, you can just see a poster for Rossini’s Gaullaume Tell on the wall next to the mirror which pays tribute to the singer Jean-Baptiste Faure. Faure commissioned the picture and lent it to the 1876 Impressionist exhibition.



As you’ll see from the photo gallery below,  Degas introduced the additional elements of photography and Japonisme in his many studies of the movement of dancers.


In my next post I talk about Monet and Renoir  painting together at La Grenouillere (the Frog Pond).


This is an excerpt from my e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art, where you will enjoy the history of art from Romanticism through to Abstract Art.

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Impressionism – The Influence of Japonisme

Mary Cassatt, Woman Bathing  c. 1890–91
Mary Cassatt, Woman Bathing c. 1890–91

A major influence on Impressionism was Japanese art prints (Japonisme).

The term Japonisme was coined by the French journalist and art critic Philippe Burty in an article published in 1876 to describe the strong interest for Japanese artworks and decorative items.

After Japanese ports reopened to trade with the West in 1854, shiploads of  oriental bric-a brac began pouring into France.  In 1862, a Far Eastern curio shop called Le Porte Chinoise opened near the Louvre Museum, attracting artists visiting the gallery. It sold fans, kimonos, lacquered boxes, hanging scrolls, ceramics, bronze statuary and other items.

In 1867,  Japan held its first formal arts and crafts exhibition at the Paris Exposition Universelle. The exhibition attracted a great deal of interest and resulted in all things Japanese becoming stylish and fashionable. Shops selling Japanese woodblock prints, kimonos, fans and antiquities popped up in Paris like mushrooms.

In the images below, you’ll see paintings by Edouard Manet and James Tissot, indicating that artists visited the 1867 and later expositions, as well as the shops selling Japanese items.

Siegried Bing, who is known as the founder of L’Art Nouveau, began collecting Oriental art and design from the mid 1870s and by the 1880s, after a year long visit to the Orient, he was running no less that three stores in Paris and had become one of the most influential dealers of Japanese art in Europe. In 1890 he organised an exhibition of Japanese woodcuts.

Bing also published a richly illustrated journal, Le Japon Artistique, between 1888 and 1891 which was intended to promote the principles of Japanese design amongst European artists.  He argued that the art of the two nations was united by “ a bond of kinship born of the same love of beauty“*.   Louis Gonse had already published a comprehensive study of Japanese art in two volumes entitled L’Art Japonais in 1883.


These and other similar publications increased the knowledge and interest in Japanese art.

On the crest of this wave of interest in all things Japanese were woodcut prints by masters of the Ukiyo-e  ‘Floating World’ school of printmaking. The subject matter of the Ukiyo-e in 18th and 19th Centuries was drawn from everyday life, it celebrated the non-heroic and was based on the idea that all is transient. These prints were mass-produced as woodcuts and were cheap enough for the average Japanese person (or Parisian) to afford. Three master printmakers from the period were Utamaro, Hiroshige and Hokusai.


The key features of Ukiyo-e prints were that they:

  • had limited depth (flattened picture plane)
  • emphasised shapes
  • used a dark outline
  • generally had asymmetrical composition
  • used flat areas of colour (ie, not modulated or varied)
  • had little or no use of strong contrasts between light and dark (chiaroscuro)
  • could have unusual viewpoints
  • often used a diagonal emphasis in composition
  • focused on everyday subject matter
  • often includes calligraphy
  • were identified by the artist’s stamp
  • had quite large production runs (100+)

Examples of Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings and prints.

Many of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists experimented with Japanese techniques in painting and  printmaking, with a number of artists emulating the Ukiyo-e style.

For example,  Claude Monet painted a number of bridges over ponds in his Waterlily series. He praised the quality of Japanese art that “evokes presence by means of shadow, the whole by means of a fragment“.

Japanese art in Monet's home at Giverny
Japanese art in Monet’s home at Giverny

Mary Cassatt was particularly interested in print making, often using women and children as her subjects. Edgar Degas reflected many of the compositional styles in his drawings and pastels. Van Gogh was also highly influenced by Japanse design and  both Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec are renowned for their large areas of flat colour.

In the painting by Manet below, you can see the Japanese prints and screen in the background. To him, these prints brought proof that you could dispense with perspective and limit yourself to flat colours and lines and still do justice to subject matter – even to subject matter drawn from contemporary life. Manet was amongst a number of the artists of the time who collected Japanese prints and other items for their personal appreciation.


Artists such as Toulouse Lautrec saw the value in printmaking and posters not just in terms of composition, but also as a way to create multiple copies of works at a reasonably inexpensive cost.

Like photography, the style of these prints also contributed significantly to the “snapshot” angles and unconventional compositions which would become characteristic of this movement.

Japonisme transformed Impressionist art by demonstrating that simple, transitory, everyday subjects could be presented in appealingly decorative ways. The Impressionists, and Post-Impressionists, admired the use of flat, decorative shapes, bright colours, and asymmetrical compositions which assisted them in exploring new ways of painting and printmaking.

*  S Bing, in Salon Annuel  des  Japonais, Premiere Anee, 1883

(You can read an article by Uchida Woodblock Printing Co about Woodblock printing in Japan ON JAPANESE WOODBLOCK PRINTING BY UCHIDA WOODBLOCK PRINTING CO LTD )


 This blog is just a short excerpt from my art history e-course, Introduction to Modern European Art  which is designed for adult learners and students of art history.

This interactive program covers the period from Romanticism right through to Abstract Art, with sections on the Bauhaus and School of Paris,  key Paris exhibitions, both favourite and less well known artists and their work, and information about colour theory and key art terms. Lots of interesting stories, videos and opportunities to undertake exercises throughout the program.

You’ll also find many French works on paper and beautiful fashion plates from the early 1900s by visiting the gallery.

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Impressionism – The influence of Photography

Edgar Degas, Race Horses, 1883-85
Edgar Degas, Race Horses, 1883-85

The rise of Impressionism can be seen in part as a response by artists to the newly established medium of photography. In the same way that Japonisme focused on everyday life, photography also influenced the Impressionists’ interest in capturing a ‘snapshot’ of ordinary people doing everyday things.

The taking of fixed or still images provided a new medium with which to capture reality, and changed the way people in general, and artists in particular, saw the world, and created new artistic opportunities.

Learning from the science of photography, artists developed a range of new painting techniques. And, rather than compete with the ability of the photograph to record ‘ a moment of truth’ the Impressionists, such as Monet, felt free to represent what they saw in an entirely different way – focusing more on light, colour and movement in  a way that was not possible with photography. Over time, these subjective observations became much more widely accepted as works of art, although initially they were thought to be ‘sketchy’ or ‘unfinished’.

Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise,1872
Claude Monet, Impression Sunrise, 1872

Early Photography

In 1839, Daguerre’s disclosure of the secret process he used to record an image onto a silvered sheet of copper, which was the first workable and permanent method to achieve this (known as the Daguerreotype), led to the invention of the photograph, which was to become one of the most popular inventions of the century.

Daguerre, historic photograph from 1837, two years before he shared his technique
Daguerre, historic photograph from 1837, two years before he shared his technique

By 1849, some 100,000 Parisians*  were having their pictures taken every year. (Interestingly, in the same way we use Photoshop today, customers often requested that their photograph be re-touched to hide perceived faults, or to add colour.)

Daguerreotypes were unique and non-replicable, but with the introduction of the carte de visite (visiting  or calling card) in the 1850s photographic images could be produced cheaply and easily distributed.  Cartes de visite were prints, usually, albumen, affixed to a card measuring about 6 x 10cm. This standard format was patented by a French photographer, Andre Adolphe Disderi, in 1854. Through the use of a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses, eight negatives could be taken on a single 8″ x 10″ glass plate, which allowed eight prints to be made every time the negative was printed.

Cartes de visite were most popular from the 1860s to the 1890s,  largely coinciding with Impressionism.

Influence on artists

Some artists found they lost commissions to paint small intricate portraits in favour of people preferring to have studio photographs taken. However, for others it became  an inspiration for new ways of not only composing their artworks but also painting using more experimental techniques.

Photographs (as they do today) assisted in the portraiture painting process. Many artists found that they could do away with tedious sittings of models and instead use both shorter sittings, and photographs, to paint portraits. Portable cameras could also be taken outdoors to record landscapes – enabling the painting process to be completed in the studio.

In the early stages of camera development, long exposures with a camera were required to capture the image, which created ‘shutter-drag’, allowing for beautiful fluid movement and gracefully blurred selections. Some artists, such as Degas, sought to recreate this effect to soften the overall painting.

Princess Metternich and Degas.jpg

One of the most famous photographers from the mid 1800s was Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon) who established the most fashionable portrait studio in Paris – it was here that the Impressionists held their first exhibition in 1874.