Invented by a group of artists based in Paris, Impressionism is a 19th-century artistic movement. Edouard Manet is pivotal in shaping the art movement. When we attempt to grasp the concept of Impressionism we have to peer into his art. This art movement takes its name from Claude Monet’s work, Impression, Soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise).

It is said to be a controversial movement in art that became an inspiring era for Art and Culture. Over time, the Impressionist movement spread throughout Europe and eventually into the United States and influenced many of today’s paintings. Usually characterized by thin, small, visible brushstrokes, an open composition, an emphasis on lighting depicting the changing qualities of light (and generating a sense of time passing), ordinary subject matter, and an appreciation for movement as an important element of human perception.

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Edouard Manet_© manet
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Claude Monet, Impression, Soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise)_© Wikipedia

Beginning

During the 1870s, impressionists like Eugène Delacroix and J.M.W. Turner violated the rules of academic paintings. Their paintings were composed of freely brushed colors that took precedence over lines and contours. Many of their paintings depicted scenes of modern life and were commonly done outdoors. In the past, still life, portraits, and landscapes were usually painted in a studio. By painting outdoors or en Plein air, the Impressionists were able to capture the momentary and transient effects of sunlight. To accomplish an image of intense color vibration, they used short, “broken” brushstrokes of pure or mixed color in place of blended, smoothly shaded strokes.

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Influential atmospheric work in impressionism by J M W Turner_© Wikipedia

Impressionist Architecture

Impressionism emphasized the reality of light, shadow, color, and form as well as the mind’s perception of them. Impressionism impacted the cultural landscape during this period, including art, classical music, and architecture. Impressionism influenced the cultural landscape during this period, including art, classical music, and architecture.

During Belle Époque (1870-1914) France displayed its innovations in technology and science in the Universal Expositions. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was erected for Universal Exposition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the french revolution. During this period, the Beaux-Arts Academy dominated French art and architecture, and for years, Salons promoted traditional painting standards and promoted traditional standards in painting. A few typical elements of the Beaux-Arts style included: 

  1. Having historical, mythological, and religious themes.
  2. Carefully finished images that look realistic when examined closely.
  3. Restrained colors are toned down by the application of a golden varnish.
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Painting by Francois Joseph Heim_©Wikimedia Commons

Alternatively, impressionists tend to emphasize: 

  1. Secularization of art, dismissing any message.
  2. Using short brushstrokes of unmixed colors.
  3. Painting in the Plein air and portraying the modern city.

These principles of impressionism influenced the design of the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

Impressionist Principle # 1 

Secularization of art, dismissing a higher message, whether religious, mythological, or historical.

Edouard Manet was at the forefront of the Impressionist art movement. In particular, his treatment of nudes is thought scandalous. But there are plenty of paintings in the Louvre with clothed and nude people. So what makes his work more scandalous? Unlike other paintings, the nude figures in his work look straight at us, the beholders. And this was considered scandalous in the art society. 

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Édouard Manet, The Luncheon on the Grass_© Wikipedia

The Eiffel Tower with its exposed structure of iron presents uncompromising impressionist principles. Like impressionist art, the Eiffel Tower attracted violent criticism. The tower was described as “useless”, unlike any other building that balances form and function, the tower was said to be all form and no function. It was also said to be a “monster”, as it did not attempt to convey any meaning. Like Manet’s nude cheating us of a clear message, the Eiffel Tower has no purpose beyond itself. The Eiffel Tower did become useful by becoming a wireless telegraph transmitter during World War One, which saved it from destruction.  

In modern times, the tower is a monster so unique that it stands alone in the skyline of Paris. Like Manet’s nude, the tower follows us, and as Roland Barthes suggests in his 1954 essay “The Eiffel Tower”, it seems impossible to escape it. 

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Eiffel Tower_© Wikipedia
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Eiffel Tower which can be seen from anywhere_© World in Paris

Impressionist Principle # 2 

Painting technique: short brushstrokes of unmixed colors, portraying overall effects instead of details

Claude Monet in his 1874 (Impression, Sunrise) seeks to express his perception of a scene, an “impression”, rather than achieve a likeness. Boats, heavy machinery, and cranes of the Havre Port are mere indications and the two figures in the rowboat are hardly more distinct than their shadows.

Short brush strokes of unblended colors and thickly applied to make the artist’s hand visible making the painting self-referential and conveying an “impression” rather than a message. The broken brush strokes hardly convey a form, beholders are to recreate for themselves. Often needing to step afar to mix the juxtaposed colors optically.

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Short brush strokes_© Draw Paint Academy

The Eiffel Tower brings a similar impressionist experience in the disparity of its close-up and far-away visual experiences. From a distance, the Eiffel Tower with its distinctive profile in the shape of an “A” is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Yet when climbing the tower, the famous building disappears in favor of a jumble of iron bars. Like Impressionist short brushstrokes, the iron segments do not convey a clear form, and visitors are invited to recreate the overall shape for themselves.

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Jumble of Iron bars_© Structurae

Impressionist Principle # 3 

Artists move out of their studios to portray the modern city and paint outside in the Plein air  

Claude Monet investigates the effect of the Plein air in various locations of the city. “Plein air” is related to painting outdoors in daylight in English. This provided Monet with a canvas to capture the play of sunlight at various times of the day.

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Plein Air Painting_ © Emptyeasel

The Eiffel Tower offers a new kind of raw industrial beauty. Gustava Eiffel builds the tower-like one of his bridges, although a vertical one. The atmosphere freely penetrates the empty structure, making it the ultimate Plein air building. This aspect of a Plein air building is especially visible in Georges Seurat’s (The Eiffel Tower, 1889).

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Atmosphere freely penetrates through the structure making it a Plein building_© Architecture Magazine
Georges Seurat’s (The Eiffel Tower, 1889)_©Wikiart

References:

  1. Kuvatova V. (2013). Impressionism: The history, The artists, The masterpieces. Publisher: Prospekt.
  2. Wikipedia. Impressionism [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressionism
  3. Spangler M · (2018). Paris in Architecture, Literature, and Art. Publisher: Peter Lang
Author

Mrinal is a curious, open-minded person who is keen to explore the world around her. She is a nature lover who enjoys traveling, reading, sketching, and photography. She believes that words are portable magic. She yearns to share the tales of Cities, Architecture, Nature, Cultures, and People through her writing.

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