Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Thanks again to artrenewal.org for images

In the late 19th century the painting world was suddenly confronted with impressionism. Much is made today of the chilly reception that the Impressionists received at the hand of the Academy. That did happen. But not for very long, and I think rather too much is made of it. Many of the Impressionists became very successful, Monet had five full time gardeners and a studio you could have played basketball in.

In the flurry of "isms" that followed, the narrative of the oppressed school of daring new artists became a powerful sales tool for scores of multiplying and ever more 'revolutionary" movements in the art world. Recently some scholars and many painters have seen more in common than dissimilar betwixt the impressionists and the academics of the era. Certainly compared to the art of today, like that nice Damien Hirst fellow, they have a lot in common.

Just as there is diversity of opinion on most any subject in the world today, there was then also.
The painting at the top of the page is by Leon Gerome, an arch conservative academician who certainly fit the stereotype. He was a magnificent painter but reviled impressionism, as did many others. However within a single generation most academic painters had taken from the impressionists the tools they found useful and by the 1890's very few painters works were not informed by impressionism. Below is an example of an enormous painting by Bastien LePage, Joan of Arc, from the Met.

It is without a doubt an academic "machine" but it has moves learned from the impressionists.
By the 1890's most of the instruction given in painting was a mixture of the two, and grew ever more weighted towards impressionism. Lepage was held up as an example as a modern painter who had successfully amalgamated the two schools of thought.

I am going to return to Sargent again, but also to Zorn and Sorolla. These three have a lot in common and have become very popular as heroes among traditional painters today. I remember when Zorn and Sorolla were pretty much unknown in this country and Sargent was just beginning to be returned to the stature of an historically important artist. That would have been in the early 70's. The influence these three have had on contemporary realist (or traditional as I prefer to call it) painting has been enormous.

These three synthesized some of the lessons of the impressionists while still retaining their academic chops and outlook. They were all, neither fish nor fowl. You wouldn't call Sargent an impressionist, but he did paint alongside Monet who he admired, and he was influenced by the great "eye"of Giverny.

Above, John Sargent


Unknown said...

all three of those paintings are marvelous. I really like that Sargent.
To get your started, here's a title for your book. Maybe all of us followers could suggest our own ideas. How about:
Cigars, Neck Tattoos and Spider Monkeys on Meth... It's All About the Design.. by Stapleton Kearns

Philip Koch said...
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Philip Koch said...
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Philip Koch said...

Great post!

The French Impressionists were great innovators. But within their work was much of the wisdom of the more traditional painters- great design, sharp observation and great drawing, and a wealth of art history.

Loved the factoid about Monet at the end being able to employ five full time gardeners. Where do you dig up this stuff Stape?

billspaintingmn said...

To use music as an analogy,(again)
would you say the academic was to mozart as blues, jazz, rock, and yes hip hop is to impresionism.
Then we must be Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Thomas Jefferson Kitts said...

Ah yes, Stapleton . . . Sargent's painting, "Home Fields". The very painting which turned me into a plein air painter. Saw it in a book back in 1984, while at school, fell in love with it, and finally saw it for real the first time ever in NYC. Last week. Spent a good hour standing in front of it.


Home Fields remains on display at the Adelson Gallery, along with 34 other of Sargent's more impressionistic works, and several of his preliminary color sketches for "Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose" until December 18th.

If anyone can get to it before it closes, I recommend it. A fine environment to see the work in. The show has many paintings I have never seen and I've been focussed on JSS for 25 years.

Thanks for posting it.

(And BTW: According to Ross King, author of "The Judgement of Paris" -- fine book on the birth of Impressionism -- there wasn't as much animosity between Gerome and the Impressionists as most people would like to believe. He even went so far as to defend Manet, and the later Impressionists, against the Salon. Just sayin'...)

As always, a great blog and daily read.



Mary Byrom said...

I love that painting "Home Fields"! I think it might have hit me as hard as it hit Thomas...but I had already fled the studio to paint outdoors when I saw it. And the 5 gardeners - of course! ... that garden is way too big for him to manage and find time for painting too.

mariandioguardi.com said...

I am listening to "The judgment of Paris" right now. I have Will to thank for turning me on to it. At a time when, in Paris , women and men were segregated on public transportation and women were not allowed on the upper levels of buses because there was a chance of in appropriate exposure... there was art being made for the shock value.
It was all there in Paris around art: the use of photos, shock art, politics, using connections, money, lack of skills, unbelievable virtuosity, self promotion etc. The more things change the more they stay the same.

In a city with over 100 art critics, watching art was a national past time much like a sporting event.

I am at the part where it's been ten years and Manet has not sold a painting yet.

Vianna Szabo said...

I remember as a child seeing "Home Fields" in the Detroit Institute of Arts and I was amazed that an artist could capture the evening light and create such beauty out of a mundane field. (As a kid I thought this was the field behind my house!) This painting inspired me to become an artist and I return to the DIA often to view it.

In real life the fence posts are layed in using one or two strokes of very thick paint on a wide brush. The fun of a Sargent painting is the paint application. Sloppy up close and spectacular from afar.

This is a terrific blog, keep it coming!

Poppy Balser said...

For those of you with younger readers whom you wish to introduce to Sargent, there is a lovely little book put out by Kids Can Press called "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose; the story of a Painting" It is a fictional account of the creation of Sargent's painting of the same name, told from the perspective of five year old Kate Millet, who was an actual historical person. There are several very nice reproductions of preliminary sketches for the painting, and credit for those photos is given to Adelson Galleries. (Home Fields is shown in the book as well) I know I cannot get to New York for the exhibit, but I enjoy sharing this book with my kids.

Thanks for this series on Sargent. Stapleton, the very knowledge that you will be posting again tomorrow is enough of a teaser to bring me back every day.

willek said...

That picture of Joan is interesting. It is so busy with detail and a high percentage of mid range values, yet it works and the figure stands out. Maybe I'm missing the point the artist is making, but I don't think a contemporary artist would design such subject matter in this way. Could you comment on this picture's composition?

Stapleton Kearns said...

I keep thinking "Down country roads, with Stapleton Kearns"

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that is true of the first generation of American impressionists too.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't know. That seems obscure to me. Let me think on that for a while.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that is one of my favorite paintings. Does it seem a little like Inness to you?

Stapleton Kearns said...

If I had five gardeners I would make them carry me around on a litter.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Things never change, they only get different.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is what In like best about Sargent, that and his command of the structure.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I don't guess I will make it to the show in N.Y. either. The Boston museum is opening a new hall with all Sargent paintings. That should be cool.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will try to remember to return to that.