Pierre-August Renoir, La Moulin de la Galette, 1875.
La Moulin de la Galette was a popular place for entertainment in Paris during 1875. Renoir painted this boisterous scene of artists, his local clientele, and prostitutes interacting with one another to record a lively scene of “the People’s Paris” - a place in which the upper-class was able to enjoy themselves and make the city their own. Instead of solemn poses, the guests seem to mingle and the artist captures their intimate conversations and candid expressions, as if the viewer is invited to become a part of the entertainment. Renoir, in typical Impressionist fashion, painted this in plein-air, which further assisted his attempt to capture the dancing sunlight and vibrant, saturated colors with both light and dark globs of paint and fleeting brushstrokes (rather than intense shading). The Impressionist successfully portrays an “impression” of the event, rather than a detailed depiction by allowing the figures and landscape to mesh with one another, allowing the viewer’s eyes to dance around the canvas and gather their own impression.
Clement Greenberg (1909-1994) was a highly influential art historian and critic. His studies focused on the idea of “modernism,” the “avant-garde,” and “kitsch.” Although his commentary on these subjects became well-known after many of the works and artists he used for discussion had passed their public debuts, Greenbergian theories remain[ed] very prevalent within scholarly discourse. Most of his theories are based on Marxist thought, so a minimalist and abstracted artistic style was the epitome of modernism and fine art, in his opinion. Clement Greenberg’s controversial (and pretentious) views on such subjects caused generations of famous and infamous artists to react and respond to his theories, the time-line of which is TRULY inspiring. Although Greenberg was a pretentious art critic who pissed a lot of people off, in which most of the popular images of critics are based upon, if you have the chance to read any of his works, it is worth considering. His essays inspired most art historical movements including and following Jackson Pollock’s famous Abstract Expressionism era. Clement Greenberg LOVED Jackson Pollock, and his commentary and criticisms of Pollock’s abstract paintings are what caused Pollock to be dubbed the “Great[est] American Artist.” Again, this pissed a lot of artists off, because although Greenberg’s theories were based in Marxist thought, which encouraged the elimination of hierarchies, his generalizations proved to be somewhat problematic when applied to the art world. Here are some links to interesting information about Clement Greenberg. Enjoy, explore, and become inspired!
Clement Greenberg on Wikipedia. (basic info, of course)
Avant-Garde and Kitsch by Clement Greenberg (1939). (this is Greenberg’s most famous article, which attempts to separate the modernist movement from certain works he viewed as mere works of “kitsch.” Even more so, Clement Greenberg clearly defines his idea of modernism, and the difference between avant-gardism and modernity. This article goes deep, and can be difficult to read, but if you are truly interested in exploring the world of art history, it is essential for your scholarly repertoire.)
A more in-depth profile of our beloved little Greenberg. (thanks to artstory.org)
Here’s a list of artists who were famous for challenging and reacting to Greenbergian critical theory - again, this is a fascinating list of people to study, but it doesn’t even begin to cover everyone:
Jackson Pollock (La Historia del Arte)
Lee Krasner (LHDA - Female Abstract Expressionist)
Frank Stella (LHDA - Minimalist)
George Baselitz (LHDA and iheartmyart reblog)
Joseph Kosuth (LHDA - representation vs. symbolism)
Andy Warhol (LHDA - Pop Artist)
Eduardo Paolozzi (LHDA - Pop Artist)
James Rosenquist (LHDA - Pop Artist)
Miriam Schapiro (LHDA - Feminist Artist/Collage/Craft Artist)
Reminiscent of Jasper Johns, a much more contemporary and young artist whom is just now making a debut: Shazia Sikander. (a past post from my blog)
Abstract Expressionism. (Met Essay)
Pop Art. (Met Subject Index)
Thanks for reading and exploring, followers! Keep Art History and education alive!!
Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1872
Considered one of the most exemplary Impressionist paintings (especially because of its name), Claude Monet discourages spatial and compositional illusion and thus embodies a modern, art historical tradition. Instead, Monet depicts a beautiful scene in which the viewer is able to interpret its visual message but also appreciate an abstraction of light and color. The painting is indeed simply an impression of a sunrise - a fleeting breath of fresh, salty air in the morning. The swift, thick brushstrokes help to evoke this ephemeral experience; thick globs of paint are hurriedly swept across the surface, and one is reminded of the paint’s plasticity and the canvas itself.
Claude Monet, Bathing at La Grenoullére, 1869
La Grenoillere was a popular riverside bathing and boating resort for wealthy Parisian society. Monet painted this picturesque scenery (which is reminiscent of Manet’s work from the early 1860s) in plein-air, or outdoors. Painting outdoors in order to capture the speed and precise light patterns of the sun on an actual subject was popular among Impressionists like Monet, because evoking natural textures and “positivism” (capturing light) was important for progressing towards a more modern sensibility. The scene is idealized, self-referential and autonomous, but it does not necessarily succeed as a modern painting, because it is still sometimes considered to be more decorative than painterly. Although the artist employed painterly effects and attempted to create an illusional landscape, the inconsistencies in style and composition can seem deceptive.
Gustave Caillebotte, Le Pont de l’Europe, 1876
Gustave Caillebotte was considered to be a modern artist, and was friends with many of the Impressionist painters of his time. In fact, his works were displayed in many of the same exhibitions as his colleagues. However, his style does not comply with Impressionist style, since the subject matter includes a visual confusion of Parisian society. The artist focuses upon narrative, rather than form and creates an unexpected space in which the viewer is able to project oneself within the scene, as if walking along the bridge next to the passersby. Each person seems to have their own personal story and narrative. Caillebotte created a nostalgic view of the Paris from the past (because of the inclusion of Conservative style - fashionable women and semi-impressionist brushwork) with a modern pace (due to the separate narratives and a new identity for Paris).
Alexandre Cabanel, The Birth of Venus, 1863
This painting by Alexandre Cabanel is a perfect example of the passive female nude figures which were commonly painted and appreciated by the public during the mid-19th century. In fact, The Birth of Venus was displayed at the Salon of the Venuses in 1863, as a visual testament to the academic tradition of art at the time. Such tradition included the study of careful modeling and mythological narratives in order to continue and elaborate upon works from the Classical period.
Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1863
Edouard Manet continues to challenge popular tradition by painting a mythical figure, Olympia, whose portrait by Manet has been the subject of much ridicule and discussion since its public debut. True to past traditions, figures like Olympia (like Venus or almost any other female figure) has normally been portrayed in a similar fashion, except Manet’s Olympia defies such idealized and sexualized traditions by making obvious stylistic changes to his own painting.
Manet’s female nude lies on a luxurious pile of clean, white cushions and immediately addresses the viewer’s gaze by looking directly back at them. Normally, such idealized figures would maintain a passive gaze that invites the viewer to gaze upon them at will, as if the viewer is a participant in a private experience between the woman and the voyeur. Again, Manet explicitly referenced such voyeuristic paintings and images, most of which were beloved by the public and considered to be canonical embodiments of female beauty. However, the public was uncomfortable by Manet’s portrayal of the female nude, because her figure is not voluminous or delicate, it is more realistic, which reminds the viewer that the subject is a real person and not an object. Instead of a passive and inviting pose/gaze, Olympia encompasses the space that she is positioned in, and it is as if the viewer has accidentally disturbed her privacy.
To add mischief to misery, the public was equally concerned with the model’s social class, because she was believed to be a prostitute (and she was). Again, although prostitutes usually served as models for artists, one was not constantly made aware of such a fact when gazing upon a simple, passive nude portrait. Olympia, though, seems to be out of place and context since her form is so simple and not fantasized, so her social class and profession are obvious and directly confront the bourgeois viewer.
Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass), 1863
Manet is famous for making explicit references to illustrious paintings of the past within his own works, such as Pastoral Concert by Titian (c. 1508). In such works of the past, the women conveyed serve as objects of visual delight; the nude female figures are smooth, curvaceous and idealized, while the clothed male figures revel in the glory of the experience.
However, Édouard Manet confronts the viewer by placing the female nude’s gaze directly in the center of the male activity, focusing straight out upon the voyeur. The voyeuristic culture of Manet’s time was highly popular in visual tradition; idealized and sexualized nudes were consistently painted for the male viewer (or flâneur) to gaze upon and appreciate. This act of a bourgeois male gazing upon a female nude model makes the woman a disposable or replaceable object, rather than an interesting or unique subject. Manet’s female nude not only outs the voyeur by directly acknowledging his gaze, but also calls attention to herself as a painted, artistic body.
It has been suggested that this female model was mostly likely a prostitute, as most artist’s models were at the time. Manet’s painterly expression reminds the viewer that the people and scenery depicted is merely a painted image; the brushstrokes are visible and poignant and the dimensions are suggested, rather than explicitly defined. The woman is the key component to this concept, since she is the focus and the ‘outlier’ within a seemingly classical/traditional scene.
This self-referentiality and self-criticism within visual culture is known as “Greenbergian modernism,” which is a popular philosophy within art criticism that contributes to the theories behind Modernism’s precise beginnings, and also the art that falls within such categories. Self-criticism and a form of acknowledging the artist and the ‘self’ in a painting separates those works that are based upon a simple narrative, because the inclusion of the “self” and art within the art provokes intellectual and philosophical inquiries, discussions and multiple dimensions for artistic culture itself.