IMPRESSIONISM; Once a Revolutionary Style of Painting, It Still Dazzles with Its Mesmerizing Beauty

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton

For a style of painting that's become immensely popular, reproduced on key chains, coffee mugs and T-shirts, Impressionism got off to a rocky start.

In the 1860s and 1870s, as Impressionism was emerging, the Academie des Beaux-Arts, France's official art academy, was dominated by painters like William-Adolphe Bougereau, whose style was almost photographically realistic and whose subject matter was drawn from mythology and antiquity.

He despised the Impressionists, whose work played with light and depicted the world the artists inhabited.

"The Impressionists reacted against academic teaching and conventions," Ian Chilvers wrote in "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art & Artists."

"They repudiated imaginative art, including historical subjects, and were interested rather in the objective recording of contemporary life, trying to capture an impression of what the eye sees at one particular moment."

With most of their work banned from the annual Salon de Paris, considered the most important art competition in the Western world at the time, the Impressionists began staging their own exhibits in 1874.

The term Impressionism came from a review of that exhibit by art critic Louis Leroy. He took it from Claude Monet's 1872 painting "Impression, Sunrise." Leroy meant it as an insult but the Impressionists liked the name.

And in time they won the argument. Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and Edgar Degas are far better known today than Bougereau.

EXHIBIT ARRIVES

Now an exhibit of work by those men - and by some who followed them as well as a few that inspired them - is on display at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. "Impressionism and Post Impressionism from the High Museum of Art," which consists of more than 50 works borrowed from Atlanta's High Museum, will be at the Cummer through May 6.

The works are exhibited chronologically to tell the story of Impressionism, said Holly Keris, the Cummer's curator. The first painting on the right as you enter The Minerva and Raymond K. Mason Gallery is the oldest in the exhibit, Eugene Boudin's "Still Life with Lobster on a White Tablecloth," painted in the mid-1850s. Though Boudin is not considered an Impressionist, he mentored a teenaged Monet in the 1850s and exhibited in the first of eight Impressionist shows that took place from 1874 to 1886.

Eventually the viewer encounters the most recent work in the exhibit, Paul Signac's Neo-Impressionist "Boats at Bourg St. Andeol," painted in 1926, seven decades after Boudin's still life.

Besides works by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Degas, the exhibit includes works by such American Impressionists as John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassat, Frederick Frieseke and Childe Hassam and pieces by Post-Impressionist artists like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Edvard Munch.

There are two paintings by Monet, one from his days as a radical young artist, 1873's "Autumn on the Seine, Argenteuil," and one from late in his career, 1903's "Houses of Parliament in the Fog."

Monet had lived in England for a year while avoiding the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. …