Paris in Our Time

Paris in Our Time

Paris in Our Time

Paris in Our Time

Excerpt

Nothing is more striking in the history of art--and indeed the history of culture in general--than the sudden breaks of continuity which take place when after a slow, sedate advance "from precedent to precedent" a more adventurous generation comes to the fore, eager for new worlds to conquer. In the case of art these bloodless revolutions are often the work of a quite small group of rebels or even a single man in whom the smoldering unrest of several generations burst into flame.

At first sight, for contemporaries, it seems as if the entire past has been done away with, ruthlessly and irrevocably: the artists' feeling for plastic values, their way of seeing, their sense of color. Then gradually, once the initial shock has worn off, the new discoveries fall into place, time irons out asperities, and what once looked startling comes to seem normal and familiar.

Painting with a set subject, a heritage of the Renaissance, had long held the field; even Delacroix when he invented a "psychology of color" thought best to keep to it. But once the romantics and realists had turned their back on an art whose painterly aspirations were so often cramped by the need for story-telling, every vanguard artist sought primarily to achieve a personal method of expression in which he could exploit the properties of his medium to the utmost.

Hence the change-over from Realism to Impressionism; the end of academic "finish" and the curriculum of the art-schools. The new men sought not merely to retain the freshness of the Sketch but made it their chief objective; rapid execution, peinture claire and an alert sensibility were the order of the day.

"You are a shining exception in the decrepitude that has come upon your art," Baudelaire wrote to Manet on May 11, 1865, à propos of Olympia which had just been exhibited and had come . . .

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