Impressionism Market Stays in Bloom

By Wong, Jennifer | Art Business News, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Impressionism Market Stays in Bloom

Wong, Jennifer, Art Business News

Impressionist work has appealed to collectors since its inception in the 1870s. Today, consumer appeal for this unmistakable style shows no signs of fading away.

Ask anyone the world over to name a great artist, and many will name an Impressionist, most likely, a French Impressionist. You will hear the names of Monet, Degas, Renoir and Van Gogh. The Impressionists have fascinated and appealed to people around the world for more than 50 years, and today's artists, galleries and publishers see absolutely no signs of the immense appeal of this style of art fading.

There is little question that Impressionist paintings remain among the most widely appreciated works of art ever produced. In a market where a "minor Monet" fetches $28 million, many of today's artists who paint in the Impressionistic style benefit from the appeal of the original masters' art and enjoy commercial success for their own works.

What is it about the Impressionist style that evokes this unprecedented popularity? "Their pictures are done in a singularly bright tonal range. A blond light pervades them, and everything is gaiety, spring festivals, golden evenings," wrote art critic Armand Silvestre of the Impressionists. "Their canvases are windows opening on the joyous countryside, on rivers full of pleasure boats, on a sky which shines with light mists, on the outdoor life, panoramic and charming."

"People relate with their vision," said Christian Title, artist, art historian and chairman of Torrance, Calif.-based Colville Publishing. "For instance, if you walk out of your home into the bright sunlight, look at a scene and close your eyes and visualize what you just saw. What you are seeing is Impressionism."

"It's the way we actually see," continued Title. "When people look at a painting, it is like their own visual memory and people relate to this. And people feel color when it's not pinned down and blocked out into a rigid format. When it flows, it's like how the eyes see it."

"The act of painting is visible," said Howard Behrens, an artist represented by Media Arts Group in San Jose, Calif. "People sense the spontaneity, lushness of juicy paint and freedom of the brushstrokes."

"We find that people like to escape into a painting," said Patrick Begin, president of Begin Edition International, Inc., which carries the work of Guy Begin. "People imagine themselves sitting in the garden or landscape of the painting."

"An Impressionist painting can give you the feel of the place," said Eric Dannemann, president of Martin Lawrence Galleries and c.o.o. of Chalk & Vermilion, which represents Kerry Hallam's artwork. "Kerry will tell you, if he achieves what he attempts to do, you will get the feeling of the place, the strength and height of the sun beating down on a Mediterranean scene, the lushness of the foliage."

A Historical Perspective

The complete accessibility and popularity of Impressionism today makes it hard to recapture the radicalism in style that shocked and outraged the world with its first appearance in France in the 1870s. The term "Impressionist" was coined by a critic who seized upon Monet's "Impressionism, Sunrise" as an example of the slapdash appearance of the canvases.

"A frightening spectacle of human vanity so far adrift that it verges on sheer lunacy," wrote one critic. " ... Try to make Pissarro understand that trees are not violet; that the sky is not the color of fresh butter, that the things he paints are not to be seen in any country on earth, and that no intelligent human being could countenance such aberrations ... Try to make Degas understand reason, tell him that there are in art certain qualities which are called drawing, color, technique and effort ... Try to explain to Renoir that a woman's torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with those purplish green stains which denote a state of complete putrefaction in a corpse. …

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