Tuesday, July 1, 2008


I know that I sound grouchy about the Impressionists but I am tired of being the only living person who doesn't like their paintings. The wonderful Seattle Art Museum is doing a big show of their work this summer so I am bracing myself to make polite and appreciative comments. People look so shocked when I say that I don't like the fluffy landscapes and slapdash ladies with parasols. It is actually rude of me not to like them.

My feeling is that if I want to see impasto and vigorous brush work I can look at the abstract expressionists, who didn't confuse the issue by trying to portray anything. Hooray for de Kooning. Hooray for Pollack. (ok de Kooning painted women, but do they really count?)

If I want to see figurative paintings I look to the early Renaissance where the story mattered more than the brushwork.

The Impressionists are neither one nor the other. Their brushwork is hampered by painting descriptive scenes. Their descriptions are hampered by their hasty brushwork. They are a comfy middle ground in art history. Not pretty. But pretty enough. Not passionate, but passionate enough. Have I insulted your favourite painters? Sorry. Sorry. Really I am.

I felt this quite strongly, as you can probably tell, until last week when I re-tackled my failed peony painting in oil and realized that there are some things that are best expressed in an impressionistic style. Here is the original peony, which started out looking like it was made of wax. I fluffed it up a bit but it is not much better. Pretty dead actually.

And here is its companion, part of the same painting, after my revelation that I needed to tackle the petals in an impressionistic style. It is much more scruffy and peony like. Hey Manet, Renoir, Monet and the gang - when it comes to peonies, you guys rocked. On the other hand, flowers with more complex and powerful shapes like sweet peas, tulip leaves, poppies etc, seem to need a more precise approach. I will post the whole peony oil painting when it is finished, hopefully in the next day or so.

Henri Fantin-laTour 1874 - The king of the fluffy flower painters

Pierre-August Renoir, 1879

Edouard Manet (he got this exactly right, I think. Beautiful)


  1. Brilliant Post, really enjoyed your perspective and why you don't like Impressionism, and yet despite that you are open minded enough to let it inform you solve a dilemma in your own work.

    I love Monet's water lily panels, there are 12 I believe, and I have seen 7 in various museums around the world, most recent I think were in Washington DC and MoMa in NYC. I used to dislike Cubism, but as I get older..... strange how our eye and tastes change. What's the phrase? Never say never.

  2. Seriously? You don't have Pimms in the U.S.? Its a gin based cocktail mix, but sold ready made for dilution with lemonade.

    I use Borage to decorate it amongst other things; Stawberries, mint, cucumber ,apples, orange, lemon, a veritable fruit salad!

    It's pretty in vegetable salads too, as are nasturtiums which taste good; kind of peppery, like rocket or water cress.


  3. Zoe has the most killer Sig Pic in history, lol.

    Jean, you sure are opinionated on Impressionists. I remember my Mother taking me to Chicago as a child and entering the Marshall Field Museum and facing a monstrous Impressionist painting about 8 feet by 5 feet right at the entrance. I think it was Pissaro. It took my 10 year old breath away and that particular impression (pardon the pun) actually was my first notion of what a painter can accomplish. It left me biased in the favor.

    Your take is fascinating, therefore, and I appreciate that as well as your ability to use what you tend to critique, like Zoe says. Oh- and I love the peony.........in my case........actually both of them! Hey, I'm easy!

  4. I enjoyed your outlook on this. Most people never even consider such things. It is a treat to discovers someone who is intellectually curious and has opinions on art! I loved the contrasts of the other paintings you showed, and you own thought process as it related to your own work.

  5. "Not pretty. But pretty enough. Not passionate, but passionate enough."

    Indeed, and I'd like to add, "Not brilliant, but brilliant enough."

    Yeah. I sort of disliked impressionist paintings as well in the sense that they tend to look rough, unpolished and blurry, and some of the paintings could have easily been done by school children, especially SOME (not all) of the works by Monet and Matisse (sorry to sound a bit harsh).

    They do have a style of their own, but their techniques are nothing compared to that of the classical painters and the Pre-Raphaelites.

    I think the impressionist technique is more suited for mass production of paintings because they don't require too much effort.

    If I were to paint for a living and had to produce as many paintings as possible in a short period of time so I could sell more paintings and earn more money, I may choose to use the impressionist technique...

    So, after all, it's good some people like them, because it would be easier for painters to make a living.

    Art is subjective.

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