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)