Sunday, March 31, 2013

Impressionism on Paper

The Impressionism on Paperexhibition at the Albertina (Vienna)- 10 February 2012 – 13 May 2012 - presented up to 200 drawings, watercolors and pastels by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Active in France during the second half of the nineteenth century and closely associated with avant-garde movements, artists such as Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Seurat, Gauguin, Cézanne and Toulouse-Lautrec created works on paper that may be less well-known than their paintings but which are just as significant. This was the first international exhibition devoted exclusively to drawings by these artists.

The starting point for Impressionism on Paper was the fact that a large proportion (40%) of all the items shown in the eight Impressionist exhibitions held in Paris between 1874 and 1886 were works on paper. Many of these can be identified and were included on the selection list. To this core were added numerous other examples by these artists and others that provided an overview of their drawing skills at this critical stage in the development of a widely appreciated moment in the development of French art.

The aim was to demonstrate the different types of drawing pursued by the Impressionists and Post- Impressionists and to demonstrate the various purposes to which their works on paper were put.

Drawing is not an activity with which the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists have so far been closely associated. The exhibition, however, will illustrate unequivocally and for the first time that for these artists drawing was a primary function and not a secondary activity. Although drawings were used as part of the preparatory process towards a painting, more and more they came to be regarded by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists as finished works of art in their own right. Many of the pastels by Degas, the watercolors by Cézanne or the works in mixed media by Toulouse-Lautrec were made on a large scale specifically for exhibition.

The exhibition, therefore,showed that far from ignoring the art of drawing the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists chose to emphasize its primacy thereby ceasing to uphold or even recognize the traditional distinction between drawing and painting. Instead, they elevated the status of drawing to the level of painting itself regarding both practices as part of a single aesthetic. The result was that the traditional hierarchy separating painting from drawing established during the Renaissance ceased with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

This, in turn, had considerable consequences for the development of modern art in so far as the fusion of line and colur resulting from a series of multiple gestural acts, which characterizes the best examples of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist drawings, paved the way for such artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Cy Twombly and Bridget Riley.

Artist in the exhibition:

Eugène Boudin Honfleur 1824 – 1898 Deauville

Boudin is considered one of the most significant precursors of Impressionism. His atmosphere- laden pictures created outdoors and his sketch-like and vividly coloured watercolours and pastels were groundbreaking for the next generation of artists, especially Monet. Boudin came from a seafaring family and grew up in Honfleur and Le Havre, which gave him a familiarity with the sea, the shore, and ships from an early age. He began working as a cabin boy, but then decided to learn the printing trade. Beginning in 1844, he ran an art supply shop, where he met such artists as Troyon, Millet, and Couture. Only relatively late did he himself begin to paint. Boudin’s preferred themes were seascapes and beach scenes, and he consistently drew and painted outdoors. As one of the first to raise the “impression” to the level of a full-fledged work of art, he maintained, “What one paints in the open air always demonstrates a power and vividness of the brushstroke that cannot be attained in the studio.” Boudin was particularly fascinated by the changes in atmosphere of the sky and water, the lively goings-on in ports and fishing villages, the depiction of sailboats, and above all, high society life at the seaside. As a rule, diaphanous cloudscapes dominate the pictorial narrative. In order to capture the diverse visual attractions, Boudin primarily made use of the watercolour technique. But he also worked with pastels, taking advantage of their intensive colours and soft consistency to achieve the desired ephemeral impression.

Camille Pissarro
Peasants Working in the Fields, Pontoise, 1881
Collection Triton Foundation, The Netherlands

Camille Pissarro Charlotte-Amalie, Saint-Thomas (Lesser Antilles) 1830 – 1903 Paris

Besides Monet, Pissarro was the most important pioneer and most consistent exponent of Impressionism. Having briefly worked for his father’s trading company in the Lesser Antilles, Pissarro moved to Paris in 1855 in order to become an artist. Following the advice of the Barbizon painters, he took up painting outdoors, directly in front of his motifs. In the 1860s, Pissarro’s relationship with Monet and Renoir intensified. In 1874, Pissarro was one of the initiators of the first Impressionist exhibition and the only one to take part in all of their eight group exhibitions.

In terms of scope and experimentation, Pissarro’s drawn œuvre can only be compared to that of Edgar Degas. For Pissarro, drawing was “the most intelligent and most delightful artistic activity”. In addition to pen and ink, pencil, chalk, and charcoal, the artist employed pastel, watercolour, and tempera. Landscapes were the focus of his interest, with the human figure embedded in them, engaged in everyday rustic life. Pissarro’s drawings made outdoors served as a repertory of motifs to which the artist referred for both paintings and large drawings.

Edouard Manet
Dame in Fur, ca. 1880
Pastel on canvas
Belvedere, Vienna © Belvedere, Vienna

Édouard Manet Paris 1832– 1883 Paris

With his provocative renderings of contemporary life and his swift, sketchy manner of painting, Manet provided the Impressionists with decisive impulses. He became the movement’s much- admired model and actual trailblazer. Born into a wealthy family, Manet only received permission to become a painter from his father when his career in the navy was doomed to fail. He studied under the history painter Thomas Couture, yet taught himself primarily by copying the Old Masters, above all Velázquez, Titian, and Rubens.

Manet is considered one of the most idiosyncratic draughtsmen of his generation. From the outset he cherished rapid sketches of instantaneous impressions and copies of works by other artists in order to train “the eye and the hand”. He drew in the streets, in museums, or cafés, capturing “a trifle, a profile, a hat”. Except for his pastel portraits, his drawings rarely appear to be finished works of art. Rather, they resemble a first spontaneous idea for a picture and were frequently developed further on another sheet and in another medium. He also liberally switched back and forth between techniques, which range from pure outline to ink wash drawings.

Claude Monet
Waterloo Bridge, London, 1901
Collection Triton Foundation, The Netherlands © Collection Triton Foundation, The Netherlands

Claude Monet Paris 1840 – 1926 Giverny

Monet is considered the actual founder of Impressionism. With his painting Impression – Soleil levant he also provoked the movement’s name, which initially was used with a mocking undertone. Like no other Impressionist artist, he adhered to the style’s principle of working outdoors throughout his life, so as to be able to capture his visual impressions as faithfully as possible.

Monet grew up in Le Havre, where Eugène Boudin, his senior by several years, encouraged him to paint en plein air. Plein air painting – the spontaneous rendering of an instantaneous impression gained outdoors as the result of the interplay of light and colour – was his primary pursuit. The depiction of water in constantly changing weather and light conditions, ranging from his Seine and Thames landscapes to his late water lily paintings, was particularly popular with Monet, as it was among the Impressionists in general: in these pictures, the tangible world is dissolved into light reflections.

“I had a passion for drawing,” Monet, who in his youth had earned his first money making caricatures, wrote in retrospect. Throughout his future career as an artist, he concentrated on the landscape, which also holds true for his drawings. He used black chalk for his coastal sceneries set in Normandy and in the 1860s did his first pastels. The pastel technique was to remain Monet’s preferred means of drawing: the soft, powdery substance of the pastel crayons was ideally suitable to achieve a maximum of atmosphere through rich nuances and wiped colour fields, so that the motif became almost completely abstract. In the first Impressionist exhibition, Monet already presented as many as seven pastels. He primarily worked in this technique in the 1860s and 1880s, as well as in 1901, during his third stay in London.

Edgar Degas
Woman in a Tub, c. 1883
Tate, Bequeathed by Mrs. A.F. Kessler 1983

Edgar Degas
Woman Drying her Feet after Bathing, ca. 1893
Pastell auf Papier
Collection Jan Krugier

Edgar Degas
The Curtain, ca. 1880
Pastel over monotype on laid paper mounted on board
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 2006 © Image courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Edgar Degas Paris 1834 – 1917 Paris

Degas holds a special position among the Impressionists. He was scarcely interested in plein air painting at all. On the other hand, his interpretations of modern everyday life were an absolute novelty, in terms of both subject matter and style. Degas concentrated on the human figure, particularly the female body. His pictures show dancers on and behind the stage, people in entertainment establishments or at the races, and women engaged in such daily routines as their toilette. He composed extreme views meant to suggest real life and the impression of immediate observation. For the first time, the spectator’s subjective vantage point – his perspective and limited field of vision – became the starting point of the composition. Yet what appeared to be happenstance was ultimately the result of a carefully staged scene.

In drawing, Degas had found the medium that best suited his artistic intentions, whereas painting, printmaking, and sculpture remained restricted to individual phases of his work. Swift drawing allowed him to rapidly capture a motif from different angles and with great immediacy and to clarify a pictorial idea step by step. He preferred the pastel technique, which he frequently combined in an unconventional way with gouache, tempera, and oil in order to produce new effects of light and texture.

The World of Ballet

Around 1870, Degas discovered the world of dance. For decades his art revolved around ballet, regardless of the medium he employed. Yet he preferred the pastel in order to capture the dancers’ graceful movements, their gauzy costumes, and the magical atmosphere of the stage. A regular visitor to the Paris opera, Degas had unhindered access to the Foyer de la Danse, the dancers’ training room. In the first place, he obsessively drew not so much the prima ballerinas or the corps de ballet on- and backstage, but rather the young ballet pupils, the petits rats, performing their exercises. Degas was fascinated by the stylized art form of dance, the artificiality of its movements. He observed the young girls during their strenuous rehearsals, when they practised at the barre, but also during their breaks or as they were merely adjusting their costumes. Again and again Degas drew certain postures and gestures: “One must draw the same motif over and over again, ten times, a hundred times. Nothing in art must be left to chance, not even movement.”

Women at Their Toilette

A focus of Degas’ late work is women at their toilette: stepping out of the bathtub, drying themselves, or combing their hair. More than 280 drawings, principally pastels, were created on the subject. Degas had washbasins and zinc bathtubs set up in his studio so that he could uncompromisingly draw his models in natural, if at times extreme, poses, mostly as they attended to their bodies. The public was shocked by Degas’ intimate and realistic portrayals because they contradicted the current concept of beauty. The profane physicality depicted stood in stark contrast to the classical, mythological, idealized view of a woman. Degas no longer offered the viewer “the well-proportioned, smooth, and invariably nude body of a goddess, but unadorned real live flesh”. In his pictorial creations, regarded as an “affront” by the critics, Degas saw “the animal in man which is self-absorbed, a cat licking itself. Hitherto the nude has always been represented in poses that presuppose an audience. But my women are simple, honest creatures who are concerned with nothing beyond their physical occupations.” Yet Degas’ keyhole perspective has nothing to do with
voyeurism: it does not seek indiscretion, but an unusual motif. The unenhanced, even thickset, women seem to be the antithesis of the slender, graceful ballet dancers. Just as unconventional as the subject of the woman at her toilette are those compositions with unusually bold and extreme cropped views.

Horse Races

Besides ballet dancers, horses and jockeys belonged to Degas’ favourite themes. His interest in horses already reveals itself in early copies based on famous works in the history of art. From the 1860s on, he increasingly devoted himself to the subject of equestrianism. Degas’ stay at a friend’s estate in autumn 1861 in the vicinity of Haras-le-Pin, one of the leading stud farms in France, played a decisive role in his adoption of the theme. Shortly afterwards, he did his first equestrian portraits, primarily scenes from the races at Longchamps, a subject to which he was constantly to return over the next four decades. In numerous sketches executed in watercolour, black chalk, red chalk, charcoal, pastel, pencil, and coloured pencil, Degas captured the horse’s individual stages of movement and depicted the animal from various perspectives. He studied the horses before, during, and after races, which also applies to the postures of the jockeys, so as to comprehend the interaction between horse and rider.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Nude Bathers Playing with a Crab, ca. 1897-1900
Pastel on laid paper
Collection Jean Bonna, Geneva © Patrick Goetelen, Geneva

Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Portrait of a Young Girl (Elisabeth Maître), 1879
Albertina, Vienna - Collection Batliner © Albertina, Vienna, Peter Ertl

Pierre-Auguste Renoir 1841 Limoges – Cagnes-sur-Mer 1919

Because of his lighthearted depictions of a blissful and harmonious world, Renoir, together with Monet and Renoir, numbers among the most popular exponents of Impressionism. In 1862, after his beginnings as a porcelain and decorative painter, Renoir met Monet, Sisley, and Pissarro, his future friends and companions, in the studio of Charles Gleyre. Throughout his life, studying the art treasures at the Louvre was to remain an indispensable habit of the artist, who had a preference for Rubens and French Rococo painting.

Renoir confessed that he resorted to the pen or pencil every day, because otherwise “you get out of practice too easily”. With pen and pencil he mostly drew smaller sketches, while he used red or black chalk for figure studies and watercolour for landscapes. In terms of size, finish, and ambition, his pastel portraits are on an equal footing with his paintings. For Renoir, drawing became particularly important during the 1880s, when he was in search of an artistic reorientation. He primarily used a pencil in order to reach a new, almost classical and anti-Impressionist clarity through distinctive lines.

In his late period, Renoir increasingly returned to black and red chalk. The soft, porous material, which produces a generous and coarse result, ideally lent itself to both achieving a new harmony of line and colour and emphasizing a refined interplay of light and shade.

Jean-Louis Forain
The Client, 1878
Watercolour and gouache
Collection of the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, Tennessee; Museum purchase with funds provided by Brenda and Lester Crain, Hyde Family Foundations, Irene and Joe Orgill and the Rose Family Foundation, 1993.

Jean-Louis Forain Reims 1852 – 1931 Paris

Forain enjoyed immense popularity as a caricaturist during his own lifetime. His subjects were principally drawn from Parisian life in the salons, at the theatre, and in the ballrooms, restaurants, nightclubs, and brothels. With unrelenting perspicacity, he held up a mirror to a complacent society and exposed its innermost weaknesses.

Socially critical genre depictions also dominate his less-known painted and drawn œuvre. In his artistic language, Forain displayed considerable commitment to the intentions of the Impressionists, with whom he remained in close contact during the 1870s and 1880s. Cropped compositions, a rejection of the illusion of depth, a free and easy brushstroke, strong and contrasting colours, and a transparency bathed in light are among the most notable attributes of his art. At the invitation of Degas, Forain took part in four of the total of eight Impressionist exhibitions.

Forain’s art reached a large audience due to the large number of his illustrations that appeared in various journals. Among his greatest admirers was Toulouse-Lautrec, who, like the young Picasso, regarded Forain and Degas as his true mentors.

Paul Cézanne
Still Life with cut Watermelon, ca. 1900
Watercolour and pencil
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel

Paul Cézanne
Group of Trees, ca. 1877-80
Private Collection © Robert Lorenzson

Paul Cézanne Aix-en-Provence 1839 – 1906 Aix-en-Provence

Cézanne’s achievements are mainly the result of his aesthetic principle of lending a picture a timeless exemplarity through formal organization, a well-thought-out composition, and an order of small painted form. Initially starting out from the Impressionism and a keen observation of nature, Cézanne, in his landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and figural scenes, gradually sought not to render the precise image of his motif, but to analyze its structures and translate them visually. His essential artistic device is the reduction to such basic geometric shapes as the cylinder, sphere, or cone. Cézanne’s primary interest in the “geometry” of reality not only makes him a trailblazer of Cubism, but – in the radical consistency of his artistic approach – a father of Modernism, alongside Van Gogh and Gauguin.

Cézanne, the son of a wealthy banker, went to Paris in 1861, having abandoned his law studies. He enrolled at the Académie Suisse, where he met Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, and Manet. At the Louvre he studied the Old Masters, primarily Veronese, Tintoretto, and Rubens. He delved particularly intensively into the art of Delacroix and the latter’s virtuoso handling of colour. Joining the Impressionists at first, he was encouraged by Pissarro, with whom he worked together several times, to take up plein air painting. From the mid-1870s on, Cézanne started to disengage himself from Impressionist ideals: he wanted to “make of Impressionism something solid and lasting”. His interest lay not in the ephemeral quality of light phenomena, but the objectification of nature: a composition built architectonically from colour and form. In his art, linear patterns are reduced to a minimum. The pictorial structure is governed by both a clear system of small-sized colour fields and the white tone of the paper ground. Such illusionistic elements as the sharp distinction between foreground and background, linear perspective, and the depiction of volume and three-dimensional space give way to a unique pictorial organization of the flat surface.

Georges Seurat Paris 1859 – 1891 Paris

Seurat is one of the most influential pioneers of modern art. His paintings, governed by a set of laws and a rigid order, anticipated such constructivist movements as Cubism or Futurism. Similarly, his innovative painterly drawing style can be considered a precursor of abstract tendencies in twentieth-century art.

Initially showing a penchant for Impressionism, he soon found this movement overly subjective and dependent on the contingency of light and atmosphere. Relying on studies in physics, optics, and colour theory, Seurat went in search of an authoritative method of colouring and visual conception. He countered the instantaneous moment captured by the Impressionists with a pictorial world organized according to scientific criteria. His approach was to become known as Pointillism. Seurat no longer painted outdoors, in front of the motif, but in the studio.

Besides his paintings, Seurat has left a huge drawn œuvre of landscapes and figures executed in Conté crayon, named after its inventor, Nicolas-Jacques Conté. The artist worked on rough Ingres paper with this greasy chalk, which was available in different degrees of hardness, thereby achieving irregular nuances of grey. Seurat strove for a simplification of form in general, and his compositions are primarily based on almost abstract black and white contrasts. Seurat attached great importance to these sheets and in several exhibitions showed exclusively his drawings.

Paul Signac
View of Montauban in the Rain, ca. 1922
Black chalk, watercolour
Albertina, Vienna © Albertina, Vienna, Peter Ertl

Paul Signac Paris 1863 – 1935 Paris

Early in his career, Signac was influenced by Impressionism and stood primarily under the spell of Claude Monet. In 1885 he met Georges Seurat, whom he followed in his ambition to bring about a renewal in the visual arts by endowing the subjects with a final and absolute appearance through a systematically organized application of the paint in dots. After Seurat’s early death, Signac developed a new method dominated by broad strokes instead of dots. Signac’s paintings are characteristic examples of the calm pictorial worlds of Neo-Impressionism composed in the studio.

By contrast, his watercolours done outdoors during his journeys show a high degree of briskness and immediacy. Even before the First World War, Signac developed the habit of travelling more and more frequently. In his last two decades, he almost exclusively resorted to watercolour painting, tirelessly capturing townscapes, landscapes, and ports. They were no longer regarded as study material, but as autonomous works spontaneously painted from nature.

Paul Gauguin
"Nègreries Martinique", 1890
Gouache, watercolour, black ink, gold paint and collage
Collection Jan Krugier © Galerie Krugier & Cie, Geneva

Paul Gauguin Paris 1848 – 1903 Hiva Oa, Marquesas Islands

At the age of thirty-five, Gauguin abandoned his career as a stockbroker in order to take up painting as a self-taught artist. Joining the Impressionists at first, he regularly participated in their exhibitions between 1879 and 1886. He did not aim at an imitation of reality, but at its complex

interpretation. In 1891, Gauguin undertook his first journey to Tahiti. The exotic, outlandish culture was to correspond with his ideal of an earthly paradise far away from Western civilization. There he sought to translate the primitiveness of simple, unspoiled people into his art. Due to health and financial problems he returned to Paris in 1893. When his exotic pictures did not turn out to be as successful in terms of financial gain as he had hoped for, he settled in the South Seas for good in 1895.

Although Gauguin said of himself that he “actually was never able to draw”, his idiosyncratic works on paper reveal the opposite. When still in Pont-Aven, he had resorted to the medium of drawing more and more often, motivated by his enthusiasm for native Breton costumes. Drawing became particularly important in the South Seas, where he was above all fascinated by the natives’ exotic appearance. During the last years of his life, which were dominated by illness and crises of creativity, his productivity increasingly concentrated on drawing and printmaking. Their stimulating effect on Gauguin’s imagination and sense of experimentation manifests itself in pictorial solutions characterized by complex draughtsmanship and unconventional compositions.

Odilon Redon
Limnanthes, ca. 1884/85
Private Collection

Odilon Redon
The Crying Spider, 1881
Private Collection

Odilon Redon Bordeaux 1840 – 1916 Paris

In his day Redon, due to his eccentric compositions, remained an outsider. Unlike the Impressionist painters, he sought to give shape to an inner world of dreams. Although Redon held the Impressionists and particularly Degas in high regard and also participated in their last exhibition in 1886, were he presented a charcoal drawing, he did not seek to render a visible reality, but man’s unfathomable anxieties and dreams. Nonetheless, nature was always the inspiration that sparked his imagination.

Like hardly another artist of his generation, Redon considered autonomous and highly finished painterly drawing the ideal genre to realize his visionary pictures in terms of both theme and form. Redon’s œuvre can be divided into two work groups: the black phase and the late colour period. Starting with gloomy visions in black and white, chimaeras, and bizarre and melancholic fabulous creatures, the artist’s development led to dreamily floating objects in brilliant colours. Towards the end of Redon’s career, the early “noirs”, with their dark, mysterious fantasies, gave way to brightly coloured pastels emanating a phosphorescent magic.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Woman Putting on her Stockings, 1894
Essence on cardboard
Paris, Musée d'Orsay, donation André Berthellemy, 1950 © RMN (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec Albi 1864 – 1901 Château de Malromé, Gironde

Drawing had been of eminent importance to Toulouse-Lautrec since his early youth. A convalescent for years after two fractures of the femur, he took to drawing animals and portraits of his family. In 1882 he moved to Paris in order to become a painter. For his further development as an artist, the Impressionists represented a decisive influence, particularly Pissarro and Degas, but also Gauguin’s art of flat, coloured forms and the decorative aspect of Japanese colour woodcuts.

The offspring of one of the oldest aristocratic families in France, he could have led a carefree life thanks to his elite background. His personal fate – his major physical handicap – and his urge for independence prompted him to make a different choice: Lautrec decided for the life of a Bohemian in the demimonde of Montmartre, with its notorious entertainment establishments. He was a regular visitor to concert pubs, cabarets, revues, and dance halls like the famous Moulin Rouge. For him, they were places of ecstatic distraction, but also a source of inspiration and a workplace. He observed the hustle and bustle and obsessively drew his surroundings. Lautrec described his fellow humans without prejudice, but with equal amounts of acrimony and understanding, with wit and irony. Apart from prostitutes, profiteers, and bons vivants, his protagonists included vaudeville and cabaret stars. He translated reality sharply into a provocative visual language: with a minimum of distinctive lines, frequently exaggerating and on the verge of caricature, he reached the highest degree of relentless characterization. His unexpected views, bold perspectives, expressive line, and intensely bright colours provided important impulses to Art Nouveau and modern poster design.