Who doesn’t love hearing about a scrappy underdog success story? When I teach this project, I tell the students I have a sad but true story with a happy ending. They get very quiet and even look concerned when I begin the tale of how Impressionism came to be. Listen closely boys and girls…
A long time ago, in 1874, if you wanted to become a professional artist, you had to show your art to some art experts (a juror of artists for the French Ácademie des Beaux-Arts.) The most popular style back then was Realism. If your art looked realistic and the art experts liked it, you were invited to show your paintings in their yearly Salon art shows. That was the only way to become an artist back then. There was no internet, no YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or personal websites to share your art. You were just sad and out out of luck as you tried to become a professional artist.
Some artists that we look at as “the classics” now, like Claude Monet, August Renoir, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Alfred Sisley, and others got the dreaded news that their art was rejected for the annual Salon art show.
But they didn’t just take their paintings and stomp all the way back home. They really believed in their art. Those feisty artists decided to take on the Academie and hold their own art show featuring artists who also didn’t get into the Salon show because their work was “too modern.”
And the jurors for the official Salon show went to the Impressionists’ show to see what their art was all about.
Shots fired from the stale Academie as an old school art burn when they snobbily described the Impressionist painters’ work as “Impressionist.” The Academie thought they weren’t artistically capable enough to create their heavily Realistic style, instead only being capable of creating a mere impression.
But Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Alfred Sisley, and Édouard Manet knew how to turn a burn around. They happily claimed the title of Impressionists and transformed it into into a term of affection that recognized that the Impressionists were modernizing painting.
The Impressionists had 8 shows from 1874-1886. Their critics eventually came around and the people loved their new modern style of painting.
Thanks to Laura Lohmann at Painted Paper Art for creating and sharing this project!