April 3, 2016
A Baudelaire observation—the discerning eye of the princes was attuned to high fashion and every little color of modern Paris. They satiated their hunger with meandering looks taken from their frivolous walks to and fro the neighborhood of Batignolles. They get around—John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and not the PG version. The impressionists essentially were street-smart, shabby, stylistic, and sullied. They riffled the pages of the world, high and low, and scrutinized for the best parts. From the pleasures of nature, plein air to the pleasures of people, prostitution, there was a sense that they tried to know and see everything with enjoyment. The sophisticated debonair…like Manet, wrung Western tradition with an air of skepticism, as post-modernism looks at modernism, and then hung the wrinkled towel on top of other more contemporary influences from the likes of Japan and Spain. To this end, they persevered endlessly in experimenting, from sunrise (Monet) to absinthe drinking in the afternoon (Degas) to continued night-time consumption at Folies Bergère (Manet). So unlike Travolta, their bohemian bourgeoisie was not a weekend excursion, but a drunken daily ritual. The great painters nestled this special lifestyle as a way to acknowledge the city’s perpetual climate of both change and resistance.
And now as does Impressionism, we move from observation to rumination. One Caillebotte, who is conversing with a group of Impressionists. “C’est la vie moderne! Such is the modern life—I shall paint Paris in the rain with wide boulevards. But the people are washed up in their own worlds, and so will this be represented by the steel umbrellas that enclose them.”
Degas looks at the younger painter. ‘Monsieur Caillebotte…I share your eyes. It is not the sun that sheds light to modern life. There are millions of people here. They fill the spacious boulevards, (damn Haussmann), but they are like raindrops. All anonymous, self-absorbed…but I am merely speculating what your intentions might be. Take the idea to Émile Zola, I am sure he would like it.
“Bah! He likes everything we do. Anyways, I want to show this world something. I want the painting to blur in parts like a camera, I want the vapidness of the faces, and the reflectivity of Parisian water painted with oil like watercolor, something like Monet, but more urban. And this will create a painting that immerses the viewer.”
Baudelaire overheard this and did not like it. “You cannot possibly achieve this with the slavish reproductions of a camera, and I can imagine your colors being too subdued. You must penetrate the viewer’s gaze with provocation and passion.”
“You are wrong!” defended Zola. An uproar ensued. Everyone was fighting at Bazille’s shoulder level.
“Relax we are all Impressionists!” shouted Degas.
“Not you Degas, with your petty, conservative figure paintings of ballerinas! Maybe that’s why you like Jean-Louis Forain so much. There will never be solidarity between you and the true Impressionists.” said a drunk Renoir.
“Yes, to Post-Impressionism we should go!” cried a green Lautrec.
Everyone went silent for the inevitable statement. Paul Cézanne looked blankly at Zola, like in the portrait of Paul Cézanne by Camille Pissarro. Then erratically, and abruptly, he murmured “I have not bathed in a week” with a thick Southern accent. He always seemed distant, irrelevant to Impressionism.
It was evident that the Impressionists were a bit belligerent among their all too varied roster, which was conveniently put in one thick brushstroke of an umbrella term, but there was nothing that disparaged their fraternal love for each other when they heard the scorn of a a non-Impressionist.
Still nothing can be done when an old generation dies. Twenty years later, one of the last surviving impressionists, Monet suggested that they should be on their way. Cassatt took her binoculars and witnessed (herself) a striking future—while still being aware of the observers today.
Paris would continue its colorful epoch of newly found sensory experience, just kind of differently. It was similar in style, notwithstanding a greater call for a robust approach to color theory and pointed observation. The neo-generation tried to remember and forget. Thus induced their virtuous circle of resistance and change. Like two opposing spokes of a wheel—resistance and change were connected to a core, but nevertheless chased the other relentlessly so long as there was movement.
The bathers were on the other side of a vivid Sunday Afternoon, but so was the drunken weekday.