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Small French Paintings at the National Gallery of Art
A young and older man, both fair-skinned, stand next to each other in the center of a shadowy room looking at a piece of parchment-white paper held by the older man in this vertical painting. Light from the upper left falls across the men, and they take up most of the height of the composition. The paper is held by a balding, elderly man at the center of the composition. He wears a knee-length, chocolate-brown jacket and trousers. His has an elephant-grey beard and hair, and thin black lines delineate his brows and trace the creases on his face. A younger man standing to our left has short black hair and ruddy skin. He tilts his head to gaze at the paper in the older man’s hands. The younger man wears a sage-green jacket, and his lower body is partially hidden by a wooden rack before him. The V-shaped rack supports an open, dark green portfolio folder, and the young man rests his hands on the edges of more sheets of paper there. There are two paintings hanging on the olive-green wall of the room to each side of the men, but they are loosely painted and deep in shadow, so the subjects are difficult to make out. Another aquamarine-blue folder rests against a tomato-red bed or sofa that runs along the back wall. A white, folded cloth sits on the sofa above the portfolio. The artist signed the lower left, “h. Daumier.”

Realism

 

Akin to the naturalist landscape painters were the realists, most prominently Gustave Courbet. Courbet and his followers preferred rural, agrarian subjects that typically conveyed a moral, political, or social message. Courbet developed these themes on a monumental scale. Honoré Daumier made his reputation with satirical political cartoons that were regularly published in Parisian journals. He then turned to lithography and finally to painting. His scenes of urban life have a simplified, fluid, and linear quality engendered by his experience as a printmaker. They often verge on the caricatural in their depiction of the different classes of society, ridiculing the newly prosperous bourgeoisie or presenting people from the lowest fringes of society with sympathy. Jean-François Millet, a leading master of the Barbizon school, also painted scenes of rural life that embody sympathy for the impoverished peasantry and the virtues of the simple rural life.

Honoré Daumier, Advice to a Young Artist, 1865/1868, oil on canvas, Gift of Duncan Phillips, 1941.6.1

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In addition to landscapes, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot is also important for his figure studies -- portraits of family and friends early in his career and, later, depictions of models in various settings and costumes.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, The Artist's Studio, c. 1868, oil on wood, Widener Collection, 1942.9.11

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Never political in motivation, Corot's art is more often purely aesthetic. The influence of the work of the naturalist, Barbizon, and realist artists on younger, progressive artists in Paris in the 1860s gave impetus to the development of impressionism.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Young Girl Reading, c. 1868, oil on paperboard on wood, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1985.64.9

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Barbizon

 

The development of naturalism -- that is, the unidealized depictions of nature, usually scenes of rural life and countryside -- at the start of the nineteenth century was due in large measure to a reaction against the strictures of academic art and the excesses of romanticism.

Charles-François Daubigny, Washerwomen at the Oise River near Valmondois, 1865, oil on wood, Gift of R. Horace Gallatin, 1949.1.3

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Commercially available paint sold in tubes was mass-produced by the 1830s, enabling artists to work outdoors with relative ease, and production of drawn and painted sketches outdoors became a component of artistic training. The purpose was to train the hand in response to what the eye saw, and such sketches also constituted a repertoire of varied backgrounds for history paintings.

Jules Dupré, The Old Oak, c. 1870, oil on canvas, Gift of R. Horace Gallatin, 1949.1.5

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With the pale blue river to our right, we stand on or hover over a sand-colored riverbank that leads to a similarly colored, sand-brown bridge supported by arches between stocky piers below a hazy blue sky in this horizontal landscape painting. The scene is loosely painted so many details are indistinct. A retaining wall extends towards us from the abutment of the bridge, where it meets the land. About halfway along the shore, a group of people painted with a few strokes of gray, pink, brown, and white gather near the water. The bridge continues off the right edge of the painting and reflects in the rippling, light blue water below. To our left, a bank of fern green, suggesting grasses or other growth, and some trees line the beach-like riverbank. A line of ivory-colored buildings with pewter gray roofs extend into the distance to our left beyond the bridge. More buildings and trees along the horizon line in the deep distance are seen through the arches of the bridge to our right. In the top half of the painting, tan-colored brushstrokes lightly sweeping across the blue sky suggest hazy clouds. Two inscriptions have been written in the lower left corner. In brown ink, one reads, “Corot 1834.” Below it, the other is written in pencil: “Corot Pingebat 1834.”

Some artists, however, valued the studies in their own right. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was one of the most influential of these artists. His earliest landscape sketches date from his student days in Italy in the 1820s, and by the 1860s, Corot was established as a leading exponent of landscape painting, often working in a naturalist vein.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Bridge on the Saône River at Mâcon, 1834, oil on paper on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.22

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Corot was loosely affiliated with the Barbizon group, artists who lived and worked mid-century in the forest of Fontainebleau, in France, in and around the town of Barbizon. Leading Barbizon painters include Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet, Narcisse Diaz de la Peña, Jules Dupré, and Constant Troyon. Most specialized in depictions of the rural terrain in the region and celebrated the virtues of peasant life.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Rocks in the Forest of Fontainebleau, 1860/1865, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.110

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Two horses, one dark brown and one creamy white, stand together to our right against a landscape with rolling, sage-green hills and a river or canal in this horizontal painting. Near us, facing our right in profile, the dark brown horse rests his head across the back of the creamy, white horse, who stands with its tail toward us. We and the horses seem to stand along the ridge of a grassy hill that dips beyond us to a waterway crossing the width of the canvas. Several buildings line the shore closer to us. At least one building has parchment-white walls and a red roof, and another has peanut-brown walls with a darker, chocolate-brown roof. More rooflines are nestled between, and gray smoke wafts from several chimneys. Long, low boats float near the opposite shore. The land rises in a hill across the water with more horses or other animals in the far pastures. The scene is loosely painted, and the background is the most indistinct, so some details are difficult to make out. Touches of brown and green suggest trees and perhaps more trees and buildings along the hill in the distance. The ivory-colored sky is touched with pale, petal pink and a hint of blue near the horizon. The artist signed and dated the work with dark paint in the lower right corner: “E. Degas 71.”

Future impressionists Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, and Frédéric Bazille went together to paint near Barbizon in 1865, while Monet worked on a large composition of a family picnic, for which the National Gallery's Bazille and Camille is a study.

Edgar Degas, Horses in a Meadow, 1871, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Fund, 1995.11.1

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We look slightly down onto a woman and a young boy, both with pale skin, sitting together on a grassy lawn with a chicken standing nearby in this horizontal painting. The scene is loosely painted with visible brushstrokes throughout. The woman sits with her body angled to our left, her legs stretched out in front of her. She turns her head to face us as she leans forward to rest her chin on one hand, with that elbow propped on her lap. She looks off to our left with dark eyes, and her coral-pink lips are parted. Her chestnut-brown hair is pulled up under a white bonnet, which is topped with a pink flower and a touch of black. A black ribbon tied around her neck hangs down her back. She wears a long-sleeved, full-skirted white dress, and swipes of yellow, blue, and brown could be shoes peeking out from the bottom hem. The unfolded fan she holds in her far hand is cream white along the center has rose pink to one side and indigo blue to the other. The boy leans against her torso, his legs coming toward us, and he looks out at us with dark eyes. His cheeks are flushed and his pink lips are closed. He has short, gold-blond hair with bangs under a short-brimmed, straw-yellow hat. His suit is baby blue with navy-blue swipes across the shoulders and a white streak at his neck, perhaps a neckerchief. There are dark bands at the cuffs and around his waist. The blue pants are rolled back over bare knees, and he wears smoke-gray socks and red and white shoes. A spindly tree trunk grows behind the woman’s back, and the grassy lawn nearly fills the painting. A bed of flowers with dark pink blossoms runs along the curving line of grass in the upper left corner. A chicken stands and looks at the pair, to our right. The bird has a vibrant red comb, buttercup yellow, white, and dark brown feathers. Its feet are covered with white feathers.

Early Impressionism

 

When Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille were students together in Charles Gleyre's studio in the early 1860s, the younger artists admired avant-garde masters including naturalist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, realist Gustave Courbet, the Barbizon artists, and particularly Edouard Manet. The dispassionate modernity of Manet's subjects, scenes of contemporary urban life, influenced the younger generation, as did his method of painting. He eschewed the smooth finish prescribed by traditional teaching and placed clearly visible brushmarks side by side as in a sketch, a technique that enhanced the immediacy of his pictures.

Auguste Renoir, Madame Monet and Her Son, 1874, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.60

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About three dozen men and women sit, stand, or stroll along a sandy beach beneath a sunset sky in this horizontal landscape painting. The scene is loosely painted and many of the facial features are indistinct, but the faces we can see have pale or olive-toned skin. The area closest to us is a strip of sand, and, a short distance away, a brown and white dog sits in the sand, facing away from us to our left of center. The women all wear dresses with long sleeves, tight bodices, and ankle-length hoop skirts in shades of baby blue, smoke gray, butter yellow, chocolate brown, crimson red, black, or white. Some wear jackets, capes, or shawls, and veils flutter off some of their hats and bonnets. The men wear suits with long tails and rounded hats. Most of the people sit in wooden chairs, and a few stand or walk along the beach. The walking women carrying long sticks or canes. Smudges of ruby red, slate blue, and a touch of straw yellow could be the form of a child crouching in the sand, to our left. Two ladderback chairs sit near the crowd to our right. The horizon comes less than a quarter of the way up the composition. Thin screens of pale gray clouds above are touched on the undersides with petal pink, and they break to show peeks of soft yellow along the horizon and topaz blue a bit higher up.

Eugéne Boudin specialized in small-scale oils depicting contemporary vacationers at the beaches of Normandy. Boudin made excursions along the coast to sketch the appearance of the sky and sea in open air, a practice he recommended to Claude Monet when the two met early in the 1860s.

Eugène Boudin, The Beach at Villerville, 1864, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.4

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A tree with emerald-green leaves and laden with white blossoms grows in a dirt field, and is silhouetted against a vibrant blue sky in this horizontal landscape painting. The scene is loosely painted with visible dabs and strokes. The tree takes up most of the left half of the painting, and is closest to us. It casts a dappled shadow onto the ground to our right. A barren tree with gnarled branches grows nearby, in the tree’s shadow. A row of more trees extends in the distance to our right. A narrow dirt path, bordered by low green growth, stretches from the bottom edge of the canvas, to our right of center, into the field. To our left and farther from us, a woman leans over and reaches for the ground. She faces our left in profile and wears a white bonnet, a brown shawl, and a blue skirt. Near the line of trees to our right, a man walks toward the woman. He wears blue pants, a white shirt, a dark cap, and he carries a tan bag over his left shoulder. There are more trees along the horizon, which comes about a third of the way up the composition. The sky above is light gray near the horizon and deepens to vivid blue with fluffy white clouds. The painting is signed and dated in the lower right: “C. Pissarro 1872.”

Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Bazille, Camille Pissarro, and Paul Cézanne painted outdoors in pairs and groups, experimenting with techniques and colors to capture their fleeting visual impressions of real people in natural daylight.

Camille Pissarro, Orchard in Bloom, Louveciennes, 1872, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.51

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We look across the water at two sailing ships with cream-white sails and dark rigging floating in a shimmering, ice-blue river against a distant shore lined with trees, hills, and buildings in this nearly square landscape painting. The horizon comes about halfway up the painting, and the ships’ masts and sails are silhouetted against a topaz-blue sky with wispy white clouds. The scene is loosely painted with visible brushstrokes throughout so many of the details are indistinct. One boat floats near the left edge of the painting and the second is situated a little father back, to our right of center. Both have rust-orange anchors painted near the pointed bows, which face us. Tall, narrow, asparagus-green trees line the far riverbank between the boats. Tall spires and towers of buildings rise in a cluster to our left near that edge of the canvas and boats cluster near the distant shore to our right. Oatmeal-brown hills rise beyond the trees and town. The trees and boats are reflected in the water, which is painted with horizontal dashes and squiggles. The artist signed the painting in the lower left, “Claude Monet.”

Monet and Renoir were painting together in the summer of 1869 at a small Seine-side resort called La Grenouillére, when they first worked in the free style recognizable as impressionism. They applied their paints unblended on the canvas using a variety of brushstrokes -- brief dashes, loops, broad strokes, color laid by color in bold combinations -- an organic and spontaneous style that perfectly suited subjects of the impressionists.

Claude Monet, Ships Riding on the Seine at Rouen, 1872/1873, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.43

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Painted in mostly in jewel tones of topaz and aquamarine blues, and sage, spring, and pine greens, a meadow is enclosed by a wooden fence, against a landscape of gently rolling hills under a vibrant sky in this horizontal painting. The scene is loosely painted with visible brushstrokes. Touches of white, cotton candy-pink, ruby-red, and azure-blue paint in the long grasses close to us could be wildflowers. A few swipes of straw yellow and pale and lapis blue could represent two people, standing and kneeling, in the field close to the fence. The rickety fence starts at the right edge of the canvas and extends into the distance, angling away from us to our left. Rolling hills beyond are a patchwork of emerald green and caramel brown, and are dotted with trees with full, dark green canopies. One brown building sits on the crest of a hill to our right of center. The horizon comes about halfway up this picture, and the turquoise-colored sky is dotted with white puffs of clouds. The artist signed and dated the painting in the lower right corner, “Sisley 75.”

Later Impressionism

 

The impressionist movement arose in the early 1870s as a protest against established arts institutions in France, the Academy and its annual Salon exhibition. Exhibiting at the Salon was the only way for aspiring artists to succeed, yet the established artists who composed Salon juries rejected much of the work submitted by the impressionists. Frustrated, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, and others joined formally to raise funds to display and sell their work apart from the Salon.

Alfred Sisley, Meadow, 1875, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.83

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A bouquet of cut flowers in a clear glass vase nearly fills this vertical painting. The vase has straight sides and the rounded bottom is supported by short, round feet. Some of the flowers can be identified as white roses and carnations but other less defined flowers are executed in quick touches of delphinium blue, marigold orange, brick red, and butter yellow. Green stalks and leaves are interspersed throughout, and green stems fill the vase. Some of the flowers and vegetation are thickly painted, and these contrast with other areas where the paint is more thinly applied. The bouquet is set against a pale gray background, and the vase casts a subtle blue shadow to our right. The artist signed the painting in gray letters at the lower right: “Manet.”

The most notable abstainer was Edouard Manet, who refused to abandon his pursuit of official recognition.

Edouard Manet, Flowers in a Crystal Vase, c. 1882, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.37

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Shown from the waist up, a young girl wearing a slate-gray dress and straw hat stands with her hands clasped in front of her in this vertical portrait painting. The girl has light, cream-colored skin and her cheeks are lightly flushed. Her body faces us but she tips her head slightly to her right, our left, and looks off into the distance with dark brown eyes. Her faint eyebrows seem to be drawn together and her cherry-red, full lips slightly turn down at the corner. She has a button nose and a rounded chin line. She has dark blond, straight, shoulder-length hair under a wide, flat-brimmed straw hat. The hat is wrapped around the crown with a checkered white and black bow. Her shoulders slope down as she holds one wrist with her opposite hand down in front of her. She wears a jumper over a shirt with short white sleeves. At first glance the jumper appears pale gray but closer inspection reveals strokes of pale lilac, ivory, and cobalt blue. The girl’s features and clothing are painted with loose, visible brushstrokes, and the background behind her is painted with vertical strokes of tan blended with faint green. Short dabs of brighter gold and butter yellow give the impression of sunshine on the brim of the hat and in the girl’s hair. The artist signed the work with loose letters in the lower right corner, “Mary Cassatt.”

The first impressionist exhibition was held in rooms overlooking the Boulevard des Capucines in the heart of Paris, in April 1874, timed to coincide with the Salon. It created a furor, exciting heated debate among serious critics as well as in the popular, humorous press. In all, the group of artists mounted eight exhibitions, the last in 1886, then disbanded as they matured and became relatively successful.

Mary Cassatt, Child in a Straw Hat, c. 1886, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1983.1.17

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We look down onto a landscape where several laundry lines have been draped mostly with white sheets or cloth to dry in a flat, grassy yard in front of a rustic house and a distant town in this horizontal painting. The work is created entirely with thick, visible brushstrokes that both creates a sense of texture on the canvas’s surface and makes many details difficult to make out. The impact is that we might feel we need to squint to eventually find the forms of at least three women wearing skirts hanging laundry out and a person wearing trousers tending to a flat piece of green ground near the lower left corner, perhaps a garden plot. A few pieces of white cloth have been draped over the wooden fence that runs along the bottom edge of the canvas. A dove-gray cart with wooden carriage wheels rests, tipped forward, at the center of the laundry lines. To our right and just beyond the laundry lines, a two-story ivory and slate-gray house with a brownish-red peaked roof sits behind a grove of pine-colored trees. The laundry field and the grassy plane beyond is painted with a pale celery green with long, horizontal strokes. A line of moss green trees and a streak of white interrupts the field in the distance. Beyond that, touches of steel and silvery-gray paint suggest smokestacks and smoke in a town along the horizon, which comes about three-quarters of the way up this composition. The sky above is filled with light rose-pink clouds floating across a robin’s-egg blue sky. The artist signed the work in brick-red paint in the lower left corner, “Berthe Morisot.”

The National Gallery of Art has a number of works that were shown in those exhibitions, including Pissarro's Orchard in Bloom, Louveciennes and The Harbor at Lorient by Morisot.

Berthe Morisot, Hanging the Laundry out to Dry, 1875, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1985.64.28

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Alternatives to Impressionism

 

Some contemporaries of the impressionists took a less radical approach in their depictions of modern life. They admired aspects of impressionism, but in general preferred to remain safely within the aegis of the Academy and Salon. They mixed salient impressionist characteristics such as a brighter palette with traditional academic compositions and methods and avoided the radicalism and rhetoric associated with impressionism.

Jean-Charles Cazin, Paris Scene with Bridge, oil on wood, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.20

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We seem to look down onto a wooden surface, a table or buffet, holding a basket of fruit, a vase of pink and white flowers, a book with a sea-blue, soft cover, and a small tray holding a teacup and saucer and two pieces of fruit like oranges in this horizontal still life painting. The wooden surface is highly polished and has a red tint, like cherry. The oval, rust-red tray holding the teacup and oranges has a lip around the edge. One orange is peeled, and a segment sits near an unpeeled fruit. The empty white teacup has a flaring lip and a delicate gold handle, and the cup and saucer are edged in gold. The tray sits across the corner of the table, close to us, and extends off the table to our left. The thick, soft-bound book is placed beyond the tray, to our right. Behind the tray, a tall, goblet-like, cobalt-blue vase with a pedestal foot holds five flowers, possibly carnations, among green leaves. Two blossoms are cream-white, two are ruby-red, and the fifth flower is streaked with both colors. To our left, a rectangular, woven, wicker basket holds three pears, two apples, and a quince. The pears are blush red, golden yellow, or pale green. One apple is butter yellow and one is red streaked with buttercup yellow. The quince is lemon-lime yellow. A pale-yellow quince and red and yellow apple sit on the table in front of the basket, near the tray. The background is painted a muted sage green. The artist signed and dated the work with dark green paint in the upper right corner: “Fantin. 1866.”

Henri Fantin-Latour's lush Still Life, Antoine Vollon's suave Mound of Butter, and the opulent clutter of James Jacques Joseph Tissot's highly-finished Hide and Seek are examples of this middle of the road approach.

Henri Fantin-Latour, Still Life, 1866, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.146

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A mound of creamy, yellow butter sits to our left of center on a wooden table against an olive-green background in this horizontal still life painting. White cloth, presumably the wrapper or cover, is pushed down around the base of the mound to expose the heap of butter. The top of the mound has a few gouge marks and furrows. A long, narrow wooden paddle is stuck vertically into the right side of the mound, and is covered almost up to the handle in butter. Two white eggs rest on the table in front of the white fabric, to our right of center. Loose brushstrokes are visible throughout, so the swipes of paint seem to almost become the butter. The artist signed the painting with black letters in the lower left corner: “A. Vollon.”

Antoine Vollon, Mound of Butter, 1875/1885, oil on canvas overall, Chester Dale Fund, 1992.95.1

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A young girl whose blond curls catch the sunlight in an otherwise dim living room looks up from a kneeling position on all fours on the floor as the faces of three other children peek over pieces of furniture behind her, and a woman leans back in a chair reading a newspaper in the background in this vertical painting. The children and the woman all have peachy, pale skin. The young girl’s body is angled to our right and she looks in that direction with eyebrows raised. She has a pointed nose, rounded cheeks, and her rosebud lips are closed. Her mass of blond curls is held back with a scarlet-red ribbon, and more red ribbons are tied into bows at the shoulders of her short-sleeved, white dress and around her waist. Her dress has lacy ruffles down the front and along the bottom hem. She kneels on a large rug patterned densely with burgundy-red, denim blue, and ivory-white stylized flowers, vines, and leaves. A red, blue, and white striped ball rests on a second patterned rug in front of her, to our right. In front of the girl and along the bottom center of the painting is a round but indistinct object, like a flattened basket, that sits on or is part of the carpet. A chocolate-brown, leather chaise lounge behind the girl is covered with at least one tiger’s pelt. A wooden side table separates that chair from another overstuffed armchair covered with more furs. Next to it, a third chair with a red paisley pattern against a white background is mostly cut off by the left edge of the canvas. Almost lost in shadow, two small faces peek out from between the two leftmost chairs. Both children have rounded cheeks and they look toward the kneeling girl. The forehead and nose of a fourth child’s face peeks over tiny fingers hooked along the top of the screen behind that pair. All three have brown hair pulled back in headbands. Farther back in the room to our right, a young woman with light brown hair, wearing a dark, long-sleeved, high-necked dress, reads her newspaper with her feet propped on a footstool in the back corner. A tall window behind her, to our left, is partially covered by a sheer white shade, and a glass door on the adjoining wall, to our right, opens onto a conservatory or greenhouse filled with green plants. The windows are framed covered by moss-green curtains. More side tables, chairs, and footstools line that back space. A long-necked, blue and white lamp with a glass shade sits on the side table next to the chair with the tiger pelt, and a gold teapot with white teacups and urns sit on other tables. A small, square mirror reflects bright sunlight next to the screen and another mirror with a wide, gold frame hangs above the reading woman and reflects the window panes behind her. The artist signed the work near the lower right corner, “J.J. Tissot.”

James Jacques Joseph Tissot, Hide and Seek, c. 1877, oil on wood, Chester Dale Fund, 1978.47.1

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Two dogs stand near each other in the middle of a petal-pink street in front of two oyster-white buildings that fill the background in this vertical painting. The scene is loosely painted, giving it a blurry appearance. The dog closer to us is peach-colored while the other is white with dark brown patches, and they face each other. The street tilts upwards, as if we are seeing it from above, and it takes up almost half the height of the composition. A stone-grey wheelbarrow sits slightly above and to the left of the dogs, above a narrow, light-grey horizontal stripe running the width of the road. The buildings are two stories and have tall slate-blue windows, most covered with shutters. Both have a band painted in patches of grey and brown running across their foundations. The building on the right has a narrow rust-red door while the other has slate-gray doors. Three small, navy-blue squares could be street numbers over the doors. The artist has signed in the lower right, “Bonnard.”

Postimpressionism

 

Postimpressionism is a catchall label that has been applied to a number of artists whose work had impressionism at its roots. Many of these artists exhibited in the impressionist exhibitions, among them Paul Cézanne, Georges Seurat, and Paul Gauguin, but the postimpressionists gradually came to reject the impulse toward naturalism that had been a driving force behind impressionism.

Pierre Bonnard, Two Dogs in a Deserted Street, c. 1894, oil on wood, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.3

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Cézanne replaced the irregularity of his impressionist brushwork with systematized notations that describe underlying form rather than momentary surface appearance. Seurat used a scientifically-based method of paint application (small touches of pigments in color sequences based on the latest theories of color and light) to explore the expressive qualities of the formal elements of painting. Similarly, Gauguin relied on the imaginative and evocative power of abstracted shapes and unmodulated color to express primitive and universal ideas.

Georges Seurat, Study for "La Grande Jatte", 1884/1885, oil on wood, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.81

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Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard were members of a group called the Nabis. Inspired by Gauguin, the Nabis insisted on the primacy of the physical existence of a painting -- paints arranged on a flat surface -- over the convention recognizing it as a re-creation of nature.

Edouard Vuillard, Breakfast, 1894, oil on cardboard, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.97

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In particular Bonnard and Vuillard were known for their small-scale paintings, for using areas of unmodulated colors in close harmonies, and for their quiet intimacy.

Pierre Bonnard, The Letter, c. 1906, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.86

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