In this third part of my exploration into Impressionism I am going to consider the wider implications of Impressionism and in particular art History criticism from a Marxist perspective.
Paul Wood a Marxist art Historian at the Open University considers the role of Renoir and others during the period of the Paris Commune and the political ramifications for artists like Renoir and Monet.
” In the work of a painter like Pierre Auguste Renoir it would be myopic to fail to recognise a sense of joie de vibre and puritanical to repress it in the name of some allegedly higher political duty”. .
” The irony of the point of view of avant garde art is that those years (1870-1) (The Paris Commune) were precisely the moment of the emergence of Impressionism. it is conveniently seen as the first avant-garde movement. And Impressionist painting is associated with anything but War and destruction”. .
Wood comments on Social History and the role of Modernism as defined by the great American art historian Clement Greenberg. See my 5 part discussion of Greenberg’s contribution to Modernism.
” Modernism as we have seen tends emphatically to celebrate the independence of art from Literacy and political subject matter”. .
” Revisionist Social history since the 1970’s have tried emphatically to re-imbed art in the discursive contexts of its production, in everything from politics and literature to Sexuality and shopping (Identity Politics)”. .
Wood now considers the role of Meyer Schapiro a well known American Marxist Art critic.
” Meyer Schapiro (American Marxist art historian) wrote of the Impressionism that it had a moral aspect meaning that it was not purely an art of visual sensation nut stood in relation to Modern Life (rejecting Greenberg’s assertion)”. .
” Impressionist Painting is not to blame for the reprisals of the Versailles Government against the working population of Paris. however there are repercussions for a concept like the avant-garde in which the social dimension is fundamentally inscribed”. .
Wood describes how the Bourgeois through Hausmann and others reflected the downplaying of political dissent and encouraged the rise of the Middle class flaneur.
” Those streets tell a story of the Bourgeoisification of Paris. there is no doubt of that , but they also contain a memory of the price of that Bourgeoisification”..
” There is not a seamless transition between the 2nd Empire and the Third Republic. Instead there is something like a collective nightmare for the French Bourgeois. And early Impressionist sense of urban leisure draw a veil of light across a chasm in French History”. .
Wood continues his description of who and what produces Modern Art and his assertion is that it was Revolutionary Painters like Gustave Courbet who came closest to representing the masses. Of the Impressionist painters it was only Manet who approximated to this task.
” Art in Modern history has basically been produced by and for the middle classes”. .
” The Commune and the Prussian war silently haunt Impressionist painting”..
Wood here confirms that both Manet and Degas fought for the republicans during the Prussian war. Monet avoided any political commitment by emigrating to England as an Exile.
” Manet had been in Paris during the Prussian siege serving in the National guard along with Degas but both Republicans . Out of this experience arose the lithographs of the Barricade and the Civil War”. .
” In particular the Execution of the Communards at a Barricade echoes his *(Manet’s) own execution of emperor Maximillien series of 1867-9 in which he had criticised the 2nd empires political adventurism in Mexico”. .
Wood shows that Manet the most sympathetic to Revolutionary politics challenges the Bonapartist dictatorship of the third Republic.
” Manet thus emphatically identifies the Versailles executions with the earlier regime and the Communards with earlier abandoned victims”. .
Charles Harrison another well know Art Historian at the Open University in his essay on French painting in the 19th century considers Impressionism and its relation to Modernism.
” An Impressionist in this sense was one in whose work certain informality of technique appeared to reveal a vision of the Natural World which was both instantaneous and individual”. .
” To talk about Impressionism as I have suggested is inevitably to raise questions about the grounds on which canonical status is accorded in Modern Art”. .
Harrison states that it was Renoir and Monet who were most influential amongst the Impressionists.
” Monet and Renoir figure centrally in all accounts of the impressionist movement. Monet was closely involved in the setting up of the Independent group and he showed in the first 4 Exhibitions and the 7th”. .
Harrison now turns to a discussion of the Modernist canon and considers the Art criticism of the foremost Modernist critic of the twentieth Century The American Clement Greenberg.
” Greenberg’s concept of self-criticism is crucial to his account of how and why a painting changes”. .
” The concept as he employs it refers to the ability of a discipline or practice to acknowledge its own proper limits and to proceed within them”. .
Harrison shows that Greenberg establishes that Manet’s paintings were the beginning of the Modernist canon.
” For Greenberg Manet’s paintings became the first Modernist ones by virtue of the frankness with which they were painted”. .
This concludes the third part of my discussion of Impressionism and the Painters associated with it. In Parts 4 I will consider Harrison’s further commentary on Impressionism concentrating on Monet and Pissarro. In Part 5 I will be discussing a Marxist critique of the Flaneur in French Society in the 19th Century.
- THE CHALLENGE OF THE AVANT-GARDE : THE AVANT-GARDE AND THE PARIS COMMUNE. PAUL WOOD: OPEN UNIVERSITY.PG.120
- DITTO. PG.121
- MODERNITY AND MODERNISM FRENCH PAINTING IN THE 19TH CENTURY FRASCINA,BLAKE, FER, GARB AND HARRISON: IMPRESSIONISM AND MODERNISM.CHARLES HARRISON :THE OPEN UNIVERSITY. PG.144