In this fourth part of my exploration into Manet and the Impressionists I am going to continue to consider the Art criticism of Charles Harrison in his essay on Monet at Grenouillere . He considers how Monet painted and depicted flat surfaces which Clement Greenberg alluded to in his Art Criticism.
” What I am saying is that the distinctiveness of Monet’s paintings is very much a consequence of its size, scale and technique. that it stands as an end to itself”. .
” And yet we should not assume that Monet set out in the summer of 1869 to paint pictures which would assert the priority of surface over subject”. .
Harrison now makes reference to the writings of TJ Clark the noted Marxist art Historian.
” In his book The Paintings of Modern Life TJ Clark considers how we might approach Monet’s paintings of La Grenouillere as representations of the Modern world and of some of the attitudes towards that World”. .
” Clark’s suggestion is both speculative and in part ironic. Manet rather than Monet might have gone to La Grenouillere in knowing search of the insignificant, those who failed to signify The prostitutes , the Bar maids”. .
Harrison argues that much of Clark’s observations would have followed the writings of Meyer Schapiro the Great American art Historian who first adopted a Marxist critique in opposition to Greenberg and others.
” Some important recent studies of Impressionism TJ Clark among them have followed Schapiro’s lead and emphasised the continuing engagement of artists Monet included”. .
” If we wish to undermine the Modernist assertion of the importance of Monet and Cezanne then we must either find other grounds for our interest in their work or explain why we choose to ignore them”. .
Harrison here is going right to the heart of Art Criticism considering why and how the Canon of Modernism started with Manet and the consequences for Modernist criticism.
” We might in the end assent to the Canon, to the relative importance and quality of the work of Monet and Cezanne and we might also agree that the best of Modern Painting can be connected in terms of an observable orientation to flatness”..
” We might feel that in order to understand the meaning and values of Modern painting’s flatness we need to look beyond the problems intrinsic to painting and to search the wider world of social and psychological experiences about which the Modernist criticism has had relatively little to say”..
Charles Harrison now considers the contribution of Camille Pissarro who departed from the Middle class petit bourgeois attitudes that Monet and Renoir brought to their Art. Pissarro’s political development was as an Anarchist. He knew Courbet and his paintings are very reminiscent of Corot and Millet the great 18th Century realist painters.
” Pissarro’s later adoption of an Anarchist philosophy has led interpreters to scrutinize his early work for evidence of Radical political intent”. .
” Pissarro’s political philosophy and his art Another art Critic has written of a tacit dichotomy between Industry and Leisure”. .
Harrison continues with his commentary on Pissarro.
” Similarly that Pissarro saw the factory at La Grenouillere and that he painted a picture which included in it may tell us something about Pissarro. It may also tell us something about what Monet and Renoir chose not to look at or to represent”. .
” We are talking after all about the relationship between the broad social and economic tendencies of History and the specialised interests and procedures of Art between Technical skills and political sympathies”. .
Harrison now concludes his comments on Pissarro’s Art which closely identified with The working class and the peasantry.
” Between the labour of one class and the culture of another , between what artists can imagine and what they can achieve”. .
” As we have seen Modernist theory describes a tendency in which pictorial space is progressively flattened and Human content squeezed out in pursuit of independence of purity for painting as Art”. .
” Of all the Impressionists Renoir was the most emphatic in his insistence upon the virtues of pure art, but he was also the most assiduous in cultivating the kinds of portrait- painting commissions that could best be secured through success at the salon”. .
This concludes the 4th Part of my article on Impressionism. In my concluding article I will consider the role of the Flaneur and the emergence of this new Petit Bourgeois elite represented by Edouard Manet and his colleagues.
- MODERNITY AND MODERNISM: FRENCH PAINTING IN THE 19TH CENTURY . IMPRESSIONISM , MODERNISM AND ORIGINALITY.BY CHARLES HARRISON: OPEN UNIVERSITY.PG.171