Impressionist Blurriness

Musée d’Orsay closes at quarter to ten on Thursdays and it seems a bit small after a day at the Louvre. That doesn’t mean the building itself isn’t impressive, but it requires a different kind of mindset. No flash photography, no phones, no food, no bags, no whatever. The security makes you go through a metal detector and the whole thing is way more uptight than security at the Louvre. The lady at the entrance wanted me to lift my shirt and show my belt buckle. She actually said: “I want to see your belt buckle.” They did let me keep my shoes, though.

This visit was sort of a bonus on my trip to Paris, because the period which is covered by Musée d’Orsay, 1848 to 1915, isn’t directly related to my work, but I was curious enough to go and have a quick peek at at least the Impressionist stuff they have. It’s always been one of the strangest things in art history, that weird turn from the sort of Romanticist perfection one can see in the statues of the period in the Louvre courtyards to the blurriness of Impressionistic painting. It might have something to do with the Great Binge which coincides with the period covered by Musée d’Orsay, from the 1860s to the First World War. There are other reasons for this turn, no doubt, but the Binge must have helped it get off the ground.

One of the reasons security is so tight at the museum is that these druggies painted pictures which have been sold for absolutely ridiculous amounts of money. Take, for instance, this Renoir:

Source: Wikipedia

It’s Le Bal au moulin de la galette and it might just be the prototypical Impressionist painting. It is certainly one of the best known, probably because it cost around 78 million dollars when it was last sold. It’s probably worth much more today, but let’s leave it at that — the most tedious thing about art is thinking about disgusting money bags trading masterpieces like they were baseball cards.

What is much more interesting is to try to figure out reasons why the Impressionist trend took hold of Europe at that particular time in history. I do like the drug theory quite a bit and believe that it should be investigated further, but there are other stories to be told as well. There’s much more to Renoir, for instance, than just a guy painting blurry scenes of everyday life, but this weird unfocusing is something that requires some attention since it seems to have exploded like an epidemic.

The Wikipedia entry for Renoir say that he “is the final representative of a tradition which runs directly from Rubens to Watteau”, but being uneducated in art I don’t know what that means. The day I visited Renoir’s paintings at Musée d’Orsay I had seen some of Watteau‘s work.

Source: Wikipedia

That’s Embarkation for Cythera and while it is quite blurry, and extends the blurry story from Rubens to Leonardo’s blurry backgrounds, it’s not pronounced enough to be striking. Also, it’s early 18th century, so it is not really that close in time to Renoir — if this matters is in itself another question.

What did strike me was Delacroix the Impressionist. Renoir traveled quite a bit and visited Algeria, a country Delacroix had also seen when he did his tours of North Africa. This is Liberty Leading the People Delacroix, Romantic Delacroix, the guy whose claim to fame was continuing the work of Géricault, and what does he produce after North Africa? Well, things like this Chevaux arabes se battant:

Source: Wikipedia

Perhaps it was the sand in the air, perhaps it was the hash, or perhaps it was just getting away from stuffy academia that flipped Delacroix onto an Impressionist mode. But something happened to him, surely, and his influence on French painting probably remained as strong as ever.

The Arab horses are pretty cool, but an earlier work from 1854 depicting a lion hunt, is just puzzling:

Source: Wikipedia

I only know it’s a lion hunt because it said so on the tag. It looks like a sketch, but it’s on display as one of a couple of paintings on the lion hunt theme. My little notebook shows that this thing was very confusing indeed, and I’ve written down that it might be accessed through the Arab Horses, but it doesn’t seem to be working. If the Lion Hunt should be considered as a finished work, the Horses seem like a return to a previous mode of expression, a sort of cleaned-up version of the initial shock of the mode deployed in the Hunt, an escape into the arms of a previous tradition.


PS. Rubens’s Lion Hunt casts some light on Delacroix’s version.

1 Response to “Impressionist Blurriness”

  1. 1 Art in Paris « nonvisedvoce Trackback on January 30, 2012 at 22:39

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