Even the recent Rural Realism of Courbet, Bonheur, Daumier, and Millet was not adequate to transfer the feeling of fleetness of the moment to the canvas (Davies 871). The sketchy Realism of Manet and Degas was able to record the changes in French society better. The tendency was taken up by Monet marking the birth of Impressionism. Always choosing plein-air over work at the studio, Claude Monet painted his pictures with various degree of sketchiness. Thus, Impression, Sunrise (1872) and Wheatstack, Sun in the Mist (1891) look more like an esquisse with a restricted palette and shimmering quality of brushstrokes, while On the Bank of the Seine, Bennecourt (1868) is executed more thoroughly with firm outlines and numerous details.
Impressionists were obsessed with capturing the changing light and color. Not bothering with volume and depth, they did not use chiaroscuro (Davies 873). Instead, artists relied on intensive brushstrokes and the theory of color, according to which complimentary shades in the color wheel intensified each other (Davies 874). Monet’s On the Bank of the Seine uses bright primary and secondary colors, painting shades not black and brown on not muddy background. There are sharp contrasts between a sun-filled village behind the river and whiteness of the woman’s dress and the shaded tree in the foreground. For Impressionists, the subject-matter was modernity itself. They painted the nouveau riche in their habitat and did it with the modern means. In On the Bank, Monet depicted his wife sitting on the riverbank in the shade and a boat in the background. Boating was a typical leisure activity for Parisian women.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Post-Impressionists were not content with a unified manner of the Impressionists and moved into the direction of more individualized styles. The subject-matter also shifted from the bourgeoisie activities to the anti-bourgeois attitude; it is can be seen in all the major Post-Impressionists such as Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, and Gauguin (Davies 905). Post-Impressionist artists painted landscapes, still lives, characters from the working class, and scenes from the life of nightclubs, cafes, and cabarets.
Post-Impressionists did not like the fleeting quality of Impressionists and wanted to create something more stable and monumental, as Cezanne said, “something solid, like the art in the museums” (Davies 905). Paul Cézanne was first to break from Impressionists. As he intended, Mont Sainte-Victoire (ca. 1885-87) at a first glance looks like an Impressionistic painting with a sun-filled scene and visible brushstrokes, but it is more monumental due to the interplay of separate lines of flash color scattered across the canvas; blocks of color forming the really existing landscape and the flat world of abstraction peeping through it. Cézanne’s manner to divide his painting into geometric shapes laid foundation for later abstraction. Cézanne favored Mont Sainte-Victoire very much and painted over 60 pictures in oil and watercolor (Davies 908). By the beginning of the 20th century, Cézanne rejected the depth; thus, his later version of the habitual theme looks more abstract than before. In Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Bibemus Quarry (ca. 1897-1900), the depth is suggested through the overlapping composition, but in general, the painting seems to be a bulk of flat colorful brushstrokes where only colors indicate the object – blue for the shy, brown for the ground, and green for trees.
The experiments with color continued in the movement of the Fauvists. Although they did a lot for the development of painting, I believe that Piccasso’s Cubism was a real breakthrough in figurative art. Pablo Picasso managed to come up with a truly unique representation of his inner artistic world. Adopting Fauvist’s heights in color, he changed the language of painting with his idea that the artists can do with color, line, and form whatever they like (Davies 950).
Looking for the best aesthetics, Picasso developed his own system for depicting perspective and volume. In Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), he paints a typical nude scene but in an outrageous manner. Sculpting the bodies, objects, and background with triangles and diamonds, Picasso cut them at such an angle that even Cezanne was taken aback (Davies 952). One woman on the left and two ladies in the center have schematic facial feature. A woman on the right has a clear indication of African origin. A woman in the foreground has her back to the viewer while managing to turn her face as well and look straight; her face is portrayed in a peculiar manner. It demonstrates the world in dynamic, which was later evolved by Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 when he defragmented the body completely. Picasso fragmentizes bodies by color-blocking them without subtle color transitions. He uses Cezanne’s technique where the edges of color blocks are blurred on one side. Using the same technique of color planes both on the figures and the background, Picasso creates a vibrating mosaic of geometrical shapes with very little figurative meaning.
The turn of the twentieth century was a very busy time for many industries and fields. Art was not an exception. Artists were pressed to portray a fast-changing reality, and old conventions were not suitable for it. Art is always affected by political and economic situations in the country and reflects what is felt in the atmosphere. Utilizing the inventions of science and humanities, art constantly changes the subject-matter and the method of representation.