Afternoon with the Impressionists

I’d never actually thought Impressionism would be my thing. I rather like the precise brushwork of some of the Dutch painters (and the way they deal with light, or the lack of it — astonishing) or the cleverness of someone like Magritte. But I fell in love with most of the displays at the Musee d’Orsay.

This was one of the most magical afternoons I’ve spent in a while. It wasn’t just the idea of being in the same neighborhood as some of the prettiest, most celebrated works of art, although that was certainly part of it; it was just the vividness of the moments captured.

From what I’ve read, impressionism isn’t about the vagueness of the brushwork although that’s certainly the technique of a lot of the painters. It’s about capturing the fleeting impression of a single moment.


This is Charles Monet’s London Parliament, painted (I believe) at sunrise, capturing an extraordinary moment where the very history of London seems to loom out of the near-darkness.

I also fell in love with Gustave Caillebotte’s work, especially this one:


The excellent audio guide describes the way Caillebotte contrasts the richness of the surroundings — the gilded room, the decorations of the window, the wooden floor — with the rough labor of the workers. And yet the contrast isn’t depressing; the light gleams off their skin, they’re talking to each other, there’s a vitality to their muscles and their work.

One last discovery from that day:


Daubigny’s painting, drew “scathing criticism” at its showing. And yet this was one of the very first of the Impressionist school. The Impressionists at this point were just beginning to paint directly from nature, to capture atmosphere rather than exact representations.


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