History’s Greatest Impressionists and History’s Forgotten Impressionists are episodes from the documentary series The Impressionists: Painting and Revolution. They were produced by the BBC and aired in 2011. The episodes are devoted to the age of impressionism in European art. The narrator Waldemar Januszczak speaks about the history of impressionism, its style, and the main representatives and ideas they tried to convey to the people.
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The author makes a statement that impressionism should not be perceived as a soft, calm, and relaxing art movement that is supposed to be depicted on the covers of chocolate boxes. In fact, it challenged the existent institutionalized saloon system and made a revolution in the form and content of art of the time. Waldemar Januszczak shows how the growth of cities, the spread of railroads, and female emancipation in the second half of the XIX century affected the works of impressionists (Perspective, 2020b). He visits the places Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Bazille were living in and shows picturesque views of the city and rural life they were depicting. The narrator reveals the biographies of less famous artists like Caillebotte, Bracquemond, and others. He states that their works were as revolutionary and progressive as the paintings of their more popular colleagues and that impressionism was the first art movement in the creation of which females played a grand role.
One of the things that impressed me about these episodes is Waldemar Januszczak’s narration. His acting is spectacular, and he expresses many interesting thoughts about impressionism. He has got charisma and passion for art, and that makes these episodes very catchy and enlightening at the same time. The dynamic editing and unusual camera angles helped to keep my attention on the material and made it interesting to watch.
It was fascinating for me to listen about the lives of great impressionists because I have always loved this art movement, and I consider Claude Monet to be one of my favorite artists. Waldemar Januszczak helped me to realize what fascinates me about this style and what makes impressionists’ paintings so breathtaking and mesmerizing. It is, for example, the use of very expressive and strong colors, like in Degas’s pastel paintings or Monet’s revolutionary work with light and shadow. This contrast cannot be pictured by a camera, it can only be perceived by a human eye, and Monet was able to paint it. These are the things you may not know about, but subconsciously they affect you and make you plunge into these pictures – and the series help to get to know them.
Impressionists breathed this air of liberty, pleasure, and the novelty of the era they were living in, so they wanted to depict it, and technological progress helped them to do it. I enjoyed listening about curious technical details like how the invention of portable easels, oil tubes, and flat brushes made impressionism real. New brushes created new types of strokes that look very smeared and fuzzy, and portable easels and oil tubes eased the transportation of equipment and allowed artists to paint outside or in more crowded places (Perspective, 2020b). These details explain a lot about this period of art and help to easier delve into impressionism.
Finally, it was very enlightening to learn about unfairly less popular female impressionists. Everybody knows Monet, Renoir, and Gauguin, but the works of Bracquemond, Cassatt, and Morisot seem to stay in their shade. Waldemar Januszczak shows that they created a new art language with unique painting techniques and introduced the female gaze into impressionism (Perspective, 2020a). It is great that the show does not focus only on the famous impressionists but gives a detailed description of the whole Impressionist movement.
In conclusion, I would like to say that these episodes helped me to learn something new about a very interesting art movement. The authors helped to descend into this beautiful contrast of crowded streets, unreal city lights, lakes with chaotic water lilies, rivers illuminated with the bright orange sun, erratic horseraces, and calming young ballerinas. That is why I liked the series and found it sophisticated, well-made, and thought-provoking.
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Perspective. (2020a). History’s forgotten impressionists (Art history documentary) | Perspective [Video]. Youtube. Web.
Perspective. (2020b). History’s greatest impressionists (Arts documentary) | Perspective [Video]. Youtube. Web.