LaurenForzani-Canadian Impressionists

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Introduction

"We are all the subjects of impressions, and some of us seek to convey the impressions to others. In the art of communicating impressions lies the power of generalizing without losing that logical connection of parts to the whole which satisfies the mind."?
-Camille Pissaro

During the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, a new and innovative movement took place. A group of artists working mainly in Paris developed their own personal manner of depicting their modern world. Using a bright colorful palette and a personalized brushstroke, the Impressionists captured a moment in time. They translated the real world through color, light, and brushstroke, creating an "impression" on canvas. This idea coincided with new technological advancements in photography around the same period of time. Since the photograph duplicates reality, the Impressionists translate the world around them on canvas.

The Impressionists redefine boundaries and possibilities through prioritizing color and tone as opposed to the historical methods of analyzing drawing and composition. The forerunner of this group, Claude Monet, painted Impression, Sunrise for the group's first exhibition in 1874. These subversive artists were heavily criticized since their new way of painting rejected the formal academic techniques. The Impressionists created not just a movement but an era dedicated to new techniques of painting pertaining to all types of genre. Their influence spread throughout Europe and eventually to the new world, particularly Canada. Various Canadian artists traveled to Europe and explored new methods of painting. Three artists in particular, Laura Muntz Lyall, Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Cote, and Clarence Gagnon were among the artists who learned and applied the lessons of Impressionism. First, I will discuss Laura Muntz Lyall and how she applied the Impressionist technique strongly through nurtured subject matter.

"Everyone knows the names of famous Impressionists - Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro - but it is less well known that important women painters also belonged to their circle." Among the original Impressionist painters, few were women. But the women that were Impressionists left a defining mark. "Berthe Morisot, a successful and admired colleague and close friend of and model for Manet, was highly praised by critics for her relaxed brushstroke as the "most Impressionistic of the Impressionists." Of the Canadian women Impressionists, Laura Muntz Lyall (1860-1930) was certainly at the top of her field. Born in England, she moved to rural Ontario as a child. "She traveled to Paris, France to study at the renowned Academic Colarossi where she was influenced by the impressionist style." Returning to Canada with a new adopted style of painting, she became "the first female artist to receive recognition outside Canada." Although Lyall's shades of color, sense of light, and vivid brushstroke related her to Impressionism, her subject matter was the instigator. Depicting genre scenes of everyday life was a popular theme for the Impressionists. Auguste Renoir was popular for representing the Parisian lifestyle of social parties and family gatherings. Much like the American born Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt, Lyall painted adoring scenes of women and children. One painting in particular entitled Interesting Story 1897 depicts two children relaxing and reading a book. Light poring in from outside highlights the children's nightgowns while the soft taupe and eggshell colors blend well with the overall delicate scene. Mother and Child 1898 and Girl in Sunlight 1897 also adhere to the Impressionistic genre theme. Next, I will discuss Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Cote who applied the Impressionistic technique though color, brushwork, and scenes of rural landscape.

Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Cote (1869-1937) was born in Arthabaska in the Bois-Francs region, Quebec. His pursuit to academic training led him to Paris where he attended the Ecole des beaux-arts. His "studies and apprenticeship in Paris prepared him for a successful career in Canada in portrait painting, landscapes, and still life." Suzor-Cote is acclaimed for his "depictions of the simple country life and the people he encountered in his native Arthabaska, which he loved until he died." Like Laura Muntz Lyall, Suzor-Cote was well recognized both in Europe and Canada, in which his work was shown at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1900. He applied the Impressionistic technique to his works, and was acclaimed for his rural landscapes emphasizing dramatic color and choppy brushwork. Shadows were highlighted as different shades of color spread over each canvas. His work entitled After the Breakup 1914 carries a strong relation to other typical Impressionistic landscapes. This painting represents a shift in season as the ice is breaking and the fresh cool blue water rises. Form is represented by various colors and quick brushstrokes translating the landscape into colorful pours of luminescent shapes. Another Impressionist, Paul Cezanne, interpreted similar landscapes with respect to the use of different colors and quick choppy brushstrokes to characterize the landscape. Another painting by Suzor-Cote entitled The River Magog 1914 has similar characteristics to Camille Pissarro's rural landscapes using a unified color palette of whites, reds, and browns. Suzor-Cote also painted rural genre scenes such as Breton Women at Church 1902. Breton women in particular were popular subjects for post-impressionists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. In this painting, the detail is focused on the two women centered in the picture frame while the rest of the canvas is filled with long lines of earth tones. By focusing on the two women, Suzor-Cote emphasizes the importance of his subject matter and fills in the highlighted background and lightened shadows. All of his paintings undoubtedly attest to the Impressionist style. Lastly, I will discuss Clarence Gagnon who applied his Impressionistic technique mainly through his depiction of French rural villages and his illustrations from the novel Maria Chapdelaine.

Clarence Gagnon (1881-1942) was an engraver, illustrator, and painter. He was born in a small rural town of Sainte-Rose, Quebec. His interest in art also led him to Paris where he attended the Academie Julian and excelled in etching. Although his French training helped him in his career and his insight into art, his true inspiration was rural Canada. All through his career "Gagnon never lost his love of the Laurentians and the Charlevoix region of eastern Quebec which inspired many of his paintings." Most of his works consisted of quaint rural villages or beautiful rugged landscapes. Gagnon's affection for the French Canadian life is a major characteristic of an Impressionist. Although mostly all the Impressionists rendered urban scenes of the Parisian lifestyle, they were known for depicting humble countryside villages surrounded by nature's untouched beauty. Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, and Paul Cezanne were the prominent landscape artists who worked mainly outside to create the best effect of natural lights and vibrant colors. Gagnon admired the French countryside and peasant life and it was evident in his famous series of illustrations for Louise Hemon's French Canadian novel entitled Maria Chapdelaine. Two works in particular entitled Haying, 1928-33 and Burning Stumps, 1928-33 describe the brutality of rural life and the hard workmanship the peasant farmers went through. As well, Gagnon portrayed the Canadian landscape generally in wintertime. "He invented a new type of landscape - a winter world composed of valleys and mountains, of sharp contrasts of light and shadow, of vivid colors, and of sinuous lines." One painting in particular entitled The Laurentian Homestead 1924 describes the country life and landscape very well. The rocky road stretching across the Laurentian valley covered in thick white snow carries a tranquil lightness, while the figure and horse are softly rendered in the center of the canvas. Gagnon painted quickly on the spot rendering an impression of the landscape. Much like Gagnon's love for his French Canadian heritage landscapes and rural villages, Claude Monet drew inspiration from his French countryside. In The Road to Giverny, Winter 1885 Monet renders a winter scene on his way to Giverny, a village where he spent most of his later life.