With hindsight it seems mildly insane that anyone could object to anything painted by the Impressionists. The author shows that it wasn't so much the technical style of the Impressionists (although that was a contentious issue) as it was what they painted. What the Impressionists painted was modern, ordinary life, from the mundane to the illicit. The old guard felt that the noble art of painting should only be used to deal with noble subjects. In The Social History of Art by Arnold Hauser, the author, taking a Marxist view, argued that the animosity directed towards the Impressionists was becuase they brought, as subjects, the proletariat and bourgeoisie into a field that had been dominated by images of the holy and the powerful. Adding credence to this theory is the fact that the dictatorial government of Napoleon III found these artists and their paintings suspiciously democratic. It should be pointed out that the vast crowds that viewed the works in the Salons des Refuses, including lots of proles and bourgeoisie, heaped scorn on the new wave in art.
|At the time, Parisians thought Manet's Olympia was funnier than Dogs Playing Poker. Go figure.|
Ross King does a great job of blending art history, art criticism, social history and political history. This is not a book with a narrow focus on artists and art. King creates a full portrait of the world the Impressionists came out of and were fighting against, and he does it with clarity and wit.