Anarchism and Impressionism

[Authors: Amanda Granato, Erica La Branche, and Liam McAllaster]

[I. Author: Liam McAllaster]

Brief Explanation of Movement

The impressionistic movement can be tracked officially from the first private exhibition held in Paris featuring the new style in 1874, but the circumstances for it can be traced back into the 1860s. Many of the artists were alienated by their inconsistent success in the eyes of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and also exhibited a tendency for a revolutionary, more common subject matter. It was an artistic rejection of a more realistic style, lacking hard lines and focusing more on creative applications of color rather then perfecting form.
            These artists were not the introverted type either, who spent their lives in a quiet studio painting. Famed impressionist Edouard Manet challenged, fought, and won a duel against critic Edmond Duranty after he released an unfavorable review of his work (wetcanvas). Pierre-Auguste Renoir fought in the Franco-Prussian War, while his fellow painter Frederic Bazille died in French service. They held regular meetings together in Paris as a group to discuss their movement and style, working to evolve and master their new form collectively. In moving away from the regular, realistic approach to painting and rendering the world, they opened the door for even more innovative modes such as Fauvism and the far more abstract Cubism. Their collective effort effectively altered the history of art, and willed painting in a direction that the photograph could never approach; abstract, complex, human creativity.

Sites for Exploration

Archival Elements Explanations
Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise (Impression: soleil levant), 1873

The picture painted by Claude Monet is titled “Impression, Sunrise”. While it does not truly embody the movement of Impressionism as in its artistic style, the odd title of the work became the namesake for the new mode. Displayed at a private exhibition in accompaniment with other impressionistic works, the style was ridiculed for its lack of craft and workmanship. It was not until years later that the Impressionist painters would receive popular acclaim for their originality and skill.

The PDF file contains multiple primary source translations of materials concerning the impressionistic movement. It includes everything from critical reviews from art journalists of the time to personal journals of the artists. It is a very rare source to find, considering most of the pieces available on the internet are mere summaries or lists of events, much less translations of real primary sources.

Link to a Scholarly Essay
Hay, Eloise Knapp. Joseph Conrad and Impressionism“The Journal of Aesthetics and
Art Criticism”. JSTOR. Vol. 34. Blackwell Publishing 1975. P. 137-144. <>

Books for further Exploration  
Kelder, Diane. The Great Book of French Impressionism. Artabras, New York. 1980.
Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism. New York Graphic Society, New York.1973.

[II. Author: Erica LaBranche]
           This research dossier on “Anarchy and French Impressionism” focuses on the role of art, specifically French Impressionism, showing how its anarchic characteristics shook the art world and at the same time mirrored the disorderly happenings in French politics and society during the 19th century. It gives sites for introduction and further exploration into the world of 19th century France where political and social mayhem and cries of anarchy are beginning to arise (Springer, 262). It also gives articles on how this disorder leads to artistic outlets, where art was sometimes found as a means to channel anarchic and individualistic ideas/emotions. From this came the birth of impressionism that rejected the regulatory and structured forms of art found in the academies. It was seen by many professionals and artists alike as a disgrace, which can be seen in writings done by Matthew Arnold, “who’s emphasis on objectivity can be said to represent the antithesis of impressionism” (Zietlow, 151).
The lack of form and “realistic” structure in impressionism is what made it such a statement of the time period. Along with this lack of realistic quality, the impressionist painters of the era used normal, everyday subjects to paint rather than the formal portraits and landscapes that were popular in the academies. Examples of this can be seen in the work of famous impressionists: Claude Monet and Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas who liked to paint every day people and subjects (Monet, Camille Monet (1847–1879) on a Garden Bench and Degas, Young Spartans Exercising). Another aspect of impressionist art seen in their work is the use of abstract images, landscapes and figures. Instead of painting in a “realistic” way they tended to blur the lines and paint in a more conceptual manner where the painting would not be seen as a mere replication of its subject (Zietlow, 156).This rejection of the regular artistic styles of the academies was seen as a type of anarchy or revolution where the impressionist artists were demanding more artistic freedom and individuality in their art.
This powerful, anarchic movement in the art world also mirrored the real life social/political anarchy that was taking place especially during that time, especially during the French Commune (Springer, 261). Artists and cartoonists during the time period of the French Commune participated in the writing of articles and drawing of advertisements to publicize the wrong doings of the government/society and to encourage citizens to support the rise of anarchy (Springer, 261). This rejection and criticism of society can be seen in work done by Honoré Daumier. Daumier, a printmaker and sculptor, spent some of his time creating political cartoons in the comic journal, La Caricature, where he would express his thoughts on the incompetence and inequality of the government and society in France (Ivins, 94). His drawings show another way art was used more directly to speak out against the political inequalities of the country as well as the controversies in the art world.

One link to a full-text scholarly essay:
·      Terrorism and Anarchy: Late 19th-Century Images of a Political Phenomenon in France

Links for further exploration:
·      Pater's Impressionism Reconsidered
·      Impressions of French Modernity: Art and Literature in France, 1850-1900
·      The Politics of Aesthetic Harmony: Neo-Impressionism, Science, and Anarchism
·      Art and the French Commune: Imagining Paris after War and Revolution
By: Albert Boime (
·      Early Impressionism and the French State (1866-1874) by Jane Mayo Roos; Impressionism: Reflections and Perceptions by Meyer Schapiro; Degas: Beyond Impressionism by Richard Kendall
·      Daumier as a Lithographer

Archival Paintings/Lithograph:

·      Young Spartans Exercising about 1860 (Painting)
This painting Young Spartans Exercising (about 1860) by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas is an example of an impressionist piece of the time period. The subjects of the piece are, as the title hints at, young Spartans, dressed in minimal clothing where some are even shown nude. This depiction of everyday people doing a daily activity is an example of how impressionist art went against the formal rules of the art academies that focused on painting landscapes and portraits of refined/more reputable people and places. The subjects of this painting are depicted outside in nature exercising and interacting as a group that contains both male and female subjects. This would have been seen as an inappropriate and barbaric subject to paint at that time. Along with the unsuitable subject matter, the details of the landscape and the people are abstract and unrefined. As the picture fades into the back the subjects and details become blurred and intangible. This purposeful lack of detail is another aspect of impressionist art that went against the “realistic” style of the time where artists were meant to capture a subject exactly how it was seen in real life. With its lack of detail and inappropriate subject choice this painting would have been seen as a bold statement against the academies.

·      Camille Monet (1847–1879) on a Garden Bench (Painting)
By: Claude Monet (French, Paris 1840–1926 Giverny) (
This painting Camille Monet (1847–1879) on a Garden Bench by Claude Monet shows another example of impressionist art. An aspect noticed right away in Monet’s artwork is his use of large brush strokes to create the conceptual imagery in the painting, especially in the back of the painting where the faceless woman is seen roaming the garden of flowers. While her body and clothing are definitely distinguished she lacks facial features, and the flowers in the garden she is admiring lack any definition besides their bright colors. In the main subject of the piece, Camille Monet, the large brush strokes can be seen within the makings of her dress and within the ground. While her facial features are more apparent than the unknown woman in the garden her hands and body still require form along with the unknown gentleman who rests beside her. While this painting might not seem as barbaric and outspoken as Degas’ Young Spartans Exercising this work would have also been seen as an outrage to the art academies because of its abstract nature and complete lack of realistic detail within its landscape, bodies, and structures.

·      Célèbre Jury de Peinture (Political Cartoon)
By: Honoré Daumier (French, Marseilles 1808–1879 Valmondois) (
This lithograph Célèbrrrre Jury de Peinture (Celebrity Jury of a Painting) by Honoré Daumier makes a statement on the type of people who are criticizing art during the time period. In the lithograph Daumier depicts men at an art showing. One man is analyzing certain measurements and angles on the ground, while another is looking at the artwork through a telescope, and another is playing the violin. He also shows one man off to left yawning and looking away from the art. Underneath the drawing is the text: “D'un compositeur, D'un Astronome, D'un Mathematicien, de plusieurs Architectes et d'un Chimiste. Le Chemiste (baillant) en der..mie...lyse...puisque dans le Jury de peinture il n'ya pas de Peintre! Si nous allions diner” (Daumier, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), (Rough translation: “From a composer, an astronomer, a mathematician, several architects and a chemist. The Chemist (yawning) in the…crumbs ... an analysis ... since in the Jury of the painting there is no painter! If we were going to dinner...”).
 In this statement Daumier is showing the ridiculous and absurd nature he feels for those who think they are critics of art. He uses distinguished professions of the time period to show how those of the upper class think that because they are from a higher social status that they can critique art. He is making a comment on how those who are critiquing art have no proper or adequate say on it, and when they do it tends to either be wrong or ridiculous, which can be seen in the images of the astronomer looking at the paintings through a telescope or in the mathematician drawing angles in the ground. He also shows through the chemist’s comment the other portion of society who does not care at all about art and would rather spend their time and judgment elsewhere. Daumier is making the statement that people of the upper class who do not know anything about art should spend their time elsewhere and worrying about other things like “going to dinner” (Daumier, The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Finally this image could also be interpreted as a commentary on impressionist art and how people of the upper class do not have an open and liberal artistic mindset to understand it. This lack of artistic individuality would lead to either a strong criticism by them or absurd conclusions about the piece like its “lack of a painter” (Daumier, The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Primary Sources:
Daumier, Honoré. Célèbre Jury de Pienture. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. (Gift of Weston J. Naef in honor of Kathleen W. Naef, 1978), (
Degas, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar. Young Spartans Exercising (about 1860). The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, (
Monet, Claude. Camille Monet (1847-1879) on a Garden Bench. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. (The Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg, 2002, Bequest of Walter H. Annenberg, 2002), (
Secondary Sources:
Boime, Albert. Art and the French Commune: Imagining Paris after War and Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1995. Print.
Hobbs, Richard. Impressions of French Modernity: Art and Literature in France, 1850-1900. Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 1998. (
Ivins, William M. Jr. Daumier as a Lithographer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. Vol. 18, No. 4 (Apr., 1923), pp. 94-98.The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Levine, Sura. Early Impressionism and the French State (1866-1874) by Jane Mayo Roos; Impressionism: Reflections and Perceptions by Meyer Schapiro; Degas: Beyond Impressionism by Richard Kendall. The Art Bulletin , Vol. 80, No. 3 (Sep., 1998), pp. 578-580.College Art Association
Roslak, Robyn. The Politics of Aesthetic Harmony: Neo-Impressionism, Science, and Anarchism.The Art Bulletin , Vol. 73, No. 3 (Sep., 1991), pp. 381-390.College Art Association
Springer, Annemarie. Terrorism and Anarchy: Late 19th-Century Images of a Political Phenomenon in France. Art Journal , Vol. 38, No. 4 (Summer, 1979), pp. 261-266.College Art Association
Zietlow, Paul. Pater's Impressionism Reconsidered. ELH , Vol. 44, No. 1 (Spring, 1977), pp. 150-170The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Artist Spotlight: Camille Pissarro

[Author: Amanda Granato]

            Camille Pissarro was a French Impressionist who often had anarchic themes and ideas in his paintings. Many of his works seem to focus on the idea of freedom and getting away from the confinement society. One drawing in particular, Les Chemineaux, seems to focus on these ideas. The drawing is of two men sitting beside a lake, looking carefree and happy; they appear to have nothing but the contents of the pouches that they carry on sticks. There is no pressure or ‘hustle and bustle’ of the city, “this print captures rather vividly the idea of the vagabond as the incarnation of freedom” (Hutton). This image of the hobo, unrestrained and free, becomes an important symbol for anarchist artists, as it represents the happiness and freedom that comes from living outside society and its rules. The drawing is not focused on being realistic, but rather creating an emotion and an impression of freedom and happiness, which the viewer sees in a drawing of homeless men on the side of the lake, rather than an urban drawing of confined society.
            Pissarro created a series of pen drawings called Turpitudes sociales, in which he depicts many anarchist views. Collectively the series can be interpreted as a call to arms statement by the anarchist movement. He begins by showing the poor, victimized by the stock rich character, fat and dressed in a fancy suite, clenching his big money bag close to his chest as the poor surround him begging in despair. He then depicts slaves and prisoners in their confinement then multiple suicide drawings and people starving and begging in misery. The last drawing is an uprising, perhaps implying that is where they are heading, or at least where they should be heading. This was a theme of many anarchist artist and writers: action. However a common critique of the anarchist movement is its utter lack of action, or ineffective action. It is possible this series of drawings expressed Pissarro’s sympathy for the poor, but urges them to not be idle and to take action, similar to the ideas explored and debated in works such as Shaw’s Man and Superman or Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent  (Hutton) (SLIDESHOW: TURPITUDES SOCIALES).

Archival Elements:
-Pontoise Les Mathurins: 1873 (painting by Pissarro)

Like many of Pissarro’s early works up until he joined the Neo-Impressionist movement, Pontoise Les Mathurins is a rural landscape depicting the simple life. There is no machinery or signs or urbanity, which might suggest “his belief in a peaceful society founded on rural communities” but it is also possible his art never had any political motives, as he was a supporter of ‘art for art’s sake’ and was interested, rather, in bringing about emotion in his viewers, which is what impressionism is all about, the impression the viewer gets of the artwork (Camille Pissarro French Impressionist Painter 1830 – 1903) (Pissarro, Camille, 1830-1903).

-La Place du Havre Gare Saint Lazare: 1893 (painting by Pissarro)

Towards the end of his life Pissarro veered away from his usual rural landscapes and painted a series of urban scenes, La Place du Havre Gare Saint Lazare, being one in the series. This painting is very much reflective of the idea of seeing the world through a kaleidoscope, as explored in Baudelaire’s The Painter of Modern Life, as well as Baudelaire’s prose poems. Pissarro is able to “[capture] the ever-shifting kaleidoscopic beauty of the hustle and bustle of urban life” (Camille Pissarro French Impressionist Painter 1830 - 1903). With the colorful, sporadic brush stroking Pissarro creates an ‘impression’ of the city rather than a realistic translation of it. A street that might otherwise have been viewed as “ugly,” because of the smog and filth, becomes beautiful on Pissarro’s canvas, which seems to support the anarchic idea of making life beautiful (Camille Pissarro French Impressionist Painter 1830 - 1903). Pissarro was able to create an image of the streets of Paris through a Kaleidoscope and make it beautiful.

Link to scholarly essay: 

Hutton, John. "'Les Prolos Vagabondent': Neo-Impressionism and the Anarchist Image of the       Trimardeur." The Art Bulletin. JSTOR. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.
Web Links for Further Exploration:
"Camille Pissarro and Les Turpitudes Sociales: Anarchy, Bourgeois Evil and Anti-Feminism –
            ArtDen." Oil  Painting Reproductions, Oil Paintings & Canvas Artwork. Web. 12 Apr.
Hutton, John. "'Les Prolos Vagabondent': Neo-Impressionism and the Anarchist Image of the       Trimardeur." The Art Bulletin. JSTOR. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.>>
~Also, another source is the section on page 43 of The Arts called ‘The Anarchism of Camille Pissarro.’ There is a lot of information there on Pissarro, impressionism, and anarchism.

Bibliography for further research:
"Camille Pissarro French Impressionist Painter 1830 - 1903." Camille Pissarro. Web. 12 Apr.
"Camille Pissarro and Les Turpitudes Sociales: Anarchy, Bourgeois Evil and Anti-Feminism –
            ArtDen." Oil  Painting Reproductions, Oil Paintings & Canvas Artwork. Web. 12 Apr.
Hutton, John. "'Les Prolos Vagabondent': Neo-Impressionism and the Anarchist Image of the       Trimardeur." The Art Bulletin. JSTOR. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.  <>.
"Pissarro, Camille, 1830-1903." Web. 12 Apr. 2012.
"SLIDESHOW: TURPITUDES SOCIALES." Pissarro's People. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.
"Camille Pissarro French Impressionist Painter 1830 - 1903." Camille Pissarro. Web. 12 Apr.

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