The Impressionist Tradition in America
In the 1860s a small group of French painters made a radical break with the dominant artistic style. These artists, later dubbed the Impressionists by a critic, rejected academic rules, which dictated the painting of crisply-rendered mythological, literary, and historical subjects, in favor of non-narrative scenes of everyday life. Focusing intently on the representation of light, atmosphere, and movement, they took inspiration from the bustling modern city and the lush countryside, often working outdoors, or en plein air, directly before their chosen subject.
Between 1874 and 1886 the French Impressionists organized eight group shows independent of the official Salon, the conservative, state-sponsored annual Paris exhibition whose juries had systematically rejected most of their work. Most of the artists represented in this gallery showed in the first Impressionist Exhibition. Despite a hostile reception from critics-one reviewer wrote in 1874 that the Impressionists had "declared war on beauty"-artists throughout Europe and America soon embraced the liberation from convention advocated by the new movement. American expatriates adopted the style as early as the 1870s after attending the Impressionist exhibitions. Other Americans studying in Europe gradually learned the style's techniques, disseminating them upon their return home. By the early 1900s, Impressionism had become the dominant style of painting in America; art colonies offered lodging for painters seeking rural subject matter, and art academies, including the Corcoran School of Art, taught Impressionist methods.
American Impressionism's popularity waned as the twentieth century progressed. Eventually it was displaced by what is known today as Realism, which favored a more straightforward depiction of the grittier side of the modern environment. In recent years, however, Realism has come to be understood less as a rejection, and more as a transformation, of the earlier mode of painting; the Impressionist penchant for contemporary subject matter and bravura brushwork had left a lasting imprint on American art.
The works featured in this exhibition are drawn from the Corcoran's permanent collection. This exhibition was organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art and funded by The President's Exhibition Fund.