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Let's talk American Impressionism

The follow up from my earlier post: I had the lovely opportunity of meeting Gilcrease Museum's Executive Director Duane King. I hadn't planned out questions for this man, but the one that hit me to pose was "American and French Impressionism, what are some of the differences?" We discussed it, I pondered it some more as I viewed the show, and I did a little research from my old art history text books upon arriving home. The result: A few humble talking points on Gilcrease's new exhibit, "Transcending Vision: American Impressionism 1870-1940," if you decide to see the show with someone you’d like to impress:

  • American Impressionists were continually accused of just imitating French Impressionism - definitely an insult to an artist. However a distinctly American take on this style can be seen.
    • Look closely at the subject matter. Among other American themes you'll notice awe-inspiring land and seascapes, commerce, American cities, and, as my boyfriend Ryan pointed out, boats that seem to be headed out to explore.
    • The use of Impressionist exploration of shadow to inspire reverence for land forms, people and buildings. Unlike the French, Americans traveled to see nature's grandest forms. French painters generally utilized the landscapes easily accessible.
    • Also note- these painters did not listen to the taunting of critics...they painted despite being told they were nothing but copy cats. This dedication and willingness to break away from the accepted even in the face of ridicule is American.
  • Whether French or American, what makes it Impressionism?
    • Painters started painting "en plein air" or outdoors. This meant painting right in front of the landscapes rather than from sketches.
    • Painting outdoors meant less time to devote to images and an effort to get it all in one sitting. Quick brushstrokes help capture the fleeting moment.
    • Some of the work will have bold lines around objects. This is because of recent influence of Japanese block prints.
    • This is the first time shadows took on a shade of color rather than just grey.
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