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Impressionism: Paint and Politicsby John House
Synopses & Reviews
In this handsome book, a leading authority on Impressionist painting offers a new view of this admired and immensely popular art form. John House examines the style and technique, subject matter and imagery, exhibiting and marketing strategies, and social, political, and ideological contexts of Impressionism in light of the perspectives that have been brought to it in the last twenty years. When all of these diverse approaches are taken into account, he argues, Impressionism can be seen as a movement that challenged both artistic and political authority with its uncompromisingly modern subject matter and its determinedly secular worldview.
Moving from the late 1860s to the early 1880s, House analyzes the paintings and career strategies of the leading Impressionist artists, pointing out the ways in which they countered the dominant conventions of the contemporary art world and evolved their distinctive and immediately recognizable manner of painting. Focusing closely on the technique, composition, and imagery of the paintings themselves and combining this fresh appraisal with recent historical studies of Impressionism, House explores how pictorial style could generate social and political meanings and opens new ways of looking at this luminous art.
"While every Art History 101 student knows that Impressionism challenged the prevailing aesthetic of its day, Professor House seeks to show that this challenge was also at least obliquely political: Impressionist paintings, he argues, undermined a clearly understood social hierarchy through their fixation on the fleeting, mysterious sensations of modern life. House presents this idea with too many caveats and qualifications for it to carry much force, and, more critically, he provides virtually no historical context for his claim. Without elaboration, he calls the climate of 1870s France 'repressive,' yet he also details how the Impressionists, with apparent impunity, mounted their first group shows at this time. House-who looks a bit like Sting and teaches at London's renowned Courtauld Institute of Art-too often seems to conflate the aesthetic authority of the Salon (the annual exhibit of the French cultural establishment) with the political authority of the French government. But what makes this book rewarding despite its attenuated conclusions is House's commentary on the paintings themselves, which are generously reproduced here. Taking to task colleagues who focus solely on a single aspect of art history-gender, authority, technique, etc.-House analyzes the paintings from many angles, illuminating everything from the quality of individual brush strokes to the choice of subject matter. In the process, House rescues the Impressionists from both the modernist narrative that grants them only a bit part in the development of 20th-century 'pure painting,' and the purveyors of museum gift shop calendars who see no more than a superficial prettiness. Though they may not be bomb-tossing dissidents, the Impressionists, as presented by House, are prickly, complex individuals richly deserving of this fresh look." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
John House is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. He is the author of, among other works, Monet: Nature into Art, published by Yale University Press.
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