My true love: The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists

This post is written in honor of National Arts and Humanities Month. We are highlighting different humanities topics that we are passionate about and hope you’ll share your passions with us too!

Remember the scene in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when Ferris’s best friend Cameron stands before Georges Seurat’s giant painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte? He just stares and stares and stares.

I’ve done that too.

The moment I walked into The Art Institute of Chicago, I was in heaven. Let me wander around an art museum and soak in paintings and sculptures, and I’m a happy girl. But when I saw Seurat’s painting, I was transfixed. The scene is unbelievably beautiful: an island in the Seine, women with bustled dresses and umbrellas, men in top hats and long coats. Looking at this painting is like being transported back in time.

Seurat is a Post-Impressionist and used his pointillist technique to create this painting in 1884. Post-Impressionists “developed a structured, more monumental art to depict modern urban life,” according to The National Gallery of London’s website. Housed in that museum is Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières, another scene taken from the River Seine.

The Impressionists who came before Seurat were known for paintings that, to some critics, looked more like “sketches” than completed paintings. According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art website, “The artists’ loose brushwork gives an effect of spontaneity and effortlessness that masks their often carefully constructed compositions…”

These are undoubtedly my favorite paintings, next to Seurat. And my favorite painter? Why Claude-Oscar Monet, of course.

I could stare at a Monet painting for hours, and I often did when I lived in London a few years ago. The National Gallery is truly amazing, for one, because it’s free. It was also located a short distance from my office there, so I could spend lunch hours gazing at some stunning works, namely The Thames Below Westminster by Monet. He painted this in about 1871 when he lived in London during the Franco-Prussian War. Another favorite at The National Gallery is Snow Scene at Argenteuil, completed in 1875. This painting is of boulevard Saint-Denis, northwest of Paris, where Monet lived for a time. I am entranced by the effect of the snow on the street and trees; it looks almost like it’s underwater, or floating among the clouds.

The first time I ever saw a Monet in person was at The Met. My two favorites there: Water Lilies and Haystacks (Effect of Snow and Sun) are on view right now. I stood before these paintings, trying to study each brush stroke and how the colors were layered on one another. This past Christmas I returned to The Met and found these paintings again. I stayed in front of Water Lilies for so long, my friends thought I was lost. I told them, next time, just find Monet, and that’s where I’ll be.

Sources — The Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/imml/hd_imml.htm; The Art Institute of Chicago: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/27992?search_id=1; The National Gallery: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/georges-seurat