Words Tamara Batshon
From the beginning of human history, nature has played a vital role in inspiring our creative expression. Nature’s breathtaking beauty and force is ingrained in our lives. It has inspired literature, songs, and art for as long as human history has been recorded. The school of art known as “Impressionism” is perhaps the artistic movement that is most acclaimed for its depictions of nature.
With the birth of Impressionism, the avant-garde art movement that appeared at the end of the 19th century, artists took their canvas to the countryside and started to paint en plain air (outdoors). Nature was the driving force for many artists, including Monet, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Renoir, Cezanne, and Degas. These artists and their contemporaries could not resist depicting nature and its beauty in new ways, which forever changed the face of art.
To this day Impressionist painting is arguably the most attractive in the history of modern art. Its retrospective works in museums draw great crowds. The style is still immensely popular today, and it is applied by many artists. Marked by the striking use of colors and a focus on the depiction of light, the paintings are often vibrant and uplifting. The brush strokes are typically applied quickly, creating an illusion of movement and spontaneity. The artists were not interested in rendering details, but instead they wanted to create an image of the whole scene as though it were perceived in a single, fleeting glance. Even reflections on the water’s surface would appear to be as substantial as any of the real objects in a scene. In other words how nature is seen and felt in that very moment by the artist is poetically and skillfully captured on the canvas.
Perhaps Claude Monet is the most well-known Impressionist artist of this period. He had a preference for landscapes, and water in particular. His famous Water Lilies series, along with his paintings Haystacks and Impression, Sunrise (the painting attributed to giving Impressionism its name) is inspired by nature. His friend Auguste Renoir also often painted his subjects outdoors. In fact the two worked side by side during their early works, often depicting the same scenes of the boathouse parties in suburban Paris in 1869 (La Grenouillère). Another impressionist star, Vincent Van Gogh, was also known for his nature-inspired paintings. His famous works, such as Starry Night, Wheatfield under Clouded Sky, and Daubigny’s Garden featured his unique thick swirling brush strokes, giving the impression that his painting is constantly moving.
Henri Rousseau, the post-Impressionist painter, famously claimed that he had “no teacher other than nature.” A self-taught artist, Rousseau was famous for his depictions of the jungle. His nature painting The Flamingos and the Dream showcases the juxtaposition of the real and the imaginary.
Camille Pissarro was more realistic and gritty. He addressed the reality of nature and agriculture in landscapes, often with figures. Peasant woman and animals were often portrayed in nature, as seen in Pissarro’s famous Donkey Ride at la Roche-Guyan and Hay Harvest at Éragny. Artist Paul Cezanne was highly influenced by Pissarro, and the two often painted landscapes together. Acclaimed works by Cezanne include the Mont Sainte-Victoire series and The Bathers, a painting depicting nude women bathing outdoors.
“Painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations”.
“I am following Nature without being able to grasp her…
I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.”
“There are colors which cause each other to shine brilliantly, which form a couple which complete each other like man and woman.”
Vincent van Gogh
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”.
“All the sorrows, all the bitternesses, all the sadnesses, I forget them and ignore them in the joy of working”.