Caylea Barone

What say you of the developing dimensions of art styles over time? Impasto:paint that is applied to a canvas or panel in quantities that make it stand out from the surface, has evolved into a favored and emotional context for modern artists alike. Originating from the Italian word for “paste,” impasto is an equivocal technique in which an artist applies paint to the canvas as thickly as possible and does not try to conceal individual brush strokes (how unconventional). This art style assists in the creation of dramatic visual effects whilst invoking emotions in the viewers and denoting the passion of the artist. Impasto was also often used to portray rough and broken textures of highlights and intensely lit surfaces, as well as emphasizing textures and the rich qualities of paint, physical matter, itself. As most new movements and ideas are founded, the conventional use of impasto originated from artists’ exploration of oil paint qualities during the Renaissance. Such qualities of oil paint include retarded drying, which allows artists to layer paint thickly and add to the drama of a piece. In the 17th Century, Baroque painters began to experiment with impasto, dramatic light effects, and the qualities of thickly applied paint to demonstrate complex textures and enhance atmospheric effects. Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Velazquez skillfully manipulated impasto into their art while laying the groundwork for later artists such as van Gogh, Pollock, and de Kooning. The latter Impressionist artists often worked outdoors (en plein air) which added to their spontaneity and intensity of working with the elements, in conjunction with paint squeezed straight from the tube, creating an exemplar work of contrasting natural light and shadow. Impressionism then lead to a post-impressionism era of Expressionist artists who used dramatic impasto as well, eventually giving way to modern Abstract Expressionists. However, viewers of art often focus on completion, the finished product, and the end result of an artist’s labor and plight. But the process of art and viewing art is much deeper than that -- it involves exploration, critical thinking, drawing attention to the process of the painting, how the paint or material was applied to the work, and how this experiment forms the final product. From Enlightenment painters to the age of Impressionism and through the 1960’s, Impasto has been there through it all -- and will continue to make an impact in the dynamism and expression of art. The aesthetic application and primitive nature of raw pigment has created an emotional tsunami of expression that continues to grow and influence artists, art critics, and viewers of art today.

The Portal of Rouen Cathedral c.1894

"The older I become the more I realize that I have to work very hard to reproduce what I search: the instantaneous. The influence of the atmosphere on the things and the light scattered throughout" once said Claude Monet -- a paramount Impressionism figure of the late nineteenth century -- often fondly remembered for his water lily works. In Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series of 31 canvases showing the Gothic Cathedral under fluctuating atmospheric conditions, he was able to capture and portray a fleeting dynamic moment of: life, architecture, and nature, all in one canvas. The emotional appeal of blurring a central figure or structure allows the mind to fill in the bulk of the image and fine tune it to a intimate preference. I’ve been able to personally experience Monet’s Rouen Cathedral (soleil), or sun, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Upon first glance, I was confused and struggled to find the clear image; however, after gazing for a few moments, the image naturally clarified and mesmerized me. How can someone paint with such texture and detail to intentionally blur a well-known structure, yet still have the image be recognizable under layers of paint?

Alice Hoschedé au jardin c.1888

The visual splendor of Impressionism cannot help but make one smile. When Monet slaps on layers of thick and vibrant oil paint to portray his lush garden at Vétheuil, it’s almost as if one can smell the roses, reach out and lay in the lush lively lawns, or gaze out at the Seine river in the background. Seated in his garden is Alice Hoschedé, Monet's thirty-seven year old lover who was married to one of his close friends before becoming his wife. The vivid colors created by lit and shadowed areas in nature help make this work "un chef d'oevre," a masterpiece in my eyes. This period of Impressionism focused on painting en plein air, or outdoors; it is not hard to imagine Monet or Alice lounging in a chair under the Parisian sun, painting or needle working, respectively. The emotions expelled from the fleeting moments of sunshine and shade on the plush lawn as shown in Monet's work provide aesthetic pleasure and inspire tantalizing spells of daydreams on summer days. One of the most striking and impressive elements of impasto work is the obscured detail in each piece. Whenever I am at the Frick, the Met, the MoMA, or any other museum, there are always people standing as close as possible to works such as these. There is something compelling, some radiated energy, from the multitude of paint layers slapped systematically onto a large canvas, beckoning viewers to come get closer work. It's genius for artists to paint and inspire in such a way that actively involves the viewer in a thoughtful, analytical, yet expressive act.

Water Lilies c.1914-1926

As seen in Monet's work to the left, his large canvases engulf the viewer and essentially the entire room is transformed into a water lily pond. This work, on
view at the Museum of Modern Art, was intended to supply "the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank." His large triptych painting references his love for nature, Japanese water lily ponds, and his own gardens at his home in Giverny. These monumental paintings aim towards abstraction; sky and light blend into one in Monet's efforts to capture the ever changing environments of spatial landscapes. The impact of abstracting an ever familiar landscape inspires one to create their own imagery in a painting as large as the one below. Unity of the elements, shapes, and colors creates harmony and peacefulness in a tranquil space. Similarly, unity is established through the elimination of any and all vantage points of the painting. One can grasp the entirety of the painting per Monet's request of installation on curved walls, which creates for an even more unique experience of this work. Thick impasto oils are slapped onto the canvases and truly create rich textures and spatial complexity due to highlights and shadows. Monet's intentions to create a shimmering "refuge for peaceful meditation" is truly conveyed through his Water Lily works.

Starry Night over the Rhone c.1888

Irises in Vase c.1899

Detail of Starry Night c.1889

Vincent van Gogh, one of the most well known artists in the world, was the epitome impasto user. Also well known is the unsettling fact that van Gogh cut off his own ear, which lead to his stark depression in his later years of life. Despite this, to know Vincent is to understand him as a hardworking, deeply religious, difficult man who created several emotional and visually arresting paintings. Impasto is closely tied to nature, which is plausibly why van Gogh, impasto, and nature can all be synthesized together in one thought. Vincent once said in an 1874 letter, “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see it.” A beautifully said line from van Gogh that shows his compassionate and appreciative sides. Van Gogh and other artists of this era and style can be classified as Post-Impressionistic by their emphasis of the physical application of paint, interest in emotional and psychological responses to the world through bold colors, and expressive, symbolic images.

Vincent also once said he was, “very sensitive to color and its particular language, its effects of complementaries, contrasts, and harmony.” When one observes van Gogh’s work, they feel an emotion. In “Starry Night Over the Rhone,” a tranquil yet exuberant and vibrant sky coexist to stimulate the imagination and invoke the reflection of inner thoughts and feelings. The subtle yet pronounced contrasts of blue and yellow in the night sky, village, and river soothe the calamity of the fear of night yet contribute to the immense unseen power of nature in dusk. Similarly, van Gogh’s "Starry Night" is a premier example of his use of hue contrasts and textures to portray and evoke empathetic responses. In general, the raised, rigid and smooth/creamy textures of the frozen paint creates a mobile image of waves, or swirling winds in the night sky, or petals of irises that are beginning to wilt. Vincent van Gogh was a master of painting, drawing, and coloring among all others; his use of impasto was conveyed in a plethora of his works and remains a key element of his style to this day.
Portrait of Dr. Gachet c.1890

The contributions of Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet have and will continue to inspire generations of artists and designers. The intentions for rich artistic creation and organic compositions as representations of real life media are impressionistically portrayed through the use of impasto and emotion. These two artists were greatly inspired by nature, the ever changing atmospheric conditions, and real life emotions that are conveyed through both the utilization of masterful yet simplistic compositions. The actions of these great artists and artists of this era alike will be remembered for the rest of time.

Works Cited:
"Impasto" Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. Web. 09 May. 2016
“Impasto: Definition, Techniques, Effect & Artists”, 2016. Web. 09
May. 2016.
“Vincent van Gogh: Emotion, Vision, and A Singular Style” MoMA Learning.
Web. .11 May. 2016
"Monet Paintings and Drawings" The Art Institute of Chicago. Web. 26 May. 2016