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Impressionism: Pathways to Modernity – exhibition in Louvre Abu Dhabi

The exhibition which is taking place now in Louvre Abu Dhabi “Impressionism: Pathways to Modernity” is one of the most significant Impressionist exhibitions ever to be held outside France. The opening was on the 12th of October 2022 and it will be in Louvre Abu Dhabi till the 5th of February 2023.

There are many big names on the list – Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne – and some of the less obvious but equally important Impressionists like Gustave Caillebotte and Berthe Morisot.

Altogether the exhibition features more than 150 painting masterpieces alongside etchings, costumes, film and photography. Visitors are going to explore why Impressionism was considered a revolutionary movement in the 19th century and how it paved the way for Modernity.

Claude Monet, Banks of the Seine, Vétheuil, 1880, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.177

The painting that gave the movement its name is Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise”, exhibited at the inaugural 1874 exhibition of the group of artists that called themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers. At that time “Salon”, the main stage for artists to exhibit, was run by the Académie des Beaux Arts and was a marker of quality and refinement, but at the same time it operated with rigidly conservative values and had a monopoly on selecting artworks and awarding medals.

The Anonymous Society artists, despite their diverse approaches to painting, appeared to contemporaries as a group. By the time of their third exhibition in 1877 they had adopted the term ‘Impressionists’ for themselves. They were criticised for the unfinished, sketchlike appearance, but more progressive writers such as Edmond Duranty in his 1876 essay La Nouvelle Peinture (The New Painting) praised them for the depiction of modern life in a suitably innovative style, which was, by his opinion, a revolution in painting.

Gustave Caillebotte, The Seine And The Railway Bridge At Argenteuil (1885-87). Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

Many of the independent artists adopted this impressionistic technique – small, visible brushstrokes that offer the bare impression of form, pure unblended colours, and an emphasis on the accurate depiction of natural light. That loose brushwork gave an effect of spontaneity and effortlessness that masked their carefully constructed compositions. Impressionists often painted shadows and highlights in colour, rather than using traditional neutral white, grays and blacks. Those bright colours of Impressionist canvases were shocking for eyes of a public accustomed to the soberer colours of academic painting. Many of the Impressionists chose not to apply the thick golden varnish that painters at that time customarily used to tone down their works and the paints themselves were more vivid as well.

Such artists as Manet and Auguste Renoir chose to depict images of suburban and rural leisure outside of Paris. Several of them lived in the country for part or all of the year. Some artists, such as Pissarro, focused on the daily life of local villagers in Pontoise, depicted the vacationers’ rural pastimes. Impressionists such as Mone and Gustave Caillebotte enthusiastically painted the renovated Paris, employing their new style to depict its wide boulevards, public gardens, and grand buildings.

Auguste Renoir, View of the Seacoast near Wargemont in Normandy, 1880. Oil on canvas; 19 7/8 x 24 1/2 in. (50.5 x 62.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The last of the independent exhibitions in 1886 also was the beginning of a new phase in avant-garde painting. Most of the artists, by this time, were developing new, individual styles that caused ruptures in the group’s unity. Pissarro promoted the participation of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac to the group. He also adopted their new technique based on points of pure colour, known as Neo-Impressionism. The young Gauguin was working in his own style, close to Primitivism.

Nevertheless Impressionism was a revolutionary movement, which opened the way for later Avant-garde art in Europe. This exhibition is not to be missed by anyone interested in art and exploring Abu Dhabi and the region.

To learn more, please visit the official web page of the exhibition.

You may also like the Fractured Landscapes exhibition by artist Nathaniel Rackowe.

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