Modern Art Lessons – Impressionism

In today’s Lessons in Modern Art for the Modern Quilter, we’ll look at those who could be called the founders of the Modern Art movement, the Impressionists!


For context, here’s what most prestigious paintings looked like pre-Impressionism.  These are representations of Classicism, Neoclassicism, and Romanticism:

Molière - Nicolas Mignard (1658)

Molière – Nicolas Mignard (1658)

"Venus Induces Helen to Fall in Love with Paris" - Angelica Kauffmann - 1790

“Venus Induces Helen to Fall in Love with Paris” – Angelica Kauffmann – 1790

Eugène Delacroix, Death of Sardanapalus, 1827,

Eugène Delacroix, Death of Sardanapalus, 1827,

From the 1870s – 1890s there was a longing to break from the traditions imposed by academic artists.  The academics valued meticulous details and thought works must looked polished without any visibility of brushstrokes.

The Impressionists sought a new way to paint that would better reflect the “now,” rather than idolize historical moments, figures, or religious icons.  This was a time after great social upheaval (especially in France) and there was an emphasis on the new, modern way of life.

Impressionists looked to capture a moment on their paintings – the brush strokes were hurried and remained visible in the final product.  The traditionalists at the time thought their worked looked unfinished and were insulted. Another drastic change was the color pallet used by the Impressionists – light, airy colors were valued above the dark rich tones of traditional artists.

These new painters embracing this radical style found it very difficult to be accepted by art galleries.  Rejected by the prestigious art houses of the time, the Impressionists had to find their own ways to exhibit their work.

See the works of: Monet, Manet, Degas

Monet - "Westminster Bridge" - 1871

Monet – “Westminster Bridge” – 1871

Look at the use of “negative” light-colored space in this painting by Claude Monet, and the unbalanced composition of the docks.  The imprecision with how he depicted the boats in the water – there is a freedom from accuracy in favor of emotion.

Can we, as Modern Quilters, relate to this desire to step-away from traditional notions of quilting techniques and the traditional quilt composition?  When I think of traditional quilts, I see the meticulous piecing, and this is juxtaposed to the loose compositions of modern quilts.  The nature of repeated block patterned quilts can create a dark, rich tone to a traditional quilt whereas the use of sashing and negative space in modern quilts creates a lighter pallet.  And what can be said about reaching out to the blogosphere in order to find a community willing to embrace the experimentation of modern quilting?  Although traditional quilt guilds may not have “rejected” members for embracing a Modern style, there is comfort in finding a group of like-minded artists rather than remaining an outlier – for many of us this meant turning to the Internet and forming our own Modern Quilt Guilds.

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Filed under Inspiration

4 responses to “Modern Art Lessons – Impressionism

  1. Chris Willbanks

    I don’t have the words to tell you exactly what I think about this, the best I can offer you is that the first (traditional) paintings, I saw. The Monet made me think, “Is there a quilt in that?” And as in quilting, the Impressionists still needed to produce quality work – no ragged edges to ravel, no skipped stitches. It’s just interpreted differently. Thanks for your inspiration – this is an interesting topic for sure!

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris! I agree that quality work is always necessary if you want to be taken seriously. I was referring primarily to the visibility of brush-strokes in the Impressionists. For the traditionalists, this was seen as “sloppy,” but the Impressionists thought it added character to the paintings. For me, this is comparable to the “wonky” technique in Modern quilts. In the tradition of quilting, points are supposed to match-up and lines are supposed to be straight. But in a “wonky” log cabin quilt, Modern quilters relish in the quirky nature of dancing, tilted, liberated blocks.

  2. What a great idea for a series, Jenna! Can’t wait to see more 🙂

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