Bottles of Bass alongside the champagne in Edo...

Edouard Manet’s 1882 Bar at the Folies-Bergère (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I caught a post on ‘lines and colors’, Charley Parker’s excellent blog on art, about an exhibition currently on in San Francisco, ‘Impressionists on the Water’, programmed to coincide with the America’s Cup in that city.

The six images in Charley’s post reminded me of both the variety of the Impressionists and how much I admire and enjoy them. It is perhaps my favourite artistic movement, particularly if you include their forebear Manet and the Post-Impressionists Gaugin, Cézanne and the incomparable van Gogh.

There is something about the sensibility of their painting and the amazing awareness of light and colour. On top of that I always get a sense of immediacy with their paintings as if they are almost rushed. Certainly my favourite modern artist, Vincent van Gogh, didn’t hang around when he was painting. In a short artistic career of a little more than a decade he produced over 2,000 artworks (over 800 of them paintings in oil).

Personally (and I am no expert or really know what I’m talking about – this is my personal experience) I contrast their painting with the classical masters of the Renaissance who seem to have this incredible ability to produce amazing detail and richness. Seeing Raphael’s work in the Vatican apartments was an experience.

Then when I look at the work of the impressionists and post-impressionists I see artists who, close to the turn of the twentieth century, were presaging what we have since learnt about how the brain sees. Their painting seems to have detail only in the places we might focus if we were observing the scene and even within the focal points there will be levels of detail. Figures are more detailed than trees while a figures face will be finer grained than their clothes and hair. I look at it and think that’s how our brain sees.

Look at Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergere” and you can see a perfect example. You’ve almost certainly seen this image but look at the way Manet gives so much detail to the woman’s face but almost none to the bottles in front or the crowd seen in the mirror behind her. I love it.

Go check out some images at WikiPaintings but remember that they are a pale shadow of seeing the real thing. Any chance you get to visit a good art gallery should be taken, I’m by no means an art aficionado or expert but great galleries and exhibitions still manage to blow me away.

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