Impressionism (and Post-Impressionism) is, without a doubt, the most popular movement in art… for a very good reason. Even those who know very little about art can often spot a Renoir [‘Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Painter’] a van Gogh or a Monet. Today Vincent van Gogh draws crowds the way the Beatles did in the ’60s. [‘Van Gogh’s Van Goghs’] One Gauguin exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC I attended was packed for weeks, maybe months. [‘The Lure of the Exotic: Gauguin in New York Collections’] Visiting a Monet exhibit a few years ago at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, I had to stand in line for hours! One of the finest shows I’ve seen on the Impressionists was ‘Impressionist Still Life’ at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston… incredibly moving! [See: ‘Pissarro’ … ‘The Impressionists – The Other French Revolution’ … ‘Manet’]
In the former studio of the photographer Nadar at 35 boulevard des Capucines, Paris, April 15, 1874, a group of artists, rejected by the juries of the Salon, offered their work for public view. Although some critics appreciated the “new painting,” most subjected the artists to ridicule. The work of the “Impressionists” eventually led to what is now recognized as Modern Art… and the great movements of the Fauves, Matisse, Picasso, Basquiat… and so on. The father of modern art, Paul Cezanne, inspired most of the greatest artists of the 20th century. [‘Cezanne Biography’] And we never seem to be able to get enough of their gorgeous colours, their intensity and luminosity, and want to be moved by them over and over.
The twilight of the fin-de-sicle era [‘Explosive Acts: Toulouse-Lautrec, Oscar Wilde, Felix Feneon, and the Art & Anarchy of the Fin de Siecle’] – Paris at the turn of the century – was a magical time for painters such as Toulouse-Lautrec, ‘Suzanne Valadon: The Mistress of Montmartre’, Degas and the others who were pioneers of an exciting new style… as wonderfully depicted in the original movie, ‘Moulin Rouge,’ and the recent ‘Moulin Rouge.’ Monet was the great master of Impressionism… and Mary Cassatt was bold, smart, driven… a woman ahead of her time who paved the way for so many artists. [See: ‘Mary Cassatt: A Life : A Life’… ‘Mary Cassatt: A Brush With Independence’] … ‘Berthe Morisot’ managed to have it all – home, family and a career! Paul Gauguin became the mystic savage painter of Tahitian visions… he was a colourist extraordinaire. [‘Paul Gauguin: A complete life’] …and his wonderful diary remains a testament to his motives – [‘Noa Noa: The Tahiti Journal of Paul Gauguin’]. The greatest biography on Toulouse-Lautrec and the Fin De Siecle.
Vincent van Gogh, supported by his devoted brother, Theo, was the mystic and visionary painter of golden azure… [‘Van Gogh: His Life And His Art’] You’ll thoroughly enjoy ‘Lust for Life’ – one of the most wonderful films about van Gogh… and ‘Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams’. And the definitive biography ‘Vincent and Theo Van Gogh: A Dual Biography’ by Jan Hulsker is a true masterpiece in itself!
The fascinating story of the Impressionists and the Post Impressionists is a never-ending journey, which never ceases to inspire new artists to reach for new heights. And, to think… it all really began with Manet’s “Olympia” – [‘Edouard Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat’]. One of the most amazing exhibits was in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC – Cezanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde – truly a great education about dealer extraordinaire, Ambroise Vollard, and how he was always in the right place at the right time. He was instrumental in the careers of all the major players of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, on into the era of the Fauves and modern art.
Modern Art brought forth new, creative self-expression. The Fauves (wild beasts) were named for their use of colour. The original Fauve was Henri Matisse. There is a marvelous biography called ‘The Unknown Matisse’ by Hilary Spurling, a brilliant scholar, which tells of the beginnings of Fauvism. Also, look for the second volume: ‘Matisse the Master : A Life of Henri Matisse: The Conquest of Colour: 1909-1954’. And here’s an excellent site about Matisse/Picasso.
‘The Mystery of Picasso’, a ’50s documentary, is almost literally a day in the life of Picasso – the camera watching him paint, draw and create through a transparent screen that makes the viewer feel as if he or she is participating in the actual creation of his works. John Richardson’s series of biographies on Picasso are the best: ‘Life of Picasso – Vol. I’, ‘Life of Picasso – Vol. II’, ‘Life of Picasso – Vol. III,’ and the documentary: ‘Magic, Sex, Death.’ A wonderful feature film (though the Picasso estate refused to allow any of Picasso’s paintings to appear in the movie) is ‘Surviving Picasso’ starring Anthony Hopkins, loosely based on Francois Gilot’s ‘Life With Picasso.’ You’ll enjoy reading Gertrude Stein’s writings about Picasso, and her enigmatic, ‘Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,’ which opens up the world of art in early 20th century Paris.
Frida Kahlo‘s life with Diego Rivera was depicted beautifully by Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina in the film, ‘Frida’. A documentary: ‘Frida Kahlo’… and every artist should read The Diary of Frida Kahlo.
‘Jean-Michel Basquiat’, Sandy Frazier’s contemporary, was a graffiti artist, a/k/a SAMO, who died all too young in the ’80s. The movie, ‘Basquiat’, by Julian Schnabel, tells the story of the turbulent period from the late 1970s to 1988, as his life was catapulted into fame and notoriety.
…And the infamous Andy Warhol Diaries, which is a real page-turner, even at over 800 pages… You’ll get to know Warhol personally and intimately in this document of his life from 1977 to his death where every day he dictated his expenses and activities from the day before to Pat Hackett. Warhol was the consummate artist – constantly observing life around him, all the people, moods, movies, fashion, events… creating works of art out of every minute of his life… and loving every minute of it… so much more than 15 minutes. And read Bob’s definitive biography about Andy Warhol, Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up.
Chester Dale (1883-1962) is best known for the magnificent paintings he bequeathed to the National Gallery of Art, which he acquired with the expert guidance of his first wife, Maud (1876-1953). They assembled one of the finest collections in America of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century paintings: The Chester Dale Collection.