Impressionism: Mexican vs European Impressionist Art
This article showcases the Impressionist art collection of the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City -one of the many art collections it contains-, and brings together, in an unprecedented way, both Mexican and European Impressionist pieces, pertaining to some of the most valued impressionist authors.
Each work of art exhibited in said museum, and in this article, is part of the personal collection that the richest man in the world, businessman and philanthropist Carlos Slim Helu, has compiled throughout his life. He recently donated his artistic treasure to the Carlos Slim Foundation and created the Museo Soumaya (or Soumaya Museum, named after his diseased wife), an avant-garde new building that houses and openly displays his notorious painting and sculpture collections, for everyone to enjoy.
European and Mexican Landscape
Landscape painting is a very important part of impressionist art and it is present in the repertoire of all impressionist artists. In fact, the term Impressionism comes from one of Claude Monet's most famous paintings "Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise)", which is a seascape.
Before Monet, painters made serious detailed pictures of what was famous and important, usually in indoor environments. Monet broke the rules to paint what inspired him; he painted the ordinary in an extraordinary way, capturing light, reflections and nature.
Since Claude Monet, who is considered the father of Impressionism, artists started to work outside, registering light and colors in outdoor landscape paintings, which were naturally linked to the diversity of latitudes, climates and regions of each artist's location. From then on, landscapes have been a source of poetic inspiration for many other artists of varied artistic expressions, including impressionist, neo-impressionist and post-impressionist art.
Impressionism and van Gogh, Man Added to Nature
Within Impressionism, landscape painting is characterized by scenes that reflect everyday life in dialogue with nature, where man is inserted as a primary element of creation. It also represents philosophical matters like the essence of the individual and the consciousness of the origin, as well as the complex matrix of ancient mythologies and traditions.
In words of the renowned Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, one of the icons of impressionism who dedicated a vast amount of his work to landscape painting:
I know no better definition of the word art than this: "Art is man added to nature". -Vincent van Gogh
Landscape Painting & Impressionism
During the nineteenth century, travelers from all over the world came to Mexico, attracted by the abundance and richness of the country. These artists recorded new scenarios according to the romantic sensibility of the time. It was then that landscape painting developed a meticulous study of the details of nature, and a deep interest in the transient manifestations generated by light and atmospheric influences.
…..the landscape is the rhythm of waves that nature extends, perhaps generously, where we saturate the spirit with sublime sensations of beauty and energy.
-Gerardo Murillo, Dr. Atl (1875-194), Mexican painter
Landscape by Mexican Impressionist Artist Joaquin Clausell
Gerardo Murillo "Dr. Atl"
Francisco Romano Guillemín
Mexican and European Impressionism & Landscape PaintingsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Impressionism in Mexico
Impressionism emphasized the luminosity of each scenery or landscape and thus, the art work created in plein air (French expression for "in the open air", particularly used to describe the act of painting outdoors) was inserted in the modern landscape genre, in which Impressionism thrived.
Figures throbbing under the light, intense chromatics, free brushwork, elimination of contour drawing and fascination for the ephemeral stimulus of brief moments, would be the guidelines of landscape painting in the last third of the nineteenth century, both in France, where Impressionism was born, but also in Mexico. Impressionism and landscape painting were artistic movements that searched for the coveted idea of "art for art" and brought it closer to the common people.
1905 marked the year of the avant-garde: the enthrallment of a new vision, mirror of a collective soul that was free from all bond to civil slavery; avant-garde artist reflected in their work all the reasons that justified rebellion against culture, canons and conventions.
Light Recording & Outdoor Painting
The light recording in landscape composition that the great European Impressionism accomplished, reached across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Mexico.
Mexican painters like Joaquín Clausell (a disciple of Claude Monet himself) and Francisco Romano Guillemín, worked with a complete palette of diverse luminous tonalities to depict Mexican landscapes as they moved into vanguard. Their open sceneries, heirs to the outdoors paint-shops, divide themselves into kaleidoscopic illusions where colors and their ranges vibrate in unison with the landscape.
Impressionist Landscapes by Armand Guillaumin
- Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
- Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)
- Paul Gauguin (1848-1903)
- Georges Seurat (1859-1891)
- Paul Signac (1863-1935)
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
- Émile Bernard (1868-1941)
- Édouard Vuillard (1868-1940)
- Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947)
Neo-Impressionist Techniques: Divisionism & Pointillism
Divisionism (founded by Goerges Seurat in 1884) is a technique in which chromatic ranges are obtained through the application of juxtaposed brushstrokes that, viewed from a certain distance, produce a new color in the spectator's eye, which results from the optic mixture of colors. By combining the colors optically instead of physically mixing pigments, divisionists aimed to attain the maximum luminosity scientifically possible.
Seurat, Signac, Luce, van Gogh and Pissarro (among other post-impressionist artists) rehearsed the possibilities of light broken into lines and points, which gave rise to the term "Pointillism", which is defined specifically by the use of small, distinct dots of paint applied in patterns to create an image, and does not necessarily focus on the separation of colors.
Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the technique in 1886, branching from Impressionism. The term Pointillism was first used by art critics to ridicule the work of these extraordinary artists; nowadays it is still used, without the denigrating connotations, which have been replaced by an admiring reverence.
The Mexican neo-impressionist artist, Francisco Romano Guillemín, was also a Pointillism enthusiast.
From impressionism, Pointillism is Born
Sample of Les Nabis Art Work
In the 1890s, a number of painters called "Les Nabis" (Hebrew for prophet) emerged. Among others, Vuillard, Roussel, Denis, Bonnard, Ibels and Paul Ranson were in this group, which viewed the work of art as a subjective expression of the artists themselves, and aimed to show other possibilities of painting.
Les Nabis indicated their distance from Impressionists by emphasizing intense bi-dimensional chromatics and symbolic elements. They did work considered decorative and influenced by art nouveau and Japanese art.
Édouard Vuillard devoted much of his production to the study of bourgeois life; he decorated buildings and his sensitivity inclined towards fabrics and paper tapestries. He said: "I don’t do portraits; I paint people at home to capture the immediate reality that binds the character to his/her environment".
Museo Soumaya, from Impressionism to the Vanguard
Museo Soumaya has an amazing art treasure that, as you have seen documented in this article, includes an impressive number of Impressionist paintings. Nevertheless, the museum also exhibits samples of the different vanguards that branched from Impressionism, an art movement that changed the way people view art and served as the setting stone of what we now know as modern art, inspiring a multitude of subsequent art movements.
A more detailed outline of the Museo Soumaya's history, different art collections and premises can be found in the following articles:
- Museo Soumaya by the Richest Man in the World
- Rivera, Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, the Three Great Ones of Mexican Muralism
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