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The French Artistic Revolution - 19th Century
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For variety, innovation, and prolific activity, the story of 19-th century French painting holds a special place in the history of art. Revolutions in industry and politics led to the rapid growth of Paris and of a new class, the Haute Bourgeoise. The cold neoclassical style and regimented subject matter of the Academy, associated with the aristocracy, would be challenged over and over.

First came the rebellious individualism of Romantic artists, who traveled to North Africa and the Middle East in search of new themes and landscapes. Then Realist painters led by Courbet also liberated art from the confines of the studio by choosing to depict French rural settings and the daily life of country folk. Corot and the artists of the Barbizon school worked out of doors to create smaller landscapes of a darker, more melancholy kind. Symbolists like Moreau remained in their Paris studios, painting personal visions that combined Classical mythology and Gothic aesthetics with a religious sensibility verging on the surreal.

In 1894, a diverse group of painters led by Monet, Renoir, and Sisley presented their first exhibition in Paris. One critic mockingly described the rough style of their canvases as "mere 'Impressionism'." This word was later adopted by the artists themselves for a movement that became one of the best known and most beloved in the history of art.

Reacting to the traditional subject matter and smooth precision of the Academic painters, Impressionist artists moved out of the studio to capture fleeting moments in nature. They embarked on an intensive study of color, light, and reflection. In the characteristic  Impressionist technique that resulted, varied brushstrokes in lively complementary colors, applied side-by-side with as little mixing as possible,coalesce into recognizable objects in the viewing process. Series of works focus on the same image, altered by such factors as weather and time of day. The Impressionists' brushwork and compositional innovations paved the way for an even greater revolution in painting at the turn of the century.


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