The chin thing
I held off watching The Impressionists because of facial hair reviews like this one, but after Nat's one it got a second chance. It looks like the stuff plucked from a shower drain, but in full body shots it's easy to get distracted by the enviably long legs. The short waistcoat and hunch make them look extra spindly.
Tall ClaudeThe work of Monet, Renoir, Degas and Cezanne is now well loved but like most art revolutionaries their work was considered as detestable as kiddy porn in their day. In the mid 19th century the French Art Police valued only historic or religious themed grandeur; dark and gothic was very in. People didn't bat an eyelid at frolicking nude Venus, but painting outdoors with visible brushstrokes? Never. A woman painted with a direct gaze? The horror. The Impressionists didn't sell well until much later and were often in debt.
In this show Monet and his fellow rebels aim to capture some intangible 'moment' unique for each of them. They are fascinated by interplay of light, colour and movement. Monet sprints after it, dragging Renoir and Bazille along. Degas hides from it but it haunts him nevertheless, while Manet pretends he doesn't care. Cezanne wrestles with his distrust of it all, his inner demons push him to realise perfection of composition by recognising tricks played by the eye. He steers past colour to contemplation of basic shape and human perception.The Impressionists is also about acceptance by your peers and the general public. Yeah, who needs it!...even me. I had no clue until starting to write stuff and thus becoming a neurotic comment junky overnight. If there were no comments, why didn't anyone like me? Why does my work stink? I hated that my self-worth was directly proportional to how popular my stuff was. It wasn't even my day job; how much worse if it was my bread and butter? Or for the Impressionists, their beans, bread and cheese? No wonder artists are such an odd bunch.
Cezanne in Province
Occasionally Monet's support group felt like a Seinfeld clique - a bunch of misfit personalities frequenting the same cafe to gripe about art critics, the establishment, money, parents, wives etc. Monet is Jerry, the cheerful guy who is the glue of the group. Renoir is Elaine, his pseudo partner with some claim to common sense. Degas is a mixture of George and Newman, a self-serving weirdo railing against society, and Cezanne is Kramer the wild-eyed and canvas-hurling eccentric.
Degas: Who moved my cheese?
Just as you would expect in a show about art, the lighting, imagery and costumes demonstrate the artists' awareness of shifting brightness and shadow. The light beams in each scene flicker temptingly, beckoning come hither. See the way it dapples the faces and figures of brightly-dressed Monet and his friends in the two images below? Whenever they're indoors, rays of light filter through from a window or some strange sunroof creating interesting shadows as the artists move about. It's very arty. Monet dresses arty too. His neckties, vests are almost cartoony bright; his coat is always a lighter shade than others for he basks closest to the brilliance.
Renoir and Basille watch Monet out the window
Basille and Monet, regulars at Cafe Guerbois
Apart from the picturesque and dazzling outdoor shots, my favourite scene is right at the start with Monet sneakily sketching the other train passenger. That little smile, those furtive glances out the corner of his eye. The other guy can tell something's going on but is too polite to say anything! So sweet. We had to do the same in art class on our yearly pilgrimage to the state art gallery.
If you're familiar with Impressionism then you'll squeal in delight whenever the scenery morphs into the infamous painting inspired by it. Seeing these beautiful creations placed in historical, geographical and emotional context for each painter is a moving and fascinating art lesson, and ultimately this is how I saw The Impressionists. Unlike in high school, now I'll never forget Manet's Olympia, Degas' brothels and ballerinas, Monet's Woman in the Green Dress, or Bazille painting his beloved recovering from a discus hit on the leg. I'm even growing fond of haystacks and apples.
More cravats and train stations (no Miss Hale though)
Ultimately there is more information than drama, for the drama kept getting interrupted and lost some momentum in the second half. You might tune out every time the interviewer guy comes on screen; he's just a device to disguise leaps in time and narrative. You might feel unfulfilled by the big gaps later in their lives as they reach artistic maturity, particularly because you've just gotten to know and care about them. I googled their surnames to fill in the blanks and find out whether some of them were as unhygienic, charming or misogynistic as they were portrayed, and will visit the library to read up more.
It feels almost like researching a friend's family tree. My high school art teacher would have been proud of me, though he'd still give full marks to that hack whose father was an artist. That fool. I could've been a Monet! Nevertheless, it's time to try out some of the art filters on my image editing software and go on a gallery crawl this weekend. See how well this docudrama has brought history alive? I'm inspired.