Intimate Impressionism opened this month at the Seattle Art Museum, an exhibition of mostly smaller works from the National Gallery of Art. My knowledge of art history is next to nothing, so I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this period and see examples of paintings that are considered to be personal and more intimate and intended to be hung inside people’s homes. I took advantage of the interpretive audio guide that I could dial up on my own smartphone to learn more about select paintings. That part of the show was especially helpful in understanding the context of the works.
What struck me first and foremost as I studied the paintings and listened to the curators and art historians interpret them was how similar Impressionism is to urban sketching. The plein air and even some studio paintings have a fresh spontaneity about them both in subject matter (capturing ordinary, common people and everyday activities) and technique. From a contemporary perspective, the paintings don’t seem particularly innovative, but at the time they made traditional art critics and viewers uncomfortable because they looked unfinished and “sketchy.” Signed by the artists, they were clearly considered finished, but much was left implied rather than fully rendered. They weren’t working in sketchbooks, of course, but I somehow sensed that Monet, Degas and Renoir would have embraced the spirit of urban sketching – seeing beauty in the commonplace and celebrating the ordinary.
|10/23/15 rainbow pencil|
After I finished viewing the exhibit, I wandered over to the interactive area. A table had been set up with a variety of still lifes, and a bunch of tablets were available for guests to try their hand at “painting” digitally. Of course, that was my best sketching opportunity because the room was well-lit compared to the dark exhibit areas! (Technical note: If you’ve ever bemoaned museums’ policy of allowing dry media only, you have to get a rainbow pencil! I would not have had nearly as much fun making this sketch with plain ol’ graphite!)