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The Art Assignment: the Case for Impressionism

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The Metro 2 line runs through the city of Paris. Travelling along this line you can witness history unfold and overlap, cultures grow, and truly explore the depth and richness of the city of Paris. One stop in particular illustrates Paris’ illustrative history. This stop named ‘Pere Lachaise’ is named after an infamous cemetery located near the stop. It is here where one of the most pivotal figures in Art and the Father of Impressionism, Camille Pissarro is laid to rest. Impressionism not only changed the face of art but frontiered many later artists in their style of painting and perception. Through Pissarro’s life and the history of Impressionism the landscape of Paris in the 1800s is visualized. “The term Impressionism not only designates a trend in French art, but also a new stage in the development of European painting. It marked the end of the neoclassical period that had begun during the Renaissance”. Similar to how walking through Pere Lachaise illustrates the history of Paris and the greater arc of life, viewing Pissarro’s work visualizes the city of Paris and the history of architecture. Walking through Pere Lachaise is a walk through Paris’ history and Pissarro’s paintings transport the audience to Paris. It is in the art where history and culture collide. Pere Lachaise not only commemorates history with it’s suffering and bloodshed, but also life and the beauty and splendor of human creation. Pere Lachaise commemorates the history of Impressionism and how art overlaps with history and geography.

Pere Lachaise is an infamous cemetery in Paris that was created by Napoleon and houses some of the most influential minds as well as the heart of Paris and its citizens. Pere Lachaise as it is today was created as a marketing strategy by Napoleon who wanted to turn Paris into a tourist destination, and it worked. Pere Lachaise has become a location of immense cultural, historical and artistic significance. Walking through this cemetery you can see history unfold and overlap. You can witness the evolution of Paris and the rest of the world. Holocaust victims are memorialized in the cemetery and a battle has actually taken place in the cemetery. The cemetery houses sorrow and memories of things past but also the beauty of human creation, art, music, and love. In regards to infamy alone “40 singers, 40 composers, and 75 painters” are buried in Pere Lachaise”. The Metro line commemorates this brighter history as well as the darker sides of history. It is an epicenter of immense cultural, historical, and social significance, including the Impressionist movement and how one man spearhead a new era of artistic style and perception.

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Pissarro was born in 1830 in St. Thomas but spent majority of his life in the city of Paris. Pissarro spent most of his life going to and from Paris living there initially with his family then moving away to pursue his art and coming back once his parents accepted his pursuit of artistic endeavors. The remainder of his life he spent going to and from Paris spending months to years there at a time. Known as the Father of Impressionism he painted nature as he saw it without any need to embellish. Previously art often had an underlying religious or historical connection, but Pissarro highlighted the concept of painting life simply as it was and nature as it was seen. Pissarro spent time in different parts of the city and these locations inspired much of his art. Versailles, a studio on the Rue des Trois Frères, and the Hôtel de Paris are among some of the locations Pissarro stayed. It is this movement that creates a geographical outline in Pissarro’s work. Pere Lachaise depicts history and culture overlapping in numerous ways. History collides with art and art with culture. Not only is Pissarro’s art representative of this, but so is the history of his life and art. Impressionism as a new art style wasn’t widely accepted by the governmental elite. At this time there was only one exhibition where artist could showcase and attempt to sell their art, called the Salon. Pissarro as well as his Impressionist colleagues art was “rejected by the Salon and French Emperor Napoleon III instead decided to place their paintings in a separate exhibit hall, at what would become known as the infamous Salon des Refusés”. The Salon and Salon des Refusés are still open today. This illustrates history overlapping with art. Similar to many struggling and ingenious artists, Pissarro’s art wasn’t as revered and preserved as it is now. “When Paris was under siege during the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussians chose to garrison their troops in the artist’s house, destroying most of his early paintings”. Pere Lachaise is home to the history of art and the art of history with its axe, cleaving lives and overlapping culture with art and time.

Pissarro’s work “Boulevard de Montmartre”, “Place du Havre”, and “The Great Bridge in Rouen” are among some of the paintings that depict Parisian landscape in the 1800s. Comparing these paintings to current day Paris illustrates how Paris has changed over the decades. Pissarro not only depicted geography, but nature and atmosphere. “Pissarro could thoroughly investigate the ever-shifting atmospheric conditions of the street, with weather and seasonal changes providing much differentiation”. His work allows you to see Paris throughout the seasons and everyday life and nature captured throughout time. Pissarro depicted the beauty in the mundane and how art is to paint what you see. Pissarro portrayed “Everyday men and women go about their busy working life, while others saunter along the shop windows, looking in at the costly wares on show. The horses and vehicles appear painted with looser and lighter brush strokes than are employed in the winter version, conveying the sense of brisker and easier movement to the scene”. In Pissarro’s later years he suffered from an eye infection and stayed in the Hotel de Paris and his room overlooked the Seine and its form this view that Pissarro painted “The Great Bridge in Rouen, Rainy Weather”. When describing this painting Pisarro said “The theme is the bridge near the Place de la Bourse with the effects of rain, crowds of people coming and going, smoke from the boats, quays with cranes, workers in the foreground, and all this in grey colours glistening in the rain”. It is through his art that Paris comes alive. You can hear the rain hit the docks and the quite chatter of the crowds of people. You can visualize how although Paris has changed in some ways, it will always remain the same in other ways. The dock may not look exactly how it did, but the chatter of people, the sound of the waves, and the fresh breeze is something that remains constant. Pissarro also painted “Boulevard de Montmartre” when during one of his stays in the city he painted a series of the grande boulevards. His art illustrates how through Pissarro’s paintings you can walk through France and Paris and literally see the evolution and experimentation with his art. From the bridges to the boulevards to and all the different cities, the audience is able to talk a visual walk through Paris. Pere Lachaise commemorates and illustrates not only the evolution of art, but the evolution of Paris as a city transforming.


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