[EN] Roger Fry, Brittany, and the Roots of "Post-Impressionism"
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Roger Fry, Brittany, and the Roots of "Post-Impressionism"
NaHyun Kate Park 박나현
The essay “Les Données Bretonnantes: La Prairie de Représentation” written by Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock starts with the explanation of the term ‘Post- Impressionism.’ It is explained as an indicative in Modernist art history that will not name those concrete historical and social relations, and those structures of art practice which decide and mediate the compound representations made by certain key artists who painted in Europe between the mid-1880s and the early 20th century. ‘Post Impressionism’ was derived to describe the art works formed in the time posterior to another lumpen category, ‘Impressionism.’ The term appoints something after and its use reveals the underlying hypothesis that its sequence itself is a significant aspect in historical procedure. The term was first coined in 1910 and 1912 that it was meant to show reactions against ‘Impressionism,’ which serve as the point of defining difference do not, and cannot, comprise a unified category. Fry, Rewald and Bowness admitted that ‘the unity of an artistic movement is simply lacking.’ This absence of common ground of “Impressionism” provides only the prospect of few celebrated artists’ disagreeing stylistic and aesthetic proclivity.
Although it is too vague as a label, ‘Post-Impressionism’ is still conceived categorically. In Alan Bowness’ introductory essay, he contradicts himself when he initially presents the purely negative value of the term that ‘Post-Impressionism’ was an ‘unhappy neologism,' ‘somewhat negative label,’ and ‘the vaguest and most noncommittal,’ then later says ‘it is a passage of supreme confidence: it kept its position the most challenging form of modern art from its heyday in the last 1990s and very early 1890 until c. 1905.’ In Rewarld’s book Post-Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin revivified this term and it still informs the conception of the present exhibition even after the many years following its publication. One cannot scrutinize ‘crisis in Impressionism’ in the 1880s by hanging works of the four famous artists - Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, and Cézanne - of the Fry-Rewald- Bowness pantheon amidst a mass of other paintings which are said to constitute ‘a fuller context of European painting at the time.’
In order to make history and knowledge instead of myths and cliché, the art historians have to acknowledge that the world exists outside the representations or appropriations and therefore in need of self-critical methodology for gaining access to the knowledge of its processes. They need to examine the works not as a fixed unity but as a
series of practices and relations within a progress of history. By mid-1889s, the artists who had participated in 1874 exhibition collectively lost the confidence, not because, as Fry imagined, many artists found ‘Impressionism too naturalistic,’ or because, as Bowness asserts, ‘experience rather than appearance became the reason for art.’ The simplistic model of cause and effect gives the category of art named ‘Post-Impressionism’ both ‘over-precise’ and ‘over-inclusive.’ It is because not only this category gives aesthetic reasons for the changes in painting in this time period and excludes a huge amount of other relevant materials, but also extinguishes the essential characteristics, which distinguishes the paintings that might constitute a category but cause it to be severely questioned. During this time period, traditions of art were constantly undermined and questioned. Artists faced the crisis of representation, which raised the problem of how to engage with or disengage from the social confusion and forces of classes, while concurrently having to tackle disintegrating fixation in the practice of art.
Painting is a practice of representation, and through its changing systems, people produce images of, ideas about, and positions on the world they live. The exhibition is not merely a collection of paintings; it is a spectacle is a social relation among classes and people mediated by the paintings on display. The goals of works are to be contemplated within false representations that exclude on the networks of meanings and the real conditions in which they were produced. For instance, Van Gogh and Jacob Meyer de Hann have been evacuated from the Netherlands to France where their importance for the exhibition lies. Brittany in France takes a problematic place in late nineteenth-century painting, and is presented as a place of work which attracted artists because of qualities
such as remoteness, harshness, poverty, primitiveness and piety. The idea of Brittany as a harsh and backward place comes from the journal entry for July 1876 of Odilon Redon. He called the province a ‘sorrowful land weighed down by somber colors.’ Moreover, in the late 1780s an English agriculturist Arthur Young, summed up the region of Brittany in
three words ‘waste-waste- waste.’
Nonetheless, in the nineteenth century, Brittany in France was caught up in the economic revolution which brought it into the world market and transformed both urban and rural society. Brittany started to attract tourists by providing a variety of unique experiences, embracing a whole catalogue of historical threads from picturesque travel to romantic regionalism, and tourism had become a major source of income. In addition to the landscape, Brittany’s costume was major attractions to the tourists. Visitors regard it as ‘quaint and picturesque’ and perceived it as a sign of ‘traditionless and archaicness.’ Costume of Brittany signified region, locality, class, wealth, and marital status within a
nouveau riches peasantry.
Meanwhile, the last ‘Impressionist’ exhibition, the Exposition Internationale, and the Salon des Independants, all held in 1886, brought into a focus the loss of faith among the ‘Impressionists,’ and evidenced the beginnings of the attempt to produce what’s called ‘new art.’ In the mid-1880s, Monet, Camille Pissarro and Pierre Renoir passed through a moment of doubt about the whole movement. Only Paul Cezanne realized that that doubt could be made to premise the production of paintings. Feliz Feneon, in the review of the Café Volpini exhibition, noted the shifts which had taken place in the practice of art and described the moves made after 1886 towards greater premeditation and synthesis. In 1886,Seurat made a manoeuvre when he exhibited his successful painting of Un dimanche après-midi à Île de la Grande Jatte the ‘Impressionist’ Exhibition and the Salon des Independants. The painting is a representation of the kind of crowd which gathered on an island in the Seine on Sunday afternoon. It is part urban landscape, an aspect of public life in the capital. By the mid-1880s the composition of the social gathering was no longer exclusively bourgeois but mixed and confusing. Thus, Seurat’s subject can be naturally assumed to be both confusions and contradictions of social relations and encounters which were part of the Grande Jatte at that time.
Bernard was preoccupied with Seurat and approached Seurat on his own territory when he produced two watercolor drawings of people relaxing on the banks of river. He also painted Breton Women in a Meadow and re-established contact with Gauguin. Gauguin was impressed by Bernard’s work, and Van Gogh also recognized this painting as something special, made a copy of it in watercolor, and drew a distinction between peasant woman and ladies. Van Gogh saw the difference of dress in the painting signifying a class difference and suggested that this made the picture modern.
In September 1888, Gauguin painted a picture of Breton women in a meadow which has since become known as Vision After the Sermon. In order to go beyond Seurat and to transcend Bernard, he had to address the subject matter of Bernard’s picture and how that representation was made. Vision After the Sermon has been appropriated by modernist art history as ‘the turning point of his entire oeuvre,’ the ‘epitome of his new style.’ Although he described it in a letter to Van Gogh as un tableau religieux, Gauguin also stated that he had attempted to produce an effect not of piety but rustic and 'superstitious simplicity'. In addition, the only oblique reference ‘Breton costume’ in Gauguin’s painting is deprived of any significance with regard to the social development of Brittany. In contrast to Vision After the Sermon, in Yellow Christ and Green Calvary, the religious connotations are made obvious by the use of crucifix.
The different art movements are created as a reflection of the type of response to the existing or older art movement. Il does not necessarily mean scrapping the old to make way for the new. As Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock might say, Vision After the Sermon has been used to uphold certain fictions about Gauguin and Brittany. The terms in which he described the effects he thought he had achieved in figures in this painting are one of the two fragile threads with which certain notions or 'données' of Bretonnes have been constructed and sustained. Impressionism and Post-impressionism are two art movements that happened in succession, and the characteristics of and existence of Post-Impressionism reflects how Post-impressionism is a reaction to the earlier Impressionism. If anything, the chronology of art movements to Post-impressionism is testament to the growth process of the world of art in France, which profoundly encompasses Pont-Aven School and Brittany.
Nicolson, Benedict, Post-Impressionism and Roger Fry The Burlington Magazine Vol. 93,
No. 574 (Jan., 1951), pp. 10-15
Orton, Fred, Avant-gardes and partisans reviewed, Manchester University Press, 1996
Rewald, John, Post-Impressionism from Van Gogh to Gauguin , Museum of Modern Art
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