APPLETON, Wis.—Highlighting the diverging worlds of impressionism and academic art, the Trout Museum of Art, in Appleton, Wis., offered its A World of Postimpressionism exhibit Sept. 16, 2011 to March 25. Notable artists represented in the exhibit included Antoine Blanchard, Edouard Cortès, and Paul Signac.
William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “Two Sisters” was exhibited in the gallery and designed by the curator to illustrate the different approaches to art. Pairing one of the most-esteemed and strict academic painters with the loose styles of the postimpressionists lent to interesting contrast and debate.
The postimpressionist artists from the 1920s and 1930s followed the purveyors of impressionism in painting loose impressions of things. The postimpressionists often preferred the height of the industrial revolution as the theme of their works. Among the paintings were scenes of a bygone era depicting Paris streets as they would have appeared in the mid 19th century.
Following in the footsteps of the original impressionist painters, the postimpressionists took that theme as their main focus.
Rebecca Klabacka, a tour curator for the Trout Museum, said: “Impressionist artists make art for the sake of art itself. It was something more for fun than historical documentation.”
To give a more dramatic effect, objects in many of the postimpressionist paintings were often not rendered accurately. The artists used very heavy brush strokes and dabbled more in themes than substance in their paintings.
The impressionist paintings were seen as shocking in their day for abandoning the academic standards set forth in previous generations. Impressionists led the academies in Europe to eventually adopt their style as the norm in the art world. They were seen as the predecessors of the modern art movement, which typically kept searching for the next “extreme” with which to capture an audience.
Postimpressionism was seen as very commercially viable, and many were quick to emulate it. Edouard Cortès’s paintings are among the most copied in the art world.
Bouguereau’s understanding of posture and gestures, which convey the inner emotions and temperament of a person, display his uncanny ability to speak volumes with the slightest detail.
The “Two Sisters” painting is a classic representation of most of Bouguereau’s works. In his paintings, he manages to weave in lessons on life. It’s inspiring to stand back and reflect on what Bouguereau is portraying.
In “Two Sisters,” the older sister is embracing her younger sibling with a determined gaze, which pierces the viewer. All the older sister’s gestures lean toward the younger one. Leaning away, the younger sister is carefree, with an open grin, looking up and away.
The older sister, it seems, occupies all of her time and effort taking care of her little sibling, sacrificing and suffering for her so the child will have no worries. The older sister bears the burden while the younger sister enjoys the fruits of her labor. It is an image of compassion and empathy that anyone can relate to.
Contrasting Schools of Thought
During the Industrial Revolution, many writers and artists took up the cause to speak up or paint against it. Although railways and new technology entered into France during Bouguereau’s time, they aren’t apparent in any of his works—he ignored them. Bouguereau’s paintings are of quiet, pastoral scenes that evoke the cherished moments in life.
The postimpressionists often put themselves in the middle of city streets, capturing the feel and energy of a bustling city. The subjects in the paintings are often simple brush strokes meant to capture the movement of a person or a sliver of light.
With the rise in impressionism, art began to become more of a hobby than a craft. For academic artists, years of training are needed to render the human body and objects accurately and to know the principles and properties of light, shading, and form. Impressionists couldn’t have been looser in their technique—to the point where there was hardly any way to critique their paintings.
The more one pondered the exhibit, the more contrasts became apparent. The total effect was a perfect match-up to emphasize the two different schools of thought in the art world.