Tag Archives: City Scenes

City Scenes – Comparison: Impressionism and Expressionism

9 Sep

Diversities of people and cultures, sense of anonymity and optimistic yet fleeting feeling that everything is possible, along with vibrancy of the landscape are some of the things that attracted artists to European capitals. Specific mood and appearance of cities, in this case Paris and Berlin, affected artists who chose to either capture the city’s spirit on canvas, or express feelings which the city triggered.

The Boulevard Montmartre at NightCamille Pissarro, Montmartre Boulevard at Night, 1897

Although stylistically and atmospherically different, both paintings represent city scenes. Pissarro painted the ‘Montmartre Boulevard at Night’ in a true impressionistic manner with small and thin, yet visible brushstrokes, and created a sense of flickering excitement. On the other hand, painting ‘Nollendorfplatz’ is a good example of Kirchner’s typical wild, passionate, almost angry brushstrokes which are responsible for the overall feeling of dynamism. Elements on Pissarro’s painting such as carriages, trees and streetlamps make it an appealing one, specially for modern viewers and their visions of romantic Paris. Pissarro painted a lively and bustling Parisian night – lights are shining, carriages are arriving, people are having fun.

Kirchner’s painting radiates a completely different atmosphere. Starting with the unusual composition in a shape of an X, Kirchner creates a distorted and deformed space. Accentuated contour lines and dramatic choice of colours only deepen the unease a viewer can feel while looking at the painting. Elements that Kirchner chose to portray, Strassenbahns and tall, undefined buildings created a certain coldness and alienation. While Pissarro’s passers-by that occupy the pavement are barely visible, painted in soft and blurry shades of grey and purple, Kirchner’s characters resemble shadows, tall, black and deprived of any individuality, they stroll the streets of decadent Berlin, isolated from themselves and their surroundings, suffocated by the modern architecture around them. A suitable background for this painting would be the song ‘Kollaps’ by Einstürzende Neubauten.

Similarities between these two city scenes can be found in colours, but noticing this similarity again brings us to a great difference that is truly due to the art movements these two artworks belong to. Both Pissarro and Kirchner used blue and yellow in abundance. Whereas Pissarro’s blue is deep and soothing, Kirchner’s is cold, occasionally exceeding into shades of grey. Yellow that appears like a soft flickering light on Pissarro’s painting, on Kirchner’s painting it looks solid and exaggerated, its shade is almost sickly, at parts turning to bleak green shades, framed by solid brushstrokes of black. However, both paintings are ‘portraits’ of cities at a specific moment; vivacious Fin de siècle Paris and decadent catastrophic pre-Weimar Berlin. Still, as an Impressionist, Pissarro was interested in outward appearance and he captured the spirit of Paris at that specific moment, while Kirchner, as an Expressionist, presented us his own feelings and state of mind, using reality merely as an encouragement for expressing artistic experience.

1912. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - NollendorfplatzErnst Ludwig Kirchner, Nollendorfplatz, 1912

Caillebotte’s Effect

22 Feb

Out of all the Impressionists, Caillbotte’s paintings evoke the spirit of the new modern Paris the most.

1877. Paris Street, Rainy Day - Gustave Caillebotte1877. Gustave Caillebotte Paris Street, Rainy Day, Art Institute of Chicago.

Gustave Caillebotte is nor the most famous of the Impressionists, nor the most interesting, nor the most scandalous one, but still some of the paintings he painted remain the best examples of the everyday life in Paris, and are influential even today. His paintings ‘Paris Street, Rainy Day‘ and ‘The Floor Scrapers‘ remain his most intriguing and most outstanding paintings.

Gustave Caillebotte was rich and rather pampered, having inherited the great fortune of his father which meant he was financially independent for the rest of his life. Painting was primary a hobby for him, as was photography later on. It was Edouard Degas who introduced him to the Impressionists, which were also called ‘Independents‘ and ‘Intransigents‘ at the time, having been aware of his money. He supported his fellow artists and became a sort of patron and a collector. Claude Monet, Renoir and Pissarro’s work held a special place in Caillebotte’s collection.

This painting, ‘Paris Street, Rainy Day‘ was painted in 1877. and it depicts the Place de Dublin, known in 1877. as the Carrefour de Moscou. On the first sight, the painting depicts a city scene, nothing unusual for the Impressionists, but it is the background information that makes this painting so special. The couple seen strolling around Paris on a rainy day are actually newly rich Parisians, members of the bourgeoisie. They’re enjoying themselves, strolling around and flaunting in a new, modern Paris which looks so bright, so fresh, so open and clean with those wide boulevards and broad streets. Caillebotte played with perspectives and purposefully presented Paris wider and higher than it really was, painting it in a wide angle. That’s the Caillebotte’s Effect’.

Still, Caillebotte’s figures appear cold and lifeless, mirroring the alienating mood of the city.