Paris During the Last Half of the 19th Century

Impressionists or Peeping Toms? 
Paris During the Last Half of the 19th Century 
(the italicized portions, in outline form, are directly quoted from
1839           Daguerreotype presented
1848           Communist Manifesto
1848-52     Revolution in Europe
1859           Charles Darwin publishes Origin of Species
1863            Salon of Refusals
1861-65     American Civil War
1891           First movie camera patented
1884           1st Salon des Artistes Independants (Salon of Independents)
1886           8th and last Impressionist exhibition
1900           Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
1903           First flight of the Wright brothers
1905-15     Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity
1914-18     World War I

DEGAS, Edgar At the Ballet, or Woman with a Fan 1883-1885 
Pastel 26"x20" Philadelphia Museum of Art Philadelphia, PA  USA
Form: This is a pastel painting.  Although called a painting, in essence it is really a combination of drawing and painting.  Degas first made a watercolor painting on paper as his base.  He then took the dry medium of pastel and applied it on top of the dried watercolor.According to the Brittanica,
Pastel is a dry drawing medium executed with fragile, finger-size sticks. These drawing crayons, called pastels, are made of powdered pigments combined with a minimum of nongreasy binder, usually gum tragacanth or, from the mid-20th century, methyl cellulose. Made in a wide range of colour values, the darkest in each hue consists of pure pigment and binder, the others having varying admixtures of inert whites. Once the colours are applied to paper, they appear fresh and bright. Because they do not change in colour value, the final effect can be seen immediately. Pastel remains on the surface of the paper and thus can be easily obliterated unless protected by glass or a fixative spray of glue size or gum solution. Fixatives, however, have a disadvantage in that they tend to change the tone and flatten the grain of pastel drawings. When pastel is applied in short strokes or linearly, it is usually classed as drawing; when it is rubbed, smeared, and blended to achieve painterly effects, it is often regarded as a painting medium. The latter technique was principally used until the late 19th century, when the linear method came to be preferred. Special papers for pastel have been made since the 18th century with widely varying textures, some like fine sandpaper, with a flocked or suedelike finish, prominently ribbed or strongly marked by the drying felts.

Even though Degas used pastel for  At the Ballet the paintings color is still intense.  Degas uses is optical mixing by laying on slashes of pure primary color one on top the other which he does not blend.  As the viewer moves away from the image, the eye, naturally blurs these colors together and this creates a mixture.  The use of eye to blend colors rather than mixing on the surface is called optical mixing.
Degas also used color and color temperature to guide his viewer's eye.  The woman in the right side of the composition is the main focus. She is wearing a bright yellow/orange costume which causes her to become the main focus in he work. Warm colors, such as orange, yellow, and red, tend to leap forward in a painting, while the cooler colors, such as blue, green, or purple, recede into the background. It is evident that Degas was facile with color, as he had to know that this would cause this particular dancer to leap to the foreground, though she is not the one who is closest to the viewer. Instead, the dancer who is in the immediate foreground is cast in shadow, and creates a more convenient area of dark shadows to contrast the other figures bright highlights.
One of the most important points to remember about Degas work was the extraordinary use of cropping. His work resembled photographs, a new invention at the time, and it was rare for an artist to attempt such a composition. Paintings, traditionally, had always consisted of still lifes, portraits, or epic scenes where almost too much information was presented to the viewer. Degas was a pioneer because he was not afraid to use only the portion of a composition that interested him, and let the rest travel right off the edges of the page.
Degas also manipulates the color in an impressionistic manner.  If you look closely at the skin tones you can see the use of blues, purples and grays rather than the warm browns we anticipate.  (Remember Vermeer did this too.)   This is called using "non-local colors."  This use of "non-local colors" is one of the main tricks of the impressionists.
Iconography and Context:  Color is the main focus of Degas' work however, the genre scene and the idea of "spectacle" or voyeurism is also part of this.   Industrialization and the new found wealth it brought to Paris in the 19th century created more leisure time and allowed individuals more time and money.  This in turn created a boom in the performance and visual arts.  Ballet and theatre became a main form of entertainment and Degas is simply depicting a popular subject.  Nevertheless, he really doesn't seem to be commenting on the subject he chooses to paint.  He seems rather and objective viewer.  In this piece Degas wants us to feel as though we are seeing the ballet through his eyes.
Degas is one of the first modern artists to exploit pastel as a medium but pastel had been around for quite a while.  According to the Brittanica,

Pastels originated in northern Italy in the 16th century and were used by Jacopo Bassano and Frederico Barocci. The German artist Hans Holbein the Younger and the French artists Jean and François Clouet did pastel portraits in the same period. The greatest popularity of the medium came in the 18th century, when it was primarily used for portraiture. Rosalba Carriera (Italian), Jean-Baptiste Chardin, François Boucher, Maurice-Quentin de La Tour, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau (all French), Jean-Étienne Liotard (Swiss), and Anton Raphael Mengs (German) were among the major masters of pastel. Largely revived and revitalized in the last third of the 19th century by the French artist Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas The Ballet Rehearsal 1876 oil on canvas 23x33
Form: Oil on canvas. Note the fact that his canvas is treated with more care for the smoothness of tonal transitions, the colors tend to mimic real life more accurately, and much less non-local color is being used. The cropping is still evident, but the angle is much more naturalistic, as one would expect from being an observer of the rehearsal in front of them.
Iconography and Context: According to
It is what we expect from Degas; young girls at practice or in the middle of, ballet.  Now, while this may seem like a wholesome scene to be constantly exploring, let's take a look into ballet's past, what it traditionally meant, and the role of ballet in society."The earliest precursors to ballets were lavish entertainment's given in the courts of Renaissance Italy. These elaborate spectacles, which united painting, poetry, music, and dancing, took place in large halls that were used also for banquets and balls. A dance performance given in 1489 actually was performed between the courses of a banquet, and the action was closely related to the menu: For instance, the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece preceded the roast lamb. The dancers based their performance on the social dances of the day."
Now, it must be pointed out as well that at this time, the only people allowed to dance were men, and men would often don wigs and make-up to fulfill the women's roles in these pieces when required. When women were allowed into the ballet, it was assumed that they were women of ill repute, to be placing themselves on stage for all to see.
The type of ballet that Degas is showing in most of his works s known as 'romantic ballet', which began in France in the 1800's "The ballet La Sylphide, first performed in Paris in 1832, introduced the period of the romantic ballet. Marie Taglioni danced the part of the Sylphide, a supernatural creature who is loved and inadvertently destroyed by a mortal man. The choreography, created by her father, Filippo Taglioni, exploited the use of toe dancing to emphasize his daughter's otherworldly lightness and insubstantiality.
La Sylphide inspired many changes in the ballets of the time-in theme, style, technique, and costume. Its successor,Giselle (1841), also contrasted the human and supernatural worlds, and in its second act the ghostly spirits called wilis wear the white tutu popularized in La Sylphide. "  Or, to put it more succinctly, it was an exploitation of the female body and shape, a forum where it could be emphasized in the harsh moral atmosphere of the Victorian era. For a voyeur, such as Degas, it was the perfect medium n which he could fulfill his lascivious appetite for young girls.

Edgar Degas: Le Viol, 1868-69. National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Form: This earlier work by Degas is much more clean, more classically executed than his later works. Even the composition is less dramatic an cropped. It feels like an Old Master work, with the use of chiaroscuro and tenebrism on the girl's night-dress.Iconography: The title of this painting, translated, means 'The Rape." Looking at he scene and trying to read into it, leaves one to wonder at the possibilities of meaning. The girl is bathed in light, looking disheveled and upset, while the man is standing stiffly in the shadows, looking ponderous or guilty. There's a open suitcase next to the bed clothing strewn carelessly on the foot of the bed, but the bed itself is still made, the man is still clothed. It has been interpreted to be no more than a domestic dispute, perhaps the wife is trying to leave the husband, accusing him of infidelity, and 'the rape' may mean a violation of their wedding vows. Whichever interpretation the viewer decides, it remains a psychologically uncomfortable work.

Pierre Auguste Renoir, 
Luncheon of the Boating Party 1881
oil on canvas 4'x5'

Form: Impressionist oil painting, use of pastel colors and non-local colors, one of the best known paintings by Renoir. There is less of the extreme 'photo' cropping employed by Degas, but it is still evident. The picture plane is filled with figures in relaxed repose, and the brushstrokes are loose and quick. A notable element in this work is Renoir's depiction of the white cloth of the table cloth and the white of the men's "T" shirts.  Renoir depicts the light and play of shadow in this work as a relationship of cool to warm tones.  Where the light hits the front of the shirt or cloth, Renoir tints his white cloth with yellows and oranges. In the shadowed portions he adds blues and purples in to the whites.  Earlier painters would have painted the shadows as browns or grays.
Iconography: This image is about two things.  It is about the joy of seeing and depicting the passage of light and color across surfaces but it's also a genre scene that depicts the so called "good life."  Many Parisians had their leisure time liberated by industrialization and the renovations by Haussmann’s Paris allowed them to enjoy it.  As part of the renovations of Paris a series of parks with lakes and cafes became popular hang outs.
"Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party not only conveys the light-hearted leisurely mood of the Maison Fournaise, but also reflects the character of mid- to late nineteenth century French social structure. The restaurant welcomed customers of many classes including bourgeois businessmen, society women, artists (Renoir and Caillebotte), actresses, writers (Guy de Maupassant), critics and, with the new, shorter work week--a result of the industrial revolution--seamstresses and shop girls.
Context according to

This diverse group embodied a new, modern Parisian society that accepted, as it continued to develop and advanced the French Revolution's promise of  liberté, egalité, fraternité. With a masterful use of gesture and expression, Renoir painted youthful, idealized portraits of his friends and colleagues who frequented the Maison Fournaise. In the background and wearing a top hat, the wealthy amateur art historian, collector, and editor of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Charles Ephrussi (no. 8) speaks with a younger man wearing a more casual brown coat and cap who may be Jules Laforgue (no. 5), the poet, critic, and personal secretary to Ephrussi. In the center, the actress Ellen Andrée (no. 6) drinks  from a glass, while seated across from her and dressed in a brown bowler hat, Baron Raoul Barbier (no. 4), a bon vivant and former mayor of colonial Saigon, faces the smiling woman leaning on the railing thought to be Alphonsine Fournaise (no. 3), the daughter of the proprietor. Wearing traditional straw boaters' hats, both she, and her brother, Alphonse Fournaise Jr. (no. 2), who was responsible for the boat rentals and stands at the far left of the composition, are placed within, but at the edge, of the party. Also sporting boaters' hats are the artist Paul Lhote (no. 12) and the bureaucrat Eugène Pierre Lestringez  (no. 11). These close friends of Renoir, who often modeled for his paintings, seem to be flirting with the fashionably dressed, famous actress Jeanne Samary (no. 13) in the upper right-hand corner. Lhote is not the only artist represented in Luncheon of the Boating Party; Renoir also included a youthful portrait of his fellow artist, close friend and wealthy patron, Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) (no. 9), who sits backwards  in his chair in the right foreground and is grouped with the actress Angèle (no. 7) and the Italian journalist Maggiolo (no. 10). Caillebotte, an avid boatman and sailor who painted many images of these activities, is portrayed in a white boater's shirt and flat-topped straw boater's hat. Caillebotte gazes across the table at a young woman, affectionately cooing at her dog, who is Aline Charigot (no. 1), the young seamstress Renoir had recently met and would later marry."
"Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges on February 25, 1841. His father  was a tailor and his mother a dressmaker. When Renoir was three, the family moved to Paris where he grew up and lived most of his life. From 1854 to 1858, Renoir was apprenticed to a decorator of porcelain. He also studied drawing in the evenings and, from 1864, received permission to paint copies in  the Louvre. In 1860-61, Renoir began his formal art training, studying in the studio of Charles Gleyre and entering the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts) in 1862. At the art school, Renoir formed friendships with Claude Monet (1840-1926), Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870), and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899). The four artists,who had painted together outdoors during their student years, later were founding members of the movement that became known as Impressionism."
 Pierre Auguste Renoir. Moulin de la Galette. 1876, 51"x69"
Form: Another Impressionist genre scene. Renoir has captured the effect of sunlight dappling the revelers through the tree leaves, effectively creating the feeling of an airy, outdoor party. He has stayed away from intense colors and striking contrast, instead using the pastel hues and non-local colors which the Impressionists were best known for.Iconography: "Renoir delighted in `the people's Paris', of which the Moulin de la Galette near the top of Montmartre was a characteristic place of entertainment, and his picture of the Sunday afternoon dance in its acacia-shaded courtyard is one of his happiest compositions. In
still-rural Montmartre, the Moulin, called `de la Galette' from the pancake which was its speciality, had a local clientèle, especially of working girls and their young men together with a sprinkling of artists who, as Renoir did, enjoyed the spectacle and also found unprofessional models. The dapple of light is an Impressionist feature but Renoir after his bout of plein-air landscape at Argenteuil seems especially to have welcomed the opportunity to make human beings, and especially women, the main components of picture. As Manet had done in La Musique aux Tuileries he introduced a number of portraits.  The girl in the striped dress in the middle foreground (as charming of any of Watteau's court ladies) was said to be Estelle, the sister of Renoir's model, Jeanne. Another of Renoir's models, Margot, is seen to the left dancing with the Cuban painter, Cardenas. At the foreground table at the right are the artist's friends, Frank Lamy, Norbert Goeneutte and Georges Rivière who in the short-lived publication L'Impressionniste extolled the Moulin de la Galette as a page of history, a precious monument of Parisian life depicted with rigorous exactness. Nobody before him had thought of capturing some aspect of daily life in a canvas of such large dimensions."
Context: According to the
"Renoir painted two other versions of the subject, a small sketch now in the Ordrupgard Museum, near Copenhagen and a painting smaller than the Louvre version in the John Hay Whitney collection. It is a matter of some doubt whether the latter or the Louvre version was painted on the spot. Rivière refers to a large canvas being transported to the scene though it would seem obvious thatso complete a work as the picture in the Louvre would in any case have been finished in the studio." 

An element of art which has three properties.
  • Hue, which is the name of a color. For example,  red, yellow, blue.
  • Value, which refers to the lightness or darkness of a color.
  • Intensity, which refers to the brightness and purity of a color.  For example, bright red or dull red.

Hue refers to the name of a color.  Eg.  Red, blue, and purple.

Value in Color
When describing a hue, value refers to its lightness or darkness.  Value changes are often obtained by adding black or white to a hue.

It is not always enough to know the hue of a color, since a color has many different shades.Intensity is used to describe the purity of a color.    When a hue is strong, it is said to be high in intensity.  When a color is faint, dull and gray, it is said to be low in intensity.
Intensities of Green


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