Sunday, 23 August 2009

Book Review: The Art of Impressionism

Title: The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity
Author: (Publisher): Professor Anthea Callen (Yale University Press Published: 15 November 2000)
Technical data: ISBN 13: 9780300084023 ISBN 10: 0300084021
Physical properties Format: Hardback; Number of pages: 240; Width: 245.00 mm; Height: 310.00 mm; Thickness: 27.00 mm; Weight: 2010.00 g
Synopsis: This magnificent book is the first full-scale exploration of Impressionist technique. Focusing on the easel-painted work of Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Cezanne, Cassatt, Morisot, Caillebotte, Sisley, and Degas in the period before 1900, it places their methods and materials in a historical perspective and evaluates their origins, novelty, and meanings within the visual formation of urban modernity. Browse the contents page here and here.
Who should buy this?: People who like the Impressionists a lot and/or are really interested in how they painted
Who should not buy this?
  • people who aren't willing to search high and low for it!
  • people who aren't interested in the Impressionists
  • well researched detail about context and practice in the past
  • details what the Impressionist artists used for paint, what sort of canvases and grounds they painted on, how they applied their paint, where and in what sort of conditions they painted and finally whether and how they varnished and framed their works
  • the very best photography of Impressionist paintings and small sections of them that I have ever seen in a serious art book
  • many reproductions of paintings I've never seen before in any other book
  • an opportunity to really examine the nature and quality of the mark making
  • corrects the views some people have of Impressionist painters
  • a fantastic glossary and very detailed bibliography and endnotes
Think Again?
  • academic language used - typical of a university level text
  • now apparently out of print and may be very difficult to get hold of
  • the price you may now need to pay to get hold of a copy
Summary / Recommendation: I highly recommend The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of Modernity for anybody who, like me, likes the work of Impressionist painters and is also fascinated by the preparation and process behind the making of their art.

My purpose in posting is to update a post in February 2008 on my Making A Mark blog - The Art of Impressionism and associated painting techniques. Click the link to read my detailed book review - which is summarised above.

The painting on the front cover is part of "Boulevard des Capucines" by Claude Monet painted in 1873.
80.4cm x 60.3 cm
Nelson-Atkins Museum collection
According to Prof. Callen it was painted
on a 'horiziontal landscape no 25' canvas.
Drawing on scientific studies of pigments and materials, artists’ treatises, colormens’ archives, and contemporary and modern accounts, Anthea Callen demonstrates how raw materials and paintings are profoundly interdependent. She analyzes the material constituents of oil painting and the complex processes of “making” entailed in all aspects of artistic production, discussing in particular oil painting methods for landscapists and the impact of plein air light on figure painting, studio practice, and display. Insisting that the meanings of paintings are constituted by and within the cultural matrices that produced them, Callen argues that the real “modernity” of the Impressionist enterprise lies in the painters’ material practices. Bold brushwork, unpolished, sketchy surfaces, and bright, “primitive” colors were combined with their subject matter—the effects of light, the individual sensation made visible—to establish the modern as visual.

This very worthwhile book is now out of print and apparently copies are difficult to locate. Personally I think it is a book which is well worth owning. However if you want to acquire a copy you need to buy it now or you might not be able to buy it at all.

These are the libraries in the UK which have a copy.

If you want to purchase a copy then:
  • EITHER you may need to try hunt it down off the Internet - and this may take some time
  • OR you could be paying very high prices on the Internet - Amazon for example has book sellers in the US quoting prices from $400-600+. In the UK it was originally priced at £45.
This is also an excellent book to use as an example for telling your nearest and dearest why very good art books - packed full of information and expert comment - are a really a very worthwhile investment! :)

Plus we also need to let publishers know which books need to be reprinted! I'm off to write a note to the Yale University Press!

Note: Many thanks to Caroline Oakley, who's an Adult and Community Learning Tutor, who wrote to let me know that this book is now out of print.


The Bimbler said...

This author also has a much more afordable book "Techniques of the Impressionists" which is a more concise version of the book reviewed.
I got a copy from Amazon UK for one penny plus £2.80 postage !

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Sounds like you got a good deal - Amazon UK is currently listing the book you mention for a very great deal more than that

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