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British Impressionism Collage

British Impressionism - History and Concepts

Started: 1866
Ended: 1912
British Impressionism Timeline

Beginnings of British Impressionism

Impressionism: French or British?

The question of when Impressionism took hold in Britain is unresolved because Impressionism's geographical and historical origins remain a matter of debate. In 1885, when a new art club was founded by a group of progressively minded British artists enthused by the Impressionist style, they initially considered calling themselves The Society of Anglo-French Painters. Although they eventually decided on New English Art Club - and over the following decade that collective became a hub for developments in British Impressionism - their original preference of name suggests that they saw Impressionism as a recent foreign trend, a French phenomenon of the 1860s-70s, by whose example they could revive creative spirits across the channel.

This is in contrast to the earliest histories of Impressionism in Britain that began to appear two decades later, in the early twentieth century. These tended to stress the native British precedents for the style, stretching back to the daringly abstract seascapes of JMW Turner and light-filled vistas of John Constable, created during the early nineteenth century. Although some modern critics have downplayed these readings as parochial, at one time it was felt that the impact of British Romantic artists such as Constable and Turner on Impressionism was so strong that the first, French Impressionist painters must have learned considerably from them.

Turner, Constable, and the Romantic movement

Some British art prior to the 1860s, in particular that of the early-nineteenth-century Romantic movement, predicts the formal and tonal advances of French Impressionism, even if direct practical connections between the different times and places are hard to pin down.

John Constable, <i>The Hay Wain</i> (1821). This painting was displayed at the 1824 Paris Salon and influenced French landscape painting.

John Constable, born in 1776 in East Bergholt, Suffolk, was a landscape painter renowned for his detailed, realistic observations of natural scenes, which he created on site rather than in the studio, a revolutionary approach at the time. His work was exhibited in the Paris Salons from the 1820s onwards and he became a more influential and revered figure abroad than in his home country, notably inspiring the French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix, often seen as a proto-Impressionist.

Constable's close attention to the natural world, in particular the play of light on foliage and water, influenced subsequent generations of French painters including Camille Corot and the Barbizon School. The work of these artists, in turn, vitally fed the Impressionist imagination. Constable's approach of painting en plein air also became a calling card of almost all landscape painters of the later nineteenth century, and one of the defining features of Impressionism.

Later in his career, and in his more informal "sketches," Constable experimented with a strikingly painterly approach, allowing visible brushwork on the canvas to evoke the mood of spirit of his subject-matter. This is particularly evident in works such as Rain Storm Over the Sea (c.1824-28), which pre-empt the Impressionists' use of ostentatious mark-making to draw attention to the composition process.

Constable's contemporary and rival J.M.W. Turner was born in 1775 in Covent Garden, London, into a working-class family. Turner developed a still more imaginative, light-infused and expressive form of landscape painting than Constable. Indeed, if Constable influenced the painters who inspired the Impressionists, Turner is often seen to have more directly predicted the approach of the revolutionary French school.

Like Constable, Turner developed a more unusual approach to landscape painting as he grew older. Between early works such as Dutch Boats in a Gale (1801) and late masterpieces like Light and Colour (Goethe's Theory) - the Morning after the Deluge - Moses Writing the Book of Genesis (1843) we can sense a sea-change. From capturing the atmospherics of a scene - in this case a stormy sea - through naturalistic detail emerges a fascination with relaying the elemental spirit of that subject by moving beyond direct representation. A vortex of color and light encloses the protagonist of the later work - in the process of receiving direct commandment from God - consisting of mobile, evocative brushwork.

Art historian John House suggests that Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, two French Impressionists who fled to London at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71, encountered Turner's work during that year and may have been influenced by it. By that time, admittedly, the major Impressionists were already well on their way to establishing a "refined and flexible shorthand for the representation of the colors and textures of the natural world ."

Whistler's Early Years

By the time Monet and Pissarro were encountering Turner's work in London, a North American-born contemporary of theirs was already forging a unique path through the Romantic and Realist traditions from his base on the rapidly industrializing banks of the Thames. James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in 1834 in Lowell, Massachusetts to a military family. He studied engineering at West Point while his brother William worked as a doctor for the confederacy during the US Civil War.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, <i>Variations in Flesh Colour and Green - The Balcony</i> (1864-c.1870)

In 1855 Whistler left America for Paris to study art, never to return to his homeland. He would divide the rest of his working life between the French capital and London, which he began to visit almost immediately to stay with his half-sister, settling there permanently in 1859. After an early period of experimentation with Realism, by the late 1860s, Whistler was pursuing a more abstract approach, synthesizing the influences of classical Greek art and Japanese woodblock print. He also became concerned with capturing the temporal atmospherics of a scene in a way which necessitated simpler, bolder, more gestural brushwork. These influences come across in works such as Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony, which predict the misty cityscapes and informal detailing of human activity in much Impressionism.

French Impressionists, British Protégés

Camille Pissarro, <i>Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich</i> (1871).

When Monet and Pissarro fled to London in 1870, accompanied by the Paris-born British artist Alfred Sisley, they immediately began to paint their new, suburban surroundings. Pissarro's Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich shows a train departing from a recently built station designed to serve visitors to the growing community of Dulwich in south London, including its new tourist attraction, the Crystal Palace. The body of work produced by the French Impressionists in London during 1870-71 reflects their wider influence on British artists.

The Impressionists' dealer Paul Durand-Ruel had escaped to London with them, and in December 1870 set up a gallery on New Bond Street, where he would hold ten exhibitions of the Society of French Artists, beginning that year. If these exhibitions spread French Impressionism to British students and acolytes - a wave of influence which had become more consuming by the 1880s - the latter were also travelling directly to the source of the new movement to draw inspiration and education. Critic of British Impressionism Kenneth McConkey notes that in the 1870s "Paris suddenly became a kind of Mecca," famed for its atelier-based approach to art education, dispensing with academic concerns such as fineness of finish. Within a decade or so, this approach had led to the emergence of Impressionism, which increased British interest in the art-school scene across the channel.

During this period relationships were forged between French masters and British followers, setting in train the emergence of a distinctively British Impressionism. The case of Walter Sickert and Edgar Degas is instructive. In the early 1880s, Sickert was part of a group of young British painters dedicated to the tonal style of Whistler. However, over the course of a series of meetings from 1883 onwards, Sickert was introduced to Degas's more socially-observant approach. McConkey notes that "Degas contributed greatly to Sickert's education," the latter becoming one of many young British painters who, "inspired by reports of the depiction of street life [by French Impressionists], went around London trying to paint from the top of hansom cabs [open-top horse-drawn carriages]."

<i>A Gust of Wind</i> (1887) by John Singer Sargent

The British-based American artist John Singer Sargent forged a comparable though less hierarchical relationship with Claude Monet. By the early 1880s Sargent, in contrast to Sickert, was already a renowned artist, a glamorous high-society portraitist in a grand, almost Neoclassical style. But following a meeting with Monet in 1876, he began to bring a more impressionistic approach to his sketches and outdoor scenes. This is evident in works such as the 1887 beach-scene A Gust of Wind, and in his famous homage (or pastiche) of the same year, Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood.

The Influence of Jules Bastien-Lepage and Naturalism

French Impressionism took hold in Britain in the context of wider channels of influence from the continent. By 1880, some Impressionists were beginning to feel frustrated with the perceived limits of a style focused on conveying the momentary impression of a scene, concerned that Impressionism was unable to offer deeper concept or commentary. That same year, Jules Bastien-Lepage's Haymaking was displayed in London for the first time.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, <i>Haymaking</i> (1877)

This work combined an Impressionist-responsive open landscape with a cast of foreground figures depicted in a searingly emotive style influenced by the Realism of Courbet and Millet. This painting - and Bastien-Lepage's work more generally, which rose to sudden meteoric prominence - was seen by many to have advanced on the gains of Impressionism. It offered a fuller, more socially and ethically charged form of modern landscape and genre painting - a type of Naturalism - with a unique formal approach combining patches of blocky abstraction with areas of hyper-realistic detail.

It was only around the early 1880s that British artists were starting to engage concertedly with the examples of Impressionism. The fact that they imbibed it along with the style of Bastien-Lepage that the two became entwined in some British perceptions of Impressionism. In the work of the English artist George Clausen, and in the painting of Glasgow Boys such as John Lavery, the influence of Impressionism is veiled by, or implicit within, that of Bastien-Lepage. Works such as Clausen's Breton Girl Carrying a Jar (1882) exemplify this sense.

Social and Industrial Change

Like their French counterparts, British artists were reacting to the ongoing social trends of the nineteenth century: increasingly rapid industrialization and urbanization; the advent of train travel, telegraphy, and other new communication and transport methods; the photographic revolution and associated advent of novel means of reproducing artworks. All of these was registered in the minds of British Impressionists, both directly and indirectly through the example of their French forerunners.

Kenneth McConkey offers the following characterization of the mood within the British art scene during the final quarter of the nineteenth century, in which all of the influences just discussed appear folded together, setting the scene for the arrival of the New English Art Club and British Impressionism as a visible movement: "While great Academicians...continued to dominate the official exhibitions, there were suddenly tensions of a kind not experienced before. This was the result of widespread dissatisfaction with art education, which led students in unprecedented numbers to take the channel packet-boat to learn their craft in Paris. There was dissatisfaction with the Royal Academy and a desire to see its exhibition practices overhauled...All of this occurred when images of all types of proliferating, when photography was claiming the status of fine art, and when it was technically possible for a painting exhibited in one country to be faithfully reproduced and widely distributed in another...Impressionist and Salon Naturalist painters like Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Jules Bastien-Lepage all worked in London...More than in previous decades there is a sense of a whole generation physically pressing against its fathers ."

Concepts and Trends

Whistler's Nocturnes

Whistler's <i>Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Valparaiso Bay</i> (1866), the first of his Nocturne series.

The aesthete and dandy James Whistler became an imperious force within British Impressionism. One of his most important contributions to the Impressionist canon was the series of Nocturnes he had begun almost a decade earlier, in 1866. He created the first on a trip to Chile, then in the throes of a war of independence against Spain.

The reasons for this visit remain relatively mysterious, but during a stay in the besieged port town of Valparaíso, Whistler created what his biographer Daniel E. Sullivan describes as "something quite different" from his previous oeuvre, a waterside scene of ghostly or translucent detail set against a gloomy background wash that seemed almost as if it might swallow up the buildings and people. "Whistler had painted the Thames shrouded in mist or fog [for example in Chelsea in Ice (1864)] but this night scene, its effects reminiscent of earlier pictures by his Pre-Raphaelite friends Holman Hunt and George Boyce, presaged the next dramatic step in his art ."

Whistler's <i>Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge</i> (1872-75)

Over the next decade, Whistler created a whole series of Nocturnes, the majority of them in his adopted home city of London: river-side scenes in which the influence of Japonism can be felt in the stylized presentation of people and river-borne craft as calligraphic dashes of paint. The critic Frances Spalding describes the method he used to create these works, which was perfected in the early 1870s: He developed a system and a formula which he could vary with subtle effect. He would mix his colours beforehand, using a lot of medium, until he had, as he called it, a 'sauce'. Then, on a canvas often prepared with a red ground to force up the blues and suggest darkness behind, he would pour on the fluid paint, often painting on the floor to prevent the paint running off, and, with long strokes of the brush pulled from one side to another, would create the sky, buildings and river, subtly altering the tones where necessary and blending them with the utmost skill .

As Spalding adds, the effect is that "out of the decorative unity...grow atmosphere and mystery, the sense that the visible world thinly veils the inexplicable."

Walter Sickert's <i>The Acting Manager or Rehearsal: The End of the Act</i> (c.1885), a portrait of theater manager Helen Carte, influenced by the dark tonal range and melancholy atmospherics of Whistler's portraits.

Whistler's work is central to the story of Impressionism as a whole. Since at least 1863, when his Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl (1861-62) was displayed to acclaim at the inaugural Salon des Refusés, there had been lines of communication and mutual creative response between Whistler in London and his contemporaries in France. These were deepened when Monet, Pissarro and others sojourned in England during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. House posits that Whistler's night-time river scenes of the 1860s-70s, his so-called Nocturnes, influenced Monet's genre-defining Impression, Sunrise (1872), specifically "the broadly brushed, liquid swathes of paint that convey the sky and water, and the shadowy silhouettes of the ships and cranes in the background [.]" Significantly, Whistler was invited to exhibit at the inaugural Impressionist group exhibition in Paris in 1874 - although the artist's refusal of that invitation reflects the distance which he sought to establish between his own work and that of his European peers.

A self-portrait by Whistler from c.1896-98, around the time of his installment as president of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers.

The impact of Whistler's work and persona was still more profound in Britain. According to Sutherland, by the early 1880s friends were noticing that "'a sort of claque' of young artists had already formed around Whistler." Most significantly, a young painter called Walter Sickert had, by 1882, "abandoned his classes with [Alphonse] Legros at the Slade School to follow Whistler....Sickert, who had worshiped Whistler since the first Gros¬venor show [in 1877], declared to a friend, 'Such a man! The only painter alive who has first immense genius, then conscientious persistent work striving after his ideal'." Sutherland also notes that the painter Philip Wilson Steer, though "he had never been an abject follower...learned much from Whistler ."

In the 1890s, and particularly after a falling out with Sickert, a group of Scottish painters called the Glasgow Boys, including John Lavery, Edward Walton, Joseph Crawhall, and James Guthrie, began to replace the earlier group in Whistler's affections. The relationship was established in 1891, when a cohort led by Walton secured the purchase of Whistler's Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 2: Portrait of Thomas Carlyle (1872-73) for the City of Glasgow. Seven years later, when the Glasgow Boys were central to the formation of a new art club, the International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, Whistler was installed as its first president.

The New English Art Club

Walter Sickert in c. 1885.

By the late 1880s the group that had begun to coalesce around Whistler earlier in the decade was larger, more expansive in its connections and tastes, and more self-confident of its range of approaches. Sickert had turned to the work of Degas, for example, and begun to adopt the music-hall and low-brow entertainment themes favored by his new mentor. Philip Wilson Steer, who trained in Paris during 1882-84, set out on what McConkey calls "[a] swift advance towards the more extreme form of Impressionism," developing techniques derived from Monet, Manet, Whistler and others and ultimately arriving at a form of Pointillism.

An 1894 sketch of Frederick Brown, artist and founding member of the New English Art Club, by Philip Wilson Steer.

In 1885, a group of fifteen painters founded a new art society to express the changes in contemporary art that they felt the Royal Academy was overlooking. Writing for the National Portrait Gallery, Elizabeth Heath notes that their aim was to "establish an exhibiting society along French lines," perhaps on the model of the Société Anonyme des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, formed in 1874 by the Impressionists in Paris. Like that organization, the new club "was to be 'run by artists for artists ', jury." This democratic, anti-hierarchical spirit - summed up in the constitution drawn up founder member Frederick Brown - was as much as an aspect of the Impressionist approach as any compositional scruple.

The group was a broad church but its members held certain principles and experiences in common. "Having studied in Paris," Heath continues, "these men were influenced by the plein-air painting of Jules Bastien-Lepage and the Barbizon School and also by the Impressionists. All felt that the Royal Academy had not given this new approach to painting its due. Moreover, they wished to rebel against what they perceived to be the diluted Pre-Raphaelitism dominant within the establishment, with its piecemeal observation uncontrolled by general tone ." They also placed the unifying formal beauty of the artwork above all other concerns, a position indebted to Whistler. Indeed, Sutherland notes that the Club was "filled with admirers of Whistler ."

Theodore Roussel's <i>The Reading Girl</i> (1886) was amongst the paintings shown at the first exhibition of the New English Art Club in 1886, which grouped together the work of British Impressionists for arguably the first time.

According to Kenneth McConkey, the Club "first convened on 4 January 1886, and began planning for an exhibition to open at the beginning of April, one month before the Royal Academy ." The first exhibition of the new English Art Club duly commenced on 12 April 1886, by which time the group had swelled to fifty members. Of these 43 exhibited, showing a total of 58 pictures and 12 sculptures. The collective included a strong British Impressionist contingent including Sickert, Steer, Sydney Starr, Francis Bate, and the French-born Theodore Roussel. There were also artists such as George Clausen who were more committed to the aesthetics of Bastien-Lepage, as well as representatives of the Whistlerian Glasgow Boys and the Naturalist-influenced artists' colony at Newlyn in Cornwall, south-west England.

The show was almost scuppered before it began when the art dealer Martin Colnaghi, who had agreed to cover the artists' rent for use of the Marlborough Gallery in London, withdrew his support after seeing exhibiting artist Henry Scott Tuke's study of nude boys The Bathers (1886). In the end, however, club member W.J. Laidlay was able to make up the balance. Press reaction was generally favorable. A critic for the Pall Mall Gazette wrote that 'the three score works in the exhibition reveal a quite unexpected variety of subject and treatment, and undoubtedly a very much higher level of excellence than is to be found in the average Academy or Grosvenor Gallery '.

William Orpen's <i>The Selecting Jury of the New English Art Club</i> (1909), which depicts two of the founding fifteen members of the club, Philip Wilson Steer and Frederick Brown.

However, McConkey points out that the Club's activities also succeeded in "flushing out reactionary opinions," just as the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1874 had drawn the ire of conservative critics. The painter William Powell Frith declared the young painters' minds to be "in a state of disease," while the President of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolors Sir James Linton accused the exhibited work of rehashing the work of the French Realist School, in particular Millet .

The London Impressionists Exhibition

In 1889, a group of painters broadly indebted to Whistler, and at the more Impressionist end of the stylistic scale represented at the New English Art Club, split off from the Club to form a smaller grouping dubbed The London Impressionists. Their number included Roussel, Sickert, Steer, Paul Maitland, Francis Bate, Bernard Sickert, Frederick Brown, and George Thomson. According to Steer's friend and biographer D.S. MacColl, "Walter Sickert took the critical lead amongst them," responding with a waspishness learned from Whistler to the fact that "Impressionism...was the nickname for any new painting that surprised or annoyed critic or public ."

Feeling that London's status as a great metropolis of the modern age needed to be reflected in contemporary art just as Paris had been, the group mounted an inaugural exhibition in 1889 at the Goupil Gallery. Sickert penned the catalogue's introduction, announcing that: "Essentially and firstly [Impressionism] is not realism. It has no wish to record anything merely because it exists. It is not occupied in a struggle to make intensely real and solid the sordid or superficial details of the subjects it selects. It accepts, as the aim of the picture, what Edgar Allan Poe asserts to be the sole legitimate province of the poem, beauty."

The artist went on to declare that "beauty" was not only to be found in the natural world. Impressionism "is, on the contrary, strong in the belief that for those who live in the most wonderful and complex city in the world, the most fruitful course of study lies in a persistent effort to render the magic and the poetry which they daily see around them ."

The Glasgow Boys

Edward Walton, <i>Autumn Sunshine</i> (1883-84)

The Glasgow Boys were an informal and changeable group of young Scottish painters variously influenced by the Impressionism of Whistler and by Naturalism. Some of the key members included Arthur Melville, Thomas Millie Dow, George Henry, John Lavery, James Guthrie, Edward Walton, Joseph Crawhall, and William York MacGregor.

The art critic Susie Hodge notes that the collective first began to muster around the end of the 1870s, when a number of them started to gather at MacGregor's studio. They forged an identity in opposition to the Edinburgh art establishment - particularly the Royal Society of Artists - and the Glasgow Art Club, both of which were seen as parochial and conservative.

Hodge notes that "sketching and painting outdoors was the Boys' major departure from the usual Scottish practice of painting in the studio; their use of realism and naturalism over sentimentality was also different, as was their application of loose, wide, often square brushmarks, and the build-up of the effects of light and shade with patches of subtly changing colour ." Many of their number had studied and Paris and the facture style Hodge describes owes much to Bastien-Lepage. At the same time, they were enthralled by the misty, moody ambience of Whistler's city scenes, and brought much of his spirit to their work.

John Lavery's <i>The Tennis Party</i> (1885) was amongst the works exhibited that year at the Glasgow Boys' first collective exhibition.

The first exhibition of the Glasgow Boys' work was mounted at Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts in 1885. Over the previous half-decade, the gallery had shown works by significant landscape artists, Naturalists, and Impressionists including Turner, Constable, Corot, Millet, Bastien-Lepage, and Whistler, all of which fed into the young painters' evolving styles. At the first exhibition, important works of British Impressionism and Naturalism such as John Lavery's The Tennis Party (1885) were shown.

In his autobiography The Life of a Painter John Lavery summed up some of the influences on the group and outlined its course of development: "Although we at Glasgow worked with a richer palette than Whistler, we recognized in him the greatest artist of the day . But Bastien-Lepage was a still more foundational influence: Although I had only seen Bastien-Lepage on one occasion...I had never forgotten his advice on figures in motion. Pointing to people passing he said: 'Always carry a sketchbook. Select a person - watch him - then put down as much as you remember. Never look twice....' From that day on I became obsessed by figures in motion, which resulted finally in the Tennis Party and drew attention to what became known as The Glasgow School ."

Artists' Colonies

Many British Impressionists and fellow travelers formed colonies in small rural communities around Britain and abroad. They were inspired by the French Impressionists' trips to locations outside of Paris to paint en plein air, but also by the Barbizon School and the Naturalists, who had taken off to rural and woodland locations for months or years on end, establishing more deeply embedded relationships with particular places.

The London Impressionist group were perhaps too wedded to city life to draw much from this approach, but the Glasgow Boys undertook a number of collective sojourns to locations across Scotland and France. From 1775 onwards, many of them set up camp in the small village of Grez-sur-Loing on the outskirts of the Barbizon Forest, emulating the earlier Barbizon school. Locations closer to home were also important. In 1881 a summer camp was established at Brig o' Turk in the Trossachs hills, and two years later a more permanent camp in the settlement of Cockburnspath in the Scottish Borders. Here some of the masterpieces of the group, such as Guthrie's A Hind's Daughter (1883) and George Henry's Playmates (1884), were created. Other locations such as Helensburgh and Rosneath in Argyle and Kircudbright in Dumfries and Galloway were also important.

Later Developments - After British Impressionism

The Legacy of British Impressionism

The British Impressionist movement proved to be a testing ground for many of the most talented artists of the following half-century and branched off in a range of directions that its French counterpart movement could not have anticipated. Most obviously, through the work and persona of Whistler, Impressionism in Britain became associated with the dandyish aesthetics of Art for Art's Sake and Aestheticism during the 1890s. Whistler's biographer Daniel E. Sutherland emphasizes the extent to which Oscar Wilde, the figurehead of the era, modelled his public persona on Whistler's waspish humor, love of beauty, and scorn for moralizing, commenting that "Whistler's most famous disciple, if such he may be called, was not an artist at all ."

Roger Fry in a 1928 self-portrait

Although it would be easy to cast British Impressionism as an after-echo or inferior replica of the French movement, it is also worth noting that through the figure of Whistler, British art was influential on the initial stylistic development of the movement as a whole. Moreover, artists such as Walter Sickert developed distinctive styles that were clearly indebted to French counterparts. Sickert, for example, brought a dark color palette and an air of grimy mystery to his urban scenes in a way that is not found in the French Impressionist canon, while Scottish artists such as Guthrie melded the effects of Impressionism and Naturalism to produce a moving form of rural social realism. Post-Impressionism in Britain

The artists associated with the Glasgow Boys, New English Art Club, London Impressionists and other networks of British Impressionism went on to develop a range of individual and divergent styles across the final decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. However, on or around 1910, a number of developments in British art began to reflect the common impact of what became known as Post-Impressionism.

Paul Gauguin's <i>Three Tahitians</i> (1899) was one of several Gauguin works included in Roger Fry's show Manet and the Post-Impressionists in 1910.

The English critic, curator, and painter Roger Fry in that year mounted an exhibition entitled Manet and the Post-Impressionists at London's Grafton Galleries. Fry had been a devotee of modern French art since encountering the work of Cézanne and wanted to impress upon the British public the fact that the (still only grudgingly accepted) Impressionist revolution had been superseded by another. Artists in France were now less interested in using paint to record the momentary impression of a scene than in using a range of stylized and idiosyncratic color combinations and brush techniques to convey the emotional and spiritual import of their subject. Fry held that Manet was the instigator of this revolution, which was exemplified by the work of Gauguin, Van Gogh, and other major figures of recent European art.

The show was a critical and commercial disaster but it fomented a change in the perception of art amongst the more advanced British writers, critics, and artist. Famously, the novelist Virginia Woolf wrote, with reference to the show, that "[o]n or about December 1910, human character changed." A mongst the Bloomsbury group, including Woolf, Fry, the designer and artist Vanessa Bell (Woolf's sister), critic Clive Bell, and artist Duncan Grant, the Post-Impressionist turn had implications across a range of media, from visual art to writing and interior design. Woolf developed what many saw as an Impressionist writing style - building on the interior monologue techniques pioneered by authors such as Joseph Conrad and Henry James - while Vanessa Bell brought a Post-Impressionist aesthetic to printmaking and other commercial design processes, as well as to her painting.

The Camden Town Group

In 1911, a year after Fry's show, Walter Sickert convened a group that would continue to develop new approaches to depicting the life of the English capital. The Camden Town Group, as it came to be known, had developed partly out of the Allied Artists Association formed three years previously, to provide space for artists deemed to be too modern for the tastes of the Royal Academy. Influences on the group included Van Gogh and Gauguin, as well as their London surroundings and the social trends of English society just prior to the outbreak of the First World War.

Amongst the artists associated with the group, many went on to find fame, including Wyndham Lewis, Augustus John, and Spencer Gore. Moreover, although women were not necessarily treated as equals by the collective, a number of female artists such as Sylvia Gosse worked in comparable style and context, while the famous British realist painter Laura Knight was at this early stage of her career deploying an Impressionist-influenced style. Thus, the era of the Bloomsbury set and Camden Town Group provided a creative platform for women artists influenced by Impressionism in a way that British Impressionism two decades earlier had not.

Important Art and Artists of British Impressionism

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"British Impressionism Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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First published on 05 Sep 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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