If the painters of the Barbizon School had given plein air painting a new importance, the French Impressionists went one step further: their pictures were meant to capture the impression of a moment – the instantaneity of its fleeting light effects. At the same time, this painting style should also be radically contemporary and express the modern view of life in a changing society.
In Austria, Impressionism developed a totally unique variation: although the pictures here in many cases were also the result of uncompromising outdoor painting, the sensitive reproduction of an atmosphere seemed more important to the artists than transitory light effects or pure colours. This development ran concurrently with French Impressionism, which is represented in the collection with works by Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
In sharp contrast to the themes of history painting, which were regarded as meaningful, plain landscapes increasingly became the chosen subject of a number of artists in the mid-nineteenth century. These Impressionist works are characterized by heavily cropped views, the exact observation of light and weather conditions, and the analytical breakdown of tonal atmospheres into colour values achieved by setting dabs of paint side by side.
A visit to the International Art Exhibition in Munich in 1869 had affirmed Austrian painters in their ambitions to depict simple motifs from the suburbs or landscapes from the environs of Vienna. So it was that Emil Jakob Schindler’s Steamboat Station at Kaisermühlen on the Danube (1871/72) and Camille Pissarro’s Street in Pontoise (1868) were created at almost the same time, and Olga Wisinger-Florian’s Blooming Poppy (1895/1900) was painted somewhat earlier than Claude Monet’s Garden Path at Giverny (1902).
In complete accord with the original intention for the Modern Gallery, the Belvedere collection includes works by artists both from home and abroad: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edouard Manet, and Edgar Degas represent Impressionism, whereas Still Life with Blue Bottle, Sugar Bowl and Apples (1900–2) by Paul Cézanne and The Plain at Auvers by Vincent van Gogh already usher in the transition to Modernism.
The Berlin Secession, led by Max Liebermann, was entirely dominated by Impressionism. Outstanding examples, such as Hunter in the Dunes (1913) by Liebermann, The Herzogstand on Walchensee in the Snow (1922) by Lovis Corinth, and Boys Bathing (1911) by Max Slevogt, reveal the free brushwork and intimate cropped effect so typical of German Impressionism.
Carl Schuch, one of the most individualistic of the Austrian artists, seems to have been a maverick concerning the movements of the time. Born in 1846, he, like Manet, completely eschewed Historicism. And as with Manet, or Leibl and Trübner in Germany, the realism of Courbet – represented in the collection by such works as The Wounded Man – was Schuch’s point of departure in his efforts to achieve an artistic renewal. His still lifes are among his greatest achievements, as can be seen at the Belvedere in such paintings as Still Life with Pumpkin, Peaches and Grapes (c. 1884). They bring to mind works by Cézanne, like Still Life with Blue Bottle, Sugar Bowl and Apples (1900–2), which they in fact preceded.
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