Mallarmé and Impressionism in 1876

Margaret Werth at nonsite:

Mallarmé’s emphasis on the “instantaneous and voluntary” character of Impressionist painting, its “rapid execution,” “effects of simplification,” attraction to “subjects close to home,” its “shifting glimmer of light and shadow,” and notion of “see[ing] … for the first time” corresponds to many contemporary and subsequent accounts of it.10 Edmund Duranty’s “The New Painting: Concerning the Group of Artists Exhibiting at Durand-Ruel,” for example, was a long, supportive pamphlet published at the time of the second Impressionist exhibition in April 1876, preceding Mallarmé’s publication the following September. Duranty outlines a number of features that would commonly be identified with Impressionism: the use of bright color; the observation of movement and rendering of passing effects of light and sensations of luminosity; plein air painting on site; the model of Japanese prints; the rejection of traditional rules and conventions; unusual and cropped compositions; lack of finish; originality and individual means of expression; artistic independence and freedom; and subjects of contemporary, everyday life.11 However, unlike Mallarmé, Duranty’s understanding of Impressionism is rooted in Realist and Naturalist ideas and commitments: he emphasizes individuality, Mallarmé impersonality; he stresses Impressionism’s response to contemporary life, Mallarmé the artist’s relation to Nature; his understanding of the “truth” of Impressionism depends upon the representation of modern life that Mallarmé’s text complicates.

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