Historical Influences

Paris has always been the unofficial capital of art. In the 19th century, the French Academy of Fine Arts dictated artistic taste to the world. It supported conservative idealized images that came from imitating the traditions of ancient Greek and Roman art. However, historical changes taking place in society at that time affected the new generation of artists, giving birth to impressionism, a new art form that challenged the Salon and won.

These changes started around 1830. At this time, the population of Paris started to grow, doubling in size by around 1850. Living conditions inside the city became unbearable, and The Revolution of 1848 broke out. The monarchy was overthrown by workers who promoted socialist ideals. However, they did not manage to hold power for long, and by the end of the year, the reins of government were seized by the conservatives. This struggle and social turmoil made people of different social classes extremely distrustful of one another.

The poor hoped to improve their living conditions and abolish the system that put them in their pitiful predicament. The aristocrats tried to shield themselves with shells of money and traditions, and rejected any change because they saw it as a threat. The middle class, also called the bourgeoisie, was torn between these two polar opposites, scorned by the former and latter equally.

These historical events influenced young artists who chose to defy traditional art forms supported by the Academy and aristocrats. They were rejected by the Salon, an annual exhibition that was the only opportunity for artists to call attention to their work. However, this did not stop them, and they managed to organize their own exhibition. It was opened in 1874, and became the first impressionist exhibition in the history of art. The magnitude of this event and the defiance shown by these young and talented artists managed to change art at its core.

There were works of fifty-five young artists displayed at The Exhibition of 1874. Some of these young talents were Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, Pissaro, and Berthe Morisot. The fact that these names are known and respected by every art student/dealer/critic and art appreciator today, proves complete success of these daring individuals who challenged the traditions and managed to change them.

When France was redefining itself as a country by abolishing the monarchy and dealing with a social revolution, young artists living there proved once again that art is the mirror of life. They boldly challenged the critics that clung to old traditions and prevailed. The change they started resulted in the development of modern art.