Landscape Painters and Critics: “Five or Six Lunatics”


‘Moonlit Lake’ by Austin landscape painter Valerie Rawlings

Challenges Facing Landscape Painters

Modern landscape painters employ a variety of styles and colors; but it wasn’t always that way. Wild and wonderful colors are commonplace today in everything around us. From our clothing, home furnishings, to every image on our computer screen, neon bright colors vie for our attention. Artists incorporate supernaturally brilliant colors without worrying that they will be condemned for being unrealistic. But painters have not always been so free. The whole impressionist art movement faced constant criticism.

Famous Landscape Painters and Art Critics

Following the second impressionist exhibition in Paris in 1876, art critic Albert Wolff expressed the feelings of many art lovers of the day in this quote:
” Five or six lunatics, one of them a women — a collection of unfortunates, tainted by the folly of ambition — have met here to exhibit their works. What a terrifying spectacle is this of human vanity stretched to the verge of dementia. Someone should tell M.Pissarro forcibly that trees are never violet, that the sky is never the colour of fresh butter, that nowhere on earth are things to be seen as he paints them.”

Those ‘lunatics’ would be the highly revered artists Degas, Renoir, Manet, Bazille, Monet, Cezanne and Berthe Morisot! And many art patrons shared the views of the critics. Cezanne gave up on impressionist styles because they weren’t commercially successful.

Fortunately the impressionist movement — and these great landscape painters — had a better reception in the United States. Eventually they gained respect for their use of thick strokes of oil paint applied side by side with little mixing. They took advantage of the newly available paints in a tube which allowed them to easily create landscape paintings outdoors and capture the rapidly changing effects of sunlight on the scene.

Impressionism and Outdoor Landscape Painting

Up to this time, landscape painters worked mostly in the studio. In his early “plein air” painting Claude Monet did a series of 25 paintings of haystacks – each one of a different color and light effect, depending on the time of day, season and weather conditions. Reportedly he worked on 10 or 12 canvases at a time, switching as the sun moved. The landscape painter’s  masterpieces portray the vibrant essence of their subjects rather than the detail.

Here is my latest salute to Impressionism, unrealistic colors and unjustly maligned landscape painters — ‘Moonlit Lake’.

Eat my dust M.Wolff!


About Valerie Rawlings

Austin, Texas oil painter focusing on portraits, landscapes and still life paintings
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