In 1870s the new trend in art appeared and reached its peak in France. The Impressionists enriched paintings with fresh, joyful colors; produced effects, especially of light, by use of color rather than by details of form. The painters showed the first visual impression, forever changing under the play of light, that’s why the Impressionists often painted directly from nature in the open air.

The Hermitage has four paintings by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890): View of the Arena in Arles, Ladies of Arles (Memory of the Garden at Etten), Bushes, and Cottages with Thatched Roofs painted during the last years of the artist’s life which were very prolific. He was a Dutch by origin active mainly in France and counted a Post-Impressionist. Van Gogh’s works in the Hermitage are characterized by bright colors, nervous brushwork, dramatic tension, and expressiveness.

One of the leading Impressionist painters was Claude Monet (1840-1926), whose picture Impression: Sunrise (Paris, Marmottan), exhibited in Paris in 1874, and gave the name to the whole movement. There are eight works by the master in the Hermitage. An early painting of his, Lady in the Garden (1867), reflects the first success of the new manner of painting. In the landscape Pond at Montgeron (1876-77) he abandons black and dark tones and shows the movement of currents of warm air; the outlines of things melt into nothing. The rendering of light and air becomes Monet’s main theme and he portrays the same place or subject several times in different lights. In the latest painting in the museum is the London Fog (1903) where the bridge disappears in the heavy mist.

Auguste Renoir (1841-1917) embodies the principles and methods of Impressionists in portraiture.  There are six paintings by him in the museum. In his Girl with a Fan (1881) and Portrait of the Actress Jeanne Samary (1878) Renoir creates an unforgettable image of Parisian women.

The work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) is represented by some pastels After the Bath, Woman Combing Her Hair and Dancer’s Heads.

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) are other representatives of the French Impressionism. Sisley was charmed the airy landscapes of the Paris suburbs, there are three his works in the Hermitage. Pissarro was captured by bustling, busy street life of Paris; he is represented by two paintings The Boulevard Montmartre in Paris (1897) and La Place du Theatre-Français in Paris (1898).

The eleven paintings by Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) cover the development of the artist’s work. Cezanne was a key figure among those who experienced Impressionism and moved on to a more considered and constructive art. He painted landscapes, still lives, and portraits: The Girl at the Piano (1868-69), Self-Portrait (1873-75), Banks of the Marne (1888), Still Life with Drapery (1899). All the material objects in his art have weight and volume due to geometrical form created by thick strokes of bright green, orange, and blue.

The fifteen paintings by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) belong to his so- called Tahitian period: Tahitian Pastorals (1893), Woman Holding a Fruit (1893), Miraculous Source (1894), and The Idol (1898). In his pictures he rejected the western civilization and showed exotic places and native people who lived in harmony with nature. Gauguin’s compositions, painted with bright vivid colours without shades and perspective are very decorative.

The thirty-seven paintings by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), painted between 1900 and 1913, make it possible to illustrate his work of one of the leading twentieth century French artists. Matisse was one of the leaders of the Fauves (the Wild Beasts), whose art concept based on simplicity of form, flat patterns, and pure colour. The Family Group, Red Room, Dance, and Music are striking in their decorative quality. He simplifies and schematizes the figures and objects, builds the compositions on the contrast of bright colours. The critics locate Matisse as the revolutionary master of colour. In The Dance, for example, he uses just three ones to create the feeling that the dancers appear to leap off the canvas.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is one of the most famous artist of modern times, most versatile and the most fruitful. He was born in Spain but from 1904 permanently lived in Paris. The Hermitage has over thirty paintings by him covered the early years of his artistic life. Woman Drinking Absinth (1901), The Portrait of Soler, The Visit (Two Sisters) belong to the so-called Blue Period (1901-04) when death, depression and deprivation became the dominant themes in his work.

A gouache drawing, Boy with a Dog illustrates Picasso’s Rose Period (1905-06). His tone and colour lightened and the themes were often related to circus performers, clowns, harlequins etc. In 1907 Picasso made the first steps towards Cubist painting and in 1908 he became one of the founders of a new tendency in art, Cubism, typical of which are such works as Woman with a Fan, Three Women, and Pitcher and Bowl etc. He reduced the visible forms to a simplified volume similar to a cube, a sphere, and a cylinder. In 1912 he introduced collage into his paintings; the painter destroyed volume and created free compositions from planes and lines, for example Flute and Violin (1912).

The Hermitage exhibition of French art includes marble sculptures by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). His works Eternal Spring, Cupid and Psyche, The Age of Bronze are extraordinary for their realism and expressive quality full of emotions. He was the great master in ability to render movement through the play of light on a sculptured surface.


Author: Ekaterina Chistyakova

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