Contesting Impressionism





While impressionism once inspired some of the most innovative thinking in art history, overexposure has blunted its edge. Posters of Monet’s water lilies decorate doctors’ waiting rooms and Donald Trump uses a (fake) Renoir to decorate his apartment. A movement that once sparked fiery debates now seems dull, safe, and passé. Is it time to leave impressionism behind?


This seminar seeks to sweep away the cobwebs and recover what impressionism meant to its time, and to ask what it could mean to ours. After a brief introduction to the major figures (Degas, Manet, Monet, Morisot, etc.), the seminar will focus on contested issues in the history and reception of French impressionism.


What does it mean that a movement with such forceful personalities saw itself as a group? Did impressionism extend prior traditions or radically break with the past? Was it realistic or fanciful, objective or subjective? Was it feminist or misogynistic? Was it anarchist, republican, or socialist – is it political at all?