Making an Impression
Recording the impression, or, as Cézanne preferred, the sensation, that the artist experienced before his chosen subject inevitably called for a very individual response, in terms of perception and emotional engagement, as well as physically, in the way the motif was recorded in paint. Just as Monet strove to capture the ever-changing colours of the sea off the Brittany and Normandy coasts, so Sisley evoked the still saturation of flood water at Port-Marly, and Renoir, in his painting of a Gust of Wind brilliantly captures that most unpaintable of natural elements, air.
Although the Impressionists are most closely associated with paintings of the countryside, almost all painted at some time in towns or cities. Renoir was perhaps the painter par excellence of the fashionable Parisian woman, and in his Place Clichy locates her amidst the bustle of the modern city streets she inhabits. However, of all the Impressionists, Degas remained most attached to the city of his birth, and to the subjects that characterized its modernity: cafés, prostitutes, dancers, musicians, their clientele and audiences. Even the most apparently everyday subjects are stamped with the originality of his vision: his painting of two women At a café for example, leaves us with an impression not of place, nor of the identity of the people represented, but of the intense, apparently troubled, nature of the conversation that consumes them.