One of the reasons we went to the Art Institute during our visit to Chicago was to see the new Degas exhibit, which, was clustered with various paintings of the other Impressionists. We will deal with this section of the museum in some detail. Impressionism of course was a study of the effects of light on the appearance of external objects— water, pastoral scenes, people etc. To some extent it reflected the reader-response notion that the viewer contributes to the view, or beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it was more about a study in light and how light creates different colors. The Impressionists would have agreed generally that things mostly don’t have color, rather light gives them differing colors and so objects appear to change color in varying light. But its not the object that has changed, it is the lighting of it.
There were of course lesser and more famous Impressionists, and Degas was certainly one of the more well known painters, especially known for his paintings of ballerinas, but perhaps less well know for his paintings of ‘a day at the races’ in its various facets. This exhibit had plenty of both sorts of paintings as you will now see….
One of the more interesting things to study in these paintings is the painting technique itself. Degas’ technique is very different from say Pissaro’s pointilist approach or Van Gogh’s vivid stark brush strokes with thick paint involved. For example contrast the soft impression of these previous paintings by Degas with the two famous paintings below of Van Gogh, one a self-portrait of course and the other a painting of the poet’s garden.