Matthew Collings reappraises Impressionism by examining the lives and works of Courbet, Manet, Cezanne and Monet.
Art aficionados are notoriously sniffy about the Impressionists. The work of Monet and his contemporaries has for so long adorned coasters, calendars, T-shirts and tea towels that it is increasingly hard to see them as serious artists. In Channel 4's Impressionism: Revenge of the Nice, though, the art critic and presenter Matthew Collings sets out to re-establish the Impressionists' reputation as revolutionary artists whose paintings sent shock- waves through the art world.
In the early 19th century, the art of the establishment was formulaic and inspired by fantasy. Paintings were, by and large, a glorification of the past; by contrast, the Impressionists advocated a kaleidoscopic palette, sweeping brush strokes and a subject matter that was firmly rooted in the everyday. Impressionism, we are told, is the first movement in modern art.
Collings's investigation begins with the realist painter Gustave Courbet, a rebel who attacked the government through allegories such as The Painter's Studio, in which a barely disguised Napoleon is depicted as a poacher who stole the Empire. Collings then traces the thread of rebellion through the work of Edouard Manet, Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne. In terms of shock value, he argues, Monet's Impression: Sunset, the painting that gave the movement its name, was on a par with Damien Hirst's shark and Tracey Emin's bed.