The flower that we view today might look vastly different when recalled from the recesses of our minds. The image that the eye actually sees is distinct, sharp and an accurate depiction of the flower. But, in memory, the edges are undefined and the overall effect is watery and subjective. The image transforms to an impression of something once seen and admired.
In the late 1800s, Impressionism was in its infancy. The lack of definition in Impressionist works created a conflict with the art establishment, where “true art” was realistic. The Impressionists were inspired by the bold colors of nature and were guided not just by what they saw but what they sensed. They began leaving their studios to paint outside (en plein air) as they continued to fight for their place in the art world of the 1870s.
Photography would be today’s closest comparison to the realism of the paintings of the era before Impressionism. Consider the sharp image produced by the camera versus the delicate, watery look of a flower painted in the Impressionist style. It draws you in closer to determine what it is that you are viewing. Your eye might suggest that it is a rose, but your brain is not quite certain. Is it a rhododendron? A camellia? Phlox? By studying the image, the answer is revealed. It might be a flower that existed in your grandmother’s garden, committed to memory and later brought forward with the subtlety of an image of something beautiful. This was interactive art long before the term was used.
Liz Hamlin, a local artist from Camano Island, has painted for decades and much of it en plein air. Her art has been exhibited as part of the Camano Island Artist Studio Tour and the Roaming Artists Show for years. Hamlin said that Impressionistic painting gives an artist the freedom to express feelings about a subject and adds the relationship of the environment.
“If realism is important, take a photo,” she said. “When I paint a rose, it is not just a rose, but may have been my mother’s favorite, and through the emotional inference of the Impressionist style, I am able to communicate that this rose was loved by someone that I loved … and that I miss her. Its image is burnished in my heart and I’m applying this image to canvas.”
The artist who paints in the Impressionist style is trying to communicate something more about an image than one would normally get with the realistic approach to art.
Local artist Mary Lamery has been painting for more than 30 years and finds an amazing palette of colors when painting outside. Like the French Impressionists, she uses expressive brush strokes to capture both the colors and emotions of the subject. Although she does paint indoors, she prefers to do her work outdoors as she wants to re-create what she sees but also wants to add the sense of feelings and wonder.
“Like the French Impressionists, the outdoors has influenced my work through vivid color plus evocative and expressive brush strokes,” she said.
Whether you prefer plants, landscapes, seascapes, city scenes or everyday life, Puget Sound artists are out capturing nature at its most beautiful and interesting. You can observe them at work, admire their paintings or make a purchase at one of several art shows this summer.
In William Wordsworth’s “Ode to Intimations of Immortality” written in 1804, he said that “nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower.”
If he lived during the era of the Impressionists, he might have learned that we can indeed bring back the flower’s glory by committing it to canvas, ensuring that the plant’s allure will remain for future generations.
Sandra Schumacher writes the Plant of Merit column for The Herald and is a master gardener.
See local artists
Camano Island Artist Studio Tour: May 14 and May 15; www.camanoarts.org/studio-tour
Edmonds Art Festival: June 17 to 19, 700 Main Street, Edmonds; www.edmondsartsfestival.com
Mukilteo Art Festival: Aug. 6, Rosehill Community Center, 304 Lincoln, Mukilteo; www.mukilteoarts.org
Fresh Paint: Aug. 20 and 21, Port of Everett Marina; www.schack.org/events/fresh-paint
Journal des Muses: Impressionist painting updates and discussion: www.mlamery.com/journal-des-muses
Plein Air Washington Artists: pleinairwashington.com