In today’s art world, impressionism is just one genre of art alongside realism, abstractionism, surrealism and post-modernism, to name a few. But at the time impressionism came into its own as a movement in late 19th century France, it was something revolutionary.
The art world had been focused on carefully executed studio work for generations, with mastery of complex technique and adherence to certain subject matter and themes being the norm.
Then, a group of hot-blooded young artists who are household names now but were just getting started in their careers at the time — Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Pissarro and others — rebelled against convention and began painting in a quick, vigorous style aimed at capturing the essence of everyday scenes and activities.
The established art world was shocked. Even the name “impressionism” was first given as a derisive term by critic Louis Leroy in a Parisian newspaper. The artists persevered, however, and today many artists choose to paint in a similar style, often working “en plein air,” outdoors and directly from life.
The impressionist seeks to portray a particular time and place, but without getting bogged down in fine details or literal “accuracy.” More important are other aspects of the experience — the glow of light, subtleties of color, or movement of people through the scene or wind through the trees. If viewers can look at the finished piece and feel as though they can almost feel the warmth of the sunlight, or hear the birds in the hedgerow, or smell the flowers in the meadow or buttered popcorn at the county fair, then the impressionist has succeeded.
You can see many examples of contemporary impressionistic painting at the Green Drake Gallery in downtown Millheim. Many well-known regional landscape painters are represented, including resident artists Elody Gyekis, Susan Nicholas Gephart, Beverly Klucher and myself.
You can also see the impressionistic work of several Scottish artists as well as Michael Chesley Johnson, who spends time in both Arizona and New Brunswick. Each of these artists has his or her own approach to impressionistic landscapes, with unique color palettes and brushwork. Some pieces are executed in the oil paints preferred by most of the French impressionists, while others are in pastel, acrylic or watercolor.
I am often available at the gallery to discuss the various artists and their work. Feel free to call ahead before visiting if you would like a tour of contemporary impressionism.
To learn more about impressionism (and shop at the Green Drake Gallery in Millheim), you can register for “Painting the Impressionistic Landscape,” which will take place on Thursday, Sept. 20 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Contact OLLI at Penn State at 867-4278 or register online (beginning Aug. 20) at www.olli.psu.edu. OLLI at Penn State is a membership organization that provides affordable educational and social activities for mature adults. Karl Eric Leitzel is a partner and resident artist at the Green Drake Gallery and Arts Center in Millheim. He is a full-time professional artist with work in the permanent collection of Penn State. He has also been the artist in residence at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair since 2008, working to capture the essence of the fair through his paintings.