Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Impressionists - on the BBC and at the National Gallery

A new BBC three part series about the Impressionists starts tonight - which in turn has generated a new 'Impressionist's Who's Who' page within the 'collection features' section of the National Gallery website.

Last year the BBC's Press Office announced the new series on the BBC website as follows
On BBC ONE, a major three-part factual drama series unravels the intimate history of The Impressionists. To contemporary eyes, Impressionist paintings possess a simple and familiar beauty: the delicate hues of Monet's water lilies and Degas' exquisite ballerinas. But these paintings caused riots in the art world when they first appeared in Paris at the end of the 19th century. Viciously attacked by critics and rejected by the public, the Impressionist painters were outcasts in the art world. Filmed in France and entirely based on an extensive archive of letters and documentary evidence, The Impressionists tells the intimate history of the brotherhood of Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, Manet and Degas in their own words.

Today, the BBC website television schedules provide the following summary

The Impressionists Three-part factual drama about the Impressionist painters. Claude Monet remembers his early days in the Bohemian world of 19th century Paris, where he meets his friends and allies Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas. Rejected by the Paris art world and beset by poverty, they refuse to compromise their bold new approach to painting. When war breaks out with Prussia, tragedy strikes.

However the Press Office seems to have changed its mind - introducing it now as.........
Rivalries, romance, and a struggle for recognition a unique insight into the world of the Impressionist painters in a fascinating new factual drama for BBC ONE.

In my opinion, the recent trailers for the new series made it appear uncommonly like the latest 'soap opera' pot boiler - so we shall have to see what they made of it. I have my fingers crossed that it's the marketing of the series which is somewhat odd and that BBC production standards for programmes of this sort means that some of my favourite painters aren't actually going to be reduced to caricatures. Although, I'm sure we can look forward to an awful lot of commercial spinoffs in books and tea towels..........

There's an awful lot about the Impressionists on the web. But we now have two new websites emerging as a result of the new series:

  • a brand new National Gallery website page dedicated to the Impressionists that can be seen at the National Gallery. It provides a quick introduction to how the group came about and then individual "who's who" overviews of each of Monet, Degas, Renoir, Manet and Cezanne. Each of these provides images of sample paintings produced by the artist, plus a summary of their life and work and links to the remainder of paintings held in the National Gallery collection. It's a fairly basic summary but appears to be a long overdue addition to the highlighted collection features section of the National Gallery website.
  • The Impressionism Gallery within the BBC Arts section. The thumbnails enlarge to reasonable sizimageses of the paintings and provide attribution as to artist and date but not location - which I can imagine might infuriate the galleries which have these on exhibition! Interestingly there are no paintings by Monet included in thiextremelyly cursory 'overview'.

Other websites referenced by the BBC site include

  • the overview of Impressionism provided by the Wet Canvas Virtual Museum (which remains incomplete in terms of the structure originally envisaged)
  • the recreation of the First Impressionist exhibition in 1874 in Mark Hayden's archive of art history. For those interested in art history, in my opinion, this is the most superior site - providing copies of the actual catalogue, excellent images and extracts from critics' comments on individual paintings are the time. One also gets to see paintings 'hanging' side by side which provides a more complete perspective on what the artist wanted to say at that time. For example, before visiting this site, I'd never seen Monet's painting of "Le Havre" or realised that four of the nine paintings he had in that exhibition were pastels.

So......."The Impressionists" - a programme providing an interesting account of a fascinating time in art history or a soap opera? Having now read the synopses of each episode, I can't wait to see!

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