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date: 14 August 2022

Impressionism, American 

The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists

Ann Lee Morgan

Late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century movement centered on optical experience, with particular attention to fixing contemporary subjects in momentary perceptions of light and color. Inspired by the French tendency, the American movement nevertheless took on a distinctive character. Most notably, American artists generally refrained from dissolving solid objects into sensations of light. In place of the French artists’ screenlike arrangements of small, individually colored paint strokes, American artists typically clung to the academic training most of them had sought, as they superimposed brilliant effects on compositions constructed tonally, in terms of light and dark. This more intellectual approach promoted intelligible representation within three-dimensional pictorial space, while French delight in surface favored perception at the expense of knowledge. Consequently, the French style seemed unpleasantly extreme to American artists, critics, and patrons alike. Similarly, sustaining an interest in the figure as a carrier of meaning, Americans characteristically shied away from French impressionists’ depersonalized treatment of individuals. Although less radical in such respects than its French counterpart, the American movement nevertheless often accommodated up-to-date expressive ends by incorporating aspects of other progressive currents, such as symbolist reverie or postimpressionist interests in order, stability, and decorative design.... ...

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