Water occupied a central place in the work of the Impressionists, and in the work of those artists who inspired them. Indeed, the very term “Impressionism” itself came to be applied to this pioneering group of modernists in 1874 based upon a painting by Claude Monet—Impression: Sunrise (1873)—depicting the dazzling effect of light upon a rippling surface. However, as Along the Water: French and Dutch Impressionism demonstrates, the waterfront not only provided an opportunity to capture a fleeting moment in time with the quick, visible brushstrokes for which the Impressionists were known, but also played into the commitment on the part of these artists to picturing scenes of modern life, including both leisure and labor.
If prior to the mid-nineteenth century, the ocean often appeared in works of art as an unpredictable and overwhelming force, the Impressionists appear to have tamed it, evoking a sense of harmony between people and the natural world during a period of rapid urbanization. In depicting water, these artists relied heavily on observation to capture transient scenes en plein air through rapid sketches, often reimagining a single moment, months or years later. Post-Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism built on the legacy of Impressionism, adapting traditional approaches to color, line, and form to create, respectively, still more expressive and scientifically informed compositions. Along the Water, then, presents this changeable element par excellence in all its vitality as an inspiration for experimentation, a fleeting observation, a memory, and a critical dimension of the Impressionist experience.
The majority of the works are generously lent by a private collection. The exhibition was curated by Alex Withers ’21, with assistance from Elizabeth Humphrey ’14, curatorial assistant and manager of student programs.