Paul Cézanne

Mont Saint-Victoire (1885-1895)




        27   Gardner, Art Through the Ages, 801.

          28   Fleming, Arts and Ideas, 339.

        29   Glen Macleod, “Modernism and the visual arts” in in The Cambridge Companion to Modernism, ed. Michael Levenson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 246.

        30   Gardner, Art Through the Ages, 806.

        31    Carl Dahlhaus, Realism in Nineteenth-Century Music, 39, 27. 

        32    Ibid., 49.

        33    Ibid., 121.

        34    Ibid., 110-111.

The movement of Impressionism is very much associated with the way light falls on objects and the way one perceives color because of this light. Aiming to capture a precise moment in time, especially by paying great attention paid to this light and color, artists approached their work with a more scientific attitude. This has been in part attributed to the results of scientific studies related to the processes of the eye and the ways it processes light - instead of mixing colors on the palette, artists began placing them alongside each other, allowing the eye to blend naturally as it would with any other  object (the so-called optical mixture).28 This analytical approach to painting was even more so explored by the Post-Impressionist artists like Georges Seurat (1859-1891), who focused on optical mixture, or Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), who was absorbed with the idea to make art “durable” by creating the illusion of weight and volume with the use of geometrical figures, the building blocks of any object, (see Figures 18 and 19 for a visual reference).29


Returning to Impressionists, another significant element of their work was the focus on the familiar and everyday life experience - the “incidental, momentary, and passing aspects of reality.”30 Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (Figure 17) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) captures those very sentiments by showing the casual and lively enjoyment of a crowd, dancing, chatting, and drinking at the Moulin de la Galette


This inclination of the impressionists to focus on light and on the daily aspects of life very much paralleled the anti-romantic sentiments felt by the realists - however different their work may appear. In music, arguably the most abstract of all the arts, these anti-romantic feelings were also quite evident. As seen with the example of Debussy’s works in relation to symbolism, there was a sort of “technification” of music that reflected the change of this industrial age and showed a more objective and “detached” perspective.31 There is a connection between this change and what became, referring back to Nietzsche, the “loss of faith” of the idealistic vision of the Romantics.32


Needless to say, every composer dealt with these sentiments and ideas in their own way. In his analysis of realism in 19th century, musicologist Carl Dahlhaus (1928-1989) summarizes the ways that realism seeped into the musical tradition that was dominated by a Romantic language:



                  aesthetic premisses such as the accentuation of the true instead of the beautiful as the goal

                  of art and the element of sedition and rebellion implied by the choice of subject matter once

                  regarded as unsuitable; dramaturgical trends such as the dissolution of periodic structure in

                  musical prose, ‘dialogisierte Melodie’, the attempt to reproduce speech intonations, and the

                  enlarged scope of Tonmalerei and the depiction of emotion with the decline of stylization.33


Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), for example, was one who overtly broke free from the traditional sense of musical syntax and analyzed speech inflections to create his melodies in his operas like The Cunning Little Vixen (though this particular work was composed later, in the early 1920’s). Unlike Janáček, who collected and studied folk melodies to understand how to use the language, Mahler embedded direct (and modified) quotations from folk tunes in his symphonies - a genre that could not be more different and an action that can be seen as a sort of cultural appropriation of the peasant folk -  philosopher and musicologist Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969) claims him to be the only composer he would call a Social Realist, and Dahlhaus justifies it by saying that:


                 it is precisely by the act of forcing heterogeneous material to coexist, without glossing over 

                 the inconsistencies… stands as a metaphor in sound for a world which contains within itself

                 high and low, the sophistication of fine art and artless vulgarity, with complete impartiality

                 and with a sense of reality which is rooted in a sense of justice…. In Mahler’s case, in the

                 form of the Schopenhauerian philosophy of the will, it is the inseparable accompaniment

                 and condition of a realism which takes hold of everything without distinction, however

                 humble, and entrusts it to the embrace of the symphony, the metaphor for a world.34






































                                      When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you… 

                                      Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an  oblong  of pink, 

                                      here a streak of yellow, and paint it  just as it looks to you, the exact color

                                      and shape, until it gives your own naïve impression of the scene before you.27


                                                                                                                         -  Claude Monet








Auguste Renoir

Dance at the Moulin Galette (1876) 


Georges Seurat

The Eiffel Tower (1889)