Impressionism is a major art movement that dominated the late 19th century and early 20th century. It started with a group of Paris-based artists who banded together to organize independent exhibitions outside of government-approved “Salons.” They formed these centers to showcase their work directly to the public since the Salons criticized and rejected most of their products. Generally, impressionism depicted realistic scenes of modern life and also attempted to objectively and accurately emphasize the passage of time using light. The three impressionist paintings “The Artist’s Sister at a Window” by Berthe Morisot in 1869; “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878” by Mary Cassatt; and “Girl Braiding her Hair, 1876” by Pierre Auguste Renoir all portray everyday activities, the feministic and religious values of the painters, and have similar compositions, but they differ in color, lighting, model, pose, and dressing.
An immediate prima facie similarity is that these paintings depict women in everyday situations. Mary Cassatt’s “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878” shows a young girl sprawled on a blue armchair in a room with a dog dozing on the opposite chair. There is nothing else in the room apart from the girl, the dog, and two more chairs in the background, which have a similar design (“Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878”). Berthe Morisot’s “The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869,” portrays a woman sitting on a chair with her legs propped up on the windowsill. She has a paper in her hands and is completely engrossed in it, uninterested in the outside world that is visible through the open window (“The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869”). Pierre Auguste Renoir’s “Girl Braiding Her Hair, 1876,” portrays a young girl plaiting her long hair while concentrating on something beyond the viewer’s vision of the painting. Rather than more formal paintings where the subject sits for a portrait in a rigid pose, the women of these paintings are in more candid positions. For instance, the young girl on the sofa looks bored, the teenage girl is absorbed in her reading, and the young woman seems pensive. Additionally, none of them even seem aware that their likeness is being taken. Therefore, although each painting has its unique theme, each portrays a girl in an everyday situation.
Another similarity with the paintings is their compositions. All these paintings use oil-based paints as a medium; therefore, they are referred to as oil-on-canvas paintings. Renoit, Morisot, and Cassatt each use lively and complementary colors as opposed to neutral grey, white, and black tones that were commonly used by traditional painters of the 19th century. Additionally, the paintings are all dominated with loose brushstrokes, which makes them appear casually painted. This style of painting gives viewers the impression of effortlessness by the artist. It is this similarity that places all three paintings in the same genre. Generally, the use of loose brushstrokes in impressionists’ paintings made them look sketchy, especially among traditional painters of the 19th century (Boswell and Corbett 221). As a result, skeptics often argued that these paintings were unfinished. It was this criticism that gave these types of art their name, impressionist art. In this regard, these paintings have a similar composition of sketchiness that was deemed unconventional at the time of their creation.
All these paintings are set indoors but contrast in terms of color and lighting. In the “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878,” the artist uses vibrant shades of blue and green. Even the dark shades have rich tones. There are bright colors in the foreground contrast with shadows to show limited lighting coming through two large, closed windows. This use of colors, composition, and a light source reveals the influence of both Japanese prints and her peer Edgar Degas (Bullard 24). In “The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869,” the painter uses shades of white throughout the painting. The picture has a considerable amount of light that enters through the open window (Kräussl, Lehnert, and Martelin 101). This style illustrates Morisot’s preference for using white alone or mixed with other colors to create a sort of transparency. In “Girl Braiding her Hair, 1878,” the artist uses a stark contrast between the white, peach, and auburn of the subject and the charcoal background (“Young Woman Braiding her Hair, 1876”). There is no immediate visible source of light, which, when combined with the color scheme, makes it seem like the woman herself could be the source of light. This use of color creates perfect contrast, which enhances various strokes and harmony in the painting. Overall, the artists’ combinations of different colors and varying amounts of light enabled them to achieve good harmony of light and color.
A significant difference in the paintings is their use of pose, likely in response to the relative ages of the girls. In the “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878,” the child has a carefree, relaxed, and unselfconscious pose. She appears to be disinterested in her surroundings and bored by any ongoing activity (“Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878”). As a result, her pose suggests the tiresomeness and restlessness a child would feel around adults. In “The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869,” the model poses comfortably and maturely. She is no longer a child and holds herself appropriately, yet the bow in her hair and her feet on the sill indicate she has not quite reached adulthood. Still, her pose and overall manner suggest a sense of settled contentment with her situation at this point in her life. In the “Girl Braiding her Hair, 1876,” the model stares longingly at someone outside of the painting’s view. Overall, the pose and dress make her appear seductive and alluring to the viewer. She is relaxed, but in a sophisticated manner that the subjects of the other two paintings have yet to achieve. In this regard, the artists use different poses to relay subtle messages about the subjects of their paintings.
Another difference in the paintings is the clothing worn by the models. In the “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878,” the model wears fashionable clothes that disclose her Scottish heritage. For example, her socks match the tartan shawl wrapped around her waist, and her hair is arranged neatly with a bow. In “The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869,” the model wears a conservative white dress that covers every inch of her body, from her neck to her ankles. The tight ringlets and clean swaths of fabric indicate she comes from a wealthy family. Although she has relaxed enough to prop her feet up, the girl is completely proper in dress and manners. In the “Girl Braiding her Hair, 1876,” the model wears a low-cut white dress that shows part of her cleavage. This dress code was considered unacceptable for a young woman at the time of this painting. This style is consistent with Renoir’s mode of painting, which was painting women in provocative clothing to challenge the traditional views of his generation. In this case, the artists use the mode of dress to accentuate the poses and convey more information about the subjects.
The artists express their feministic views in two of the paintings. In “Young Woman Braiding her Hair, 1876,” Auguste shows that women have been more empowered to decide on their fashion preferences. The painting shows a young lady whose dresses reveals part of her cleavage. Accordingly, it shows that women have gained the right and confidence to wear provocatively. Berthe’s painting, “The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869,” illustrates a confident woman who comfortably relaxes as she gazes at the horizon. In this regard, the painting shows a woman with the power to choose when and how to enjoy her day. Although her dress code is conservative, the picture mainly aims to show an empowered woman. From a religious view, “Young Woman Braiding her Hair, 1876,” may have contradicted the beliefs of the time since they mostly advocated for conservative ways of dressing. “The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869” somewhat shows that the painter may have been a highly religious and conservative person. The “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878,” shows a toddler sitting on a chair. It does not show any significant feministic or religious information. Overall, “The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869” and “Young Woman Braiding her Hair, 1876” show the religious and feministic views of the painters.
Overall, “The Artist’s Sister at a Window, 1869;” “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878;” and “Girl Braiding her Hair, 1876” use impressionism to depict realistic scenes of the events that the artists experienced. These paintings share a similar theme of everyday life. The artists also use complementary colors and loose brushstrokes in their works; however, they use different colors and lighting in each piece. Additionally, models have different dress codes and hold different poses. The subtle variations in each painting reveal more about the lives of the girls and the focus of the painters.
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Works Cited Boswell, John, and Jack Corbett. "Embracing Impressionism: Revealing the Brush Strokes of Interpretive Research." Critical Policy Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 2015, pp. 216-225. Bullard, John E. Mary Cassatt: Oils and Pastels. Watson Guptill Publications, 1972. Kräussl, Roman, Thorsten Lehnert, and Nicolas Martelin. "Is There a Bubble in the Art Market?" Journal of Empirical Finance, vol. 35, 2016, pp. 99-109. “Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878.” National Gallery of Art, 2018, www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.61368.html. Accessed 29 May 2019. “The Artist's Sister at a Window, 1869.” PBS Learning Media, 2019, www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/xos779036fre/the-artists-sister-at-a-window-1869-xos779036-fre/#.XO-TG0n5Vqx. Accessed 29 May 2019. “Young Woman Braiding her Hair, 1876.” PBS Learning Media, 2019, www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/bal72399fre/young-woman-braiding-her-hair-1876-bal72399-fre/. Accessed 29 May 2019.