26 NOVEMBER 1937, Page 16


After Impressionism IN the seventies of the last century the discoveries of Impression- ism provided artists with a formula so fascinating that for a time all those who were not involved in the official machine of the Salons and the Beaux-Arts were swept up into the school. But after a few years of experiment many found that, good though the Impressionist method was, it could only be applied to a certain type of problem and could only solve it in particular terms. Slowly almost all the painters who had belonged to the group began to fall away and to seek for new solutions for the problems which confronted them.

The different ways which they followed are well illustrated in three exhibitions in London at the moment. Agnew's are showing the work of Camille Pissarro, who at one time was in the inner circle of the Impressionists. The earliest paintings, of which few survive, show him struggling with the idiom of Courbet, but not finding it congenial. He never attains the grand solidity of such a landscape as Courbet's Etretat on view in the mixed exhibition at Tooth's, and it is rather in the vacancy of his designs than in the monumentality of the detail that he comes dose to his model. Soon, however, he turned to the study of light which was to lead to Impress- ionism, and at once we see his painting diisolving before our eyes. In the typical canvases of the '70's mass is wholly sub- ordinated to chance effects of sun, and human figures play less and less part in the compositions. But Pissarro did not remain content with this limited kind of painting. Even in the '8o's he is more interested in logical composition, and by the end of the century he has come back to a manner which while it takes full account of the Impressionists' new compre- hension of light, returns to more classical principles of con- struction.

Pissarro's solution was always extremely straightforward. Cezanne was by nature more inclined to self-conscious analysis. The water-colours at the Lefevre Galleries throw much light on the methods which he pursued in such analyses. Some of the single studies of trees appear to be simply investigations into the structure of natural objects, carried out with the absolute honesty and clarity typical of the artist. Others are related to known paintings, for instance Platanes en hiver, of which the oil painting was shown recently in London. Here Cezanne seems to have been struck by a particular effect of trunks forming a thin pattern against foliage, which in the water-colour he renders with brilliant success, but which in the oil appears to be empty. The theme suited a medium in which you can leave vacant spaces and treat the whole subject without great respect for spatial construction, but in the more logical medium of oils it could not succeed, and it is not to be wondered at that Cezanne abandoned the attempt. The most important items in the present exhibition are the water-colours of the Montagne Ste. Victoire to which Cezanne devoted so much study at the end of his life. Here we see at its highest development Cezanne's use of divided colour not so much to model solid form as to indicate spatial relations over a greater depth. The various planes in a wide landscape are each fixed with absolute finality with a single touch of a tone, apparently arbitrary, but performing its function impeccably.

For the next generation Cezanne was the dominating in- fluence, but it is important to remember that for the first eight years of this century it was not his solution that had currency. Lefevre's are happily demonstrating this by a series of views painted by Derain in England in 1937. In these, as in most of his early works, he is under the influence of the Neo-Impressionists. Absolute purity of colour and the greatest possible brilliance are apparently the objects which he first seeks. But at the same time we can see that he is doing for landscape what Matisse was doing at the same time for figure painting. Many of these paintings, with their queer foregrounds of barges, mark a great advance towards a new and calculated kind of design. In fact Derain is here making a vital step towards abstraction. Not only has he asserted the value of pure colour, but he claims also the right of the artist to think consciously about the effect which his painting will make as a pattern. This was the first stage in the Fauve revolution. It was not till the solution of Cezanne was absorbed by painters like Braque that the next step could

be taken and Cubism evolved. ANTHONY BLUNT.