The inspiration of nature

Impressionism and beyond

Painting en plein air (outdoors), rather than in the studio, became easier for artists from the 1840s onwards as portable easels and oil paint in tubes became available, enabling scenic spots of all kinds to be reached. In the early 1860s, this greater flexibility was capitalised upon by a group of painters, including Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who painted modern life and landscapes - as opposed to the historical and allegorical subjects favoured by the Académie des Beaux-Arts - directly in the open air. This movement became known as Impressionism after Monet’s painting Impression, soleil levant, 1872, was exhibited in 1874 and satirised by art critic Louis Leroy. To learn more about Impressionism, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online resource Impressionism: Art and Modernity.

In Le jardin de l'artiste à Giverny, 1900, Monet used a brilliant array of brushstrokes and vivid colour to depict the artist’s garden.

The increasing abstraction and large scale of Monet’s later paintings, especially his magnificent Nymphéas (Water Lilies) cycle, seem to pave the way for later art movements like Abstract Expressionism.

Dominique Lang (1874-1919) was born in 1874 (the year of the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris) and is considered today to be Luxembourg's most important Impressionist painter.

Lang adopted Impressionism from 1906 onwards, moving away from his earlier work in Symbolist and Pre-Raphaelite modes. The bold colours and vivid brushstrokes of Le Barrage, 1913, place Lang firmly in the tradition of Monet, Pissarro and Renoir. Largely unrecognised in his lifetime, Lang was unable to earn a reliable income from selling his work and he worked as art teacher to support his family.

Bulgarian artist Nikola Petrov (1881-1916) packed a great deal into his short life. He was just 22 when he became a founding member of the Modern Art Association in 1903. Petrov belonged to the first generation of Bulgarian artists to paint native subjects in styles influenced by modern art movements.

The mottled surface of Petrov’s Erma River by the Town of Tran, 1913, recalls the work of Degas and Seurat. After receiving a state grant in 1903 to visit Rome, Petrov participated every year in various exhibitions held in Sofia, Belgrade, Liège, London, Zagreb, Munich, Venice and Berlin. Like many of his generation, Petrov died young from tuberculosis, aged just 35. To learn more about his life, visit this page.

Slovakian artist Zolo Palugyay (1898-1935) was greatly influenced by the introspective art of Edvard Munch and by the use of symbolism in the art of Paul Gauguin. Palugyay studied in many European centres of contemporary art including Budapest, Krakow, Munich and Paris, but he sought a Slovak idiom in modern painting.

Landscape with Flowers (Nirvana), 1930, has been described by Beata Jablonská, former Curator of 20th Century Drawings at the Slovak National Gallery, as follows: ‘The enlarged detail in Landscape with Flowers (Nirvana) became the iconic archetype for a series of Palugyay’s paintings in his most productive period in the 1930s. His stylization of shapes and colors, in a reeling line of secessionist rhythm and tones ostensibly decorative, paradoxically combine to underline the picture’s symbolic message.’

Explore more of Palugyay’s fascinating work at the Slovak National Gallery.

Croatian näive artist Ivan Rabuzin (1921-2008) depicted lyrical and idealised landscapes, brimming with optimism and spirituality. His work is notable for its distinctive stylisation and the reduction of motifs to geometric forms, as seen in paintings such as On the hills - rainforest, 1960.

Rabuzin had little formal training as an artist. He worked as a carpenter and cabinet maker for many years and did not begin painting until 1956, at the age of thirty-five. His first exhibition of paintings proved successful and he decided to become a professional painter in 1962. Rabuzin also produced ceramic and industrial design pieces. Click here to see more of his work on Europeana.

In the next chapter of Faces of Europe, we’ll explore how artists across Europe absorbed the teachings of fine art academies and how they related these ideas to their native traditions.