In this long-awaited volume, Meyer Schapiro offers a fresh and exciting new look at ''the impressionist f amily'' by exploring broad themes of impressionist painting a nd Parisian culture in the late 19th century. '
The charisma that charged Schapiro's (Words, Scripts, and Pictures, 1996, etc.) legendary lectures on art history unfortunately doesn't translate to these expanded but cardboard-textured essays about Impressionism. A scholar's scholar, Schapiro (1904-96) applied himself to all possible angles and gradations of the subject of Impressionism, including different elements of subject matter (the city, nature, portraiture), different disciplines (science, history, literature), as well as the overall historical matrix that spawned the new artistic vision. "Impression" had already been a buzzword in the French press and culture in the 19th century; Impressionniste was coined by a writer who extrapolated the adjective from Impression Sunrise, one of Monet's paintings. Although science was still at odds with Impressionism's ideas about perception, which favored sensations over objects, the moment had arrived for subjectivity to saturate representation, supplanting the "then-current official taste for history, myth, and imagined worlds." A number of painters shared the ideas and formal aspirations of Impressionism, but Schapiro elevates Monet above the rest for his innovation, impressionability, and versatility, and devotes a lengthy chapter to him. While Schapiro is thorough (the book can't be blamed for overlooking anything), he's rarely exciting - only a little verve might have served to better illuminate what was, after all, a pivotal moment in art history and the foundation of Modernism. Tentative in tone and slow in transition, these essays are, sadly, pale remnants of a great mind and an illustrious scholar. (Kirkus Reviews)