Impressionism and the Famous Cafes of Paris in the 19th century

The Art of the 19th century was characterized by the development of a number of new movements, among which a particular place occupies Impressionism. It was the movement that soon after its appearance had become extremely popular especially in the heart of the world art, i.e. in Paris. There were many artists who lived and worked in this city and who dedicated their talents to the development of Impressionism. Quite remarkably that such a progress of a new art movement would be hardly possible if there were no such places as the famous cafes of Paris, particularly Maxim’s de Paris, Cafe des Ambassadeurs, and Follies Bergere. This is why it is particularly important to realize what was the role of these cafes, which in fact replaced ‘creative laboratories’ for artists working in the impressionist direction.
Firstly, before discussing the role of the famous cafes of Paris for Impressionism it is necessary to say a few words about the movement itself in order to realize the importance of the cafes and their significance for artists.
In fact Impressionism was “a 19th century art movement, that began as a loose association of Paris-based artists who began publicly exhibit their art in the 1860s” (Herbert 1988,178). It should be pointed out that some specialists called this movement optical realism because of its almost scientific interest in the actual visual experience and effect of light and movement on appearance of objects. Their famous motto was: “human eye is a marvelous instrument” (Herbert 1988, 253).
In fact the movement got its name from Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise. Consequently this artist is traditionally considered to be the founder of the movement.
The particular feature of Impressionism is the fact that its influence and ideas were spread far beyond the art world, leading to Impressionist music and Impressionist literature and even further to the culture at large.
It is also to point out the historical realities of life that reined in that epoch in Paris, which, as it has already been mentioned, was a heart of the world culture and art. It should be said that the 19th century was characterized by a rapid development of democratic, socialist views which often led to the idealization of reality and emphasis on the power of human mind and spirit to achieve goals that had been thought the domain of God. Consequently, there appeared even utopist views but what was even more important artists had become more and more interested in ordinary things surrounding them, they tended to be closer to the audience and they strived for more opportunities to work freely, enriching each other through permanent communication in an informal surrounding.
The latter was quite important and it was the famous cafes of Paris that provided artists with such communication and ambiance. In fact practically all of the cafes, including Maxim’s de Paris, Cafe des Ambassadeurs, and Follies Bergere, were to a certain extent similar, at least all of them were the places where impressionists could exchange their ideas, discuss innovations and recent trends in art, and even work on their paintings.
At this respect it is necessary to underline that historically, the cafes of Paris were considered to be a places where “free thoughts were amply nourished” (Herbert 1988, 276). Consequently, the famous cafes were practically ideal places where the artists working in the Impressionist direction could progress and polish their skills and moreover, such cafes as Maxim’s de Paris, Cafe des Ambassadeurs, and Follies Bergere may be considered as places where Impressionism had in fact shaped as an independent art movement.
Furthermore, the cafes of Paris mentioned above, as well as other similar to them, to a significant extent contributed to the inspiration of Impressionists since they correspond to the places where Impressionist could think and work on their paintings. Since Impressionists “broke the picture making rules of early generations” (Rewald 1973:271) through capturing a fresh and original vision, which rejected attempts to portray ideal beauty and looked instead to beauty in candid day-to-day living. Moreover Impressionists painted ‘en plein air’, i.e. outdoors, rather than in studio that was quite innovative and unusual for the epoch. They believed that this permitted them to capture the momentary and transient aspects of sunlight.
As a result, Maxim’s de Paris, Cafe des Ambassadeurs, and Follies Bergere were practically ideal places which corresponded to the needs of Impressionists, where they could not only share their ideas but work as well. And it is necessary to underline that there artists could really felt free and close to the surrounding world that was particularly important in the conditions when painting was considered to be a conservative enterprise, “whose innovations fell within the Academie’s defined borders” (White 1996:311). It means that the role of the famous cafes of Paris was of a paramount importance for the development of Impressionism, especially at the beginning of the movement.
Unfortunately, later the role of the cafes gradually decreased and evaluated as well as Impressionism did, and new movements like Post-Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism appeared. But still the cafes remained historically close to Impressionists and were a sort of symbol of the early years of the movement and were often associated with its best years and artists who lived and worked in the 19ht century.
Nowadays Maxim’s de Paris, Cafe des Ambassadeurs, and Follies Bergere are rather symbols of Impressionism and historical monuments which left a significant trace in the development of art not only in the 19th century but in its history at large.
Thus, taking into consideration all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the famous cafes of Paris Maxim’s de Paris, Cafe des Ambassadeurs, and Follies Bergere were the center of the development of Impressionist movement where artists could feel really independent and free from any kind of restrictions established by conservatives and the Academie des beaux-arts. And what is probably more important it was one of the alternatives to conservative approach to art and artist that symbolized the transition to the new epoch in art that was fully realized in the following century.

1. Cogniat, Raymond. The Century of the Impressionists, New York: Touchstone, 1990.
2. Herbert, Robert L. Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society, LA: Routledge, 1988.
3. Nochlin, Linda. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, 1874-1904: Sources and Documents, New York: New Publishers, 1986.
4. Rewald, John. The History of Impressionism, New York: New Publishers, 1973.
5. White, Barbara Ehrlich. Impressionists Side by Side: Their Friendships, Rivalries, and Artistic Exchanges, Chicago: Gilmore, 1996.

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