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Explore impressionism at Columbus Museum

Many Americans are familiar with the French impressionists of roughly 1860-86. The works of Impressionists Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir are studied in many U.S. schools.

The Impressionists’ paintings featured light tones, almost pastel colors using short, light brush strokes. When looking at these paintings, people sometimes have to squint to see the images in the almost ethereal pieces.

Upon learning about French Impressionism, a number of American artists went to France to study the Impressionist movement. They returned with a new style called American Impressionism which flourished from 1886 to 1920.

Some of the artists came back to America and called themselves The Ten — Frank Weston Benson, Joseph DeCamp, Thomas W. Dwing, Childe Hassam, Willard Leroy Metcalf, Robert Reid, Edward Simmons, Edmund Charles Tarbell, John Henry Twachtman and J. Alden Weir. When Twachtman died in 1902, he was replaced by William Merritt Chase.

Columbus Museum curator of art Kristen Miller Zohn says American Impressionism differs from the French style in its short, choppy brush strokes.

“There was more structure in American Impressionist art,” Zohn said.

American Impressionism began in the East Coast with the first exhibit in 1898.

The California Impressionist movement was from about 1890 to 1930.

Columbus art fans will be able to learn more about this period in “All Things Bright and Beautiful: California Impressionist Paintings from the Irvine Museum,” which opens Sunday at the Columbus Museum.

“It (the movement) lasted much longer in America” than in France, Zohn said.

Most Impressionist artists, no matter if they were French or American, worked outdoors in the classic plein air method.

East Coast vs. West Coast

The East Coast movement focused on middle-class leisurely activities, while the California artists focused on landscapes and typically had fewer figures in their paintings.

“The French and East Coast show city and suburbs; places that are easy to get to,” Zohn said. “The California artists went out to the wilderness. And they tended to emphasize God in nature and the spiritual aspects of nature.”

While the subjects may be different from France to the East Coast to California, the colors are the same — light and pastel.

There are 58 pieces of art in this exhibit. It’s curated by California’s Irvine Museum, which was founded by Joan Irvine and her mother, the late Athalie R. Clarke. The museum focuses on California Impressionist art, and promotes awareness of the art and environmental issues as well.

As an art historian, Zohn has seen these California paintings in books. So she was glad to see some of the scenes depicted in the paintings for real when she visited Southern California for the first time to arrange the exhibit coming to Columbus.

The California artists

Two of the biggest names in the California Impressionist movement were Guy Rose and Granville Redmond, Zohn said.

One of the few California-born artists, Rose studied with Monet in Giverny before returning to California.

The other is Redmond, who became deaf as a toddler after a bout with scarlet fever. He learned to paint while at the California School for the Deaf, where he also learned Sign Language and pantomime.

Redmond became friends with actor-director Charlie Chaplin and taught him how to pantomime. Chaplin gave him small roles in eight of his movies.

“Redmond is known for two bodies of work,” Zohn said. One is landscapes of poppies and lupines and the other is nightscapes.

Among the educational components of the exhibit, there will be a panel discussion about Redmond.

There will also be a special section that compares the three types of Impressionist work with examples of each. A Renoir, borrowed from the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Art at Auburn University, will be the example of French Impressionism. The Mary Cassatt work on paper in the Columbus Museum’s permanent collection will show American Impressionism.

Along with the exhibit, there will be hands-on activities for children and a video about Impressionism.

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