I t’s not easy to change the way people look at things.
When critics, and most people, first looked at the works of the French painters who, in 1874, began to call themselves impressionists, they thought them perverse, or perhaps deranged. The freedom of the painters’ brushstrokes, combined with their study of the complexity and multiplicity of color as it changes moment by moment, looked just plain messy to the late-19th-century eye. “Go ahead,” wrote one critic, “and try to explain to Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with the purplish-green splotches that denote the final stage of putrefaction in a corpse!”
Today, that Renoir nude looks perhaps a bit overripe to us, but not strange. We have grown up with and are perhaps a little too comfortable with the impressionist aesthetic. We shouldn’t condescend to predecessors trying to come to terms with what they’d