Neo-Impressionism & The City

The Paris that the Neo-Impressionists inhabited was a city undergoing great physical change, economic upheavals and political stress. Part of the childhood or teenage years of most of the movement's French artists fell within the disastrous period of the Franco-Prussian War (July 1870 to May 1871), when the French capital was occupied first by German troops, then by left-wing supporters of the Paris Commune, and finally by returning French government forces (with the attendant massacre of tens of thousands of Paris's citizens). These years saw the fall of the Second French Empire, the establishment of the Third French Republic and the ceding of the French province of Alsace and part of Lorraine to Germany. The threat of a post-war restoration of the monarchy was followed in the early 1880s by severe economic depression and the social uncertainty provoked by new mechanisation of industry. All these events led to considerable distrust of government rule, fuelling the popularity of anarchist leaders who preached the cause of individual liberty and freedom from government control for all.

Eschewing Impressionism's emphasis on the direct observation of nature outdoors at a specific moment, Neo-Impressionist paintings were mostly painted indoors in the artists' city studios, the products of long study and synthesis. Not surprisingly, then, the new movement's adherents, most of whom grew up in Paris, imaged aspects of the French capital in their work.


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