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Iconic Oil Paintings... Part I

To be iconic is to have the nature of an icon, regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.

In its essence, oil paint is a mixture of powdered pigment and usually a drying oil such as linseed. Oil paintings date back to around the 7th century CE.

What Makes A Painting Iconic

So what makes paintings iconic? I believe that when a painting becomes a representation of a philosophy, a style, or a concept it can turn into an icon.

Jan van Eyck...Oil Painting Origins

Jan van Eyck (1390 – 9 July 1441) was one of the early innovators of what became known as Early Netherlandish painting, and one of the most significant representatives of Early Northern Renaissance art. Art historians consider Jan van Eyck to be the main developer of oil painting.

Jan van Eyck , Portrait Of A Man
Jan van Eyck , Portrait Of A Man

Jan van Eyck achieved a new level of virtuosity through his developments in the use of oil paint. Jan van Eyck's techniques and style were adopted and refined by the Early Netherlandish painters.

The surviving records indicate that Jan van Eyck was born around 1380 or 1390, most likely in Maaseik, Limburg, which is located in present-day Belgium.

Van Eyck painted both secular and religious subject matter, including altarpieces, single-panel religious figures, and commissioned portraits. His work includes single panels, diptychs, triptychs, and polyptych panels. Van Eyck's work emphasizes naturalism and realism.

Impressionism...Claude Monet

Sunrise Impression is an 1872 painting by Claude Monet first shown at the "Exhibition of the Impressionists" in Paris in April 1874. The painting is credited with inspiring the name of Impressionism.

The exhibition of the Impressionists was led by Monet, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley.

Monet claimed that he titled the painting Impression, Sunrise due to his hazy painting style in his depiction of the subject.

Monet's new style had received all the accusations of being unfinished or lacking descriptive detail.

Before the 1860s and the debut of Impression, Sunrise, the term "impressionism" was originally used to describe the effect of a natural scene on a painter and the effect of a painting on the viewer.

Sunrise Impression depicts the port of Le Havre, Monet's hometown. It is now displayed at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.
Sunrise Impression depicts the port of Le Havre, Monet's hometown. It is now displayed at the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.

Monet visited his hometown of Le Havre in the Northwest of France in 1872 and proceeded to create a series of works depicting the port.

The six painted canvases depict the port "during dawn, day, dusk, and dark and from varying viewpoints, some from the water itself and others from a hotel room looking down over the port".

The studies from Monet's hotel room were made from canvas with a base layer of gray in different tones.

The layered effect provides depth in spite of imprecise details, creating a rich and tangible environment that seems like Le Havre, though not an exact likeness.

The hazy scene of Impression, Sunrise strayed from traditional landscape painting and classic, idealized beauty.

Loose brush strokes are meant to suggest the scene rather than to mimetically represent it. In the wake of an emergent industrialization in France, this style expressed innovative individuality. Impression, Sunrise was about Monet’s search for spontaneous expression.

The sky and water in Impression, Sunrise are hardly distinguishable and boundaries between objects are not obvious.

Monet meant to express "other beliefs about artistic quality which might be tied to the ideologies being consolidated by the emergent bourgeoisie from which he came.

The term "Impressionism" was not new. It had been used for some time to describe the effect of paintings from the Barbizon School. Both associated with the school, Daubigny and Manet had been known to use the term to describe their own works.

Impression, Sunrise depicts the port of Le Havre at sunrise, the red Sun being the focal element, and the two small rowboats. In the middle ground, more fishing boats are included, while in the background on the left side of the painting are clipper ships with tall masts.

Although it may seem that the Sun is the brightest spot on the canvas, it is in fact, when measured with a photometer, the same brightness as the sky. i.e. in a black-and-white copy of Impression: Sunrise, the Sun disappears almost entirely.

this caused the painting to have a very realistic quality, as the older part of the visual cortex in the brain — shared with the majority of other mammals — registers only luminance and not color, so that the Sun in the painting would be invisible to it, while it is just the newer part of the visual cortex — only found in humans and other primates — which perceives color.

Other researchers have found that these same luminance properties can cause the Sun to fade from view and that changes in microsaccades underlie this effect.

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