Art historians’ approach to French Impressionism has changed significantly in recent years. While a decade ago Rewald’s History of Impressionism, which emphasizes Impressionist painters’ stylistic innovations, was unchallenged, the literature on impressionism has now become a kind of ideological battlefield, in which more attention is paid to the subject matter of the paintings, and to the social and moral issues raised by it, than to their style. Recently, politically charged discussions that address the impressionists’ unequal treatment of men and women and the exclusion of modern industry and labor from their pictures have tended to crowd out the stylistic analysis favored by Rewald and his followers. In a new work illustrating this trend, Robert L. Herbert dissociates himself from formalists whose preoccupation with the stylistic features of impressionist painting has, in Herbert’s view, left the history out of art history; his aim is to restore impressionist paintings “to their sociocultural context.” However, his arguments are not finally persuasive.
In attempting to place impressionist painting in its proper historical context, Herbert has redrawn the traditional boundaries of impressionism. Limiting himself to the two decades between 1860 and 1880, he assembles under the impressionist banner what can only be described as a somewhat eccentric grouping of painters. Cezanne, Pisarro, and Sisley are almost entirely ignored, largely because their paintings do not suit Herbert’s emphasis on themes of urban life and suburban leisure, while Manet, Degas, and Caillebotte—who paint scenes of urban life but whom many would hardly characterize as impressionists—dominate the first half of the book. Although this new description of Impressionist painting provides a more unified conception of nineteenth-century French painting by grouping quite disparate modernist painters together and emphasizing their common concerns rather than their stylistic difference, it also forces Herbert to overlook some of the most important genres of impressionist painting—portraiture, pure landscape, and still-life painting.
Moreover, the rationale for Herbert’s emphasis on the social and political realities that Impressionist paintings can be said to communicate rather than on their style is finally undermined by what even Herbert concedes was the failure of Impressionist painters to serve as particularly conscientious illustrators of their social milieu. They left much ordinary experience—work and poverty, for example—out of their paintings and what they did put in was transformed by a style that had only an indirect relationship to the social realities of the world they depicted. Not only were their pictures inventions rather than photographs, they were inventions in which style to some degree disrupted description. Their painting in effect have two levels of subject: what is represented and how it is represented, and no art historian can afford to emphasize one at the expense of the other.
1. Which one of the following best expresses the main point of the passage?
(A) The style of impressionist paintings has only an indirect relation to their subject matter.
(B) The approach to impressionism that is illustrated by Herbert’s recent book is inadequate.
(C) The historical context of impressionist paintings is not relevant to their interpretation.
(D) impressionism emerged from a historical context of ideological conflict and change.
(E) Any adequate future interpretation of impressionism will have to come to terms with Herbert’s view of this art movement.
2. According to the passage, Rewald’s book on impressionism was characterized by which one of the following?
(A) evenhanded objectivity about the achievements of impressionism
(B) bias in favor of certain impressionist painters
(C) an emphasis on the stylistic features of impressionist painting
(D) an idiosyncratic view of which painters were to be classified as impressionists
(E) a refusal to enter into the ideological debates that had characterized earlier discussions of impressionism
3. The author implies that Herbert’s redefinition of the boundaries of impressionism resulted from which one of the following?
(A) an exclusive emphasis on form and style
(B) a bias in favor of the representation of modern industry
(C) an attempt to place impressionism within a specific sociocultural context
(D) a broadening of the term impressionism to include all nineteenth-century French painting
(E) an insufficient familiarity with earlier interpretations of impressionism
4. The author states which one of the following about modern industry and labor as subjects for painting?
(A) The impressionists neglected these subjects in their paintings.
(B) Herbert’s book on impressionism fails to give adequate treatment of these subjects.
(C) The impressionists’ treatment of these subjects was idealized.
(D) Rewald’s treatment of impressionist painters focused inordinately on their representations of these subjects.
(E) Modernist painters presented a distorted picture of these subjects.
5. Which one of the following most accurately describes the structure of the author’s argument in the passage?
(A) The first two paragraphs each present independent arguments for a conclusion that is drawn in the third paragraph.
(B) A thesis is stated in the first paragraph and revised in the second paragraph and revised in the second paragraph, and the revised thesis is supported with argument in the third paragraph.
(C) The first two paragraphs discuss and criticize a thesis, and the third paragraph presents an alternative thesis.
(D) a claim is made in the first paragraph, and the next two paragraph, and the next two paragraphs each present reasons for accepting that claim.
(E) An argument is presented in the first paragraph, a counterargument is presented in the second paragraph, and the third paragraph suggests a way to resolve the dispute.
6. The author’s statement that impressionist paintings “were inventions in which style to some degree disrupted description” (lines 57-59) serves to
(A) strengthen the claim that impressionist sought to emphasize the differences between painting and photography
(B) weaken the argument that style is the only important feature of impressionist paintings
(C) indicate that impressionists recognized that they had been strongly influence by photography
(D) support the argument that an exclusive emphasis on the impressionists subject matter is mistaken
(E) undermine the claim that impressionists neglected certain kinds of subject matter
7. The author would most likely regard a book on the impressionists that focused entirely on their style as
(A) a product of the recent confusion caused by Herbert’s book on impressionism
(B) emphasizing what impressionists themselves took to be their primary artistic concern
(C) an overreaction against the traditional interpretation of impressionism
(D) neglecting the most innovative aspects of impressionism
(E) addressing only part of what an adequate treatment should cover