The Impressionists: The Power of Friendship (Part One)
Wednesday July 10th 2013
Monet by his friend Renoir (1875)
When a grocer’s son from Le Havre and a young factory worker from central France met in a studio in Paris in 1862, one of the most important friendships in the history of art was born.
Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir were in the midst of torrid, exciting, worrying times. Both were broke, rebellious, excited by Paris. On one hand, la vie Boheme was in full flow – cafes, clubs, cabarets; the city was a meeting place for artists, intellectuals, rebels and dreamers, and it was possible for sons of the petit-bourgeioisie and working class to rub shoulders with the toffs as equals.
On the other hand, money was pumping in from all corners of the world — and so were people from the provinces and even from the new colonies. At the same time, the city was literally being torn down and rebuilt into to beautiful shiny capital that we know today. It was a building site for the whole decade, as neighbourhoods disappeared to re-emerge as gleaming boulevards, lined with apartments and shops for the bourgeoisie.
Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe made people tremendously cross in 1863
And painting itself was in the process of profound change too. Courbet, Manet, Degas – all older artists – were pushing the boundaries of what it was acceptable to paint, and where. Photography was challenging the way people saw, and new technology meant paint could be put into tubes.
The group of people who were to become known – much later – as the Impressionists – forged their friendship and their group identity in the 1860s.
This group became the very definition of the idea of “avant-garde” – a group of artists (or writers or musicians) who are ahead of the times, forging the way for the rest of us, like the advance guard of an army. Specifically, the Impressionists helped create the idea of the avant-garde as shocking; both their private lives and their paintings were acts of rebellion against the mores of the time.
But let’s begin in the middle and work out from there. To see how the astrology works with this group, I’m going to look at how the charts of the main protagonists work together and at the transits of the time.
This is quite a lot to get through, so I’ve focused in on the core protagonists, and in particular on the painter Claude Monet who was the driving force at the centre of the movement. It was his theorizing and experimentation along with his close friends Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley and with the guidance of Camille Pissarro that really created the style that we recognize as Impressionism today. It’s kind of like the Beatles. They aided and abetted each other, supporting each other through some very tough times: poverty, bereavement, self-doubt and professional failure.
I’d like to add that Berthe Morisot was also a vigorous Impressionist and so was Mary Cassatt, but because they were women, they were not able to participate in the group in the same way. I’ll look at their charts separately later.
The four main artists all have their Suns in water signs, which may not come as much of a surprise when you consider the soft-edges of Impressionist painting. But already you can see that together they will be stronger, reinforcing each others core identities.
Monet and Sisley were both Scorpio
Monet, Sisley and Renoir were share a particular generational planetary combinations that we just experienced in the early 2000s for the first time since the 1860s.
Uranus in Pisces
Neptune in Aquarius
Renoir again, this time by Frederic Bazille, who died in 1870 before Impressionism even got its name
These two planets were in mutual reception. Uranus is the planet of rebellion, and Neptune the higher octave of art. So all three painters were born into a generation that was potentially going to make changes in art. Already this looks like an avant grade.
In the spring of 1863, the Renoir, Monet, Sisley and their friend George Bazille – the Impressionist equivalent of the fifth Beatle – jacked in the academic-style lessons they’d been having and took off for the forest of Fontainebleau with their brushes and tubes of paint.
Neptune moved into Aries, the sign of beginning – and a whole new way of seeing the world was born.
(This post is based on a talk I gave to the Aquarius Severn astrology group. I’ll post Part Two later this week.)