Sunday, April 8, 2007

It is remarkable how many pictures we have ... of informal and spontaneous sociability, of breakfasts, picnics, promenades, boating trips, holidays and vacation travel. These urban idylls ... presuppose the cultivation of these pleasures as the highest field of freedom for an enlightened bourgeois detached from the official beliefs of his class. In enjoying realistic pictures of his surroundings as a spectacle of traffic and changing atmospheres, the cultivated rentier was experiencing in its phenomenal aspects that mobility of the environment, the market and of industry to which he owes his income and his freedom. ... As the contexts of bourgeois sociability shifted from community, family and church to commercialized or privately improvised forms — the streets, the caf├ęs and resorts — the resulting consciousness of individual freedom involved more and more an estrangement from older ties; and those imaginative members of the middle class who accepted the norms of freedom, but lacked the economic means to attain them, were spiritually torn by a sense of helpless isolation in an anonymous indifferent mass.

Meyer Schapiro on Impressionism, from "The Nature of Abstract Art" (orig. 1937), reprinted in Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries (New York, NY: George Braziller, 1979), 193.

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