Re-Watching The Impressionists [part 2]- Impressed

Screenshot bingo continues.

If anything, TI – and that is mainly Richard Armitage as Claude Monet – is a pleasure to look at. Just a cursory glance at my screenshot loot of episode 2 shows that there were smiles and gorgeous galore. But well, it’s not all beauty and joy in the show, and there were things that I felt irked by, too.

Quick summary

Part 2 of the mini series begins after the Franco-Prussian war with Monet and his family returning from London. He reconnects with the scene in Paris and continues to paint – without much success as the salon is still dominated by the Marquis de Chennevières who ridicules the Impressionists’ work. After focusing on Monet and his friendship with Renoir and Bazille, as well as Manet’s groundbreaking work on painting in part 1, this episode still has Monet as the main protagonist but also looks at Edgar Degas. With his eyesight deteriorating and money running scarce after his father’s death, Degas struggles as a painter. Despite producing beautiful work, his treatment of his fragile models is rude and neglectful.

The early worm paints the sunrise. Screenshot

Monet finds himself transfixed by light and colour. The painting that eventually is responsible for the moniker “impressionism”, is a study of the sunrise that he paints in a rush one morning, racing outside to capture the sunlight in all its glory. Similarly, he sets his canvas up in a train station because he wants to paint the whirling steam. What a pioneer! As the salon won’t display the impressionists’ paintings, the group decides to put on their own show, which is to take place in a photographer’s studio. “One passing fad helping another” as the Marquis says… little does he know…

. Renoir, Monet and Degas are on board; Manet declines any participation. Despite great hopes, the exhibition is not a success, neither with critics nor with public.

Consoling Alice Hochedé… well, who wouldn’t want to be consoled by him… Screenshot

At this point, Monet and his wife are living in poverty. Money from Monet’s patron Ernest Hochedé is not forthcoming either. When Monet goes to visit his patron’s home, he meets Hochedé’s wife Alice and the series makes it clear that she will have much influence on Monet later. Meanwhile, Camille’s health deteriorates. She has always been a favourite model for Monet, and even in death he remains transfixed by the play of light on her features. The fortunes of Monet’s patron Hochedé have changes, too, and Alice and her children have moved in with Monet – which leads Degas, jealous of Monet and Renoir finally being represented in the salon with their paintings, puts a hoax article in the newspaper declaring Monet dead, and claiming he has a relationship with Alice Hochedé. Monet confronts Degas – and the impressionist movement seems to splinter…

Some thoughts on part 2

We get another episode opening with Monet on a train. Maybe it has worked out cheaper that way, but whenever I see steam trains and the name Richard Armitage on the credits, I immediately think of NS. And I always wonder whether these things are coincidences or whether some clever scriptwriter has copped on that repeating the earlier crowd pleaser is something that would appeal to the fans? Well, probably not – we are far too small a group to be recognised. But it is funny, nonetheless. And it begs the question what RA thinks about these things? Does he have the same associations? Does he ever suspect he is being used as a babe magnet?

Granted, the more I watch of TI, the more I get used to the straggly hair and the goaty beard. And suddenly Richard looks gorgeous… Especially his blue eyes stood out to me in this episode, where I particularly noticed the intense shade of blue in a number of scenes.

I have to admit that I am not that interested in the other painters, and that is all down to RA. I want to see Monet’s story, not Degas or Manet. Renoir is acceptable – because he is close friends with Monet and therefore likely to feature in scenes… Mind you, I thought Degas’ story is really interesting because of the connection to the ballet. How the young dancers were taken advantage of by rich men who pretend to be patrons but really only just want to get into the dancers’ knickers… Dirty business…

In contrast, Monet is clean and beautiful art. “The sun was my muse”, he explains, and that whole sequence (around 15:00) of Monet getting up early to paint at sunrise basically is the whole mini-series in one scene. He explains what is so compelling about the impressionists: For the first time, an art movement focuses on light and how it is seen depending on time of day, angle, etc. , hence Monet’s excitement and rush to paint the sunrise. Paintings are not static as such, but they now depict movement – such as the rising sun, or the whirling steam in a train station. And like its distant cousin photography, impressionism for the first time elevates ordinary people, scenes and objects to subject matters, often painting from unusual angles and communicating not just superficial beauty to the spectator, but transporting an atmosphere or emotion. This is a mini lecture on what impressionism is and how it differs from what came before.

Monet worshipping the sun… reminds me of Ricky Deeming calling upon the goddess… Screenshot

That is all very interesting but what is compelling in the series remains the smile, the joy, the happiness, the energy of Monet. Always positive, always hopeful, always a doer. He doesn’t fret when he is poor and unrecognised; when he makes the sale – he spends the money on bread and cheese. And he organises a counter-exhibition to the salon when the art dealer stops buying the impressionists’ art.

As has been remarked on several times in the comments to last week’s re-watch post, the show is very good at putting the famous Monet paintings into context – or visualising them on the screen. And again, this is a wonderful lesson for all art-interested people, seeing what Monet must have seen when he was dabbing the canvas and created his masterpieces.

Talking of dabbing the canvas – another point of discussion last week was a quote by TI‘s art consultant Leo Stevenson who paid Richard the greatest compliment. Thank you to Lilianschild for digging up the quote.

Some actors, like Richard Armitage, actually took to painting extremely well and painted in a really convincing manner. Others were nervous of doing any real painting and so I sometimes stood in for them in their costumes for the close-ups of ‘their’ hands painting or drawing. .”

I had a little look, and while of course it is inconclusive how much he actually painted himself, there is something about the way RA holds the paint brush. Even though he has really large hands and therefore the brush looks very delicate, it appears as if he has the lightest touch. He holds the paint brush properly and dabs lightly at the canvas. Method man is certainly convincing… Clearly some prime porn for fans with a hand fetish, as the extremities are beautifully accentuated by frilly shirt cuffs and  wide puffy sleeves.

Delicate fingers…

What still irks me, is the framing action with old Monet in Giverny. And here is another reason why I don’t like those interludes: I can’t quite reconcile the happy, cheerful, positive young Monet with the old, negative codger from 1920. Old Monet seems to be scolding the journalist for every single question, always correcting him, always defending himself, always the one who knows, always raising his voice, always arguing. Never calm, quiet, benign and wise with age. He’s really not very sympathetic at all. The Four Yorkshiremen by Monty Python come to mind…

While I very much enjoyed all the shiny happy Monet of episode 2, I was also glad to see him expand his scope to some more dramatic emotions. The death of Camille is a truly touching scene – the contrast of the painter, concentrating on shapes, light and composition, seeing beauty in death, presumably, and thus immortalising his dead wife once again on canvas – and then, immediately afterwards the bereaved husband who has just realised the enormity of his loss and helplessly cries. “Jesus, he’s devastating when he cries.” is what I noted down. It reminded me why and how I fell for Armitage the actor, i.e. when he played Lucas North in the final scene of season 9 on the roof and… He needs more roles like that!

Emoting something else than anger

Luckily for us, the episode did not end on a sad note. Instead we see the beginnings of the relationship with Alice Hoschedé, and that is quite beautiful, though. Possibly because it starts out without love, but a bit of a confrontation. The scene in the garden where Monet consoles Alice because she tells him her husband can’t pay him… the soft touch of his hand on her hair. She cries on his shoulder. Yes, that demands three screenshots for illustration #UncompromisingFangirlMode

Sure, there is the fangirl fluff again. Coupled with puppy eyes and *boom* there go my pants. But when it comes to the man who doesn’t just have a pigeon hole but a whole dovecote for poker-faced, emotionally hardened spy types, this would really be quite a departure.

So, all in all an hour happily spent watching young Monet. At the end of the episode, the tides are finally turning. Monet gets a painting into the salon. He cuts his hair. And he gets quite angry. I leave you with a derp that isn’t meant to make fun of RA – but just to make you laugh. How unrecognisable he is in that screenshot. Thank cod!

The Impressionists  part 3 to follow next week? Hopefully I will get it in – I will be travelling home to Germany on Tuesday, staying one week with my mum.

Feel free to comment below – or to write your own review on your own blog. If you do, don’t forget to link to it in my comments!

38 thoughts on “Re-Watching The Impressionists [part 2]- Impressed

  1. Monet developed depression after Alice’s death, in 1911. They met in 1875 and fell almost instantly in love. I was so happy when I recognized Amanda Roots. She did so well in Persuasion, so I was waiting for something like In the Mood for Love but something went wrong. A lack of chemistry between the Human Slowcooker and the King of Smoulder? Maybe. Or maybe the will to stay on the clean safe side, but that’s an actual fault

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    • Oh, that is really interesting. I didn’t realise that it was a proper love-match. I researched a little bit and read that there were suspicions that Alice Hoschede`s youngest child was actually Monet’s…
      Anyway, I have to agree with you re. the chemistry, or lack thereof. Like yourself, I also really loved Amanda Roots in Persuasion. But I don’t think she was quite right for Armitage’s Monet. Either he was too young, or she was to old… Camille OTOH was perfectly cast, I thought…

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    • I always smile when I see Amanda Root because it reminds me of her role as the moral crusader in Marie Lloyd when she shocked by ‘She sits among the cabbages and peas’, which made me laugh.

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      • LOL – I think it was in the Stephen Fry “Victorian Secrets” podcast that I heard about that Marie Lloyd song – and how she had to withdraw it. In the end she reissued the song and replaced the peas with ‘leeks’. No one objected to “She sits among the cabbages and leeks” 😂 🚽

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          • IKR – I thought it was hilarious. It sounded as if Mary Lloyd really gave the finger to her critics *grins*
            The podcast is on Audible. It’s called “Stephen Fry’s Victorian Secrets” and it was absolutely fascinating! He looks at all things weird and taboo – from toilet and sex, to mistresses and seances. There were several interesting facts in there that were totally new to me… Recommended.

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  2. You perfectly encapsulated not only what I love about The Impressionists, but why I love Richard. He looks so beautiful (smiling), but it’s that powerful, emotional presence he brings to the screen that *really* sets him apart. It’s his emotional range that, above all else, makes him a great actor, imho. And he doesn’t overdo it like many actors do. (It’s why productions that don’t let him ACT but instead treat him like little more than a pretty robot in a human suit drive me crazy! Take advantage, you idiots!)

    I don’t know why but reading “Does he ever suspect he is being used as a babe magnet?” had me cackling like a madwoman. 😀

    Great review! I look forward to whenever you write part 3.

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  3. Great review. I bet the remark about photography stood out for you! They once said the same about electricity.

    I’d never watched this series before, and it was a bit curate’s egg for me. I couldn’t get past the general facial shrubbery. It prevented me from taking the characters seriously, though judging by old photos, it was fashionable in the day. It says a lot for Mr A’s acting ability that I saw through his Worzel Gummidge look eventually to the glowing young painter he was.

    I too could have done without the framing sequences with old Monet, but I guess they wanted to show his gardens at Giverny in all their splendour, and those wouldn’t have existed in his youth. The cinematography was magnificent though, all through, with scene turning into art before our eyes. Such a pity his paintings have become so much of a cliché nowadays, plastered on calendars, tote bags and the like.

    What irked me most was merely the attitudes of the times, when women were treated as a cross between decoration and domestic appliance by the men. I don’t think there were many female painters who could rush out to capture a moment’s impression of a scene whenever they pleased. . But that’s not the fault of the series of course.

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    • Oh yes, photography was really not taken seriously at the beginning, so I am not surprised that an ignoramus such as the marquis would disregard it 😉
      You are absolutely right – they really followed the photographic evidence when it came to styling Monet. He had longish hair and that kind of goatee beard, so they really made RA look like him. After a while you kind of forget about the look. Most of the time, the intensely blue eyes really distract from the hair and beard, anyway.
      You are raising an important point there re. women. Apart from providing the subject matter, they don’t seem to feature much, even though there were a few women painters at the time. Do you know this following picture? It is so true! https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/guerrilla-girls-the-advantages-of-being-a-woman-artist-p78796#3

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    • You’re so right Jenny about how the men treated the women and they do seem to be divided into angel or whore roles in their depictions. I know this reflects the period but I also wonder if this is partly presumption by the film makers and they could have included Berthe Morisot who was part of the Impressionist movement and exhibited with Monet, Manet etc.

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  4. Berthe Morisot, Suzanne Valadon, Mary Cassatt are the most famous ones, but the serial’s title isn’t Ladies of Impressionism. Don’t show female painters is a choice. Show women as lovely ornaments it’s also a choice, prbably because the serial is quite old.

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  5. His eyes are such a startling blue in the Impressionist light.
    It’s not the most gripping series but it’s quite watchable for ‘numerous reasons’. When first shown it was on at Sunday tea-time, which seems the perfect slot for it but that isn’t really a compliment.
    I can’t really add much more to your review Guylty and I liked your point about the link with photography. The train motif, the steam, the movement, also has parallels with the advent of film. Old codger was also the description that came to mind about Julian Glover.
    Near the beginning when Monet is walking with Manet across the cobbles, I’m sure one of the soldiers sitting in the background is Jon Bernthal – it really looks like him.
    Degas is still watchable, and more mysterious with his sinister green glasses.
    It’s interesting that you said you fell for RA the actor when he broke-downas Lucas because it was when he cried in Strike Back, in the mine field with Ewan Bremner, that I realised what a truly fine actor he is and it made me review his previous work. I hadn’t really been ‘gazing’ at him for his acting up to then but I had missed his subtlety.
    That last photo is hilarious! I have never seen RA with that look before and not sure I ever want to again!
    Hope you have a great time in Germany.

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    • With all my enthusing here, I have to agree with you that the show isn’t really *that* exciting. What makes it exciting (for a RA fangirl) is that Armitage is in it. The story in itself has some interesting drama of course (early death of first wife, war, poverty, second wife, fame, fortune) but it’s not a nail-biter.
      Interesting that you also fell for Armitage when he was a blubbering mess *grins*. I wonder what that says about us *haha*

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      • Yes, anything with Armitage in it. I’m not fond of the Impressionist painters anyway, and certainly not soldiering but I was still glued to Strike Back I actually fell for him in N&S but didn’t notice his acting until S B, but yes, what does that say about us? ( And I don’t mind him being killed either – his characters I mean! – weirdo me.) Perhaps it is because he was so often poker-faced and unemotional, particularly as Lucas.

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        • I never thought about it, but I think you are right – Lucas was actually rather robotic, and even his romantic entanglements never quite came across as feeling. Porter was way more emotionally invested, despite being a “hard soldier”.

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  6. Thanks for another great review. I could never do this. I find myself very lazy these days. I just want to sit and let the program wash over me and feel the feelings.

    That scene where he rushes to capture the sunrise is the highlight for me. His hair is crazy, he’s wearing a nightgown my grandmother would have rejected as too old fashioned, but it does not matter. The raw wonder and joy and excitement in his face let’s me forget everything else and I fall hopelessly in love with him. He portrays the soul of the artist to perfection.

    Again, the visuals were stunning and I had the feeling of being inside a painting for most of the time. I’m gonna come back to this time and again, because it leaves me with a happy glow. 😊

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    • Oh, I find myself very lazy, too. Or itching to make a junk journal. But please, no work *haha*.
      The sunrise story is very nice – full of life, hope, art. “The raw wonder and joy and excitement in his face let’s me forget everything else and I fall hopelessly in love with him. He portrays the soul of the artist to perfection.” This!

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    • Oh 😬. Great reminder Besotted. I had *completely* forgotten about it, and despite being back in Ireland for two days, I hadn’t blogged at all because I thought I had nothing to write about… I better get that going today.

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