How quickly time flies. If Besotted hadn’t reminded me in the comments, I would’ve completely forgotten that I had a last episode of The Impressionists to catch up with. Forgetting the Re-Watch is symptomatic. I may have enjoyed the show, and the wide smiles that Armitage was allowed to brighten the screen with were certainly welcome, but somehow this mini-series was never – and never will be – my favourite of Richard’s works.
It’s not *all* because of the wig and look of Claude Monet. *That* is easily balanced out by the wide smiles! My lukewarm feelings about this mini-series has more to do with my general lack of enthusiasm for impressionism. I fully appreciate the importance of this arts movement for the development of painting and art in general, and I understand the impressionists’ value. In many case I actually do find their paintings particularly evocative, beautiful and touching. I guess, my problem with them is that they have become too popular – which usually makes me turn away from something. That’s unfair – but unfortunately true. But I totally concede that – particularly Monet’s – Impressionist paintings are incredibly beautiful.
We pick up again in episode 3 of TI with the group celebrating Edouard Manet’s formal recognition as an artist after he has been awarded the Légion d’Honneur. However, Manet is suffering from syphilis and his health deteriorates. He dies in 1883. Monet, OTOH, is living with Alice Hochedé after his wife’s death. The two of them become a couple, marry and eventually settle in Giverny. Monet develops his serial painting technique, always following the changing light.
A large part of this episode is taken up with the life and travails of Paul Cézanne who is seen as a revolutionary new painter by the impressionists. Despite an affluent background, he lives in poverty with his working class wife and illegitimate son. First shunned by the art world, Cézanne’s genius is eventually recognised and he joins the Impressionists as the most celebrated painters in the world. They overcame all the obstacles and changed painting – and art – forever. So much for the summary of episode 3.
Beards and Hair
I was quite amused in this episode about the changing hairstyles of Claude Monet. Starting out with short hair and a pipe, the next scene in a café he had long hair again. Continuity was a bit lax there, I thought 😂. But at least we could see that RA really knew how to smoke.
Yep, as an ex-smoker (almost 6 months to the day) I notice such things. – Eventually the episode settled into short hair for Claude. And I couldn’t help but feel reminded of my personal hero Leon Trotzky…
However, let’s stay quickly with the look – ok, I am a not a fan of facial shrubbery at all, and particularly not these kind of standalone shrubs on upper lip and chin. If there has to be facial hair, give me a full blown meadow that covers all (beard) or stay with the manicured lawn aka stubble. Looking at the overgrown goatee on Richard’s chin, however, I am wondering whether it is actually his own. Not only because he has always been so proud of his fast growth and thus the conclusion lies near. No, but also because of the tell-tale triangle underneath his lower lip. Mr Armitage has, indeed, a rather pretty beard-growth pattern (see evidence on right).
I was quite taken with the elder statesman look he was given in the latter part of the episode, once Monet had settled down with Alice and concentrated on creating Giverny as his inspirational garden. (I don’t really think that Richard has an old man’s face, yet, though, so I finally was reconciled with Julian Glover playing Monet senior in the framework plot.) In fact, I found myself fascinated by the grey temples and the short hair, and I kept screen-shooting.
I also enjoyed that his eye crinkles came into play…
Things I Loved
As always, Richard – even considerably younger and less experienced than today – was a pleasure to watch. I loved the scenes where he glowed with enthusiasm, happiness and lust for life, smiling widely with glowing teeth. But I especially liked the scenes where you could hear him laugh. It really doesn’t happen very often at all that you can hear Richard Armitage laugh in one of his roles. He is the go-to man for scowling (Guy of Gisborne, John Thornton), growling (Francis Dolarhyde, Thorin Oakenshield) and frowning (John Porter, Daniel Miller). And yet his laugh is an absolute joy. In German we call his kind of laugh “gurgling” – but that doesn’t quite hit it in English. What I like about it is not what it looks like (although I believe that *every* laugh looks beautiful), but what it sounds like. Reminder:
That’s what he laughed like in his younger years. (I think his laugh now has become slightly deeper, more baritone, whereas it sounded more tenor way back in the early 2000s.) And it is infectious.
Bookmark and keep near for any rainy day. It definitely works.
Ok, moving on. The old fogey in me also quite enjoyed the mature-lovestory-section of this episode. We were discussing it somewhere in the comments, I believe, and the series didn’t really get into it, but there are suspicions that Monet and Alice Hoschedé started their relationship even before she split with her husband and moved in with the Monets. Her youngest child may even have been by Monet. In that sense, it was lovely that the series spent a little time with Monet’s and Alice’s relationship. I wasn’t quite convinced by Richard’s choice to play Monet as out of breath as if he had just raced a marathon when he catches Alice in the garden and proposes. But this completely balanced everything out:
Not to mention this:
Ok, bonus for the romantics among you:
Yeah, man, this was such a clean show, it almost seemed as if it was made for school TV. You know what I mean? Your history/art/literature teacher wheeling in the big TV and the VCR, and then you’d sit through an hour of veritable and highly educational
but mindnumbingly clean-and-boring docudrama? Well, to be suitable for teenagers, no tit may be shown, no mention of sex may be made and no tongue may be used. 😂
And Where It Went Wrong For Me
And maybe that is what ultimately irked me about this show, or what prevented me from saying ” I love Love LOVE The Impressionists!!” It’s not that I need sex in every TV show to keep me engaged. And I am a big fan of contextualising history and presenting it in a way that the viewers can relate to. In that sense it was great that this mini-series made an attempt at showing the personal sacrifices all those pioneering painters had to make in order to succeed with their art. From losing Bazille in the war, via Manet’s syphilis, Degas’ eye illness and declining fortunes, to the overwhelming poverty of Monet and Cézanne, TÍ is not simply a list of artistic milestones in the painters’ lives, but a look at how they progress as painters as well as men. And herein may also be the problem for me – I never fully committed to the show, and maybe so because of the lack of women in the narrative. Don’t get me wrong – of course I “saw” Camille and Alice, and Mme Manet, Mme Cézanne and various models. But that’s exactly it, “various models”. Sure, you don’t have to explain to me that the 19th century was still a time dominated by men. But that doesn’t mean that in their private lives, men were uninfluenced (and untouched) by women. Or that women artists did not exist or not contribute to the development of art. Berthe Morisot and Eva Gonzalez were part of the impressionist set – they don’t even turn up in passing in this series. The wives and women remain in their traditional role as nurturer, house-keeper and mothers.
(Left-field thought: Maybe it is also because this show was made in 2006 that women aren’t represented more prominently?) And all that may also be due to the limited amount of time available (3 hours) for a group of painters. In fairness, it would’ve been impossible to depict the lives and times of the impressionists in detail, and hence also a number of *male* protagonists of the movement (Pissarro? Gauguin? Sisley? Matisse?) had to be left out in order to contain the show. However, for me the whole show remained somewhat one-dimensional.
For fans of Richard Armitage, however, TI is definitely a worth-while show to watch. The smiles, the laugh, and the mannerisms that are just delightful to recognise. From Richard’s insistent innovative use of his teeth, to delicate hand movements and holding his head at *that* characteristic angle, there are certain “trademarks” in his acting repertoire
that superfans such as us have no trouble identifying.
And Richard convincingly acts emotions and draws the audience into the emotional world of the sensitive artist.
Lastly I want to commend the mini series for producing beautiful images. I loved the wide shots especially because they illustrated so clearly what the impressionists were after.
These shots play with the impressionists’ emphasis of depicting the *moment*, pinpointing the changeability of art, and the transience of life. The impressionists’ penchant for working plein air is ideally illustrated here. And the series is obviously also conscious of depicting movement rather than static subjects, and the different qualities of light – during the day, the seasons, inside and outside, in rain, sun or locomotive steam – as these are impressionist characteristics that are often also attributed to film (and photography). In that sense the series puts the theory into practice.
Last note: Just as I was watching episode 3 of TI, the news came through that a Monet painting has set a new record price for works by the artist. From the “haystack” series of paintings, the picture was sold for $110m in New York. An indication of how *right* the impressionists were.
I finish with a quote by Berthe Morisot, of all people.
It is important to express oneself… provided the feelings are real and are taken from your own experience.
The impressionist painters did that beautifully, and showed us that it can be done and *should* be done. No one better to portray “real” feelings than Richard. And I am always happy to see how he expresses them.