Over the years leisure has transformed with different interpretations for what it means. Impressionist artists knew exactly what the culture defined as leisure. Sometimes the culture can define how a social activity is interpreted. The 19th Century view of leisure was escaping into the outdoors by the sea or in the country. A peaceful environment was a must in order for leisure to be experienced fully. The question is how does an artist portray a peaceful environment by the sea that culture is shaping into a normative activity?
The way artists displayed leisure was through the amount of vacationers or how peaceful a scene appeared. No longer were paintings just landscape scenes, but increasingly these scenes involved figures of people either being active or just stationary objects. The stationary pose of these vacationers emphasized the calm environment. In some instances action was implied, but the moment seems captured in time. With the availability of sea resorts to the masses through innovations, the inclusion of vacationers in paintings held importance. These paintings inspired many to go to these places to get respite from laboring during the week. One significant point the Impressionists desired the viewer to understand was leisure did not involve working. Leisure pulled society away from the working environment and brought people to a place where they felt at peace. The sea was the perfect escape from the noisy atmosphere. The artists even put increasingly more emphasis on the effect their color palette would have on the viewer. The viewer is drawn into the painting because it seems like a story that is stopped. Many are fascinated with these so called “leisure” paintings.
Eugène Boudin, On the Beach at Trouville, 1863
oil on wood, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 07.88.4
Vacationers are pictured relaxing at the beach front with chairs and boats. This is similar to the way beaches are in the 21st century. There are mass amounts of vacationers or tourists reclining with their faces toward the sea. People are boating and swimming in the background. The vacationers are dressed in style, probably suggesting a higher class, but as the eye is led down the beach there is an increase in people. There is no way to say that all the vacationers are wealthy, which could mean there are many different classes able to engage in outdoor leisure activities. The color palette creates a calming effect especially the sky color. The pinks and blues cause the rest of the painting to feel serene.
Claude Monet, Garden at Sainte-Adresse, 1867
oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 67.241
This outdoor painting depicts vacationers on a terrace enjoying the outdoor environment. The clothing of these vacationers suggest they are not working class because fine dresses and nice suites would not be worn for working. Thus, they are able to afford to find rest in such a place, probably enjoying a break from the busy life they have in the city. This terrace by the sea has a calming effect due to the way the waves are painted. The ripples in the waves exhibit a peaceful environment. The sea is where the majority of society went to escape from work. The way the paint is administered on the canvas lacks defining detail that gives a painting structure. The painterly quality is not perfectly clear. Monet daubs the paint instead of forming crisp lines. This furthers the portrayal of leisure since the focus is more on the calming effect the sea has on the vacationers than on the detail of the brushwork.
Claude Monet, La Grenouillère, 1869
oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.100.112
This is another outdoor scene of a boat outing. There are many people lined up to partake in this adventure. The brushstrokes on the canvas are daubs of paint which gives us a hint that the artist is not only an Impressionist, but is depicting a peaceful scene. The boat is not a steam boat used for work, but one now defined by leisure. Monet emphasizes this through the many vacationers coming to this site by the water. There are even people in the water swimming. They are not trying to get clean, but are in the water to enjoy themselves. Enjoyable activities are becoming widespread as more people can afford to come to these kinds of places.
Alfred Sisley, The Bridge at Villeneuve–la–Garenne, 1872
oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 64.287
The countryside, as stated before, is where vacationers go to escape their work life. This place is connected with a bridge, signifying the innovations allowing for more vacationers to travel to resorts like this little country village. The lighting, the sky, and the water create a peaceful atmosphere. The viewer can picture themselves boating along that river with the blue sky overhead. The boat with vacationers on it shows the leisure activity of boating which became very common. Boats were no longer just used for fishing and transportation of goods. They were increasingly used as a source of enjoyment. The scene appears like a perfect day without defect, enticing the viewer go there.
Édouard Manet, Boating, 1874
oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 29.100.115
Boating was one of many 19th century innovations for leisure. Vacationers would go out on the water to enjoy the calm and detach themselves from the business of the world. This couple is experiencing this kind of leisure. As the viewer it is as if you are trapped in the middle of the water unable to rush off anywhere. Boats were not fast paced, so the slow moving rhythm of the boat caused people to slow down after rushing around all week. This boat seems to be the vacationer’s private one, since the couple are the only ones presently seen on the boat. They are not doing anything active, but sitting in the boat resting on the water. These vacationers are clearly displaying the act of leisure.
Alfred Sisley, Allée of Chestnut Trees, 1878
oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975.1.211
The new innovation of roads increased travel especially to seafront resorts. The countryside environment by the sea is where people will go for respite from work. In this painting there are folks walking on the road and others in a carriage soaking up the beauty of the water. The road was built by the sea for that purpose. Serenity is felt by the viewer and likely by the figures on the road. Leisure is not about being inside, but about enjoying the outdoors which this painting shows well. Work was more defined by being indoors so outdoor activities brought comfort and relaxation. The blue sky and the green leaves give an effect of springtime when liveliness happens. There is no dreariness to the painting which was the Sisley’s intent.