How the Art of Painting liberated itself from Photorealism - Part Four

Note: this is the fourth and final part of a blog post I published on June 15th, you can find the third part here ...

Before Impressionism, there was William Turner

Impressionism did not come out of nowhere. Eleven years before Claude Monet painted his Impression soleil levant another great painter by the name of Turner had died. Joseph Malord William Turner (23 April 1775 - 19 December 1851) known by his acronym J.M.W. Turner, was an English Painter who started out as a Romantic and became a Pre-Impressionist in his later work, although his work never was officially named like that. He traveled a extensively around Europe in search of new subjects for his landscape paintings. He became especially famous for his marine paintings. J.M.W. Turner was considered to be extraordinary productive as he left behind over 2'000 paintings and 19'000 drawings.

From left to right: J.M.W. Turner's earlier works show how he was influenced by the Flemish school of classical landscape painting on one hand and Romanticism in this picture of Roman scenery on the other. Throughout his life he was able to work in different styles but his impressions of the effects of natural phenomena like light, fog, water, sky and seasons start to push through in his later work.

From left to right: with his painting Slave Ship from 1840 Turner took a very clear abolitionist's anti-slavery stand-point. Based on real events from 1781 it shows a slave ship that has thrown its human cargo overboard because of an on-setting storm. The style of painting in this later work already clearly points into the direction of Impressionism with the way the sun light and sky is portrayed. It goes beyond the mere representation of the dawning sky of storm-laden clouds but it is used to express dramatic emotions. In his work Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway the rain and clouds mingle with the landscape to become one plane of muted colors and textures. It is very reminiscent of Monet's work that soleil levant who reportedly studied the works of Turner.

Even though J.M.W. Turner was championed by the English art critic John Ruskin who recognized  Turner's great ingenuity in his later life, his new method of working evoked criticism from contemporaries. Sir George Beaumont, a rival landscape painter, called Turner's works 'blots' because of his way of applying paint to the canvas not trying to hide the brush strokes as was customary and demanded by then.


You may have already noticed the tendency by now: the development of the art of painting evolves farther away from the requirement of photo-realistic mimicking of reality during the course of the second half of the 19th century. Remember that photography by then was still far away from the vividness, sharpness or any use of color that a painting could provide (please take a look at the exemplary photos in the first part again).

Several artist's succeeded Impressionism's legacy. Many of them were a lot younger when the Impressionist exhibitions were shown. They were rather unfavorably termed Post-Impressionists which put them in direct lineage to their predecessors, even though they often developed quite unique and different interpretations of style and stepped out of the shadow of their Impressionistic forefathers.

Vincent van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) exhibits a raw force with colors in his paintings, almost as if he wishes to capture and banish the essence of what he sees onto the canvas with his color tubes and brush strokes. 


Georges-Pierre Seurat (2 December 1859 – 29 March 1891) further expanded his work on Pointilism, a technique of painting that was pioneered by Camille Pissaro, in which paint is applied in dots onto the canvas. It requires a great understanding of color theory as the points need to be put together according to certain rules in order to obtain the overall impression that a plane or an object has a specific color. 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (24 November 1864 – 9 September 1901), his style of painting became very graphical in that he emphasizes contours and shapes. Despite the great dynamism in many of his paintings he often favored muted colors over bright ones, especially when depicting the Parisian nightlife.

Paul Cézanne (19 January 1839 – 22 October 1906) used a very characteristic set of brush strokes and color planes to build up multi-faceted portrayals of his subjects. His depiction of apples became very famous and are often shown as an example of what art can achieve and invoke inside a spectator. 

Notice the predominance of Realist subjects in the paintings of the Impressionists. 

A League Of His Own: Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso (25 October 1881 – 8 April 1973) came later than most of the Post-Impressionists but drew a lot from the legacy they left behind. Picasso was not exclusively a painter, even though he started out as one, but took on many roles later in his life modeling the blueprint for the multi-potentiate modern artist of the 20th century.  He took the premises of Impressionism and developed them further into new styles of art. Especially in his early paintings the link to the post-impressionists can be discovered:

Picasso produced these three paintings between the age of  fourteen to sixteen. They show that he was an excellent craftsman early on and that he understood the techniques and concepts of classical painting very well. Note the self-portrait in the middle.

These three paintings were done in his twenties and they show a very distinct influence of Impressionism with his use of broad brushstrokes and bright colors on the left, color planes and contours in the middle and the mono-tonal blue to convey mood and emotion in The Old Guitarist from 1903. 

In his thirties Picasso pushed farther in what he could do with color, contour and plane to go into abstraction and found the art movement of Cubism, ultimately a very radical take on the ideas of Impressionism. His Les Demoiselles d'Avignon from 1907 in the middle is considered to be the first step on that journey while Girl with a Mandolin from 1910 show how he progressed along his way exploring new possibilities of expression through the art of painting.


By now we have arrived in the early 20th century ending our journey with this last painting by Picasso from 1910. From here on out art was free to whatever it wanted. Whether it teetered off into total abstraction with Wassily Kandinsky or exploded into pure emotion with Jackson Pollock, at the foundation of it all lay the will of artists to go beyond the mere realistic and accurate representation of our world. Photography has slowly begun to catch up in terms of technique and skillfulness and it arrived at truthfully representing reality at a point when the art of painting just concluded its evolution of abandoning it.

From left to right: finally photography caught up with the skills that painters had possessed for centuries. Colors appear vivid in this 1911 portrait of Alim Khan by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky. The landscape conveys a sense of depth and various layers of sharpness in the picture by the same photographer from 1912. The 1914 photograph of the Taj Mahal by an unknown artist exhibits architectural design, vast space and muted colors from an exotic place like so many landscape painters have done in the first half of the 19th century. 

 From left to right: now that the camera was doing all the work of mimicking reality the art of painting moved boldly beyond its mere representation. Pablo Picasso reduces people to planes and lines in his painting Nous autres musiciens from 1921 while Wassily Kandinsky wanders on his own path with Komposition VIII from 1923. Finally Jackson Pollock reduces everything to the raw and unbound energy of brush strokes with his Convergence from 1953.

I hope you enjoyed and followed along my little journey into the times when the art of painting freed itself from the demand of having to mimic the appearance of reality but dared to develop beyond and found its expression from within the personal experience of the world itself. It was a bold step in that it emboldened the individual to strife outside the boundaries of institutions and normatives of society and painters were the first to make it.

We came across a lot of terms for various art movements that seemed similar on first glance but had important distinction in their style, technique or subjects of painting. Sometimes I could only brush on certain topics and I hope I can expand on them in-depth in the future. Thank you for bearing with me and staying tuned all the way. Please feel free to leave a comment, I would love to hear from you!

A Report From Annecy 2018

This year's edition of the Annecy Animation Film Festival took place from June 11th to the 16th. Being the biggest festival of its kind in the world it was able to garner even more attendance by raising the number of badge holders by a whopping 17% to 11 700 people. Visitors and ticket buyers aren't even included in this number. This means that the beautiful alpine town of Annecy in France is overrun each year by an international crowd of animation maniacs, flooding the streets with the signature badges worn around the neck and colorful bags.

If you haven't been there yet I highly recommend you should go. The atmosphere is great and seldom do you get to see so much great animation on the big screen. Especially the US screenings are always a great show and celebrated by the crowd.  Each year there is a  so-called territory focusing on the animation production of a specific country and this year's guest was Brazil.

With such a vast program to choose from ranging from movies with features in and out of competition, TV-Productions, graduation shorts and various other special screenings each year feels like you're attending a different festival. For 2018 I chose to focus more on features as I have been intently watching the entire territory focus last year which centered on China. I will write a short report about Annecy 2017 and the things I discovered there in a later post.

The feature films in competition this year were marked by a sort of grim realism that I haven't seen before in animation. That is very interesting considering that I am just in the process of writing a series of blog articles about the art movements of the late 19th century in which Realism played a great part. I am going to write about the films in the order I watched them.

Tito And The Birds

Starting the festival off with a Brazilian feature Tito e os pássaros, as it is called in Portuguese, is the story about a boy whose father is trying to communicate with birds in order to find out how to save the world from the fear which has become a plague-like disease spreading across the world and infecting societies turning people into stones. Animated in 2D this movie features a grim yet colorful art style. I thought the characters were well developed and very relatable. Even if it isn't as openly political as the other features in competition its implications about fear and its grip on the societies of the world are directly relatable. It mastered the balancing act between telling a story of adventure and staying relevant with a general message about our times.

Another Day Of Life

Another Day Of Life is based on the book by the legendary Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski and his experiences in Angola in 1975 thrown into a chaotic civil war after its declaration of independence. Kapuscinski decides to travel to the southern front in search of a ominous Portuguese general supporting the communist guerrillas in their effort to preserve Angola's independence and freedom from the looming invasion of South Africa's apartheid regime backed by the CIA. The film is a documentary mixing real film of interviews with the eyewitnesses in the present with animated flashbacks. The style of animation art directed by Rafal Wojtunik makes use of 3D rendered to give a 2D line and color output. I found the look very appealing and suiting the violent action and dreamlike sequences.

The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner is another highly awaited feature film coming out of Ireland's Cartoon Saloon studios. Directed by Norah Twomey and produced by Hollywood celebrity Angelina Jolie this film is based on the novel by the same name by Deborah Ellis. The story follows Parvana and her mother and siblings whose father gets arrested by the Taliban. Unable to provide for their family in a society that prohibits women to go out into the streets on their own, they have to come up with a solution in order to survive. Cartoon Saloon has made its name with two amazing features before and they hone their craft with this one even more. Narration as a way to speak truth about our lives is at the core of this movie. While the plot unfolds an Afghan story about a boy's hero journey is told as a parallel. The simple yet highly appealing, immersing and empathetic style of animation is delightful but still manages to address serious issues of violence and switches to a dark mood when appropriate and needed.

Cinderella the Cat

Cinderella the Cat, or Gatta Cenerentola by its original Italian name, is a re-telling of the famous fairy-tale by four Neapolitan directors. The original story was first published in Naples, Italy in 1636 and it finds its way back to this infamous city with this film. Set in a fictitious futuristic Naples on-board a fantastic cruise ship Cinderella the Cat mixes up Camorra, crime, violence and crushed visions in a morbid but enthralling cocktail. Cinderella is a young girl whose father a rich entrepreneur wanting to do the best for his city Naples is murdered by an uprising crook taking possessions of all his belongings by enchanting the magnate's wife. An undercover police inspector once responsible for the security of the girl wants to enforce justice by thwarting the swindler's plot.
Like Another Of Day Of Life this movie uses 3D animation techniques as its basis but renders it in 2d line style making a little bit more use realistic lighting techniques than the former. Still the overall look of the artwork is very appealing and suiting for this dark and at times cynical movie. Unlike the others its subject is not directly political but the story certainly alludes to the decay of a city that has become unmanageable with its organized crime, corrupt officials and hopeless perspectives for the inhabitants.


Funan tells the story of a young mother and her family in Cambodia trying to survive the work camps of the Khmer Rouge.  Director Denis Do tells the story of his family who fled Cambodia and emigrated to France. The style of the animation created by art director Michael Crouzat is very delicate, simple and realistic. It focuses a lot on little moments of intimacy and acts of affection between the protagonists. Violence is never shown overtly explicit but rather hinted at, leaving an emotional impact on the audience. What does it mean when your life goes from living a normal daily course to the extreme situation of a death camp, where your family members perish almost silently one-by-one of exhaustion and illness?
The film and its director and crew received a well-deserved standing ovation after the screening in the Grande Salle.

Feature Film Out Of Competition: The Last Fiction

Finally I would like to mention The Last Fiction by Iranian director Ashkan Rahgozar.  The film has been a long running project and was first pitched at Annecy's animation market in 2010. It was sold out within seconds after the booking system opened but I was able to get a hold of one of the last fifteen tickets being sold at the booth. Set in Iran based on its mythical Book Of The Kings the film tells the story of the people of an ancient city in Iran's northern mountains who rise against their  unjust ruler aided by demoniacal powers. Finished with the help of over 100 animators this movie also features an exciting soundtrack with traditional Iranian music. The 2D style of animation is of high production value and tells the story in a gripping fashion. This movie was the last that I have seen at this year's festival in 2018 and it finished the series of features with their realistic, dark and grim visions.

Of course there was a lot more to see and experience at this year's festival and I only highlighted some of the movies. I can only highly recommend going to the Annecy Animation Film Festival, the town is very welcoming and the festival has an astonishing wide range within its program.