Did Air Pollution Inspire Impressionism? Elaine Velie, δημοσίευση στο Hyperallergic [1/2/2023]
A new study posits that rising smog levels in 19th-century London and Paris likely played a role in blurring the lines of realism.
The late 19th century in Europe saw the emergence of the hazy style of the Impressionists, which privileged mood and light over fine details. While this monumental shift has long been attributed to shifting stylistic preferences, a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argues that it was also due to a change in the environment’s appearance: As the Industrial Revolution engulfed London and Paris in smog, the world literally became blurrier.
Climate scientists Anna Lea Albright of the Sorbonne University and École Normale Supérieure in Paris and Peter Huybers of Harvard University researched this phenomenon by focusing mainly on 60 oil paintings by J.M.W. Turner and 38 works by Claude Monet. Both artists were prolific landscape painters who frequently depicted the same places, but their lives also spanned the emergence of high levels of smog in their respective cities. Born in 1775, Turner witnessed the first steam engines and trains arrive in his native England, and 65 years later, Monet was born alongside the subsequent rise of France’s industrial economy. As their careers progressed, the two artists’ environments became smoggier, and both artists’ paintings because hazier and whiter.
Albright and Huybers explain the science behind their hypothesis. Aerosols in pollution reflect light to create environments with higher intensity and less contrast. The world takes on a whiter tint and objects appear less differentiated from one another — just as in the late paintings of Turner and Monet.