Era of the Impressionist: Show takes patrons through the world of Monet

By Alex Gallagher

After taking viewers to the world of Vincent Van Gogh and piloting patrons through the Klimt Revolution, Lighthouse Immersive is leaping into France’s impressionist movement.

“Immersive Monet & the Impressionists” is largely centered around the works of Claude Monet and features pieces by 20 other artists — including Édouard Manet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, J.M.W. Turner and Paul Cezanne.

Show creator “Massimiliano Siccardi always likes to do more than just an artist, and he realized that what a lot of people had never really clued into was that the impressionists and Monet were very much part of a specific time in French history,” says Richard Ouzounian, a creative consultant at Lighthouse Immersive.

“They painted the way they did because of what happened before them and what was going to happen after. So, the show kind of tackles that by taking us into Paris in roughly 1874, which is where the first impressionist exhibition was, and keeps us there for about 15 to 20 years, until impressionism had either faded out or the people who were painting it had gone into other areas.”

To complement the time-traveling element, the show also features the music of that period by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel as well as Luca Longobardi.

“Luca felt the pull of this is a period where the music that was being written was very close to the art,” Ouzounian says.

“This is the first show where he doesn’t have any popular songs. He stuck to just music of the period.”

Because of this, the show setting the scene of what France might have looked like during that period with a sea of hot air balloons.

“(Balloons) have a great deal of historical as well as artistic meaning because France was coming off a really bad period,” Ouzounian says.

“Just before this movement, there had been the Franco-Prussian War where they laid siege to Paris for two years and no food could get in. The only way food could get in sometimes is if a hot air balloon floated over the line and dropped food parcels on the city.

“So that became a symbol, and when the war was over, people loved to just take rides in them.”

Not only were hot air balloons a symbol of hope for the French, but it was also at a hot air balloon studio owned by Félix Tournachon — better known by his professional name, “Nadar” — where the first impressionist exhibition took place in 1874.

After acquainting viewers with 19th century France, the 500,000 cubic feet of projection space transforms into an immersive iteration of some of the most notable works of the period.

They include Monet’s “Impression, Soleil Levant” or “Impression Sunrise” and “The Gare Saint-Lazare: Arrival of a Train,” Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe” or “Picnic on the Grass,” and de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters for the Moulin Rouge — which were so popular folks would often scour the streets to rip down the posters to frame.

From there, the show kicks off by showing Monet’s most famous works, his sunflowers.

“Everybody wants to see Monet’s sunflowers, so the show gives us minutes of Monet’s sunflowers and other artists’ flowers but then it goes into different sides of Paris,” Ouzounian says.

This was an easy task to display, as the impressionists were some of the first artists to capture reality in the most ironic sense.

“The irony is because they weren’t trying to paint reality, they wound up capturing reality better,” Ouzounian says. “That’s a great paradox in a wonderful way of impressionism.”

This is best exemplified by the works of Renoir, whose paintings focused on ordinary people.

“It’s hard for us to believe now, but that was never done,” Ouzounian says. “(Painting) a bunch of people sitting in a cafe, having wine and laughing, that wasn’t the kind of material you painted in that period.”

Not only did the impressionists flip the script on what was being painted, but they also innovated how people created as well.

“The impressionists painted with shorter brushstrokes and they also used a lot of bold colored paints because, by this point in time, paint was being put into zinc tubes already mixed,” Ouzounian says. “So, an artist could go out with like 15 of his favorite colors and just paint.”

That was especially useful when they painted outdoors, which they loved to do. That was another sign of the impressionists; they did what they called “En Plein Air,” painting in the open air, and they used natural light.

With a show that deviates heavily from the popularized shows centered around one artist, Ouzounian said he believes this show best exemplifies the goal of Lighthouse Immersive.

“One of the things that Massimiliano Siccardi always believes in is that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” he says. “That’s why this show is very much rooted to the period to the people and everything around them.”

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