Capitals of the Art World in Europe, 1874–1914: Berlin, London, Paris
The influence of impressionist artists from France--who valued the practice of painting the modern world, whether that be landscapes or scenes of prosperous urban life as opposed to historical or biblical subjects--spread across Europe and the West in the later part of the 19th century. Artists in such countries as the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States also took up impressionism’s optical challenges of painting with a sense of immediacy, using free brushwork and light, bright colors. Painters like John Singer Sargent followed these aspects of the impressionist style, while others, such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler, remained committed to quotidian subjects but also began to explore the darker side of urban life. Whistler would wander the streets of London at night, trying to impress the fog-laden cityscapes upon his visual memory, which he then translated into his famous “nocturnes,” or night scenes, once back in his studio. The influence of these imaginative, atmospheric paintings was enormous, both in Europe and in the United States.
Whistler was the archetypal transnational artist of the period: born in America, he trained in Paris before practicing in London. Increased opportunities for travel and geopolitical peace and stability before the start of World War I allowed for this way of life, and many artists followed suit. New technologies for reproducing works of art in illustrated magazines and newspapers meant also that artists could enjoy international renown. And as government commissions for grand paintings diminished, countries organized international expositions to showcase their cultural riches. Artists outside of this system were left to develop their own networks; male artists formed “brotherhoods,” loose associations of artists working together with similar goals.