Impressionism: From Seeing to Feeling

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How did the impressionists—Manet, Monet, Renoir and Pissarro—change not just what painting looked like but how we looked at painting? How did they condition their contemporaries, and us, to no longer see a work of art but to feel it? These painters were both revolutionaries and revolutionizing, and we’ll consider how their approaches and techniques would go on to transform the art of other places and other times. We’ll also explore how the impressionist project was taken up and often applied to the domestic realm by Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt, offering glimpses into the interior lives of women.

Rebecca Belmore at the 2016 Nuit Blanche<br> at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Rebecca Belmore at the 2016 Nuit Blanche at the Art Gallery of Ontario

From the streets of Paris and the ports of Normandy, we’ll travel across the Atlantic to understand how impressionism was interpreted by Canada’s Group of Seven and applied to a different landscape to shape the development of a uniquely Canadian art. Our inquiry will finally take us to the present day, where we’ll consider how contemporary indigenous artists, including Rebecca Belmore, Christi Belcourt and Robert Houle, continue to respond to the impressionist tradition. Through word, thought and image, and by appreciating a wide variety of paintings and maybe even creating some works of our own, we’ll get at the heart of how this group of painters, how this movement, for better or for worse, changed the very definition of art.

“To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.”

– Claude Monet



Wendy O’Brien is a philosopher with over 30 years’ experience teaching and leading workshops in academic and non-academic environments. Her interest in existentialism and its legacy has led her to study art as philosophy by another means. For several years she has taken this approach beyond the walls of academe to the Art Gallery of Ontario, where she leads workshops on beauty, happiness and wonder that combine art history and the philosophy of art with hands-on art practice.

Books and Art

Use to find the required editions.

Impressionism: The Movement That Transformed Western Art, by Véronique Bouruet-Aubertot
(Flammarion, 2017)
ISBN-13: 978-2080203205

The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, by David Silcox
(Firefly Books, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-1554078851

Wendy will also be presenting slide shows.

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion. Details will be provided at registration.

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Toronto Pursuits 2020