THE EUROPEAN ARTISTS’ COLONIES
The Artists’ Colony as a phenomenon came into being in the first half of the 19th century, when the artists, especially the painters, began to travel to the countryside. They were driven as much by the desire for a simpler, more natural existence as by the wish to rid themselves of academicism in art.
Apart from that, life in the countryside was relatively cheap. With the emergence of plein-air painting, the landscape changed from the background to becoming the subject in their works. French, and later foreign, painters went to Barbizon in the woods of Fontainebleau and, further to the south, to the river-sited Grez-sur-Loing, next to places like Pont-Aven and Concarneau on the coast of Brittany, where life was even rougher and more primitive.
After Barbizon, small or bigger artists’ colonies sprang up all over Europe, among other countries in England, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Russia, Hungary and Switzerland.
Besides the landscape, the local population proved to be a rich source of inspiration. With the painters came friends from many disciplines; writers, poets, composers, representatives of the music- and theatre-world and, in their wake, art critics and art collectors.
The artists’ colony became a meeting-place for them. In some cases, a community with an idealistic purpose developed. After the new phenomena were written about, the colonies began to attract so many tourists that they lost their original charm as an artists’ colony.
After the First World War most Artists’ Colonies of the old style had come to an end. Art in those days was in pursuit of a different approach. The open-air painting of the landscape and the portraiture of farmer’s life had lost their attraction. More and more the painters drew the basic forms of the human spiritual life into their work. The basis for that renewal of art, however, was firmly rooted in the Artists’ Colonies.
They renovated European and international art as forerunners and pioneers of Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, Pointillism, Divisionism, Fauvism, Surrealism and Expressionism. The artists who worked in them often took home new ideas and undreamt of possibilities and spread these there.
A lot of the Artists’ Colonies have more or less survived and are blossoming in a new, modern way.