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Right from its initial flash with Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet, the Impressionist movement was under the spell of reflections. Ephemeral marriages of water and light, celebrated and reinvented at every moment, reflections in modern painting are like a metaphor for modern times: unsure and changing, far from the impassive beauty of ancient rivers.

The Impressionists are painters of water more than all their predecessors. Whether working with the winding Seine or distant shores, they never cease to paint the ordinary life of riverbanks, the changing seasons, the labour of men and their new industries. In these paintings of an era looking to the future we see the first steel bridges, railways, steam tugs, an entire emerging economy of leisure where the new figures of modern life, boaters, rowers, swimmers, walkers all meet.

The first photographers also noticed these motifs and carefully captured society’s transformations. For this new art that was developing parallel to Impressionism, reflections also constituted a technical challenge. To depict the instances of daily life, photographers like painters had to reduce exposure time and to invent new processes.

In this quest, both on canvas and in photographs, reflections appear to coincide with invention and experimentation. It is here, in this area of freedom, that artists express their greatest audacity: that of inventing a world of light, of matter and colours, detached from the simple care to be faithful to reality. To summarize: in these dazzling reflections, we find the cradle of modern art.


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