Michael Clarke looks at British Impressionists at the Barbican. Except in very few instances, most conspicuously towards the end of the Barbican's Impressionism in Britain, there are no canvases by British artists that are comparable with the innovative ones painted in England by Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Sisley or Monet that open the exhibition.
Plein-air painting, perhaps predictably in a nation already deeply attached to landscape painting, was increasingly adopted, convincingly in very small pictures like Stanhope Forbes's "Beach Scene, St Ives" yet still effectively so in larger works like John Lavery's "The Bridge at Grez", both from the 1880s. But even among the most francophile painters of the Newlyn and Glasgow schools or the New English Art Club, the predominant influence of the decade was the salon naturalist, Jules Bastien-Lepage, exemplified in George Clausen's "The Shepherdess", not Edouard Manet, and least of all Monet.
The problems facing artists who work out of doors will be a major issue for discussion in the Inset day for teachers tomorrow and the workshops for primary, secondary and BTEC students on particular weekdays throughout March. By highlighting the responses of several different painters included in the exhibition, participants will be made more aware of both the difficulties involved and the range of solutions adopted before they are led outside (weather permitting) by artists Kim Jacobson and Julie Umerle to test these methods for themselves.
The Impressionists' various attempts to capture the fleeting effects of the moment are well-suited to the limited time available in these workshops. The charges of sketchiness frequently levelled at the French Impressionists were as much the outcome of unavoidably speedy execution as the fractured form, brighter palette and divided colour technique were ways of representing atmospheric effects. Each of these were in varying degrees and differing combinations absorbed by British artists: fractured forms in Walter Osborne's "Hastings Railway Station"; a brighter palette in Henry Tuke's "The Bathers"; both in the dappled, glowing light of James Guthrie's "Midsummer".
Whether there ever was any consistent use of the divided colour that enabled Monet, above all, to achieve the iridescence of his "Lavacourt under Snow" or "Houses of Parliament, Effect of Fog" , is open to doubt.
Singer Sargent's declared allegiance to the French master, "Claude Monet Painting at the Edge of a Wood", is closer to early Manet in its still-tonal rendering. Only Philip Wilson Steer, well represented here by four of his most daring canvases, has any claim and then only for a few years in the late '80s and early '90s.
Given the location of the Barbican, perhaps most participants in the weekday workshops for schools and the Saturday drawing workshops led by Martin Chapman will follow the example of Whistler and Sickert; neither was interested in divided colour or anything much beyond the urban landscape and the social activities of its inhabitants. They were closest to Degas, the catalyst in the French Impressionist group but always its odd man out. His "Woman Looking through Field Glasses" raises issues far beyond optical effects and it is a tribute to this Barbican exhibition that it has chosen a wider interpretation of Impressionism than usual.
Until May 7. For further information on the educational programme telephone 0171 638 4141 Ext 7640.