Impressionism: Facts, History and Popular Impressionist Paintings You Shouldn't Miss
This entry was posted on July 20, 2023.
Impressionism is one of the most popular and influential art movements in history. The followers of the movement used vivid colors and loose brushwork for their paintings. This helped them capture the fleeting moments and emotions of themselves or their subjects in their pictures.
The Impressionist painters revolutionized the art world in the late 19th century. They broke away from the traditional art techniques which were the convention until then. The common subjects they used were also different from what the conventional ones were. Thus, impressionists created a new style that celebrated and captured the beauty of everyday life in its truest forms.
This article will explore the fascinating history and key facts of Impressionist paintings that you must know. It will also highlight some of the most popular and iconic works of art that became the face of the popularity of Impressionist Paintings.
Whether you're an art enthusiast, a history buff, or someone who is curious about this captivating art form, join us on a journey through the world of Impressionism.
What Is Impressionism Art?
Impressionism is one of the most famous painting styles that emerged during the mid to late 19th century in France.
This 19th-century art movement started as the practice of painting spontaneously. Artists painted outdoors, on the spot, rather than in a studio or the comfort of one’s house. Impressionist paintings are characterized by using thin and small yet visible brush strokes. They were known for their attempts to create an ‘impression’ of what a person, object, animal, landscape, or light looked like in their eyes.
Louis Leroy, the art critic, coined the word ‘impressionism’, after seeing a work by Claude Monet. The critic came across Monet’s painting, Impression, Sunset, at the First Impressionist Exhibition held in April 1874 in France. He satirically labeled the work with this new word, and other critics adopted it.
Source: The Collector
From then, the term started getting used by Leroy and other critics to describe similar works that had loose brushstrokes and vague forms. ‘Impressionism’ soon became a satirical label. Initially, conservative art critics used it as a derogatory term to ridicule this new art form that was beyond their understanding.
Impressionism: A Historical Overview
As mentioned above, Impressionism emerged as a movement in the mid and late 1800s in France, specifically in Paris, centered around the Parisian painters.
It is fair to call Impressionism a radical art movement as it rebelled against the conventional method of art-making using classical subject matter. These radicals and revolutionist painters embraced modernity instead and tried reflecting life as it is through their paintings. Their paintings are often an artistic depiction of the world around them, the world they see daily.
Source: The Art Story
A group of now classic painters, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley, were some among the pioneers of the impressionist movement. They pursued the method of en plein air or painting outdoors and created paintings that represented the world they lived in.
Even though many criticized their works during the beginning years of Impressionism, the movement went on to become the most influential and popular form of art in the visual history of the West.
John Rand and his invention
Before we get into Claude Monet and his group of painters who pioneered the movement, we should mention John Rand and his invention that, in a way, made Impressionism possible.
John Rand was an American artist who was unsuccessful in joining the ranks of classic painters. But his invention of ‘paint in a tube’ in 1841 revolutionized the art world and made Impressionism possible.
Source: The Culture Me
The new clever technology, Paint in a tube, made it easy for artists to carry their paint wherever they wanted. Painting and creating artwork outdoors was now possible with the help of these pre-mixed paints, which were easy to carry.
Rand’s technology thus paved the way for spontaneity and the emergence of impressionist artists. Many such artists started joining the movement, taking their passion outside their studios to cafes, parks, picnic spots, etc., to make paintings inspired by their surroundings.
The Influence of Edouard Manet
Edouard Manet, the realist painter, is one among these artists whose techniques may have influenced the founders of Impressionism. Impressionists adopted modernity as the subject matter for the paintings after getting inspiration from Manet, with whom many shared a close friendship.
Manet’s use of color and lighting and the spontaneity of his brushstrokes all influenced the Impressionist painters. You can notice all of Manet’s painting techniques well in his 1863 painting Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe which are very similar to the methods used in most Impressionist paintings.
Impressionism made its debut in the show, ‘Exhibition of the Impressionists’, held in Paris in April 1874. The photography studio of Felix Nadar hosted the show that Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, and Berthe Morisot led.
Source: Tutt’ Art
This first Impressionist exhibition was an alternative to the renowned exhibition that oversaw the art world standards, ‘Académie des Beaux-Arts’ Salon de Paris.
‘Exhibition of the Impressionists’ displayed those artworks that the Academie refused to showcase. This group of around thirty artists formed a group and called themselves the ‘The Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers’.
As you may have guessed, the classic painters and important names among impressionist artists, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro, were all members of the group.
Source: My Modern Met
‘Impressionism’, which now indicates the revolutionary art movement was once a derogatory word coined to insult the masterpiece works of the impressionist artists. Critics used the word satirically to describe the now world-class painting, Impression, Sunrise by Monet.
Critics couldn’t accept this new form of art which, to their eyes, looked incomplete or “unfinished”. They claimed the impressionist paintings weren’t visually pleasing and too modern.
The Growth In Popularity
The ill–words from critics did not stop impressionist painters from painting the kind of art that they were passionate about. Their works were capable of creating a stir among the artists and art enthusiasts of the time.
It was the first time that paintings tried re-evaluating the conventional techniques, aesthetics, and colors typically used. Critics were not yet ready to accept this alien form of art which may have been the reason why the movement received such backlash and criticism.
The general viewers and public, however, received Impressionism very well. Impressionist paintings told stories of society and depicted the world that people regularly saw around them. For the first time, paintings were relatable and not something that tried to portray moral lessons or religious, mythological, and historical ideologies.
Source: Arts and Societes
The movement soon gained momentum and started becoming widely popular. During the late nineteenth century, from 1874 to 1886, the group of Impressionist artists conducted over eight exhibitions. As an indication of their gaining popularity, each of these exhibitions was larger than the previous one.
Not only did Impressionism start growing as a popular form of art, but it also paved the way for the growth of private art dealers and bourgeois art collectors. Impressionism thus was capable of liberating art and anyone who was involved in it, including the general public of the time.
The Important Characteristics of Impressionism
Now that you have a brief idea about the history of Impressionism let us look at the characteristics of the movement that made it stand out from the rest of the artworks of the time.
Capturing the Moment
The first important characteristic of the Impressionism was the method of capturing the moment. The Impressionist painters used their talent to try and capture a moment and depict it as it is in their paintings.
Source: 3 minutos de arte
Impressionist artists always tried to capture the fleeting moments of life, such as the changing light and weather conditions in their artworks. As mentioned earlier, they often followed the en plein air painting (outdoors) style to capture the changing atmosphere and mood well.
Impressionist artists used loose brush strokes, which is another important characteristic of Impressionist paintings. The loose brushwork led to making the brushstrokes visible in Impressionist paintings.
Source: Art History With Alder
This helped give a sense of spontaneity to the impressionist paintings, which was what the movement mainly stood for. This painting style emphasized the process of creating art rather than the finished product. That is, the motive of impressionist artists was to capture the moment as it was rather than to create the perfect painting.
Use of Bright Colors
Impressionist paintings are characterized by their bright, vivid colors. The use of such bright colors is another important characteristic of Impressionist Paintings. The use of colors and brightness often varied for different artists. But in general, all impressionist paintings have varied degrees of brightness, making it such an important characteristic.
While using bright colors does not sound so groundbreaking, it was at the time. The art movements that preceded Impressionism, like Realism and Baroque, are the reason for it. The Realist and Baroque artists used darker tones like blacks, greys, and browns for their paintings.
For this reason, the use of bright colors became so revolutionary, making the Impressionist paintings something no one had ever experienced. Impressionist artists used the light spectrum colors - violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red more commonly than the dark spectrum colors.
They also often avoided blending colors and painted complementary colors next to each other. Rather than mixing colors on the palette, Impressionist artists used the technique of optical mixing. In this technique, colors get placed side-by-side, which helps create a sense of vibrancy and movement. This gave a lively, realistic, and bright feel to the Impressionist paintings.
Light and Shadow
Impressionist art emphasizes the play of light and shadow. Impressionist paintings often depicted scenes at different times of the day to capture the changing light, giving them a sense of movement and energy.
Source: Perfect Pictures
Impressionist artists loved depicting objects in their paintings exactly how they saw them during the different hours of the day. You may notice how the color of the objects you see in the impressionist paintings does not match their original color. This is because what those artists painted were the colors they saw when they were outdoors while they were working on the painting.
Art enthusiasts and passionate artists who have a particular liking for Impressionism still try learning and mastering these impressionist techniques that the classic impressionists used. That is how much the movement and its features were capable of inspiring artists and art lovers.
Some Facts That You May Not Know About Impressionist Art
You might now have a good idea of what Impressionist art is, the history of the movement, and its essential characteristics. Now let us look at some generally unknown facts about Impressionism and the painters who popularized the movement through their beautiful works.
Facts like how the term impressionism got first used as an insult and how impressionists were heavily inspired by Edouard Manet are quite popular. But there are several other information points that many still need to learn regarding the movement. Below are such unknown facts to help you understand more about Impressionist art.
Japanese Art Influenced the Impressionists
While we know that Manet and realistic painting styles influenced Impressionist artists, the fact that Japanese art heavily inspired and influenced them may be news to many.
Many classic Impressionist artists, including Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, and Edgar Degas, had the habit of collecting Japanese woodblock prints. The bold-asymmetrical compositions and the use of flat-bright colors in the Japanese prints and paintings never failed to inspire these Impressionists.
It was not just the composition and the use of colors that influenced them. The unique subject matters in Japanese artworks also inspired impressionists. For example, the use of high vantage points in many impressionist landscape portraits is inspired by Japanese bird's-eye-view prints.
Impressionist Art Had an Impact on Music
Impressionism, even though started as a revolutionary visual art movement, it soon inspired other art forms as well. The movement soon impacted music and the musicians of the time, resulting in musical impressionism.
Source: CPR Classical
Composers such as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Erik Satie soon started using impressionistic techniques and creating unconventional harmonies. They often experimented with chromaticism and dissonance and started incorporating unconventional modes and scales in their compositions to provide a dreamy, ethereal atmosphere.
Another change that impressionist musicians brought to their compositions was structuring them using a single melodic motif or idea. This was a very unconventional method compared to the traditional sonata form.
Impressionism was an International Movement
Although the most famous Impressionists were French artists, the movement had a significant impact on the visual arts of other countries, including England, the United States, and Russia. Even though critics did not take impressionism well the first time, it soon gained popularity.
The movement spread from France to other parts of Europe and even the United States. Artists from many countries got inspired by this new art technique and its use of light, color, and brushwork.
Impressionism Paved the Way for Later Art Movements
Impressionism, as mentioned above, spread to other parts of the world and inspired artists to create unique paintings. This inspiration further influenced many major art movements, especially in Europe and the United States. Some such movements are Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, and the American Impressionist Movement.
Post-Impressionists, Fauvists, Cubists, and Expressionists all experimented further with the different techniques that Impressionists used.
Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat
Source: The Art Story
Post-Impressionists like Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne further experimented with color and brushwork. Fauvists experimented with the use of bright, bold colors and simplified forms.
The Cubists such as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque made paintings influenced by the Impressionists' use of multiple viewpoints and flattened forms and further experimented with it. The American Impressionists such as Childe Hassam and John Singer Sargent experimented with the landscape pattern followed by the French Impressionists. But they mainly focused on urban realism rather than the natural landscape.
Impressionism Had an Impact on Photography
The Impressionists' interest in capturing fleeting moments and changing light influenced the development of photography, which was still a relatively new medium at the time.
Before Impressionism, photography was primarily used for portraiture and still-life photography. However, Impressionism inspired photographers to capture the fleeting moments of everyday life using natural light and spontaneous composition.
Race Horses by Edgar Degas, 1883-85
Source: Kiama Art Gallery
The movement led to the development and use of photographic techniques such as soft focus and bokeh. Such techniques helped to create a sense of depth and atmosphere in photographs. The use of color in Impressionism also impacted photography. Photographers started experimenting with color photography in the early 20th century.
In addition, many Impressionist painters, such as Edgar Degas and Claude Monet, held an interest in photography. They used the medium to explore their artistic ideas. Such a cross-pollination between photography and Impressionism helped push both art forms forward. This further led to the development of new techniques and approaches in both mediums.
Famous Impressionist Paintings by Impressionist Artists
This section will look into the fifteen most famous Impressionist paintings that played a significant role in popularizing the movement. The fifteen paintings mentioned below are the major artworks and masterpieces made by some classic Impressionist painters.
Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet (1872)
In the first-ever exhibition of the Impressionists, which was an independent show held by the avant-garde artists of Paris, Claude Monet exhibited ‘Impression, Sunrise’. The art style was completely different and radical, leading to an avalanche of negative reviews by the art critics of the area.
Source: Art in Context
The late nineteenth-century artwork by Monet was one of his most famous works and an integral aspect of Impressionism. He created the finished painting with the aim of capturing the fleeting and atmospheric qualities of color and light.
The painting shows a sunrise over the harbor of the French Port town of Le Havre. Monet uses pink hues for the sky and vibrant orange for the silhouettes of buildings and boats to accurately capture and recreate the mood of a quaint sunrise on a harbor.
Impressionism as an art movement would not be where it is today without Impression, Sunrise.
The painting is a perfect example that we can use to showcase the skill Monet possessed to make use of color and light to capture the beauty of his landscapes.
Woman With A Parasol by Claude Monet (1875)
Woman With A Parasol shows Monet’s wife and his young son standing on a grassy hill in Argeteuil. The painting is also known as Madame Monet and Her Son. In the painting, Madame Monet is strolling through a field with her son, Jean. She is wearing a white dress while holding a parasol, and Jean is wearing a blue outfit in his artwork.
The painting is able to capture the transient effects of movement and light by making use of a vibrant color palette and loose brushstrokes. Monet made use of a wide array of expressive brushstrokes, which he used to create the windy atmosphere of the painting. The drapery of his wife's white gown and the bonnet straps add to the breezy atmosphere.
Using loose brush strokes, Monet captured the essence of the moment instead of recreating the scene semi-realistically, making it an excellent example of impressionist art. Woman With A Parasol is a great work that showcases Monet’s natural ability to capture the beauty of everyday life.
La Gare Saint-Lazare by Claude Monet (1877)
La Gare Saint-Lazare belongs to a series of twelve paintings that depicts the Gare Saint-Lazare railway station in Paris. La Gare Saint-Lazare is the first painting of this series. The painting shows the interior and exterior of the train station. He also captured the steam and smoke from the train and the train's motion beautifully in this art piece.
Source: World History.org
In La Gare Saint-Lazare, Monet was once again able to showcase his talent for capturing light and movement. He made use of a vivid color palette and loose brushstrokes to create a feeling of movement and fleetingness in the painting.
The painting, as well as the series, were an immense contribution to the movement and are acclaimed for capturing the elegance and beauty of modern life. The series also stands out in Monet’s career for its urban theme, as the artist was known for his nature-inspired art.
Water Lilies And The Japanese Bridge by Claude Monet (1897-99)
From 1883, Monet lived in Giverny, France, until his death 43 years later. Here, he created what he himself referred to as his “most beautiful masterpiece”, Water Lilies and The Japanese Bridge. The painting shows Monet’s water garden along with its famous Japanese Bridge.
Source: Museums of the world
Water Lilies and the Japanese Bridge shows the main attraction of his garden; the Japanese Bridge stretches across a man-made pond filled with water lilies.
Monet was able to beautifully capture the way light affects a water surface by making use of vibrant colors and reflections. The way the water lilies reflected light created an illusion of a floating world, which piqued the interest of Monet and fascinated him.
Like many other works of Monet, Water Lilies and The Japanese Bridge also had an immense influence on the Impressionist movement. The painting is known for how Monet used color and light to capture nature's raw beauty elegantly.
The Cradle by Berthe Morisot (1872)
The Cradle is a painting by the French Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot. She was part of les trois grandes dames or “The Three Great Women” of Impressionsit Movement.
The painting shows a mother, most likely Edma, Morisot’s sister, looking at her infant child, who is sleeping in a cradle. Morisot makes use of soft, muted colors and gentle brushstrokes to create a feeling of tenderness and intimacy.
She also gave the painting a dreamlike quality, amplifying the sense of peacefulness and repose in the scene. She was able to achieve this by making use of loose brushstrokes and blurred edges.
The Cradle is considered one of Morisot’s masterpieces and had a huge impact on the Impressionist movement, especially for its focus on intimate, quiet scenes of domestic life and the role women had in it.
The Dance Class by Edgar Degas (1875)
While most impressionists show outdoor scenes, Edgar Degas preferred to paint interior spaces and human subjects. For much of his career, Edgar Degas tried to capture performers at work, such as ballerinas, and The Dance Class is one of his earliest attempts at this.
In The Dance Class, Degas shows a group of ballerinas in a dance studio as the ballet master directs their movements. He was able to showcase his skills in the composition of an image and capturing the movement of the dancers.
The artist even included intricate designs of the costumes and mirror reflections in the painting, making it popular for its attention to detail. Degas’s innovative method of capturing light and movement made The Dance Class significantly influence the Impressionist movement.
The way Degas captured the grace and discipline of the ballerinas also makes The Dance Class one of his most notable works.
Place De La Concord by Edgar Degas (1875)
Place De La Concord shows the artist and patron Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic standing with his daughters and dog. The subjects of the painting are standing in a Public Square in Paris. Degas was known for his skill in capturing the movement and energy of Urban Life, and Place De La Concord is no exception.
Source: Edgar Degas Paintings, Biography, and Quotes
Degas used different shades of colors to depict light, the changing hues of the sky, and the reflections seen on the wet pavement.
Degas was able to capture the atmosphere and the life of the city very well in this painting. The painting is also known for being able to capture the change in Paris as it got modernized in the late 19th century.
The unusual composition of the painting, with a lot of negative space and cropped figures, indicate that photography heavily influenced Degas.
L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas (1875-76)
L’Absinthe shows a man and a woman sitting at a table with a glass of absinthe, a popular drink of the time, in front of the woman. The painting shows the two people to appear visibly dispirited.
The painting, which uses a subdued color palette, is known for its dark subject matter. It is a raw and honest portrayal of modern urban life and the loneliness and distress of the characters.
The man and the woman are shown to have a sense of isolation and detachment. The woman seems to be lost in her thoughts, and the man stares into the distance.
On the first independent exhibition of the painting, it stirred a lot of controversy. Some critics were not pleased with how Degas portrayed modern urban life.
Nonetheless, the work received much acclaim for Degas’s ability to capture the gritty reality of urban existence and the intricacies of the human psyche, which was not a common feature of impressionist paintings.
Bal Du Moulin De La Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1876)
Renoir created Bal Du Moulin De La Galette when Impressionism was at its beginning stages. The painting shows a group of people at the real Moulin De La Galette, a famous dance hall in Paris. It is a perfect example of Renoir’s skill in using color and light.
The crowd includes critics, actors, artists, and even family members of Renoir. Renoir was able to capture the atmosphere and the people enjoying the dance. His quick and loose brushstrokes were an innovative approach to painting.
The painting influenced the Impressionist movement as Renoir captured the vitality and energy of urban existence and modern life in the Bal Du Moulin De La Galette.
Renoir also portrayed ordinary people enjoying life rather than the usual focus on the wealthy and noble subjects.
Luncheon Of The Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1880-81)
The painting, Luncheon Of The Boating Party got displayed for the first time at the seventh Impressionist exhibition in 1882. The painting received broad appreciation and critical acclaim.
The artwork shows a group of friends enjoying lunch. Renoir included a combination of all the subjects he preferred the most to paint, including outdoor scenes, portraits, and still lifes.
As mentioned above, the Luncheon Of The Boating Party primarily focuses on the leisurely lunch that a group of friends is enjoying on the terrace of the Maison Fournaise restaurant on the Seine River. The painting uses light colors to capture the warmth and joy of the summer day.
Renoir conveyed the importance of social interactions and depicted the joy of everyday life. In addition, Renoir also showed women as active participants in the social scene, which was an uncommon depiction at that time.
The Large Bathers by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1884–87)
Renoir created The Large Bathers after visiting Italy. The painting shows a group of three naked women bathing in the foreground while two women are washing in the background, surrounded by lush vegetation.
Source: Bridgeman Images
The Large Bathers is known for its romanticized and sensual representation of the female form as well as for the dream-like atmosphere Renoir was able to create using light and color. Using his masterful brushwork, Renoir captured how the light plays on the skin and water, showing his mastery of the technique.
The painting also showed the female body, which was a subject that caused controversy in the late 19th century. The picture initially received a mixed reception as it departed from the usual style of impressionism. But now it is famous for its attempt to merge modernity and history since then.
Little Girl In A Blue Armchair by Mary Cassatt (1878)
The female artist Mary Cassatt was not as famous as the other artists of the impressionist era. But she remains one of the pioneers of early modern art and the impressionist movement along with the many male impressionists. Born in America, she moved to Paris to have a career as an artist, where she came across Degas and other impressionists of the time.
Little Girl In A Blue Armchair remains one of the most famous works by Mary Cassatt.
The painting shows a girl sitting on a blue armchair surrounded by a luxurious interior. The most notable aspect of the painting is the subject matter of intimacy and domestic life.
Little Girl In A Blue Armchair showed its viewers the interest Impressionism and its painters had in everyday life. But it also conveyed the importance of intimate personal relationships in art.
Mary Cassatt’s depiction of a young girl in the painting also makes the painting more notable. Having a girl as the subject was not common during the time. The asymmetrical composition of the painting also shows the influence Degas had on Cassat’s art style. Degas was a teacher and mentor for Cassat for many years.
The Child’s Bath by Mary Cassatt (1893)
As Mary Cassatt as an artist matured, so did her paintings, and her focus slowly moved to one particular subject, the relationship between mother and child.
Source: Google Arts and Culture
The Child’s Bath is one of Mary Cassatt's most iconic works because of the composition of the painting and the striking pastel color palette. Notable for its focus on feelings of tenderness and intimacy of a mother’s love, the painting shows a private moment between a young daughter and her mother as the mother washes her daughter in the basin.
The painting depicts the emotional connection between people. It is known for the focus it had on the domestic sphere and the female experience, which was a theme commonly seen in Cassatt’s artworks. The painting also reflects the fascination Cassatt had for Japanese woodblock prints, which were a popular inspiration for many impressionists during Cassat’s time.
Pont Boieldieu In Rouen, Rainy Weather by Camille Pissarro (1896)
Camille Pissarro was one of the founding members of Impressionism, and he played a massive role in developing the Impressionist style and encouraging independent and group exhibitions. His popular works show urban scenes painted from a high angle.
Pont Boieldieu In Rouen, Rainy Weather belongs to a series he created while staying in a place called Rouen. The painting shows the Pont Boieldieu bridge on a rainy day. The rain and the mist create a subdued and hazy effect.
He was also able to capture the energy of the busy city in the painting. The painting focused on the urban environment which was a subject that was becoming increasingly popular during the late 19th century.
Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte (1877)
Paris Street, Rainy Day is a painting by Gustave Caillebotte in 1877 which is one of the most celebrated and vital pieces of art to come out of Impressionism.
Paris Street, Rainy Day shows a busy street in Paris during a rainy day. The painting shows various figures standing and walking with umbrellas. It is known for its use of perspective to make the viewers feel depth and movement and for showcasing the constantly changing urban life.
The figures are more realistic, but the composition of the painting with cropped figures shows that Caillebotte was heavily inspired and influenced by photography which was a relatively new process at the time.
Paris Street, Rainy Day is able to capture the momentary impression of a city scene which was the whole idea behind the Impressionist art movement.
Impressionism was a groundbreaking artistic movement that emerged in the late 19th century. The artworks that impressionists made were nothing like before, as they tried to capture the changing moods and fleeting moods of everyday life.
Even though the movement got nothing but criticism, it is now one of the most major artistic movements that ever happened, which even inspired the creation of several others. Impressionist art is still very popular among art enthusiasts and others alike. There are now even applications which turns photo into impressionist painting.
The article discussed what impression is, its history, its characteristics, and the famous paintings in detail. Hopefully, it covered everything you needed to know about this most popular and influential art movement.
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