Prior to modern painting really beginning, with movements like ‘Impressionism’, there was an academic tradition within the art world, which would, by the end of the second half of the 19th century be rendered almost totally obsolete. The academic system had overtaken the ‘bottega’ style of production of the ‘trecento’ and changed the system of patronage and guilds, and turned the art world into a rigid system of state controlled competitions. There was no art-market as we imagine it today, and no room for amateurs. Out of this would come the ‘new painting’, and although the tradition of French painting would continue oblivious to the change going on around them, eventually the ‘new painting’ would overtake it as the dominant force in the art world, and in modernity.
Before we can look at this so called ‘new painting’ (which to our 21st century eyes sometimes appears to be anything but ‘new’) we need to appreciate the system that was previously in place. In the early 19th century, art was part of a ‘command economy’ – the state had total control over art and artists, a system that dates back to at least the 17th century. The state would issue orders for what was produced, and consequently what was ‘consumed’. An artist did not make work to be bought by an individual, but purely in the hope of wining a state prize. Once a painting had won a prize, it could then be hung in a gallery or stately home. Throughout the 1860 – 70’s there was a gradual process of breaking down this tradition – a move from a command economy to a free market. The growing influence of the Impressionists, and their role in this process is highlighted this quote, regarding Manet, and his friends;
“At the end of the 1860’s he is at the center of a group of young critics, writers and painters who met regularly at a coffee house, the famous Café Guerbois, not far from his studio. In the following years, the painters in this circle – Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Dégas, Cézanne and Berthe Morisot – will revamp the contemporary concept of art as well as the art trade in the French capital. 
The command economy was a form of political control of art, and in France two of the main institutions that upheld this tradition were the ‘Academy’, and ‘Le Salon’. For the Academy ‘life’ drawing was very important, and this was taught at the ‘Ecole des Beaux Arts’ where pupils also learnt studio techniques, the likes of which had previously been taught in the ‘bottega’. These ‘academies’ dated back to 13th century Florence, where the first one was founded. The French emphasis on drawing can be traced back to this school, which had a Platonic philosophy – the emphasis was always on the ‘ideal’, and line drawing was seen as a way of connecting the ideal, (or conception) with the temporal (the canvas). Whilst in the Academy students would often train for years just to be able to produce a painting which would then compete in the Salon – where Academians would judge and award various state prizes. Interestingly, in the academic tradition there was a hierarchy of styles or genres. Classical historical paintings were deemed the most important, followed by figure and then landscape, whilst the lowest form of art was the ‘still-life’ or flower painting. There was also a hierarchy of techniques, again influenced by Platonic Idealism, with drawing being considered the most important, as it represented the concept, this was followed by the ‘sketch’ (ébache) which was a colour sketch done to obtain the correct colour values. The work itself, and the final colouring were considered as mere manual labour, and were closely finished, given an almost impregnable skin of paint with only the most gradual of changes in colour tone.
Another interesting difference between the French academic tradition and the previous Italian painting traditions of 13th – 16th centuries was the French’s rigorous separation of the home and studio, of work and living. Whereas in the ‘trecento’ all work was undertaken in the bottega, which was essentially an extension of the home, for the French a painting done at home would not constitute ‘art’; this meant that all work had to be undertaken in the ‘Ecole’ or the studio, and because of the restraints of 19th century French culture, this excluded women from having an active role in the artistic process – women played little or no role in public life, and going to the studio was a public practice. Pupils taught in the traditional academic style were in fact learning a soon to be archaic, superseded skill. There was only usage of traditional materials, which they were taught to use in traditional ways; they used hand made brushes and obsolete colours.
It is from out of this background that the ‘new painting’ would have to emerge, at first slowly, but soon with gathering pace and acceptance. This so called ‘revolution’ in painting was borne out of desire to gain freedom from the restraints and obscurity of the academic tradition, which until the 1860’s had totally dominated the art world. By this stage in a constantly modernising world, there was a growing tiredness of the academic obsession with drawing, so rather than go through the traditional system of the ‘Ecole’ artists (students) would place themselves under the tuition of a ‘master painter’. During this early stage of change, the Salon still held its importance, and rather than try to abolish it, artists felt that they could bring about change through the Salon. However, by the 1870’s the Salon had been rendered more or less obsolete, as had the academic traditional painting which went with it, due to the growing popularity of Impressionism thanks to their exhibitions, combined with the fact that because people were no longer undertaking academic training, academic work was not being produced to the previous level.
Clearly the ‘new painting’ was now more of a force in the art world than the academic tradition, but what exactly was this new painting, and how did it differ from what had gone before it? The industrial advances in France, especially in the chemical industry were to have perhaps the single biggest effect on the emergence of the new painting, and the decline of the academic tradition. The materials that the new French painters used were completely different to those used by earlier Italian painters, and those of the academic painters. The constitution of the materials, particularly the paint, had undertaken drastic changes – they were now industrially produced, thanks to the burgeoning chemical industry. The colours available to and used by the new French painters were incredibly similar to the real colours of Paris and the rest of France for those around at the time, often because they were the same colours or pigments that were used to paint the real objects depicted in the paintings, - they were industrial colours.
This process of commodification was to affect not only the pigment of the new painting, but also every other aspect of the artistic practice. Paintbrushes were now mass-produced, and as a result standardised, which meant that an artist could buy several brushes, and know they were identical. Even the canvases were not ‘home made’ any more, they too were industrialised and standardised, and were purchased ready stretched. By 1840, the invention of the paint tube meant that the new painters could purchase and store paint en mass.
For the Italians of the ‘trecento’, the main difficulty encountered when trying to produce a painting was to try and make their materials look as uniform as possible – which was quite a task considering the artisanal techniques they had to use. Now, in the mid 19th century, suddenly everything was standardised, so the artists had to apply the materials as uniquely and differently as possible. The artist’s only freedom now lay in the actual painting itself. This was not the only inversion of the old Italian tradition of painting, in fact the new modern painting was almost a total inversion of what had preceded it, the materials, practice and techniques were all new, and even the themes were new – the Impressionist would paint almost anything, any aspect of life, except depictions of the Crucifixion, Madonna and the Saints which had dominated over 3 centuries of art.
Another new aspect of the Impressionist painting was that they were creating speculative products, which could be sold on an anonymous art market, again completely opposite to the ‘patronage’ of the trecento. To an extent the new artists became entrepreneurs, with paintings as their stock to sell – now, when you bought for example, a Monet, you were buying part of the originality of that particular artist, the materials themselves are more or less worthless. The new style of painting was not focused on continuity or uniformity, and this is most notable in the development of the ‘tache’, or dash technique. The technological advances of the day now allowed artists to work out of doors, thanks to their new, portable, ready-made materials. This is perhaps best exemplified by the painting ‘Beach at Trouville’, by Claude Monet, which has flecks of sand stuck onto the canvas, presumably blown on the wet paint by the wind, because Monet was actually on the beach he was painting. Whilst this may not sound particularly revolutionary now -painting on location, it certainly would have been a new concept to those around at the time.
Yet despite the notion that this ‘new painting’ had no ‘rhyme nor reason’ to it, that is, that it was not based on any consistent theme, like the theology of the Italians, or the classical history of the Academy, there was some consistency, the new painting had modernity, and the new found freedom and leisure time it brought as its main source of inspiration. The representation of leisure was evident throughout most works done by the impressionists; the vast number of ‘landscape’ paintings created by this group of artists are more than just landscapes, they invariably contain railways, roads and canals, all of which were new, and were seen as a sign of modernity spreading throughout France – new modes of communication, and modes of travel. Rather than representing the idyllic quality of the French countryside they were showing its industrialisation, and the suburban condition. Another key theme, the notion of ‘the heroism of modern life’, which had been encapsulated by the writings of Baudelaire, was one which they often represented. This can be seen in works such as Monet’s ‘Luncheon on the Grass’ (1866).
Also of great importance was the representation of the city of Paris. Perhaps our idea of traditional Paris is exactly the one we see in the Impressionist paintings of Pissarro, Manet, Renoir and others – boulevards and café’s, ‘courtesans’ and absinthe, but this was not Paris as they had known it, nor indeed as anyone else of the day saw it – this was the ‘new’ Paris of Hausseman, and of Bonaparte’s dictatorship. The Paris of the 1850’s onwards was brand new to them, it was cutting edge, and most of all it was Modern. Again, the poet, writer and critic, Baudelaire often wrote on this theme, on the loss of the Paris he had known, -
“Old Paris is no more (the form of a city/ Changes more quickly, alas, than the heart of man)”. 
It was within this context of change and ‘newness’ that the ‘new painters’ worked, and from it sprung a rigorous system that underlined their work – the modern idea of commodification. Just as their ‘new’ painting had been made possible by industrial revolution and commodification, so had a lot more, which they set out to paint. Almost anything was now available to buy or sell: leisure, pleasure, intoxication, sex - and paintings.
So the academic tradition was to be overtaken by the new themes techniques and distribution of the Impressionists. It is possible to conclude that so much technological advance had caused a de-skilling of the artist. Almost all the skills taught in the Academy were being forgotten, forsaken for a new style. But perhaps it was just a re-skilling that was being learnt. The painters were no longer tied to the tradition and hierarchy of the Academy or its classical themes and highly polished works. Yet these new artists would have to work hard to prove their artistic authority in the new, highly industrialised world of art. Often artists feared ‘artistic subjectivity’ and the threat that painting was now open to anyone – they themselves had been dismissed as amateurs by the tradition that they rejected. Fragility and anxiety have always been inextricable qualities from both the new paintings and their painters. Throughout all this there was a shift in the ‘value’ of painting, from quality, in the academic sense, to a monetary value, in the new modern sense.