Impressionism is an art form that has been around for nearly 150 years. Impressionist art is characterized by its rejection of traditional academic salon displayed paintings. Instead, these paintings feature small, visible brushstrokes and unblended colors to depict a fleeting and ever-changing picture of light. Impressionist artists rebelled against academic techniques, history, mythology, and the lives of noblemen. They did not want their art to reflect perfection. Impressionist strived to capture the world they lived in and how it appeared to them at a certain moment in time.

Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1916-19. Fondation Beyeler

Impressionism means taking inspiration directly from nature, trusting your senses rather than what you think you know.

―Michael McClure

Edgar Degas Dancers at the Barre, ca. 1900 Phillips Collection
J. M. W. Turner The Fighting Temeraire (1839)

Where Impressionism Came From 

The Impressionist Movement started in the early 1860s by Paris-based artists like Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissaro, and many others.  The first use of the term Impressionism comes from the art critic Louis Leroy in response to viewing one of Monet’s paintings titled ‘Impression, Sunrise’, (see blog post cover image), which is considered to be the first painting to have started off the art movement. He wrote a review stating all of the paintings on display were just “impressions.”

Instead of painting in studios, these artists liked to create their works in the open air.  This method is known as Plein Air Painting. It involves using quick, careless brushstrokes to capture the artist’s own perception of the world, instead of focusing on accurate details. The movement also rejected official painting exhibitions led by the French government and instead, Impressionist artists chose to organize their own. While the movement and art style was initially ridiculed by critics, it eventually went on to become a movement that changed the course of modern art.

Claude Monet, Woman with a Parasol, 1875

“What seems most significant to me about our movement [Impressionism] is that we have freed painting from the importance of the subject. I am at liberty to paint flowers and call them flowers, without their needing to tell a story.”

―Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Claude Monet, Irises in Monet’s Garden at Giverny, 1900

Impressionisms Impact on Culture 

Impressionism brought about a radical departure from tradition. Not just in the way art was created, but also the way it was perceived. Impressionists rejected formal institutions of art that previously had a huge impact on artists’ careers. After that, artists were free to experiment with their style and this independence resulted in a rise of private dealers and art collectors. This idea revolutionized modern art and allowed artists to influence shifts in society through their work by making it accessible to everyone.

Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Mary Cassatt, Lydia Leaning on Her Arms (in a theatre box), 1879

Impressionism is the newspaper of the soul.

―Henri Matisse

I do not literally paint that table, but the emotion it produces upon me.

―Henri Matisse

Impressionisms Impact on Film

Source: FilmLinc – “The Faithful Heart”

The French Impressionist Cinema was a reflection of the avant-garde art movement where film-makers looked at film as an art form, rather than just a depiction of historical plays and events. Using non-linear editing styles and experimental camera angles such as widescreen and POV shots to show movement, Impressionist films created moods that would give rise to emotions that helped the audience discover underlying truths.

“Impressionism is not a movement, it is a philosophy of life.”

―Max Lieberman

Impressionisms Impact on Music

Similar to Impressionist films, Impressionist music also focuses on depicting emotions, moods, and movement. A way to recognize Impressionist music is that it has no defined rhythm and is often described as dreamy. Impressionist composers like Claude Debussy took their inspiration from the same places as Impressionist artists and used different textures and orchestrations to create vibrations in the listener’s body, helping them feel the music instead of just listening to it.

Source: Britannica – Claude Debussy, French composer

Impressionisms Impact on Literature

Literary Impressionism was a movement that started in the late nineteenth century and featured great writers like Joseph Conrad. Impressionist writers wrote prose that emphasized the simplicity of life while compelling the reader to paint a picture of the narrative in their heads through the sensory details in the writing. Impressionist writing featured points of view from the characters, non-chronological events, and a lack of detail that forced the reader to read in between the lines to derive their own meanings from the text. This creates a hazy, dreamlike depiction of events, similar to Impressionist paintings

Source: Medium

Impressionism is at the root of all modern art, because it was the first movement that managed to free itself from preconceived ideas, and because it changed not only the way life was depicted but the way life was seen.

―Francesco Salvi

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