Impressionism (or in French, “Impressionisme”) was a major art movement that started in France during the 19th century. It first came in painting and soon moved to music. Many believe that Impressionism paved the way for modern art and it was the first distinct modern art movement. Its main point is trying to achieve the transient effects of color and light. Many Impressionist artists tried to paint a single location over the course of the year in different seasons as well as at different times of the day and in different weathers. Each of these differences creates a unique approach to the same painting. Several well-known Impressionist artists are Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir.

impressionism artist edgar degas

Impressionism Context and Beginnings

During the 19th century, French painters were focused on creating art that followed the standards of Académie des Beaux-Arts. They created traditional realistic paintings that centered on the mythological, historical, and allegorical images so they can get a chance to be showcased at the Paris-based organization’s annual salon.

Perhaps due to the organization’s lack of diversity, a group of artists decided to challenge the norm and created their own exhibit. This group was known as the “Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs” (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers).

Included in the group were artists who were previously denied of entry in the prestigious salon exhibit. Artists like Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, and Édouard Manet. They all discovered they had the same sense of wanting to paint contemporary life instead of what was the tradition.

Their first exhibit began in 1874 and it was held in a studio owned by the photographer Felix Nadar. However, it won’t be until 1877 that they would call themselves Impressionists.

For a while, their exhibits cost them money instead of gaining. They also attracted a limited number of audience. But their later shows would attract more people until the art movement has spread throughout Europe and ultimately, the United States.

Concepts and Styles of Impressionism

Painting Technique

Impressionism was best known for the several very distinct techniques used by every Impressionist artist. Although these techniques were sparsely used by older masters, the Impressionists were the firsts ones who used these techniques with consistency in almost all their paintings.

The techniques are:

  • Use of shorter and thicker strokes to catch fleeting moments such as the changes of light and its effect. With this, the paint is often applied impasto, or when the paint is laid on the surface rather thickly, often showing each stroke. This remains to be the subject of every Impressionist painting.
  • Color mixing happens less, putting each color side by side to create contrast. This technique makes the colors more vivid for whoever’s viewing it.
  • Impressionists avoid using black paint. Gray and dark tones are done with the complementary colors mixed together.
  • Impressionist paintings are opaque as artists avoid exploiting glazes and their transparency.
  • Impressionist artists apply wet paint on a layer of wet paint to create softer edges.
  • The paint is often applied to a light-colored or white background unlike traditional paintings wherein painters often use backgrounds with strong colors.
  • If a painting is done outdoors, the use of blue paint is common to paint shadows. This technique exudes freshness.
  • Painters often work at night or during dusk to get that shadowy effect. They also emphasize shadows.

Painting Outdoors

Many Impressionist painters step outside at varying times a day to paint a certain scenery. It enables them to capture light, shadows, and its effects more accurately.

One of the more popular Impressionist artists, Claude Monet, did this with almost all his paintings. He also applied the techniques mentioned above, especially the “wet on wet” technique that allows him to master the art of natural light and give the painting a more three-dimensional look.

Everyday Life

Although sceneries and capturing of light have become a widely accepted concept in Impressionism art, there are still several other painters that preferred indoor paintings and capturing slices of life. One of these painters was Edgar Degas.

Degas was a highly skilled portrait painter. He also refused to make painting a spontaneous act. While other painters decided to paint pictures of sceneries, Degas would stay indoors and paint people in a cafe or even ballerinas during rehearsals.

But Degas wasn’t alone. Painters such as Pierre Auguste Renoir and Mary Cassatt also did the exact same thing. Renoir would make use of vivid colors to depict life in his neighborhood in Montmartre. He specifically enjoyed painting social pastimes of the Parisian people.

Although Cassatt and Renoir also painted outdoor sceneries, they prefer to keep the context focused on everyday life and the psychology of individuals.

Female Impressionist Artists

Male Impressionist artists were keen on creating paintings of landscapes and cityscapes and the public. However, female artists like Eva Gonzales, Mary Cassatt, and Berthe Morisot depicted the private lives of Parisian women in the 19th century.

More often, the theme of their paintings was about motherhood and a woman’s bond with her children. Morisot, the first woman to have an exhibit with the Impressionist artists, created “The Cradle” in 1872 and has become one of the central figures of Impressionism era.

Impressionism and Photography

Impressionism was born as a way of challenging the norm of traditional art. But it can also be assumed that this was also a reaction from the artists with regards to photography.

During the 19th century and the early 20th century, photography has become more popular. Paintings were often compared with photographs and are deemed as insufficient when it comes to producing reality. However, this only inspired artists to pursue other kinds of creative expression.

Artists became more inspired to produce something that photographs are unable to — a way to express how they view nature instead of simply creating an exact replica. Photography, in a way, encouraged Impressionist painters to exploit every aspect of painting such as the colors and the mediums.

Urbanity in Impressionist Art

Once Impressionism spread throughout France, it became embedded in the heart of the Parisian society. Impressionist artists would always have a painting of a different part of the growing city and its people.

But thanks to Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann and his renovation of the city in the 1860s, Impressionist artists were inspired more than ever. Haussmann wanted to modernize the city and focus on constructing wide boulevards for the people of Paris. This became the center of socialization and activities back then.

Gustave Caillebotte was among the Impressionist artists who focused on the urbanization of Paris and how it has affected the community. He’d often paint panoramic views of the city and how people act around this new surroundings. The painter would also capture the moments of a flaneur or people who are idling and observing but remain detached from the crowd.

One of his paintings entitled “Paris, Rainy Day” made in 1877 depicted a flaneur in his signature top hat and black coat observing the scene in front of him while strolling through the wide space.

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism

Manet helped connect the gap between Realism and Impressionism. But soon, painter Paul Cézanne would help bridge the gap between Impressionism and the art movement known as Post-Impressionism.

Post-Impressionist arts were mostly done around the 1880s and were sort of a reaction to the Impressionist movement. Instead of focusing on lights and effects, Post-Impressionist artists focus on different aspects such as color theory and mixing that with the human psyche. Most Post-Impressionist arts evoke a certain feeling with the colors they chose.

Post-Impressionism still had the same techniques used with Impressionism. However, the rules have changed a little. Cézanne evolved the style into some more deliberate style of painting from the way the paint is handled and to the structure of his brushstrokes.

The painter wanted to break down his paintings into their basic geometric components. This would soon give way to the birth of another art movement known as Cubism by painters like Pablo Picasso.

Apart from Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh is one of the most renowned Post-Impressionist artists.

Notable Impressionism Artworks

Impressionist arts are paintings that have been done around the 19th century and 20th century although modern artists still do Impression-style paintings. That being said, there are thousands of works created by different artists. However, here are the most notable works from the most prominent Impressionist painters.

Impression Sunrise

“Impression Sunrise” is a painting done by Claude Monet and was done in 1873. It was one of the nine paintings he showcased on the first ever Impressionist exhibit in 1874. The image was painted from a hotel window in Le Havre depicting the sun rising above the seascape with several boats.

Of all his works in the exhibit, this was perhaps the most popular of all — not entirely because of its content and look but because of the criticism it acquired. Ten days after the exhibit opened, an article was written in Le Charivari, a satirical journal, written by Louis Leroy.

It contained a fictitious conversation between two visitors with comments regarding impressionism and impressions created by the painting. It was meant to be satirical but it stuck with the public.

However, “Impression Sunrise” was indeed a little different from Monet’s other works, especially his paintings during the Impressionism era. The painting shows little of Impressionist’s love for natural light and color. In fact, the colors were very restrained and the brushstrokes were very thin.

Still, the painting allowed Impressionism to be well-known and adapted by painters.

Girl with a Hoop

This painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir was created in 1885, depicting a young girl in a park, posing with her hoop and a little stick in one hand.

The girl in the painting was nine-year-old Marie Goujon. Renoir was commissioned to do this art of her. This was also the painting in which Renoir showcased more clarity with his Impressionist paintings and developed a new style of painting. This was known as “aigre” or sour.

Renoir used long, elongated brush strokes to mimic movement. He also used soft strokes that contrast with the hard ones to portray his young subject. It created a fluid work of art with a more carefree atmosphere.

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon in the Grass)

Made by Edouard Manet in 1863, this painting was among the first paintings that started the revolution of Impressionist artists. By this time, Manet has already withdrawn himself from the traditional realistic art style. And so when he showcased the painting to the Salon de Refuses, the painting caused quite of an uproar.

It wasn’t just because of the style of the painting but also because of its “racy” aesthetic. The painting depicted two naked woman and two fully clothed men, sitting down for a picnic. The naked woman near the two men is painted looking straight at the viewers, confronting people of how they often subjected and idealized women.

The content and the way Manet painted the picture influenced the Impressionist artists of their own depictions of life.

The Dance Class

This Edgar Degas painting was completed in 1874 depicting ballerinas in their dance class. Degas was one of the Impressionist artists who preferred to create paintings based on indoor life. He has devoted time to create some other paintings of ballerinas dancing, rehearsing, or doing mundane tasks.

For this painting, Degas captured a room filled with ballerinas and their mothers who were waiting for their own chance at executing an “attitude” dance move for their examination. The fictitious scene included Jules Perrot who was indeed a ballet master and a famous one at that. Perrot could be seen conducting the class.

Beside the mirror, a poster for Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell” can be seen. This was to pay tribute to Jean-Baptiste Faure, a singer and the one who commissioned the painting. It was then lent to Degas for the 1876 Impressionist exhibit.

Notable Impressionism Artists

  • Claude Monet – Monet was one of the founders of Impressionist painting, making him a well-known name in the art world. Apart from that, he was also consistent with his Impressionist works.
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir – One of the leading painters of the Impressionism era. His works often focused on the sensuality and beauty of women.
  • Edouard Manet – Although Monet started the group for Impressionist artists, Manet was the one who influenced the painters to develop their own style. He created paintings that bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism.
  • Paul Cézanne – Cézanne was more known as a Post-Impressionist artist, however, he was also an Impressionist artist at first who developed his own Impressionism style which also influenced several Post-Impressionist artists.

Impressionism Resources

Wikipedia. Impressionism. Retrieved from

Art Movements. Impressionism. Retrieved from

Richman-Abdou, Kelly (12, November 2017). How Impressionism Changed the Art World and Continues to Inspire Us Today. Retrieved from

Impressionism. Retrieved from

Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Dance Class. Retrieved from

Impressionists. Impression Sunrise by Claude Monet. Retrieved from

Impressionism: The Movement That Transformed Western Art


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