Impressionism is one of the many genres of painting and the movement was started by artists with a particular goal. It is one of the most well-known genres of painting in the world. Impressionism was a movement started by a handful of artists which will be discussed in this article. The idea of impressionism is to paint what the eyes see at that instant. To take the first impression of the scene and paint it on the canvas.
Impressionism disregards the structural and methodological way of painting and is more akin to freestyle painting. The traditional painter would first set the frame, create a rough sketch for the structure of the painting, then move to the studio to work there on the painting, using carefully selected colors. All these mechanical processes were omitted by the impressionist artists. They wanted the process to be more organic, more spontaneous.
This “organic freestyle painting” was detested by art critics of that time. Many considered it as a sacrilegious anomaly coming from rogue rebels. Unlike their traditional counterparts which focused on the composition, structure, and the subject. Impressionistic paintings have more to do with the natural lighting and its interaction with the elements in the scene than with the structure, competition, or subject of the painting. It is like the artist takes a snapshot of the scene and then paints it on the canvas with thick strokes. The reason why these paintings lack sharp lines and are painted with blobs of paint is that it creates a scene from memory.
If you looked at a scene, beautiful and brilliant, you won’t be able to remember it precisely unless you have a photographic memory. This is also why impressionism has that idiosyncratic effect of blurriness. It is a painting of the artist’s memoryArtsapien
What impressionism changed
Paintings before Impressionism used to be focused on either historical figures/scenes, religious depictions, imaginary landscape with fantastic scenery (created inside studios), etc. All of these included a rough sketch of the painting which was then developed further to create the final painting. Impressionism was nothing like that. It was more about the fleeting instant of time and trying to capture it.
Instead of painting realistic depictions of historical characters or religious scenery, impressionists painted trivial, unimportant things. Things like people sitting in a park, having lunch, or daily routine activities that are of minimal importance. It wasn’t about putting a subject in the focus, but to look at the overall scene, that moment.
The idea behind that was to capture the fleeting moment, to keep that very first impression in the artist’s mind, and to put it on the canvas. How light interacted with objects and changed the way things looked was the main focus. The practice of painting such paintings was called en Plein air which in French means “outside”. So there was no use of a studio or a sketch.
Impression wasn’t about what the scene was, but what the scene looked like to the artist’s eyes.Artsapien
While the name Impressionism may sound like it comes from the fact that the painters painted the scene’s impression on their minds, it isn’t. The name came from Louis Leroy, a critic from the newspaper Le Charivari. He called them Impressionists after seeing the painting Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet. He called these paintings just impressions and not the complete painting.
The pioneers of impressionism were Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley, among others. Let’s take a look at these artists and some examples of their work that represent impressionism. Following is a list of some pioneering the impressionism artists and their world-renowned works. This list does not correspond to these artists’ contributions to the impressionistic community. This order of the list is arbitrary.
Monet can be called the truest of all impressionists because his paintings truly depicted how the artist felt after seeing a scene. It was his painting, Impression, Sunrise, which gave this painting style the name “impressionism”. Monet was moved by the dynamic between the elements of a scene and the lighting. His colors stayed true to nature while the jagged, undefined lines merged the elements of the painting, creating a beautiful concoction of color and elements. He may not have been the most important impressionism painter of his time, but today whenever impressionism is mentioned, Monet and his work is the one that comes first.
Édouard Manet was perhaps the most controversial impressionistic painter of his time. He is also considered a pioneer of shifting from realism to impressionism. His works are also considered as the precursor to modern art. A true avant-garde in the field of art, his painting The Luncheon on the Grass was so controversial that no art gallery accepted it. The addition of a nude woman so casually for mainstream art was unseen and unheard of. Manet was the most influential of all the impressionist painters at the time of the inception of the movement.
Considered as the “father figure” for all the other impressionist artists, Camille Pissarro was one of the first painters to pioneer the impressionism genre. It is said that Pissarro ran the impressionism movement while Monet guided it.
After the Franco-Prussian War, when Pissarro returned to France, only 40 out of 1,500 paintings survived. His paintings were destroyed, used as mats to cover mud and such. These paintings are said to document the birth of impressionism. But what’s lost is lost.
The rebellious one in this nascent group of impressionistic painters, Edgar Degas inclined more towards realism, with an added hint of impressionism. Degas was also with one of the most tragic endings. Left alone, in the streets, almost blind and dying with no friends. What led him into such a depressing situation is a matter of another article.
If there was a scale for the impressionistic inclination of painting with 10 being the truest of the style and 1 being the lowest, Monet would be 10. And Degas would be a 2. Degas never considered himself to be an “impressionism” artist and hated painting outside (which was one of the core practices of impressionism). This resulted in frequent conflicts with his colleagues.
Mary Cassatt was the fighter in this group. In a world and age where female artists were dismissed before their art could be seen, she became a revered and successful artist. Truly a fighter amongst the impressionism artists that we have mentioned because it was tough for a woman at that time to make a name for herself in a male-dominated field. She noticed how the works of female artists were rejected unless they had support from someone on the jury. Even her own work was rejected and she refused to be “flirtatious with the jury member” to get her work accepted.
This sexism was what led to her introduction into the group of the impressionistic artists we are talking about. It was Edgar Degas who invited her to join their new group of painters and she happily accepted, preparing a painting for the next exhibition. She also found another woman in the group, Berthe Morisot and she became friends with her. So not only did impressionism change art, but it also showed a radical change that it is not what these juries and exhibitions that matters, but what the artists want to show and the people want to see.
Renoir’s works truly captured the meaning and essence of impressionism, the practice of painting out in the air, under the sunlight. His paintings are some of the most iconic and recognizable paintings from the impressionism movement.
Paintings such as Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, Luncheon of the boating party, and The Swing portray what impressionism is all about. With the use of vibrant color and painting lively scenes, Renoir was truly magnificent in creating paintings. An easy way to describe his painting would be this:
Imagine if Monet, instead of painting landscape, painted people. That would be Renoir’s paintingsArtsapien
Another painter from the Impressionism movement who liked painting landscape, but instead of choosing beautiful bridges arching over ponds covered with a layer of flowers, he chose the blunt, industrial world.
Sisley chose a much more muted color palette with limited use of colors, as you can see from the pictures added here. Painting somber paintings inspired by Edouard Manet and Camille Pissarro and completely overshadowed by Claude Monet. But to be honest, all the painters in the Impressionism movement were.
So if I had to describe Sisley’s paintings similarly as I did for Renoir’s, it would go like this:
Imagine if Monet painted the scenes of man-made structures such as bridges, factories, buildings, foliage, snowy roads, etc but with much pale and dark colors, it would be Sisley’s paintings.
All the paintings used in the article for reference purposes are all under the Public Domain in the United States of America. Nevertheless, the copyrights of these paintings belong to the respective painters as mentioned therein and there has been used for reference.