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Impressionism: Origins of the Movement

Impressionism was an art movement that

emerged in the second half of the 19th century
among a group of Paris-based artists. The
duration of the impressionist movement itself was
quite short, less than 20 years from 1872 to the
mid-1880s. But it had a tremendous impact and
influence on the painting styles that followed,
such as neo-impressionism, post-impressionism,
fauvism, and cubismand even the artistic styles
and movements of today.
The name impressionism was coined from the
title of a work by French painter Claude Monet,
Impression, soleil levant (in English, Impression,

Impression, Sunrise
Claude Monet, 1872
Oil on canvas

The term precisely captured what this group of artists sought to represent in their works:
the viewers momentary impression of an image. It was not intended to be clear or
precise, but more like a fleeting fragment of reality caught on canvas, sometimes in midmotion, at other times awkwardly positionedjust as it would be in real life.
The Influence of Delacroix
As with all emerging art movements, impressionism
owed its inspiration to earlier masters. One major
influence was the work of French painter Eugne
Delacroix. Delacroix was greatly admired and
emulated by the early impressionistsspecifically
for his use of expressive brushstrokes, his emphasis
on movement rather than on clarity of form, and
most of all his study of the optical effects of color.
In particular, Delacroixs painting, The Barque of
Dante, contained a then revolutionary technique
that would profoundly influence the coming
impressionist movement. And it involved something as
simple as droplets of water.

The Barque of Dante

Eugne Delacroix, 1822

Oil on canvas

The painting is loosely based on a fictional scene from

Dantes Inferno, showing Dante and the poet Virgil crossing hells River Styx, while
tormented souls struggle to climb aboard their boat. It is the drops of water running down
the bodies of these doomed souls (see enlarged detail below) that are painted in a manner
almost never used in Delacroixs time.

When studied closely, it is seen that four different,

unmixed pigmentsyellow, green, red, and white
create the image of each drop and its shadow. Viewed
from a little distance, these colors blend to represent
individual drops glistening with light. The distinct
colors merge in the eye of the viewer to appear
monochromatic (single-colored) or, in this case of
water droplets, colorless. In short, an impression is formed. Putting this and similar
principles into wider practice, future painters would carry French art into one of its
richest periods: impressionism.
Impressionism: A Break from Past Painting Traditions
There were several areas in which impressionist artists moved away from the established
practices of art at that time. These involved their use of color, choice of subject matter and
setting, and technique for capturing light and conveying movement.
And they were not made to look beautiful or
lifelike, as body parts could be distorted and
The painting conventions and techniques of
facial features merely suggested by a few
earlier art periods were very much strokes of the brush.
concerned with line, form, and composition.
In contrast, the impressionists painted with Painting Outdoors
freely brushed colors that conveyed more of
The location in which the impressionists
a visual effect than a detailed rendering of
painted was also different. Previously, still
the subject. They used short broken
life, portraits, and landscapes were usually
strokes that were intentionally made visible
painted inside a studio. However, the
to the viewer. They also often placed pure
impressionists found that they could best
unmixed colors side by side, rather than
capture the ever-changing effects of light on
blended smoothly or shaded. The result was
color by painting outdoors in natural light.
a feeling of energy and intensity, as the
This gave their works a freshness and
colors appeared to shift and moveagain,
immediacy that was quite a change from the
just as they do in reality.
stiffer, heavier, more planned paintings of
earlier masters.
Everyday Subjects
Color and Light

Impressionists also began to break away

from the creation of formally posed portraits
and grandiose depictions of mythical,
literary, historical, or religious subjects.
They ventured into capturing scenes of life
around them, household objects, landscapes
and seascapes, houses, cafes, and buildings.
They presented ordinary people seemingly
caught off-guard doing everyday tasks, at
work or at leisure, or doing nothing at all.

Open Composition
Impressionist painting also moved away
from the formal, structured approach to
placing and positioning their subjects. They
experimented with unusual visual angles,
sizes of objects that appeared out of
proportion, off-center placement, and
empty spaces on the canvas.

The Influence of Photography

Photography was in its early stages at this
time as well. As it gained popularity,
photography inspired impressionists to
capture fleeting moments of action, whether
in landscapes or in the day-to-day lives of
people. But whereas camera snapshots
provided objective, true-to-life images, the

artists were able to offer a subjective view of

their subjects, expressing their personal
perceptions rather than creating exact
representations. They also had the
advantage of manipulating color, which
photography at that time still lacked.

Impressionism: Works of Manet, Monet, and Renoir

By the 1870s, the stage was set for the emergence of the next major art movement in
Europe, impressionism. It started with a group of French paintersthat included Edouard
Manet, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoirand eventually spread to other countries, such as
Italy, Germany, and The Netherlands.
Edouard Manet (1832-1883) was one of the first 19th century artists to depict modern-life
subjects. He was a key figure in the transition from realism to impressionism, with a
number of his works considered as marking the birth of modern art.


Rue Mosnier Decked With Flags

Edouard Manet, 1874

Oil on canvas

Edouard Manet, 1878

Oil on canvas

Caf Concert
Edouard Manet, 1878
Oil on canvas

The Bar at the Folies-Bergere

Edouard Manet, 1882
Oil on canvas

Claude Monet (1840-1926) was one of the founders of the impressionist movement along
with his friends Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frdric Bazille. He was the most
prominent of the group; and is considered the most influential figure in the movement.
Monet is best known for his landscape paintings, particularly those depicting his beloved
flower gardens and water lily ponds at his home in Giverny.

La Promenade

The Red Boats, Argenteuil

Claude Monet, 1875

Oil on canvas

Claude Monet, 1875

Oil on canvas

Bridge Over a Pond of

Water Lilies
Claude Monet, 1899
Oil on canvas

Irises in Monets Garden

Claude Monet, 1900
Oil on canvas

Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), along with Claude Monet, was one of the central figures of
the impressionist movement. His early works were snapshots of real life, full of sparkling
color and light. By the mid-1880s, however, Renoir broke away from the impressionist
movement to apply a more disciplined, formal technique to portraits of actual people and
figure paintings.

Auguste Renoir, 1874
Oil on canvas

A Girl with a Watering Can Mlle Irene Cahen dAnvers Luncheon of the Boating Party
Auguste Renoir, 1876
Oil on canvas

Auguste Renoir, 1880

Oil on canvas

Auguste Renoir, 1881

Oil on canvas

Post-Impressionism: Works of Cezanne and Van Gogh

After the brief yet highly influential period of impressionism, an outgrowth movement
known as post-impressionism emerged. The European artists who were at the forefront
of this movement continued using the basic qualities of the impressionists before them
the vivid colors, heavy brush strokes, and true-to-life subjects. However, they expanded
and experimented with these in bold new ways, like using a geometric approach,
fragmenting objects and distorting peoples faces and body parts, and applying colors
that were not necessarily realistic or natural.
Two of the foremost post-impressionists were Paul Czanne and Vincent van Gogh.

Paul Czanne (18391906) was a French artist and post-impressionist painter. His work
exemplified the transition from late 19th-century impressionism to a new and radically
different world of art in the 20th centurypaving the way for the next revolutionary art
movement known as expressionism.

Hortense Fiquet in a Striped Skirt

Still Life with Compotier

Paul Cezanne, 1878

Oil on canvas

Paul Cezanne, 1879-1882

Oil on canvas


Boy in a Red Vest

Paul Cezanne, 1888-1890

Oil on canvas

Paul Cezanne, 1890

Oil on canvas


Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was a post-impressionist painter from The Netherlands.
His works were remarkable for their strong, heavy brush strokes, intense emotions, and
colors that appeared to almost pulsate with energy. Van Goghs striking style was to
have a far-reaching influence on 20th century art, with his works becoming among the
most recognized in the world.

Sheaves of Wheat in a Field

Vincent van Gogh, 1885
Oil on canvas

The Sower

Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers Bedroom at Arles

Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Oil on canvas

Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Oil on canvas

Starry Night

Wheat Field with Cypresses

Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Oil on canvas

Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Oil on canvas

Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Oil on canvas