Impressionism is a movement of art that originated in 19th century France. Counter-cultural in its time, it explored more adventurous techniques and visual composition than the standard of the day, departing from the emphasis on realism, complex subjects and mythical themes, to more spontaneous depictions of ordinary outdoor moments in everyday life.

The early proponents of the movement were Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Frédéric Bazille, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin.

Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), Claude Monet, 1872, oil on canvas. The painting from which the movement got it’s name.

The movement got its name “Impressionism” from the title of a painting by Claude Monet, Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), after a critic had written a bitterly satirical article titled “The Exhibition Of The Impressionists” , in which he argues that the piece, along with others by Monet and his fellow rebellious colleagues, were at best sketches. The artists gladly adopted the term, and so did the public, which had begun to warm up to the new art movement after an initially hostile response to the methods. 

Impressionist art featured, among other things, shorter and more visible brushstrokes, which took the focus of the viewing eye away from the tiny details of the painting to the complete representation of the subject. Previously, the standard practice required every inch to be as realistic as possible, so artists had to obscure the brush patterns. The movement also embraced open air scenery, the complex effect of daylight, and methods of colour application that were unorthodox at its time. 

Furthermore, the subjects were composed more freely, depicting people, landscapes, and still life, basic everyday scenes that showed no special significance other than their visual qualities. All of these ran contrary to the realism, religious themes, and use of historical subjects espoused by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, the dominant art society in France.

The ideas of the movement soon filtered into other artistic disciplines, and soon enough there was impressionist music, literature and drama, which employed equivalent principles to the ones originated by the French artists.


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