What is Impressionism?

In the late 1800s, there was a change of thought among some artists. This was around the time that scientific thinking was beginning to spread, and so the idea that what the eye saw and the brain transmitted were two different things was something that artists pounced upon. This new group, with its bright unblended colours and short brushstrokes wanted to create art out of an impression, a fleeting second in time. These paintings were part of Impressionism.

In 1870, the Anonymous Society of Painters organized an exhibition in Paris where they displayed art that went against what was taught at major institutions and what artists in the era strived to be. The sketch-like paintings that many critics called ‘unfinished’, was the birth of Impressionism and focused on light and its effect on the surroundings. The founding members of this movement were Claude Monet, Edger Degas and Camille Pissarro. In fact, it was Monet’s painting “Impression, Sunrise” that gave the movement its name, since a critic called it an ‘impression’ of a painting.

As more painters got drawn to this style, they began to leave their studios and step outside to catch moments to paint. Everyday suburban and rural leisure became popular muses for these painters. Hence, boating and bathing establishments that flourished in that time became popular haunts for impressionists. They used brighter and innovative colours, coloured shadows and even featured industrialisation encroaching on the serenity of the landscape. This would have been allowed in the traditional painting style.

The moment was fleeting and powerful, and eventually, the collective of painters that began and nurtured it developed their own distinct styles, causing raptures in the organisation. Many began to focus on the purity of colour, thereby creating Neo-Impressionism.


Impression Sunrise:

Painted by Claude Monet in 1872, the painting became a symbol of Impressionism after it gave the movement its name. The subject is the Le Havre harbour in France or so it is suggested, since the brushstrokes are very loose and not defined. Monet captures the scene through light and colour rather than definition.

Le Boulevard Montmartre, effet de nuit:

This painting by Camille Pissarro depicts a scene of Paris in the 19th Century. Pissarro took a room on the Montmartre Boulevard and painted it at different times of the day. This one, painted at night, plays exclusively on light to capture the dramatic effect of the movement.

Paris Street; Rainy Day:

Considered one of the most ambitious paintings of urban lifestyle in the 19th Century, this painting by Gustave Caillebotte depicts de Dublin, an interesting near Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. The painting was appreciated for its precision and photograph-like quality. Caillebotte creates the idea of overcast, rainy day just through the light and the reflection on water on the street.

Wow facts

  • Impressionists were more concerned with the light and colour of the moment than its vivid details. They mostly painted outdoors and worked quickly to capture the moment before the light changed. For this, they used brush strokes and unmixed colour to save time. Often they had very unusual visual angles too.
  • Impressionists were often accused of having unfinished paintings and dealing with social or banal subjects. Most of them could not sell their paintings and lived in poverty for years. In fact, Van Gogh – a post-Impressionist artist – sold only one painting in his lifetime and his buyer was his brother!


Picture Credit : Google