Understanding Impressionism

It is a split second of life, an ephemeral moment in time on the canvas. Understanding Impressionism within 5 minutes from this article!
Magazine #49 Cover Impressionism

The term “Impressionism” was not chosen by the artists. Rather, it was born from a satirical review written by French art critic Louis Leroy (1812-1885) in an article on the inaugural exhibition of the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs. Held in the spring of 1874, the exhibition included works from 30 Impressionist artists, and is considered the formal start to the movement. 

In his review, Leroy poked fun at Monet’s 1872 painting “Impression, Sunrise”, writing that: “‘Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it … and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.”

1 Impressionism | Impressionist paintings
“Impression, Sunrise”(1872) by Claude Monet

Who were they?

Amongst others, the founding Impressionist artists including Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and Edgar Degas. They united by their desire to cast off the strict rules of academic-style painting. Monet was a leader of the art movement Impressionism. In fact, his brief brush strokes and fragmented colour application found their way into the works of others.

The artists sought independence from the Académie des Beaux-Arts and its annual Salon. It was the greatest juried art show in the Western world at the time being. The Impressionist artists constantly fought against the Salon over the institution’s antiquated guidelines and biased jury. This ongoing battle made them a hero of the avant-garde and paved the way for Impressionists to establish their own exhibition.

6 Impressionism | Impressionist paintings
“The Luncheon on the Grass” (1863) by Édouard Manet

In 1863, the Salon jury rejected Manet’s “The Luncheon on the Grass” primarily because it depicted a nude woman with two clothed men at a picnic. While the Salon jury routinely accepted nudes in historical and allegorical paintings, they condemned Manet for placing a realistic nude in a contemporary setting.

They paint outside

Rather than staying in a studio, many Impressionists prefer to paint en plein air (outdoors) in the countryside outside of Paris. This approach required the artists to work quickly but allowed them to capture the fleeting impressions of light. Claude Monet once said, “a good impression is lost so quickly”.

They will take the trains bound for remote areas around the city, where they set their easels amongst the fields or riverbanks. As you can see from many Impressionist paintings, the artists tried their best to capture the fleeting glints of sunlight reflected by water. Sometimes, workers bent to their task or Parisians enjoying a lazy Sunday by the sea are also the subject for Impressionism.

3 Impressionism | Impressionist paintings
“Laundry The Linen”(1875) by Edouard Manet

Bold and bright

The artists used short, visible dabs of paint to capture the overall impression of their subject. Impressionism style opts not to pay particular attention to the fine details. Also, the layers were rarely transparent. Rather, the application added opaque dimensions of colour.

Instead of using black and grey paint to depict shadows, the painters paired complementary colours. The paints themselves were also brighter than those used in previous eras, due to the invention of synthetic. Learn more about the colour theory in this article.

Want to try out some Impressionist paintings? Then you must first master the fundamentals of colour theory!

4 Impressionism | Impressionist paintings
“Nymphéas” (1917) by Claude Monet

Japanese influence

While the content of Impressionist paintings was not all that radical, the composition was. The boundary between figures and background were blurred, making the figures a part of an overall view rather than the main subject. Moreover, the figures appeared to be captured in a single moment, as a snapshot, rather than posed. 

This new approach coincided with the advent of photography and drew inspiration from Japanese style ukiyo-e art prints. This style used foreshortening asymmetry to invoke movement and action within a scene. For the Impressionist artists, this technique from the East was a crucial tool in their exploration of a new, modern painting style. Check out this paddy field painting by Lin Daud inspired by Impressionism.

5 Impressionism | Impressionist paintings
“Maternal Caress”(1890) by Mary Cassatt

Legacy of Impressionism

In the Western world, reactions, criticism and reinterpretations of Impressionism inspired many of the subsequent Modern art movements.

The ethos of Impressionism made an enduring impact on music and literature as well as the visual arts. Musical Impressionism involved creating the impression of atmosphere or mood and became popular in France in the late 19th century. French writers and poets, in turn, represented Impressionism with syntactic variation and fragmentary prose.

7 Impressionism | Impressionist paintings
“Luncheon of the Boating Party” (1880) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

We will further discuss the post-impressionism era and an off-shoot of Impressionism in our next article. Stay tuned! In the meantime, comment below what you like to see next.

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Impressionism is the best

I particularly love impressionist style paintings, the bold and opaque strokes fit in to my wild style (haha)

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