Summary of Impressionism
Impressionism can be considered the first distinctly modern movement in painting. Developing in Paris in the 1860s, its influence spread throughout Europe and eventually the United States. Its originators were artists who rejected the official, government-sanctioned exhibitions, or salons, and were consequently shunned by powerful academic art institutions. In turning away from the fine finish and detail to which most artists of their day aspired, the Impressionists aimed to capture the momentary, sensory effect of a scene - the impression objects made on the eye in a fleeting instant. To achieve this effect, many Impressionist artists moved from the studio to the streets and countryside, painting en plein air.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- The Impressionists loosened their brushwork and lightened their palettes to include pure, intense colors. They abandoned traditional linear perspective and avoided the clarity of form that had previously served to distinguish the more important elements of a picture from the lesser ones. For this reason, many critics faulted Impressionist paintings for their unfinished appearance and seemingly amateurish quality.
- Picking up on the ideas of Gustave Courbet, the Impressionists aimed to be painters of the real - they aimed to extend the possible subjects for paintings. Getting away from depictions of idealized forms and perfect symmetry, but rather concentrating on the world as they saw it, imperfect in a myriad of ways.
- At the time, there were many ideas of what constituted modernity. Part of the Impressionist idea was to capture a split second of life, an ephemeral moment in time on the canvas: the impression.
- Scientific thought at the time was beginning to recognize that what the eye perceived and what the brain understood were two different things. The Impressionists sought to capture the former - the optical effects of light - to convey the passage of time, changes in weather, and other shifts in the atmosphere in their canvases. Their art did not necessarily rely on realistic depictions.
- Impressionism records the effects of the massive mid-19th-century renovation of Paris led by civic planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann, which included the city's newly constructed railway stations; wide, tree-lined boulevards that replaced the formerly narrow, crowded streets; and large, deluxe apartment buildings. The works that focused on scenes of public leisure - especially scenes of cafés and cabarets - conveyed the new sense of alienation experienced by the inhabitants of the first modern metropolis.
Overview of Impressionism
Manet said: "You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real." Here he hints at the innovative thinking that went into the new way of representing the world that The Impressionist took on.
Important Art and Artists of Impressionism
When Manet painted his Le déjeuner sur l'herbe(Luncheon on the Grass), he had already distanced himself from the tradition of Realist painting and the academic subjects of the salon. When the work was presented at the 1863 Salon des Refuses it caused an uproar due to both its aesthetic rendering and its "racy" content. The painting, which depicts the picnic of two fully clothed men and two nude women, defies the tradition of the idealized female subject of Neoclassicism in the positioning of the woman on the left who gazes frankly out at the viewer- she is confrontational, rather than passive. The thick, imprecise brushstrokes of the background, flattening of three-dimensionality, and use of unconventional subject matter influenced later Impressionists in their portrayals of the natural world and modern life.
Sisley, along with Monet, was one of the central proponents of the plein air technique, using this method in his famous paintings of the Voisins countryside, where he moved in 1871. Unlike Degas, Renoir, Cassatt, or Morisot, Sisley focused almost expressly on representations of the atmosphere while diminishing the importance of the human figure, if they appeared at all. Fog, Voisins demonstrates this general preoccupation with the visual perception of the natural world through the application of rough, clearly visible brushstrokes and the blurry, almost ethereal rendering of color and form. Here, a woman, serenely picking flowers, is almost entirely obscured within the dense fog that eclipses the pastoral scene. Like much of Sisley's work, the protagonist of the painting is nature and the visual reception of it.
A central figure of the Impressionist circle, Berthe Morisot is known for both her compelling portraits and her poignant landscapes. In a Park combines these elements of figuration with representations of nature in this serene family portrait set in a bucolic garden. Like Mary Cassatt, Morisot is recognized for her portrayals of the private sphere of female society. As in this quiet image of family life, she centered on the maternal bond between mother and child. Her loose handling of pastels, a medium embraced by the Impressionists, and visible application of color and form were central characteristics of her work.
Useful Resources on Impressionism
- Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian SocietyOur PickBy Robert L. Herbert
- The Great Book of French ImpressionismBy Diane Kelder
- Impressionism A&IBy James Henry Rubin
- ImpressionismBy Ingo F. Walther
- Art and Culture: Critical EssaysBy Clement Greenberg / Includes Essays on Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- Impressionism: 50 Paintings You Should KnowBy Ines Janet Engelmann
- The Art of Impressionism: Painting Technique and the Making of ModernityOur PickBy Anthea Callen
- 'Impressionism' at the de YoungBy Kenneth Baker / The San Francisco Chronicle / May 21, 2010
- Suburban PastoralBy Andrew Motion / The Guardian / February 23, 2007
- A Decade That Remade the World in PaintingOur PickBy Michael Kimmelman / The New York Times / September 25, 1994
- 3 Artists Who Left A Fainter ImpressionOur PickBy Alan Riding / The New York Times / October 28, 1993