Art History Lab

Revolutionizing Art: The Birth and Influence of Impressionism

Impressionism is one of the most influential art movements of the 19th century. Its name was derived from a painting by Monet – “Impression, Sunrise.” The movement changed the traditional way art was created and viewed during the era.

In this article, we will discuss the introduction to Impressionism, its definition, characteristics of Impressionist painting, Impressionism as a radical art movement, and Impressionism as a response to photography.

Impressionism as a Radical Art Movement

Impressionism started in France in the 1860s. It became a radical art movement because it was a departure from traditional art.

The Impressionist painters believed that the traditional way of painting was too limiting and that they could create more realistic paintings through new techniques. They wanted to capture the momentary impression of light on a subject.

This desire led to experimentation with new techniques that would allow them to create a more realistic portrayal of life. Impressionism was, therefore, a visual response to the changing environment created by the Industrial Revolution.

Dissatisfaction with Traditional Art Academy and Preference for Landscape Painting and Contemporary Subject Matter

The Impressionist painters were dissatisfied with the traditional art academy which placed too much emphasis on a strict set of rules. The academy emphasized the importance of precise drawing, clear outlines, and carefully planned compositions.

Instead, the Impressionists preferred to paint outdoors and capture a momentary glimpse of nature’s changing light and color. Impressionist painters focused on landscape painting that showcased the beauty of natural light.

They were not interested in portraying life as idealized and flawless. Instead, they focused on ordinary subjects and contemporary issues.

Characteristics of Impressionist Painting

Impressionist paintings are characterized by their lack of boundaries and visible brush strokes. Impressionists rejected the traditional way of painting, which emphasized clear outlines and precise details.

They wanted to capture the movement of light and color, rather than the form of an object. Impressionist paintings have short brush strokes that blend together to create an overall image that looks spontaneous and free.

Depiction of Light

One of the most important characteristics of Impressionist paintings is the way they capture light. Impressionists believed that light was constantly changing and that they should capture the momentary impression of light on a subject.

They wanted to show how natural light could change the appearance of ordinary objects. Impressionist painters used transparent and luminous colors to create the impression of natural light.

They also created a sense of depth in their paintings by using varying colors and tones of the same hue.

Impressionism as a Response to Photography

Impressionism was a response to the invention of photography. Photography offered an objective representation of reality that was difficult for painters to match.

The Impressionists, therefore, rejected the idea that art should be purely objective and instead focused on the subjective rendition of the painter’s perception of the world. They used their skills to create a more personal and subjective form of representation.

Impressionist painters used vivid colors, visible brush strokes, and abstract forms to convey their impressions of the world.


In conclusion, Impressionism was a radical art movement that challenged the traditional way of painting and viewing art. Impressionist painters focused on the depiction of light, landscape painting, and contemporary subject matter.

The movement was a visual response to the changing world created by the Industrial Revolution, and the invention of photography. Impressionists believed that the role of art was to capture the subjective impression of the painter’s perception of the world.

Today, Impressionism remains one of the most influential art movements in history.

The Salon des Refuss

The Salon des Refuss was an exhibition that took place in Paris in 1863. The French government had opened a competition to show the works of artists who would be part of the official Salon de Paris, an annual exhibition that had been held at the Louvre Museum since 1667.

However, many artists’ works were rejected, causing a controversy that led to the creation of the Salon des Refuss. This exhibition was the birthplace of Impressionism, as it was where several now-famous Impressionist paintings were first shown publicly.

The establishment of the Salon des Refuss

The Salon des Refuss was organized by Napoleon III’s administration, which sought to quell public outcries over the Salon’s exclusionary policies. The exhibition was focused on rejected works that did not fit into the Salon’s traditional and conservative criteria.

The exhibition allowed artists who had been rejected to show their work to a wider audience and gain recognition from the public.

The Salon des Refuss eventually became so popular that it attracted almost as many visitors as the official Salon.

Formation of the Socit Anonyme Cooprative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, et Graveurs

The establishment of the Salon des Refuss led to the formation of a group of artists who were united in their rejection of the Salon. This group, consisting mostly of young artists, felt that the Salon’s requirements were outdated and that they had no hope of being admitted to it.

On December 27, 1873, the group formed the Socit Anonyme Cooprative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, et Graveurs, which was later known as the Impressionists. The society was founded on the principles of promoting exhibitions of the rejected works of artists who were not allowed to participate in the Salon.

Members shared a common belief in the importance of depicting the quickly changing visual and sensory world of modern life, leading to their adoption of the new technique of en plein air painting, which emphasized the use of natural light outdoors. The society’s exhibitions featured a broad range of art, including figure painting, landscape painting, still life, and portraiture.

Famous Impressionist Painters

Camille Pissarro

Camille Pissarro is one of the founding members of Impressionism. He is known for his interest in exploring the effects of light and color on nature and is particularly well-known for his figure paintings.

Pissarro’s work often depicts farmworkers and peasants in rural settings. His use of fine brushwork, light colors, and quick brushstrokes convey a sense of light and airiness, showcasing the influence of Impressionism’s foundational principles.

Edgar Degas

Another founding member of the Impressionist movement,

Edgar Degas, is renowned for his skill in pastel drawings and oil paintings. Degas was known for his innovative approach to composition and his depictions of unconventional subjects.

His work often depicted the interiors of dance studios and ballet dancers in movement. He also portrayed life in the streets of Paris, influenced by his background as a commercial photographer.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet is perhaps the most famous of the Impressionist painters. Monet is known for his natural landscape paintings, especially his series of water lilies.

His works are characterized by their use of light and color to convey the changing effects of nature. Monet’s paintings show how light and color interact with water and how this changes throughout the day and in different seasons.

Monet’s work is famous for its use of bold brushstrokes and vibrant colors.

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was an American painter associated with the Impressionist movement. Her works often depicted intimate moments between women and children and portrayed the relationship between mothers and their children.

Her paintings used rich colors and bold strokes to create a sense of immediacy. Her art was also known for its use of impressive technique, particularly her skillful use of pastels.


The Salon des Refuss and the formation of the Socit Anonyme Cooprative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, et Graveurs shifted the way art was exhibited and viewed. These events created a space for artists to experiment and offer up their rejected pieces, opening the doors to a new movement of Impressionist art.

This movement introduced new techniques, artists, and subject matter, revolutionizing the art world, and still continues to influence modern art creation today.

Top 15 Famous Impressionist Paintings

Impressionism was a groundbreaking art movement in the late 19th century that focused on capturing the transitory effects of light and color. The Impressionists developed new techniques to bring their paintings to life and showcase their unique perceptions of the world.

This article highlights 15 of the most famous Impressionist paintings that revolutionized the art world. Le djeuner sur l’herbe by douard Manet

Le djeuner sur l’herbe, or “Lunch on the Grass,” is a large oil painting created by douard Manet in 1863 that is considered one of the most famous pieces of Impressionist art.

The painting depicts a scene of two clothed men having lunch with a nude woman, who stares pointedly out at the viewer. This painting was the source of controversy and was rejected by the Salon de Paris, which led to its inclusion in the Salon des Refuss.

Olympia by douard Manet

Olympia is another iconic painting by douard Manet, painted in 1863, that also depicts a nude woman. Olympia caused a scandal when it was first exhibited because the subject is a prostitute looking directly at the viewer, making her presence clear.

The painting broke many traditional rules of conventional art and introduced a realistic style to the art world of the time. L’atelier de Bazille by Frdric Bazille

L’atelier de Bazille, or “Bazille’s studio,” by Frdric Bazille is a large oil painting that depicts the artist’s studio in Montpellier.

The painting features a group of young artists, including

Claude Monet and Renoir, and highlights the bonding and comradery among the Impressionist movement. The painting has beautiful colors, different textures, and is full of light, making it a prime example of Impressionist art.

La Classe de Danse by

Edgar Degas

La Classe de Danse, or “Dance Class,” was a painting created by

Edgar Degas in 1873. The painting depicts ballerinas in various poses, each practicing their art in a small room.

Degas’ use of pastel and oil paints created an atmospheric effect of the dancers in motion, capturing their grace and fluidity uniquely. Impression, Soleil Levant by

Claude Monet

One of the best-known Impressionist paintings is Impression, Soleil Levant, also known as “Impression, Sunrise,” by

Claude Monet.

This painting depicts the port of Le Havre in France during a sunrise and has been celebrated for its depiction of light and color. Monet’s use of color and brushstrokes gives the impression of a fleeting moment and the beauty of the landscape at dawn.

Le Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Le Moulin de la Galette is considered one of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s best-known works. The piece depicts a scene of a gathering at the Moulin de la Galette, a popular dance hall in Montmartre.

The painting features people in various light-hearted poses, enjoying dancing and conversation on the terrace. Renoir’s painting captures both the light and motion of the scene as well as the impression of a joyous moment.

Girl Awakening by Eva Gonzals

Girl Awakening by Eva Gonzals is a painting that captures the essence of Impressionism. It was painted in 1877 and depicts a young woman lying in bed, waking up.

The painting is full of light, with pale blues and pinks showing a beautiful sense of airiness and fluidity. Gonzals had a keen ability to observe light and its effects, which is exhibited in this artwork.

In the Loge by

Mary Cassatt

In the Loge is a painting by

Mary Cassatt displaying an intimate moment between a woman glancing at the viewer from a theatre box. Completed in 1878, Cassatt’s painting is a fine example of the Impressionist style with its loose brushwork and use of light, color, and shadow to create a sense of depth and atmosphere.

The Rue Mosnier with Flags by douard Manet

Painted in 1878, The Rue Mosnier with Flags, was an iconic work by douard Manet, who was known for his bold new style. The painting depicts three French flags hung across the narrow street as seen from the position of a pedestrian.

Manet successfully showed that his art was a symbol of the changing times, full of a new sense of freedom and openness. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose is a painting created by John Singer Sargent in 188586.

It is a beautiful portrayal of two young girls, with soft highlights, delicate colors, and the glow of a lantern lamp illuminating the scene. The painting is evocative and casts a striking impression of the feelings that emanate from the young girls in the painting.

Girl in Rose Dress by Berthe Morisot

Girl in Rose Dress was painted by Berthe Morisot in 1881, showcasing Morisot’s skills as a master of capturing the moment. The piece depicts a young girl dressed in a flowing pink dress playing with a fan.

Morisot highlighted the subject’s vitality, movement, and youthful energy, creating an artwork that is full of life.

Apple Harvest by Camille Pissarro

Apple Harvest was painted by Camille Pissarro in 1888. The work depicts farmworkers harvesting apples, a staple of rural life in the late 1800s.

Pissarro uses thick impasto brushstrokes, creating a textured quality full of character and depth, and creates an impression of a busy harvest day. The Water-Lily Pond by

Claude Monet

The Water-Lily Pond is a famous Impressionist painting by

Claude Monet painted between 1899 and 1900.

It depicts

In conclusion, the top 15 famous Impressionist paintings highlighted in this article showcase the revolutionary nature of the Impressionist movement. From Manet’s scandalous portrayals of the human form to Monet’s masterful capture of light and color, these paintings broke free from traditional constraints and introduced new approaches to art.

The Impressionist painters emphasized the fleeting nature of moments, the play of light, and the vibrant colors of their surroundings. The legacy of Impressionism continues to inspire artists today, encouraging us to see the world in a different light and appreciate the beauty found in the everyday.

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