Art History Lab

Revolutionizing Art: The Impact of Impressionism

Impressionism: A Movement that Changed the Face of Art

When we talk about the art world, it’s impossible to ignore the significant impact that Impressionism has had on it. Impressionism is an artistic movement that emerged in France during the late 19th century.

It marked a significant shift in the way artists viewed and represented the world around them. In this article, we will explore the origins of Impressionism, its characteristics, and how it influenced subsequent art movements.

Rejection of Traditional Art and Emergence of Impressionism

Prior to the emergence of Impressionism, traditional art heavily influenced the art world. Classicism, Romanticism, and Realism were some of the leading artistic movements that defined the 19th century.

Artworks were created using painstaking techniques, precise brushwork, and highly-detailed depictions of people, objects, and landscapes. This traditional approach to art began to change in the late 1800s when artists started rejecting the conventions of traditional art.

They no longer wanted to adhere to the rules of academic painting, which required artists to paint in a certain way. This dissatisfaction with the traditional approach led to the emergence of Impressionism.

Impressionists began to focus on capturing the essence of a moment, rather than giving an accurate representation of reality.

Characteristics of Impressionism

One of the key characteristics of Impressionism is the use of small brushstrokes. This technique allowed artists to create a sense of movement and light in their paintings.

The artists would use their brushes to create a series of dots or dashes of color instead of blending them together. Another characteristic of Impressionism is the focus on landscapes and contemporary life.

Impressionists often painted outside in natural light, capturing the vibrant colors and changing moods of nature. They also depicted scenes of everyday life, such as cafes, parks, and bustling streets.

A Brief History of the Impressionist Movement

The Impressionist movement began to take shape in the 1860s. A group of artists, dissatisfied with the current state of the art world, came together to form the Socit Anonyme Coopratives des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs.

This organization aimed to promote alternative art forms rooted in more experimental practices. Over the next two decades, the Impressionist movement grew in popularity.

However, it was not always well-received. Many critics disliked the new style of painting, which they saw as unfinished and lacking in technical precision.

Despite initial resistance, Impressionism continued to gain traction and influence subsequent art movements. Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism all owe their existence to the groundwork laid down by the Impressionists.

Influence of Impressionism on Subsequent Art Movements

Neo-Impressionism, also known as Pointillism, was an offshoot of Impressionism. Artists like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac used small, precise dots of color to create vibrant and detailed images.

Like the Impressionists, they focused on capturing natural light and color. Post-Impressionism was the next movement to emerge after Impressionism.

Artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Czanne contributed to this movement, which expanded on the Impressionist style. Post-Impressionists used brighter colors, bolder brushwork, and more expressive techniques in their paintings.

Fauvism, which emerged in the early 1900s, was heavily influenced by Impressionism. Artists like Henri Matisse used bold colors and simplified forms to create works that emphasized emotion and personal expression.

Cubism, one of the most significant art movements of the 20th century, also drew inspiration from Impressionism. Cubist artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque used fragmented forms and multiple perspectives to create works that challenged traditional notions of representation.


In conclusion, Impressionism was a groundbreaking movement that revolutionized the art world. It ushered in a new approach to art, one that emphasized the use of light and color to create images that captured the essence of a moment.

The influence of Impressionism can still be seen in the work of contemporary artists, ensuring its significance lives on. Impressionism captured the imagination of artists and art lovers alike, introducing a new way of thinking about how to depict the world.

It emphasized the importance of capturing the fleeting moment and celebrated everyday scenes and ordinary people. The movement used techniques that prioritized exploring light, motion, and color.

In this section, we will explore each of these characteristics in more detail and discuss the most famous Impressionists who helped to shape and define the movement.

Focus on Everyday Scenes and Ordinary People

Prior to Impressionism, art mainly depicted stories and people from the Bible, mythology, and history. Impressionists, however, chose to focus on everyday scenes and ordinary people, often painting on location to capture the spontaneous moment.

Paintings of markets, cafes, and parks were common Impressionist themes, reflecting contemporary life and popular culture. One example of this is “Entre du village de Voisins” (Entrance to the Village of Voisins) by Camille Pissarro.

It depicts a rural French village, with ordinary people going about their daily lives. We see a woman carrying a jug on her head, a man walking his dog, and a child playing in the street.

The painting captures a moment in time, showcasing the beauty of everyday life through Impressionist eyes.

Techniques Used to Capture Light and Motion

Impressionists were obsessed with capturing the effects of light and motion in their paintings. They used techniques such as broken brushwork and natural light to depict fleeting impressions of life.

Their paintings were more about capturing the atmosphere of a scene than creating a perfect representation of it. One artist who utilized these techniques brilliantly was Claude Monet.

Perhaps his most famous work is “Impression, Sunrise,” which shows a harbor at sunrise with boats bobbing on the water. The painting captures the soft pastels of the sky and the way light affects the water with visible brush strokes.

Relationship Between Impressionism and Color

A crucial part of Impressionism is the use of color. Impressionist paintings are often vibrant, featuring pastel tones, and soft brushwork.

The use of color helps to capture the atmosphere of the scene or moment portrayed in the painting. Impressionists shunned traditional techniques such as blending paint on the canvas and instead used visible brushstrokes to emphasize their artistic process.

Edgar Degas was known for his use of color to capture movement. This can be seen in his painting “The Dance Class,” where the dancers’ tutus are a blur of pastel colors against a muted background.

It brings the sense of movement to life.

Famous Impressionists

There are a vast number of Impressionist artists, but some of the most famous ones include Camille Pissarro, douard Manet, Edgar Degas, Alfred Sisley, Paul Czanne, Marie Bracquemond, Claude Monet, Jean Frdric Bazille, and Berthe Morisot. Pissarro was known for his masterful use of color in scenes of the countryside, especially in “Boulevard Montmartre,” where he explored the effects of sunlight on a Parisian street.

Manet was influential in laying the groundwork for Impressionism and worked closely with the emerging artists of the movement. His painting “Music in the Tuileries” depicts a bustling park filled with everyday people.

Degas is known for his paintings exploring the world of the theater and ballet. His painting “The Absinthe Drinker” portrays a woman lost in contemplation in a Parisian caf.

The use of color and visible brushstrokes creates an intimate and momentary snapshot of the caf. Sisley’s work focused on landscapes and he painted flowing rivers and delicate trees.

One of his famous paintings is the “Avenue of Chestnut Trees,” which depicts an idyllic French town in the autumn. Czanne was known for his post-Impressionist exploration of color, texture, and form in his paintings.

His paintings often expressed a sense of movement and a new way of perceiving the world, as seen in “A Modern Olympia” and “Bend in the Road Through the Forest.”

Bracquemond was one of the few Impressionist women and was celebrated for her depictions of flowers and her elegant portraiture, as seen in “Woman in the Garden” and “Pierre Painting a Bouquet.”

Monet is perhaps the most famous Impressionist, with a body of work that explored the beauty of natural light and color, most famously in his Water Lilies series. Bazille explored themes of leisure and enjoyment in his paintings of bathers, showing that art could represent the joy of life.

Lastly, Morisot was a prominent painter and a leading figure in Impressionism, famous for her paintings of women and children. “The Cradle” and “Young Girl in a Ball Gown” are examples of her skillful use of light and color.

In conclusion, Impressionism is a visually and intellectually engaging art movement. Its innovation and experimentation helped change the course of art forever.

Impressionist art has influenced artists across different genres and continues to inspire art enthusiasts around the world. The artists highlighted in this section played a crucial role in the development of the movement, and their works should be celebrated for pushing the limits of what was possible in art.

In conclusion, Impressionism marked a significant shift in the art world, emphasizing the importance of capturing the fleeting moment, everyday scenes, and ordinary people. Its characteristics, including the focus on light, motion, and color, inspired subsequent art movements.

The famous Impressionists showcased their masterful use of these techniques, challenging traditional representations of the world. Impressionism continues to inspire and influence artists today, showcasing how even small changes in art can have significant impacts.

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