Art History Lab

The Transformative 19th Century: From Realism to Impressionism and Beyond

Art has always been an essential part of human culture, both in the past and present. However, over the years, the way we create, interpret and perceive art has undergone significant changes.

The nineteenth-century period played a significant role in the transformation of art, leading to a shift from traditional approaches to more modern and unconventional techniques. In this article, we will explore some of the critical developments that took place in art during this period.

Origins of Realism and Artistic Hierarchy

The emergence of realism in art began in France in the mid-nineteenth century as a reaction against the romantic movement, which often relied heavily on fiction, mythology, and idealized landscapes to communicate their message. Artistic hierarchy refers to the idea of high art versus low art and the belief that some art forms were more worthy of appreciation than others.

Realism, on the other hand, sought to depict everyday life and the world as it really was, without the embellishments of the romantic movement. Realism was born from an era of increasing social realism, where people wanted to abandon the elaborate lifestyles of the past and embrace the new era of the Industrial Revolution.

One of the pioneers of realism in art was Gustave Courbet, whose A Burial at Ornans challenged the idealized depiction of death in art. Instead, he presented a realistic portrayal of a funeral of a real person.

This painting marked a turning point in the representation of reality in art and was an extraordinary achievement in the field of realistic art.

Naturalism and the Barbizon School

Like realism, naturalism is an artistic form that seeks to represent reality as truthfully as possible. However, naturalism focuses more on the scientific study of natural phenomena and their influences on society.

The Barbizon School is a group of French artists who painted rural landscapes and scenes in the forest of Fontainebleau, France. This school rejected traditional traditions of studio painting and sought inspiration from nature.

The Barbizon School marked a new phase in landscape painting, which emphasized a more realistic depiction of nature. This style focused on the delicate balance between light and shade, the intricacies of vegetation, and the rhythm of natural elements, which led to a more enhanced representation of the natural world.

Salon des Refuss and Douard Manet

The Salon des Refuss was an exhibition in 1863 of paintings that were rejected by The Salon, one of the most prestigious art institutions in France. The Salon des Refuss showcased works rejected by The Salon for their unorthodox themes, radical techniques, or content that was deemed inappropriate.

However, this exhibition became a turning point in the history of art. One of the most notable painters of this era was douard Manet.

Manet’s “Le djeuner sur l’herbe” (The Luncheon on the Grass) was rejected by The Salon and showcased at the Salon des Refuss. This painting was a significant departure from academic painting as it featured a nude woman having a picnic with fully clothed men.

This painting was a significant departure from traditional art in its anti-academic approach, the focus on modern themes, and the use of techniques borrowed from Japanese woodcuts and photography. Manet’s work marks the beginning of Impressionism, an art movement that would take France by storm in the later nineteenth century.


The nineteenth century was a significant period of transformation in art, with significant changes in how we perceive and create art. The shift from idealized ideals to more realistic styles, the depiction of real-life scenes, and the rejection of academic traditions paved the way for the emergence of the modern era of art.

The art of this period still influences much of the art created today, and it is crucial to have an appreciation for this period. The art world during the 19th century in France was not only characterized by changes and innovations in different art movements.

The emergence of various art communities gave rise to a diverse mix of artists who met, shared ideas, opinions, and worked together. One of such groups is the Caf Guerbois, which became a popular gathering place for emerging artists and creatives.

Caf Guerbois: The Gathering Place for Inspiration

Caf Guerbois was a renowned coffee house located in the Batignolles district of Paris. This cafe became a popular destination for the emerging artists of Paris, including the likes of Emile Zola, August Renoir, Edouard Manet amongst many other artists.

It was a haven for artists who would come to find inspiration and undertake intellectual conversations. The artists shared their frustrations with government policies and academicism in art, just to mention a few.

The French Caf Society: A Diverse Group of Collaborators

During this period, cafes in France served as essential centers for engaging not only politically, but also for economically networking. Cafes such as Caf Guerbois brought together artists, intellectuals, and other members of the French Cafe Society who explored how to create a new society based on free-thinking, idealism, and innovation.

In the spirit of inclusivity, these cafes welcomed diverse groups of individuals irrespective of their social class, age, or nationality. One of the Caf Society’s most significant contributions during this period is the proliferation of artistic movements, including art nouveau, impressionism, and symbolism.

This artistic diversity would not have been possible without the common meeting grounds where artists could network and share ideas. The Exhibition of French Impressionist Paintings: A Commercial Cooperative

The art world had undergone significant changes in the 19th century with many emerging artists achieving commercial success and economic independence.

However, the reliance on the Salon Jury negatively impacted emerging artists’ visibility outside the mainstream Art Exhibition Circuit. In 1874, a group of artists chose to come together and organize a commercial cooperative exhibition known as the Exhibition of French Impressionist Paintings.

This exhibition marked a turning point in the history of art as it established a new art movement – the Impressionists. The Naming of the Art Movement: Louis Leroy and the Acceptance of the Name “Impressionists”

The Exhibition of French Impressionist Paintings featured more than 200 artworks from artists such as Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, and Berthe Morisot.

However, the critic, Louis Leroy, criticized the exhibition and dubbed it “Impressionists” with the ironic intent of ridiculing the artists, their works, and ideologies. The term “Impressionist” soon gained popularity and would later be adopted by the artists themselves.

The name would also serve as the foundation of the art movement, promoting a style characterized by loose brushstrokes, a focus on light, and color that portrayed an ‘impression’ of a moment in time. In conclusion, the 19th-century period played a significant role in shaping the art world and movements embraced in the modern era.

The emergence of various art communities and commercial autonomous exhibitions created spaces where artists from different backgrounds could experiment and build collaborations leading to the establishment of various art movements. The Caf Guerbois and the French Cafe Societies became critical hubs for promoting the exchange of ideas, networking, and creating art.

The establishment of the Impressionist movement was a momentous event that marked a new era of artistic freedom, economic security, and commercial success for emerging artists. In the late 19th century, the cohesive group of Impressionist artists began to dissolve.

The collective had established itself as a well-known movement with a unique approach to painting. However, the artists in the group began to seek new areas of innovation, working in different styles, and eventually moving in divergent directions.

The Dissolution of the Collective: Seeking New Areas of Innovation

As the 19th century progressed, the Impressionist movement fractured into various factions that began to focus on different styles and approaches to painting. Some artists, such as Edgar Degas, began to explore more unconventional themes, while others, such as Auguste Renoir, continued to paint in the Impressionist style but with more significant emphasis on form, line, and composition.

Furthermore, these artistic explorations led to the emergence of new art movements that branched from the original Impressionist movement. Influence of Paul Durand-Ruel: Adoption of Impressionism

Despite the dissolution of the Impressionist group, Paul Durand-Ruel played a critical role in the movement’s success.

Durand-Ruel was one of the first art dealers to recognize the Impressionists’ intrinsic value, placing great trust in many of the movement’s leading artists such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Durand-Ruel assisted the Impressionists financially, providing them with financial backing and exposure in the art market.

Consequently, they were free to pursue their individual artistic visions free from financial worries. His efforts contributed significantly to Impressionism’s enduring success across Europe and America, and the Impressionist style quickly became a hugely influential visual language.

Characteristics of French Impressionism Art: Emphasis on Color and Brushstrokes

The Impressionist art movement is characterized by its emphasis on color and brushstrokes, which are applied in a rapid and spontaneous manner. The style is often characterized by short, feathery brushstrokes that create a sense of movement.

Impressionism aimed to capture the changes in the natural and atmospheric environment, and this negated any fixed illusionary perspective. The impressionists focus on color and brushstroke allowed for a dynamic and genre-defining painting style that captured the essence of the moment and highlighted progressive ideas in the creation and understanding of paintings.

Depiction of People in French Impressionism Art: Indoor and Outdoor Scenes

French Impressionism art brought together different genres and sub-genres of paintings in its social commentary. The style went beyond natural and atmospheric elements and portrayed the people, their environments, and their daily activities.

Impressionism art extended itself to depicting people in both indoor and outdoor settings, making it a genre-bending style that is vibrant and lively. Furthermore, Impressionists moved away from conveying art to its audience as an idealized or polished commodity and instead showed the mundane with an emphasis on the beauty of nature and the everyday.

The artists depicted their subjects in different lighting conditions, capturing different moods and temperaments, which undoubtedly stimulated the audience’s artistic senses and built a new narrative in art. In

Conclusion, the dissolution of the Impressionist collectives marked the beginning of a more diverse and experimental era in painting.

The Impressionist style of painting, which was widely adopted and influenced by succeeding art movements, established itself as a leading visual language across the globe. The Impressionist’s focus on color and brushstroke and the depiction of people indoors and outdoors highlights the subtle nuances and ever-evolving nature of the movement.

It remains one of the most recognized and celebrated artistic movements in the world today. Cityscapes in French Impressionism Art: Influence of Urban Redevelopment

French Impressionism art expanded beyond the focus on nature and the countryside to capture the changing urban landscape of the time.

The rapid urbanization and redevelopment that occurred during the 19th century in France had a significant impact on the Impressionist movement. Artists began to depict cityscapes, capturing the bustling streets, the architecture, and the effects of modernization on the urban environment.

The cityscapes in French Impressionism art often showcased the effects of light and atmosphere on the cityscape, emphasizing the interplay between shadows, colors, and the movement of people. Artists like Camille Pissarro depicted crowded streets, capturing the energy and liveliness of urban life.

The focus on cityscapes in Impressionism reflected the changing face of society and the growing influence of urbanization. Influences on the Movement: Photography and Monet’s Plein-Air Painting

The Impressionist movement drew inspiration from various sources, and two significant influences were photography and Monet’s innovative plein-air painting technique.

The invention of photography in the mid-19th century changed the way artists perceived and represented the world. Photographs could freeze a moment in time with great precision, capturing movement, light, and texture.

This led artists to question the role of painting and pushed them to explore new ways to capture the essence of a scene. Monet, one of the leading figures of Impressionism, developed the technique of plein-air painting, which involved painting outdoors directly from nature.

This allowed artists to capture the fleeting effects of light and atmosphere, leading to loose brushwork and a focus on capturing the essence of a moment in time. Monet’s innovative technique influenced many other Impressionist artists, who recognized the benefits of painting en plein air.

Top Impressionist Artists: Male Artists and Their Contributions

The Impressionist movement was primarily dominated by male artists who made significant contributions to the style and its development. Artists such as Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro were at the forefront of the movement, challenging conventional painting techniques and subject matter.

Claude Monet, often considered the father of Impressionism, developed his innovative style of capturing fleeting impressions in his series of paintings, such as the Water Lilies and Rouen Cathedral. Pierre-Auguste Renoir focused on the human figure, often depicting scenes of leisure and everyday life.

Edgar Degas brought a unique perspective to Impressionism, capturing moments of ballet dancers and scenes from the theater. Camille Pissarro, known for his landscape paintings, explored different techniques and styles throughout his career.

Female Impressionist Artists: Focus on Domestic Settings and Feminine Society

While male artists dominated the Impressionist movement, there were also notable female artists who made significant contributions to the style. Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, and Eva Gonzals were some of the prominent female Impressionist artists.

Their works often focused on domestic settings, intimate family scenes, and the lives of women in French society. Berthe Morisot, in particular, was highly regarded for her portrayals of women and children, capturing the intimacy and tenderness of familial relationships.

Mary Cassatt, an American painter who worked closely with the Impressionists, explored similar themes, often depicting mothers with their children. Eva Gonzals, a student of Edouard Manet, painted scenes of women in the domestic sphere, highlighting the social and cultural expectations placed upon women during that time.

In conclusion, the Impressionist movement expanded beyond the traditional boundaries of art, influenced by the changing urban landscape, photography, and innovative artists like Monet. While male artists dominated the movement, female Impressionist artists made their mark, focusing on domestic settings and the representation of women in society.

The diversity of subject matter, techniques, and perspectives within the Impressionist movement contributed to its lasting impact on the art world. The 19th century witnessed significant changes in the art world, marked by the emergence of various artistic movements and the dissolution of the Impressionist collective.

This period saw the rise of Realism and Naturalism, as well as the rejection of traditional art in favor of more unorthodox themes. The Caf Guerbois became a vibrant gathering place for artists, fostering creativity and collaboration.

Commercial cooperatives, such as the Exhibition of French Impressionist Paintings, provided economic security and propelled the adoption of Impressionism. Impressionist art was characterized by its emphasis on color and brushstrokes, capturing both natural settings and the vibrancy of cityscapes.

Male artists like Monet and Renoir made significant contributions, while female artists focused on domestic scenes and feminine society. Through these developments, the 19th century laid the foundation for the modern art movement, reflecting changing societal ideals and leaving an indelible mark on the art world.

The legacy of this era reminds us of the power of artistic innovation, collaboration, and the importance of capturing fleeting moments in time.

Popular Posts