What Does the Term Impressionist Mean?
The term Impressionist is used to describe a new and revolutionary movement in painting which was developed in Paris in the 1870s. The word was first used derisively by critics of the movement, and was taken from Claude Monet’s canvas representing the sun rising over the sea and entitled Impression. Monet was a central figure in the development of the impressionist movement, along with Manet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cezanne, Guillaumin and Berthe Morisot.
What these painters tried to do was to get away from the romanticism and the fetters of the accepted artistic convention. Experiments were made with the use of the pure colours of the prism and the splitting up of “tone” into its component colors. The impressionists painted outdoor modern life and chose as their subjects.
Paris and urban scenes, the coasts of the English Channel and the North Sea, and the little village resorts along the banks of the Seine and Oise which had been made accessible by railway. They aimed to convey the changing rhythm of light.
Radicals in their time, early Impressionists violated the rules of academic painting. They constructed their pictures from freely brushed colours that took precedence over lines and contours, following the example of painters such as Eugène Delacroix and J. M. W. Turner. They also painted realistic scenes of modern life, and often painted outdoors. Previously, still lifes and portraits as well as landscapes were usually painted in a studio.
The Impressionists found that they could capture the momentary and transient effects of sunlight by painting outdoors or en plein air. They portrayed overall visual effects instead of details, and used short “broken” brush strokes of mixed and pure unmixed colour—not blended smoothly or shaded, as was customary—to achieve an effect of intense colour vibration.
Impressionism emerged in France at the same time that a number of other painters, including the Italian artists known as the Macchiaioli, and Winslow Homer in the United States, were also exploring plein-air painting. The Impressionists, however, developed new techniques specific to the style. Encompassing what its adherents argued was a different way of seeing; it is an art of immediacy and movement, of candid poses and compositions, of the play of light expressed in a bright and varied use of colour.
The public, at first hostile, gradually came to believe that the Impressionists had captured a fresh and original vision, even if the art critics and art establishment disapproved of the new style.
By recreating the sensation in the eye that views the subject, rather than delineating the details of the subject, and by creating a welter of techniques and forms, Impressionism is a precursor of various painting styles, including Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism.