Blog: Art 9th Class – Impressionism

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to start this topic at school, which is a real shame as impressionism is one of my favourite styles of art. I am pretty sure you already know something about impressionism and certainly you will recognise both paintings and painters. Feel free to download the presentation I would have given you in class (download here). You can also download the worksheet at the end of this post. In this post we are going to look at a few fascinating facts about this wonderful period in art history.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Monet Painting In His Garden At Argenteuil, 1873
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Monet Painting In His Garden At Argenteuil, 1873

Why is it called impressionism?

Impressionist artists were not trying to paint an exact copy of real life, but an ‘impression’ of what they saw (an ‘impression’ of the person, light, atmosphere, object or landscape looked like to them). That’s why they were called impressionists! They tried to capture the movement and life of what they saw and show it to us as if it were happening before our eyes. Impressionism is highly personal (subjective) because we all have different mind we will all make different impression of the things they see, so if we both paint an impressionist painting of a bowl of fruit, each painting will look different.

Claude Monet, “Cliff Walk at Pourville,” 1882 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

Who were the impressionists?

Impressionism started in France, so most but not all impressionists were French. Some of the most well known impressionist painters are 

Claude Monet
Berthe Morisot
Camille Pissarro
Alfred Sisley
Auguste Renoir
Mary Cassatt
Edgar Degas

What is the painting style of impressionism?

Before impressionism, landscapes in art were often imaginary, perfect landscapes painted in the studio. The impressionists changed all that. They painted outside in the real environment which they were painting, no studios for them.

As they were outside, they looked at how light and colour changed the scenes. They often painted thickly and used quick (and quite messy) brush strokes. In most of the paintings done before impressionism you can’t usually see the brushstrokes at all.

Impressionist painting characteristics included:

  • Relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes
  • Open composition
  • Emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time)
  • Common, ordinary subject matter, nothing fantastical just their impression of what they could see right in front of them.
  • Inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience
  • Unusual visual angles
 La classe de danse, Degas
The Rose Garden At Wargemont, Renoir
In the Vegetable Garden
Camille Pissarro

Some interesting facts about impressionists (adapted from Sotheby’s)

Outsiders:  Impressionism was “established” in 1863, when a group of artists  formed the Salon des Refusés in reaction to the rigidly academic official Paris Salon. Literally an ‘exhibition of rejects,’ the show included works by Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro, among others.

‘Impressionist’ was first intended as an insult: A play on the title of Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (1872), the term was coined by art critic Louis Leroy. It was meant to satirise the style of painting Monet had employed.

Exodus to England: Many Impressionists crossed the channel to escape the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Notable among these short-lived expatriates were Monet and Pissarro. 

Monet's Impressionism Painting in London - iTravelWithArt
The Houses of Parliament London, Monet

I hope this was an interesting overview for you on the subject of impressionism. Please send me a message if you have any questions. Why not test your knowledge by downloading the worksheet below?

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