What is Impressionism? To understand the Impressionist movement, you must first understand what they were opposing. And through this opposition, how impressionists (Group of artists, Impressionist painters) defined themselves and their Artistic movement. If you are not an artist, you may not know that when you see a painting in a gallery, that usually this painting, has been weeks or months in the making; sometimes years even.

There are many ways to prepare to paint a picture, and each artist is different. But generally, an artist will make sketches of parts of their composition separately as to really understand how it is formed. How light affects it and how shadows add to and affect its form.

Many artists reviewed how light and colour sits in its environment and what effect it has on things around it. How the colours bounce off each other and intermingle to create the appearance of the item. Then they might begin painting small practice pieces on smaller cheaper pieces of canvas or paper. After all of this study, an artist will then draw their chosen composition onto the canvas, deleting and redrawing until it is just right. It is only after all of this that paint gets mixed and painting begins.

It is all very romantic as if courting the pieces that you want to immortalise in paint. Falling in love with the essence of what captured your attention and then working to communicate this onto the canvas. This is often why artists can be so emotional and intense when it comes to their work.

The Impressionists, however, threw this process to the wind, they rebuked the preparation time in the studio. They turned away from the ‘fine’ art processes, that had fine finishes and detail that took months to complete. They wanted to capture the passion of the moment; both the moment of inspiration within themselves in response to a scene and also the moment as it passed within the scene itself.

The impressionists aimed to capture a fleeting moment in time, eternalising it in paint for the world to see. To capture the ‘impression’ of that moment, they had to move out onto the streets. They sat amidst the movement and bustling action of the day. Be it in the city or in the countryside, there was more going on outside the studio than within it. The aim was to capture the essence of what made an impression on their eyes at any given moment.

The impressionists are celebrated today, but they were stunned at the time. Their coarse, irregular brushstrokes and unfinished appearance were far from the style of painting celebrated in the day. But the movement is integral to all modern art is seen today, and it was the first modern art movement of its kind in the 1860s. It developed in Paris, and despite harsh opposition, the movement spread throughout Europe and as far as the USA.

They wanted to capture the passion of the moment
They turned away from the ‘fine’ art processes. Photo Source: Unsplash

10 Characteristics And Ideas Of The Impressionist Style

  1. Brushwork was loose, energetic with translucent light effects. With an emphasis on creating the appearance of movement and flow.
  2. The palette was made up of colours which were pure, bright and intense.
  3. The compositions were made up of mostly blurred subjects, Images seemed as though they had speed before your eyes before you had the chance to focus.
  4. Famed painting of the time use extraordinary detail for the focus of the picture and only blurred the background of images or areas which were not to be focused upon. They were shunned By critics, their impressionist work was seen as basic, amateur and unfinished. Due to the style of brushstroke, which was new to the period.
  5. The imperfections in the images were to highlight the imperfections in life. They wanted to paint truthful renditions of what they saw in everyday life.
  6. While today we may use a photo to capture and eternalise a split second in time, the founders of impressionism used their canvases. They called this an impression, but we would call the same thing a photo or snapshot.
  7. Scientific thought was developing around the same time, and it was being understood that what the eyes see and the brain understood were very different things. Impressionists aimed to capture what the eye perceived, the change in light, weather, positioning, movement. However, they often did this within one image. Rather than on separate images, representative of many moments in time captured together as if squeezing the composition over the course of a day into a single painting.
  8. Realism was not important to the impressionists
  9. Due to their style of painting, they essentially documented the building of Paris. With their visual records, we can see the changes as they took place in a given area. Newly constructed boulevards, railway stations, and buildings.
  10. They were radical painters who embraced the art of immediacy, bright colours, honest composition without realism, movement and change.
The impressionists aimed to capture a fleeting moment in time
The movement is integral to all modern art is seen today, and it was the first modern art movement of its kind in the 1860s. Photo Source: Unsplash

The Most Well Known Impressionist Artists


Edgar De Gas as he was known until he changed his name to the less aristocratic ‘Degas’. Was born to a rich family who encouraged him to take part in the arts although as a hobby rather than as a profession. Degas originally tried to live up to his father's dream of him becoming a lawyer. But after starting to study law he gave it up, going on to study art in Paris instead. During his time in Paris and his travels to Italy,  and he took every opportunity to uncover inspiration. From museums to galleries to street scenes and the faces of the people around him. It was on his trip to the Louvre when he was copying a picture that he met another artist doing the same; Edouard Manet (another impressionist artist). They formed a life long friendship which had a big effect on Degas.

Edgar Degas didn't consider himself an Impressionist painter, in fact, although he took part in impressionist shows, admired and was friends with many impressionist artists. He always claimed to be independent rather than assume the title impressionist. This could be because he valued and used his classical training, which used line, focal points, sketching and painting in the studio. While traditionally impressionists favoured colour, textural painting and working outdoors.

His work is extraordinary; at times delicate and beautiful, at other times, intrusive and funny. But in all cases, you are transported to a moment in time in which you can see just how the people were really living in that moment. I expect it is this key characteristic which is so strongly felt in his work that earned him the title of an impressionist and one of the Great Painters.

Top Artworks: The Bellelli family (1858 - 67), Monsieur and Madame Edouard Manet (1868/9), Foyer de la danse (1872)

Birthplace: Paris, France

Lifeline: 1834 - 1917

Art Style: Realism, Impressionism, Japonism

Art Forms: Painting, Sculpture and Print

An artist will make sketches of parts of their composition separately
When you see a painting in a gallery, that usually this painting, has been weeks or months in the making; sometimes years even.Photo Source: Unsplash

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A Well Known Piece Of Impressionist Art

The Water Lilies

Monet devoted a large part of his life to creating a beautiful garden which he then transported on to the canvas. Monets water lilies series of paintings are world renowned as being some of the most beautiful landscape paintings.

His work was not the typical landscape, Monet did away with the traditional horizon and depth of field. As soon as you see the images, you are confronted with the surface of the water. The view is almost zoomed in because you can not see the bank that you appear to stand on nor the horizon in the distance. You are looking into, and across the water, it is pulling you in, it is reflecting the sky and the clouds, in some trees are reflected. These are spectacular pieces of work, vivid and hypnotising.

The Monet paintings in the Musee de l’orangerie in Paris flood your sight, transporting you into another world, which I expect was Monet's plan all along.

Artist: Monet (French impressionist and Post impressionist)

Date Painted: 1918 - 1926

Original title: Les Nympheas

One Location: Musee de l’orangerie, Paris

The series: around 250 -/+ paintings

Size: 200 x 425 inches (example size of one of 250 paintings)

Medium: Oil on canvas

Did you know about the art movement called Baroque?

Other Well Known Pieces

  1. Impressionist sunrise by Claude Monet
  2. Luncheon of the boating party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  3. Poppies by Claude Monet
  4. The Boulevard Montmartre at night by Camille Pissarro
  5. The Cradle by Berthe Morisot
  6. The absinthe drinker by Edgar Degas
  7. The green dancer by Edgar Degas
  8. A bar at the Folies-Bergere by Edouard Manet
  9. The coiffure by Mary Cassatt
  10.  The Paris street; Rainy day by Gustave Caillebotte

There is something just so moving about impressionism, I find it to be some of the most beautiful work. Full of emotion, expression and movement with colours that are so bright that it transports me into a moment of pure contentment. Like the moments when you are in a revere, reminiscing over the joys of the day.

The impressionist art movement doesn't just present us with pieces of art; it also communicates the fleetingness of a moment and highlights how precious and powerful these passing moments are. When I see impressionist paintings, I feel that they represent just how the memories within my mind, might be painted. As if looking through half closed eyes and trying hard to remember clearly. Close your eyes and think about your own memories, perhaps you are an impressionist too. What are your favourite Art movements?

Do you like Surrealism and Dali or Cubism and Picasso with his Cubist work

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