Impressionism is a pictorial movement that emerged in France in the last decades of the 19th century . This rejected the academicism and romanticism of the painting of the time and proposed a new look at art , closer to contemporary reality .
The movement was named after the critic Louis Leroy , who, commenting on the group’s first show in 1874, mentioned that what he saw were not paintings, but prints (sketches).
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Impressionism time period
In the course of the nineteenth century, Paris was increasingly regarded as the artistic center of the world. After the heyday of Romanticism, academic-based realistic French painting had become prominent in Europe around 1850. An important sub-movement was neoclassicism, which exemplified classical Greek and Roman art and sought themes in history and mythology. Many works carried a message. The main representatives were Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Eugène Delacroix, although the latter deviated from the usual rules because he regarded color and not line work as the most important visual means.
A new development in realistic painting was initiated around 1850 by the painters of the Barbizon School. From an artists’ colony just south of Paris, this group of young artists created genre works and landscapes, without romantic finery, but with a great deal of attention to the different manifestations of light. Important representatives were Theodore Rousseau , Camille Corot , Jean-François Millet and Charles-François Daubigny . The painters of the Barbizon School worked in the great outdoors, ‘en Plein air‘, where they wanted to directly convey the mood of nature.
The origin of Impressionism must be placed in the line of the development that followed Realism and Neoclassicism. A direct influence came from Delacroix and, as mentioned, from the Barbizon painters, with whom many Impressionists also collaborated in the 1860s. However, influences also came from abroad. For example, the Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind, who worked in France in France, made a series of Impressionist paintings of Notre Dame around 1860, each time with different lighting. In addition, the Englishman William Turner can be mentioned, whose work impressed a number of early Impressionists. They were all painters who showed that there were new paths in art, different paths than the ones then prevalent, the boundaries of which were strictly guarded in France around 1860 by the conservative-classicist Académie des Beaux-Arts.
Characteristics of impressionism
The main characteristics of impressionism are the following:
- The Impressionists held that academic principles, such as the great historical, mythological, and religious themes, should be set aside; the exhaustive study of drawing as the basis of painting and the artificial construction of scenes. Instead, they proposed to capture scenes of modern life as they were recorded by the artist’s eye. Thus, they painted family scenes, landscapes, activities of daily life, country scenes, etc., with a quick style and bright colors .
- Unlike previous artists, who did numerous sketches and studies before beginning to paint each work in the studio, Impressionist artists painted in the open air . Usually they began and ended the painting in front of the model that had inspired them.
- To obtain the effect of color vibration that objects have under sunlight, they applied quick , short brushstrokes and curves of pure colors on the canvas . In this way, the final color of what is represented is formed on the observer’s retina.
- They used new compositional schemes, closer to those of photography, which was beginning to become popular at that time.
- They were rejected by the institutions that legitimized the artistic activity of the time , the Academy and its exhibition instance, the Salon. Therefore, in 1873 they created the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, with which they held 8 exhibitions between 1874 and 1884.
- They were influenced by some principles of the artists of realism, but they tried to move towards a more naturalistic way of representing the elements of nature. They noticed that sunlight, filtered by various atmospheric conditions throughout the day and through the seasons, caused changing visual effects on objects and they tried to capture this phenomenon. To achieve this, they used only the colors of the solar spectrum, eliminating white, black and earthy colors from the palette.
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Background to impressionism
Impressionism received influences from various sources, among which we can highlight:
- The realist movement emerged in France in the mid-nineteenth century. The artists of realism sought to reflect contemporary reality, especially that of the urban and rural working classes.
- Outdoor painting had already been proposed by the artists of the Barbizón School , a group sympathetic to realism that settled near the Fontainebleau forest. These artists, who devoted themselves almost exclusively to painting natural landscapes, took their sketches in the open air.
- The treatment of color by previous artists such as Eugene Delacroix, William Turner, Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya.
- The theories on the effects of color by Eugene Chevreul and Charles Blanc, who studied the phenomena related to light and color, the influence of colors on each other and the relationships between primary, secondary and their complements.
Some of the most important artists of the Impressionist movement were:
- Claude Monet (1840-1926): one of the founding members. He was the only one of the group who continued with the Impressionist investigations until the end of his life. He explored the effects of light and color on objects in numerous series of paintings on the same subject, but at different times.
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) : who had a great interest in the human figure. He was interested in capturing situations of enjoyment of life, serene and beautiful.
- Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) : participated in the founding group.
- Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) : was an active member of the group. Starting in the 1880s, he also participated in Neo – Impressionism .
- Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) : one of the few women participating in the movement, she was an active organizer of the Society of Artists and its exhibitions.
In addition, there are other artists who, although they cannot be considered part of Impressionism, were very close to the movement. Among them, Édouard Manet (1832-1883) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917) .