The artistic period I like best is the Impressionism, which resonates very much with my perception of visual art, along with the representation of colour and light in painting. With his revolutionary painting, Impression, Sunrise, exhibited for the first time in Paris in April 1874, Claude Monet gave, unintentionally, the name to the nascent Impressionist movement that, at that time, also included fellow contemporary artists like Pissarro, Manet, Renoir and Sisley. The term was used in a dispregiative sense by the art critic Louis Leroy in his critique of the collective exhibition the painters had organised in opposition to the academic school but was taken up by the movement as a way of describing their approach to painting. Impressionism was a term in use before this painting was exhibited in 1874 to describe the effect of a natural scene on the painter or the effect of a painting on the viewer.
Another example of this new “impressionistic” way of painting, inspired by the movement, is the painting by Renoir depicting an open-air composition that seems to have been inspired by a daily excursion, Boating on the Seine of 1875. Intense and contrasting colours define this tranquil and relaxing scene by the river Seine, close by to Paris, with vivid reflections in the water and a steam train passing in the background. This painting was supposed to be composed and realised on the spot as a result of the impression on the painter of an image he experienced and captured on the spot.
The preferred subjects of the impressionists were of course going beyond the representation of nature and light. Popular subjects were also human figures, although moving away from the prevailing tradition of the time, they depicted friends and family in ordinary moments, rather than historical or important people projecting their status or epic achievement. The double portrait by Manet, In the Conservatory, is representing a couple of friends of the painter in their garden but with no apparent intimate connection between the couple.
Paul Gauguin is famous for his later paintings that brought about a new artistic movement that broke away from the approach of the impressionism but in his early days as a painter he had embraced the themes and the techniques of the impressionists. This Still Life painted by him in the period immediately after his divorce from his wife, resonates very much with impressionist techniques in the rapid brushstrokes defining the basket of wild roses. The serenity of the scene also contrasts with the turbulent period he was going through personally, after his decision to dedicate his life to painting.
Although we may identify this artistic movement as something specific to a group of French painters living in Paris around the 1880s, the ramifications and influences of their innovations go far beyond its initial masters. Many other painters, musicians and writers were impressed by their revolutionary ideas and translated these into other contexts. Painters of different nationalities were attracted by the lively artistic circles in Paris, among these Giuseppe De Nittis from Italy, Alfred Sisley from Great Britain, Mary Cassatt from America and Camille Pissarro from Denmark.
Apart from painting, the artistic revolution brought about by the impressionist expanded also to other arts, primarily to music and literature. Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie are sometimes described as impressionist composers, although they rejected such labelling of their work as derogatory. Surely their compositions were more suggestive, atmospheric and in sharp contrast with the emotional excesses of romantic music. Similarly, poets and writers like Arthur Rimbaud, Verlaine and Baudelaire were influenced by the innovations of the impressionists and transferee their approaches also to literature.
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