Impressionism was a style of painting that emerged in the 1870s as a reaction to the realism of the time, which often depicted scenes without any emotion. There were two different groups of impressionist painters, those from Italy and those from France. In France, the group was called Impressionists, whereas in Italy, the group of painters inspired by similar principles was called the Macchiaioli. They were both influenced by the Barbizon school and their goal was to capture the changes in light and colour as well as motion in their paintings.
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. Despite his initial negative connotation, the term 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.
With a similar dispregiative connotations, the term macchiaioli derives from macchia, Italian for stain, to denote how paint was applied to the canvas as stains rather than brushstrokes. Impressionist painters of this period, both in Italy and in France were characterized by their use of light and color, as well as the impression they wanted to give viewers. They wanted to create paintings that would allow people to see the world like they saw it. They applied different techniques, such as using paint quickly so that it would show the painter’s impressions of nature. This group of artists wanted to capture moments as they happened. They tried to paint scenes with short, quick brushstrokes in order to show the way that the eye sees reality.
The French Impressionists first emerged in 1874 with their first exhibition in 1877 at the Paris Salon, an art show that took place annually and showcased new art trends. The Italian Macchiaioli painters first emerged years before the French Impressionist movement, in 1859 with their first exhibition in 1860 at the Florentine Academy. Hence, it may be disputed that the movement actually originated in France, as it emerged in Italy decades before and flourished in Italy as well with artists like Giuseppe De Nittis, Giovanni Boldini and Federico Zandomeneghi, who also spent some of their artistic life in Paris, along their French colleagues.
Giuseppe De Nittis started his artistic career in Italy but he later moved to Paris where he realised his artistic ideas were very close to the ones of the group of painters that will become known as impressionists. Hence, De Nittis turned out to be integral part of the mouvement and started exhibiting at the Salon in the period between 1869 and 1874 where his paintings were received with great success. In 1878 he put on display twelve artpieces at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and was granted a Légion d’honneur. In that year he also spent a period in London where he produced impressionist landscapes such as Westmister Bridge, also using the pastel technique
Although we may identify the impressionist movement as something specific to a group of French painters, living in Paris around the 1880s, the ramifications and influences of their artistic innovations go far beyond its initial French masters. Many other painters, musicians and writers were impressed by these revolutionary ideas and translated these into other national or expressive contexts. Painters of different nationalities were attracted by the lively artistic circles in Paris, as it was the case of De Nittis and Zandomeneghi 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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