What is Impressionism? It was an art movement that came up in the 19th century in France. Critic Louis Leroy coined the term in a satiric review on Impression, the work of art by Claude Monet. Claude Monet was the founder of the French Impressionist Painting.
Impressionist art is a style of art characterized by unique visual angles, prominently evident brush strokes and an open composition. The art form emphasizes on the changing patterns of light to indicate the passage of time. It deals with capturing an object as if someone has caught just a glimpse of it. Hence, images have lesser details. But the paintings are often brightly colored and involve an element of movement.
Impressionists of the early period went beyond the traditional academic painting. Inspired by the artists like Eugene Delacroix, they based their paintings more on color strokes rather than line drawing. Previously, paintings were done indoors. French painters like Gustave Courbet, and Theodore Rousseau paved a path for Impressionism. Impressionists showed art, the outside world. They started painting realistic scenes with the use of broken strokes of pure colors.
Paintings by Dutch painters of the 17th century represented a vivid distinction between the subject and the background. Photography inspired the painters to capture moments in daily life. While photography could depict facts, paintings could portray an artist's interpretation of facts. Impressionists were the first to bring in subjectivity to the paintings. Japanese art also contributed to the emergence of Impressionism.
In the middle of the 19th century, Academie des Beaux-Arts dominated the world of French art. Works of art primarily depicted history and religion. The paintings lacked vibrancy and brightness. The Academie held restrictive views about the style of paintings and did not promote young artists who wanted to bring in newness to the art form.
The Academie used to hold an annual art show where a panel of judges reviewed the paintings of the artists of those times and the Academie gave away prizes to the artists, judged as being best by the panel. The judges strongly rejected the paintings that portrayed unconventionality, thus suppressing the freedom of expression of some young artists. Particularly in 1863, many paintings by the young artists were rejected, which made Emperor Napoleon III look into the matter. He declared that the paintings should be made open to public judgment and organized a huge exhibition of the rejected paintings. It was called Salon des Refuses. It led to a new trend in art and attracted many.
The artists requested that Salon des Refuses be held in 1867 and later in 1872. Both their requests were not honored. In 1873, Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro established an association of Painters, Sculptors and Engravers in order to exhibit their art. The first exhibition was organized in the April of 1874. It included works of thirty artists. The tradition of these exhibitions had to bear criticism from the society as well as face some internal conflicts. Renoir went against Impressionism in the 1880s. Pissarro was the only one to participate in all the eight exhibitions of Impressionism.
The exhibitions earned the artists fame and monetary gains. Durand Ruel, the dealer of these artists was instrumental in making Impressionism popular. He brought the Impressionists' artworks before the society and arranged shows for them. Impressionism soon became prevalent in society.
Apart from Renoir, Pissarro, Monet and Sisley who can be considered as pioneers of Impressionism, others like Berthe Morisot, Armand Guillaumin and Frederic Bazille also contributed to earning recognition for Impressionism. Edgar Degas disregarded the term Impressionist and Edouard Manet did not call himself an Impressionist, but both of them are considered a part of Impressionism. James Abbott McNeill Whistler, born in America participated in Impressionism. Works of Eugene Boudin and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot were closely related to the Impressionist style of art.
Thick brush strokes to give the picture a bright look, soft edges, depiction of reflecting light, and the representation of shadows to obtain a natural look, are the signature characteristics of Impressionist art. The history of Impressionism relates the evolution of this novel form of painting that was a major breakthrough in the world of art.