Impressionism. It is an artistic trend in which painters portray objects according to the impression that light produces on sight and not according to the supposed objective reality. It was the most important movement in painting in the last decades of the 19th century .


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  • 1 Brief history
    • 1 Origin of the term Impressionism
    • 2 Changes
  • 2 Specific characteristics of Impressionism
    • 1 Landscape as the main theme
    • 2 Technique
    • 3 Color
    • 4 Lack of perspective
  • 3 Representative Impressionist Painters
    • 1 Monet the father of Impressionism
      • 1.1 Representative works of Monet
    • 2 Degas a modern classic
      • 2.1 Representative works of Degas
    • 3 Renoir a sensual impressionist
      • 3.1 Representative works of Renoir
    • 4 Landscape pissarro of the movement
    • 5 Alfred Sisley
    • 6 Paul Cézanne
    • 7 Other impressionists
  • 4 The end
  • 5 Sources

Brief history

Until the second half of the 18th century the style that prevailed was Classicism . From this moment on, there will be a radical turn in the History of Painting. The usual thing was for the artists to exhibit in the Official Hall. The new artists (known as “Los Rechazados”), on the contrary, had to find other alternative places that would allow them to exhibit their works.

Thus, the first impressionist exhibition took place on April 15 , 1874 , in the Salon of the photographer Nadar. They were presented under the name of “Joint-stock company of painters, sculptors and engravers”. They intervened among other artists of the stature of Monet , Pissarro, Renoir , Sisley, or Cézanne . From this moment the exhibitions would be happening progressively over time and with different venues. Decline would follow the splendor of the style, since it would be overwhelmed by the appearance of other concerns and different budgets. Thus, several different styles would emerge that are encompassed under the generic name of ” Neoimpressionism “.

Origin of the term Impressionism

Most of the Impressionist generation was born between 1830 and 1844 , but they were not found in Paris until the 1860s . Impressionist painters did not define themselves under this name.

The term was imposed in a pejorative way by the critic Louis Leroy, when he saw Monet’s work Impression dusk or Impression rising sun painted in 1872 and exhibited in the exhibition of 74. The day after it, paraphrasing the title of the painting to mock of him, Leroy baptized the new movement: « When contemplating the work I thought that my glasses were dirty, what does this canvas represent? […], the painting had no right or wrong side […], Impression! it certainly makes an impression […], wallpaper in the embryonic state is more done than this navy ». This was how the term “Impressionism” became the name of the movement that Leroy himself would later take pride in. They caused a great scandal, a process similar to that experienced by Manet.

The refined public of the moment was not prepared to accept a revolution like the one they were proposing. The ridicule and harsh criticism to which they were subjected would lead them afterwards to success. Its maximum recognition is strengthened well into the 20th century .


The main objective is to replace the dominant ideal of “Beauty” with the new one of “Freedom”. To understand this step, it is necessary to investigate in the historical-social context:

  • Rail impact:For the first time the concept of “speed” was experienced. The retina thus captured a “distorted reality”.
  • Impact of photography:Photography showed that what determines vision is color and not drawing, thus breaking previous classicist approaches. Photography brought with it the concept of the snapshot, which would be so used by Degas for his compositions of dancers.
  • Impact of tube oil: itbecame widespread in the middle of the 19th century . It brings with it a very revolutionary consequence, since the artist does not have to carefully prepare the pigments, hence the painter leaves the workshop to paint outdoors.
  • Impact of nature and light:being outdoors reveals a new reality, a reality full of light, thanks to whose projection color is possible.
  • Impact of time: itis the era of clocks, time is a subject that obsesses man and in particular the painter. The technique of the new painters requires a quick and skillful brushstroke.

Specific characteristics of Impressionism

Landscape as the main theme

It is one of the most fruitful genres. The landscape offers a field where all the interests of the Impressionists are concentrated: the outdoors, contact with nature, the encounter with light. This would be modified over time and the color nuances would change as the day progressed.

Within the landscape, the theme of the representation of snow and ice water is also frequent. They love surfaces in which reflections and chromatic-light nuances become infinite. The appearance of the figure is less frequent, and if it does it is surrounded by landscape. This does not mean that there are no indoor scenes whose greatest exponent is Degas , who is concerned with themes such as dance or horses, both related to speed and snapshot.


The Impressionists are characterized by their fast technique, with long brush strokes loaded with pictorial material. This was harshly criticized by those most rooted in tradition, going so far as to say that “the new ones” squeezed their tubes directly onto the canvases. Monet’s last stage says that his works are not paintings, but rather sculpture on canvas. Goya is often pointed out as a precedent for this type of brushstroke.


It is significant that the Impressionists remove black from their palette, they do so because they observe that shadows are never black, but colored. Likewise, pure white does not exist, but light loads it with innumerable nuances. They bet on pure color, although they can afford to mix them directly onto the surface of the canvas.

Lack of perspective

The Impressionists abolish the concept of the Euclidean perspective that had governed the concept of painting until then, which is why the “primitive” vanishing point disappears. They bet on a flat and two-dimensional painting because it is actually how the retina perceives it. This was already anticipated by Manet with her Fife.

Representative impressionist painters

In France : A precedent, Manet; Monet; Of gas; Renoir; Pissarro; Sisley.

In Spain : Sorolla; Regoyos; Rusiñol; House.

Monet the father of Impressionism

Claude Monet (1834-1906) is probably the most recognized impressionist painter, he takes the movement to its highest significance. His works include Impression: Rising Sun, La Grenouillère, and the series of the Rouen Cathedral, the Station of Saint Lazarus and the Nymphs. Monet has always been regarded as the ultimate representative of Impressionism. Monet is undoubtedly a pure impressionist, he never abandoned his approaches. Throughout his long career, he managed to execute nearly three thousand frames. His main concern is to capture the chromatic-light vibration in his canvases. In his themes light begets color and form. Its retina cleverly captures the reflection of light anywhere: on a water surface, on a snowy ground or on the doorway of a cathedral.

Her favorite subjects are the marine, river scenes and landscapes. In his tireless investigation of the incidence of light, he observes that it varies with the passage of time, and thus multiple effects are produced that he tries to rescue with his agile and quick brushstroke. He never drifted towards other artistic trends, but remained faithful to Impressionism until his death. Other cases stand out such as that of Cézanne, who makes Impressionism, a very personal style that walks through different channels.

Other impressionist painters but with a personality different from Monet’s are Degas and Renoir, no less important. Monet was a great lover of Japanese culture and art. Hence, a garden was built to the east, with a bridge and water lilies. This was a good place to take refuge in his later years. In this time, an almost blind Monet allows himself to be “illuminated” by a clean light hitting the water in his pond and in everything around him. This leads him to create outstanding paintings of life, true “chromatic symphonies”.

Representative works of Monet

La Grenouillère, 1869, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art. La Urraca, 1868-1869, oil on canvas, Musée d´Orsay, Paris. Sunset print, 1872, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan, Paris.

Degas a modern classic

Edgar Degas ( 1834 – 1917 ) was an atypical impressionist. He was a good draftsman, and in his paintings he uses white and gray abundantly. Her favorite subjects are dancers and night shows, in their most daily and least spectacular dimension, horse racing, urban landscapes, nudes and portraits. He did not paint outdoors. His works include dancers preparing for the ballet, The Young Spartans, Scenes from the ballet “Roberto and the Devil”, Two dancers on stage, Portrait of Edmond Duranty, After the bath, Bather fixing his hair.

Degas is an impressionist in form rather than color. Although he participated in seven of the eight Impressionist exhibitions, his art remains on the sidelines, because Degas embodies the vein of classicism. He studied the Renaissance, especially the art of Rafael. Later he was trained at the French School of Fine Arts.

The modernity in Degas, resides in that it displaces the academic subjects by the contemporaries, establishing with it an analogy with Manet. Degas is a skilled draftsman, he was concerned with capturing the movement with fidelity, hence he was obsessed with subjects such as dancers and horse racing. He works the same themes as Lautrec, but not from the expressionist perspective like this one, but from the classical one. Degas is a born observer of women. He likes to capture the most unusual postures, natural and instant poses. Many of his compositions have asymmetries and cut edges. This is due to the influence of photography and prints of Japanese art. In it, the vibrant light from Monet’s atmospheres turns into pale light from footlights. Arguably Degas represents “Interior Impressionism”.

When Degas’s sight began to decline, he began to work on other techniques such as pastel and sculpture. Degas did not harmonize well with Impressionism for cultivating drawing to the detriment of color, nor did he harmonize with conservative tendencies for his tendency to cultivate more contemporary themes. His understanding came to him after death.

Representative works of Degas

Dance class, c.1873-1875, oil on canvas, Musée d´Orsay, Paris. Races, 1885-1888, pastel, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Renoir a sensual impressionist

Pierre-Auguste Renoir ( 1814 – 1919 ) is one of the purest impressionists. His motives are the leisure time of the bourgeoisie, the bathers and the female body and also the interiors. He left Impressionism at the age of forty, when he realized he had reached a dead end. His works are The Box, Dance at the Molino de la Galette, Lady playing the piano, The concert, The dancer, Naked woman drying her feet, The washerwoman. Renoir has always been considered the most sensual representative of Impressionism.

He started painting in a Chinese porcelain shop in Paris . Here, he begins to paint themes that emanate sweetness and sentimentality inherited from the Rococó. Later, he went to Gleyre’s studio, where he contacted impressionist painters such as Sisley and Monet. In his early years, he was also influenced by the Barbizon school, especially Gustave Courbet’s painting.

Renoir is one of the most recognized Impressionists for the subjects he cultivates: flowers, sweet scenes of children and women. The female nude is a subject that obsessed him, its thick shapes can remind Rubens and its loose and highly chromatic brushstroke Titian. Renoir has a vibrant and bright palette that makes him a very personal impressionist.

Representative works of Renoir

The Box, 1874, oil on canvas, Courtauld Institute Galleries, University of London. Le déjeuner des canotiers, 1881, oil on canvas, Philips Memorial Gallery, Washington, DC Dance in the Field, 1883, oil on canvas, Musée d´Orsay, Paris.

Landscape pissarro of the movement

Camille Pissarro ( 1803 – 1903 ) was the painter who came closest to nature. He is one of the great landscapers of the movement: the laundry, the station of Perge, the flower garden.

Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley ( 1839 – 1899 ) is one of the founders of Impressionism. His paintings are discreet, but he embodies all the characteristics of the style. It portrays reality without gimmicks. The canal, Snow in Louveciennes, Wheat field near Argenteuil, The Molesey dam.

Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) has a long and varied career as a painter. Impressionism for him is only a time of his life, and can be found in post-impressionism: Zola’s house in Medan.

Other impressionists

Other less well-known impressionists are Fréderic Bazille: Family Reunion, Gustave Caillebotte: Snowy Roofs, Armand Guillaumin: Montmartre, Maurice Urtrillo: Molino de la Galette, and Berta Morisot, one of the few women who have so far stood out in art history : View of Paris from the Trocadero hill, Portrait of the mother and sister, The cradle.

In Spain Joaquín Sorolla ( 1863 – 1923 ) is the most representative impressionist painter, and the only non-French impressionist of international stature. He works in Levante, with the light of the Mediterranean, that’s why his paintings have a very bright color and light. Swimmers, And they still say that fish is expensive …, Sewing the candle, After the bath, Afternoon sun, Coming out of the bath, On the beach and Child on the beach. Other Spanish Impressionists are Aureliano de Beruete: Orillas del Manzanares, Joaquín Mir: Enchanted cove, Francisco Oller: The student, and Darío de Regoyos: Nets lying in the sun.

The end

At the end of the 1970s, the Impressionists began to disintegrate, to have doubts, to find that their exhilarating art was insufficient. It is actually somewhat disconcerting that the peak of this new style lasted such a short time. It can be argued that, evidently, after such a long struggle, the Impressionists were able to realize that they had created and developed a new valid and original language, and consequently, for many years, continued to draw deductions from their discoveries. But the truth is that, in general terms, they did not do so. Clark finds an explanation for this in the limitations inherent in a style that tries to simply transcribe nature and the truth is that the painters came to realize that they were in a stylistic impasse. However,Pointillism (also called Neoimpressionism) and Postimpressionism .


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