Impressionism is a 19th century art movement, considered to be one of the earliest radically modern artistic movements in painting. It originally was started and perpetrated by a group of Paris-based artists, who were considered quite the radicals of their time, since they sought to deviate from the hitherto established rules of conventional painting. As the name suggests, these ‘Impressionists’ aimed at capturing the ‘impression’ of a scene acquired in a fleeting glance, it’s momentary, sensory impact. To quote Claude Monet, one of the most famed Impressionist –
“Impressionism is only a direct sensation. All great painters were less or more impressionists. It is mainly a question of instinct.”
Thus while most of their counterparts adhered to convention, aiming for fine finish and detail in their creations, Impressionists sought to capture the optical effects of light, conveying the passage of time, change of seasons and other variations in the landscape in their artwork. Their canvases depict scenes as they world appear if one were to just catch a glimpse of it. The pictures are bright and vibrant, with bold colours and lack of fine detailing.
The Impressionists applied loose strokes and intense colours, avoiding clarity of form in favour of accurate portrayal of changing hues. Movement and motion were important elements in an Impressionist painting, being significant to human sensory perception. Instead of intricate details, the paintings canvassed overall visual effects, using short broken brush strokes without the usual gradual shading. To the untrained eye, some of these paintings might just appear to be random strokes and blotches of intense colours. But connoisseurs of art can see them for what they truly are- vivid paintings that focus on the play of light and the impression of any sight. Impressionist paintings usually depict outdoor scenes and landscapes and were seldom painted in a studio as was the norm then.
Although now immensely popular and recognized for their great contribution to the legacy of art, Impressionism was originally met with severe criticism. The lack of detail, which was earlier considered to be the benchmark for distinguishing better art pieces from the mediocre ones, resulted in many seasoned 19th century critics faulting the paintings for their unfinished appearance. They even went so far as to call them works of amateurs. In fact the title ‘Impressionism’ itself comes from a satirical review of a Claude Monet work, Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise). However gradually the public, though initially critical, came to accept and appreciate this new artform, although art establishments and reputed galleries continued to be skeptical and unappreciative.
Notable Impressionists include Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. Most of their creations capture the effect of the large-scale 19th century modernization of Paris. Van Gogh too was highly influenced by his friendship with Impressionists, and is said to have inculcated several of their techniques.
Personally, I first came across this term in the book ‘False Impressions’ by Jeffrey Archer. Unable to understand what the concept represented, I did some research and came to know about this captivating art. Now, I am no great patron of the arts, nor am I well versed with its know-how. Yet there was something that immediately caught my eye in these Impressionist paintings. I have come to realize that I much prefer their bold and sometimes even abstract strokes to the more finer and intricately detailed ones of the former art movements. The very fact that Impressionism ushered in an era of artistic freedom, previously unheard of, appeals to me. I highly recommend a study of this form, for anyone who wants to venture into the art of painting or wants a more refined taste in art. I am confident that Impressionism will definitely capture the interests of many of you out there. For all you artistically inclined folks out there, here are some classic examples of Impressionist paintings –
Sunrise, Claude Monet
View of the Saint-Martin Canal, Paris, Alfred Sisley
Lydia leaning on her arms, Mary Cassat
Landscape at Pontoise, Camille Pissarro
Self-potrait 1889, Vincent Van Gogh
The Cliff at Fecamp, Claude Monet
There are innumerable other masterpieces from this era. Impressionist art has even inspired Impressionist music and literature. The world of Impressionism is thus vast and has a little something for everyone out there. Do partake in the delightful experience of getting lost in this inspired world.