Europe 1800 - 1900
- A beginner's guide to Impressionism
- What does “Impressionism” mean?
- How the Impressionists got their name
- Impressionist color
- Impressionist pictorial space
- Degas, The Bellelli Family
- Degas, At the Races in the Countryside
- Degas, The Dance Class
- Degas, Visit to a Museum
- Caillebotte, The Floor Scrapers
- Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day
- Caillebotte, Man at his Bath
- Morisot, The Cradle
- A summer day in Paris: Morisot's Hunting Butterflies
- Cassatt, In the Loge
- Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair
- Cassatt, Woman with a Pearl Necklace in a Loge
- Cassatt, The Loge
- Cassatt, The Child's Bath
- Cassatt, The Coiffure
- Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed
- How to recognize Monet: The Basin at Argenteuil
- Monet, The Argenteuil Bridge
- Painting modern life: Monet's Gare Saint-Lazare
- Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare
- Monet, Cliff Walk at Pourville
- Monet's Wheatstacks (Snow Effect, Morning): Getty conversations
- Monet, Poplars
- Monet, Rouen Cathedral Series
- Monet, Water Lilies
- How to Recognize Renoir: The Swing
- Renoir, La Loge
- Renoir, The Grands Boulevards
- Renoir, Moulin de la Galette
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Portrait of Madame Charpentier and Her Children
- Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party
- Renoir, The Large Bathers
A beginner's guide to Impressionism
Apart from the salon
The group of artists who became known as the Impressionists did something ground-breaking in addition to painting their sketchy, light-filled canvases: they established their own exhibition. This may not seem like much in an era like ours, when art galleries are everywhere in major cities, but in Paris at this time, there was one official, state-sponsored exhibition—called the Salon—and very few art galleries devoted to the work of living artists. For most of the nineteenth century then, the Salon was the only way to exhibit your work (and therefore the only way to establish your reptutation and make a living as an artist). The works exhibited at the Salon were chosen by a jury—which could often be quite arbitrary. The artists we know today as Impressionists—Claude Monet, August Renoir, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Alfred Sisley (and several others)—could not afford to wait for France to accept their work. They all had experienced rejection by the Salon jury in recent years and felt that waiting an entire year between exhibitions was too long. They needed to show their work and they wanted to sell it.
The artists pooled their money, rented a studio that belonged to the photographer Nadar, and set a date for their first collective exhibition. They called themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers and their first show opened at about the same time as the annual Salon in May 1874. The Impressionists held eight exhibitions from 1874 through 1886.
The impressionists regarded Manet as their inspiration and leader in their spirit of revolution, but Manet had no desire to join their cooperative venture into independent exhibitions. Manet had set up his own pavilion during the 1867 World’s Fair, but he was not interested in giving up on the Salon jury. He wanted Paris to come to him and accept him—even if he had to endure their ridicule in the process.
Lack of finish
Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Sisley had met through classes. Berthe Morisot was a friend of both Degas and Manet (she would marry Édouard Manet’s brother Eugène by the end of 1874). She had been accepted to the Salon, but her work had become more experimental since then. Degas invited Morisot to join their risky effort. The first exhibition did not repay the artists monetarily but it did draw the critics, some of whom decided their art was abominable. What they saw wasn’t finished in their eyes; these were mere "impressions." This was not a compliment.
The paintings of Neoclassical and Romantic artists had a finished appearance. The Impressionists' completed works looked like sketches, fast and preliminary “impressions” that artists would dash off to preserve an idea of what to paint more carefully at a later date. Normally, an artist’s “impressions” were not meant to be sold, but were meant to be aids for the memory—to take these ideas back to the studio for the masterpiece on canvas. The critics thought it was absurd to sell paintings that looked like slap-dash impressions and to present these paintings as finished works.
Landscape and contemporary life
Courbet, Manet and the Impressionists also challenged the Academy’s category codes. The Academy deemed that only “history painting” was great painting. These young Realists and Impressionists questioned the long establiished hierarchy of subject matter. They believed that landscapes and genres scenes (scenes of contemporary life) were worthy and important.
Light and color
In their landscapes and genre scenes, the Impressionist tried to arrest a particular moment in time by pinpointing specific atmospheric conditions—light flickering on water, moving clouds, a burst of rain. Their technique tried to capture what they saw. They painted small commas of pure color one next to another. When a viewer stood at a reasonable distance their eyes would see a mix of individual marks; colors that had blended optically. This method created more vibrant colors than colors mixed as physical paint on a palette.
An important aspect of the Impressionist painting was the appearance of quickly shifting light on the surface of forms and the representation changing atmospheric conditions. The Impressionists wanted to create an art that was modern by capturing the rapid pace of contemporary life and the fleeting conditions of light. They painted outdoors (en plein air) to capture the appearance of the light as it flickered and faded while they worked.
By the 1880s, the Impressionists accepted the name the critics gave them, though their reception in France did not improve quickly. Other artists, such as Mary Cassatt, recognized the value of the Impressionist movement and were invited to join. American and other non-French collectors purchased numerous works by the Impressionists. Today, a large share of Impressionist work remains outside French collections.
Essay by Dr. Beth Gersh-Nesic
Want to join the conversation?
- What was the official name of the "Academy" that rejected the Impressionists from exhibiting at the Salon?(4 votes)
- It is the "Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture) was established in 1648" according to Berman, (2020) was the only institution that regulated arts styles and taste until 1793 in France when in 1667, they gave the opportunity to the artist to exhibit their works at an exhibition centre called, Salon.(2 votes)
- Isn't Vincent Van Gogh an impressionist painter?? Why is his name not mentioned ? Or is his name more famous in post-impressionism ??(2 votes)
- Van Gogh's art is usually understood as post-impressionist, not impressionist.(6 votes)
- Were there more French impressionist aritists?(3 votes)
- There were quite a few but the most well known are Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Alfred Sisley and Mary Cassatt.(2 votes)
- When was this essay published?(2 votes)
- Hey, I'm learning about Impressionism in my daily Art class. Why wasn't Mary Cassatt mentioned in this article? Wasn't she Edgar Degas's apprentice?(1 vote)
- Cassatt was a young american painter who exposed at the Salon of 1874 (she came to Europe to study the french and italian masterworks). That's where Degas saw her work and he instantly andmired her painting style. They became friends and via Degas she entered the milieu of the impressionists and she exposed her work at the impressionists expositions. We can't really define her as a impressionist mostly because she wasn't able to paint the everyday outdoor life, like Renoir, Degas and Monet did, due to her position as a woman (same as Berte Morisot).(4 votes)
- are there any impressionists artist that aren't from france and what are the big names(3 votes)
- Are impressionism paintings belonging to the Modernist paintings?(2 votes)
- When the impressionism era end?(1 vote)
- Sometime early in the 20th century, and the first world war put a stake through its heart.(4 votes)
- which academies were they rejected by(1 vote)
- Note the beginning of the essay and it's reference to "The Salon"
in Paris at this time, there was one official, state-sponsored exhibition—called the Salon—...For most of the nineteenth century then, the Salon was the only way to exhibit your work (and therefore the only way to establish your reptutation and make a living as an artist). The works exhibited at the Salon were chosen by a jury—which could often be quite arbitrary.
The Academy was the group of state-sponsored artists from whom the jury for the salon was selected. In effect, the "Salon" was a creature of the Academy. It was not a school, but a recognized group with authority over what would and would not be regarded as "art".(2 votes)
- Im making a bibliography and I need to know who wrote this and when it was published please. Tell me ASAP.(1 vote)
- Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Gersh-Nesic, "Impressionism, an introduction," in Smarthistory, August 9, 2015, accessed December 27, 2016, http://smarthistory.org/a-beginners-guide-to-impressionism/.(3 votes)