The impressionist style of painting is characterized chiefly by
concentration on the general impression produced by a scene or object
and the use of unmixed primary colors and small strokes to simulate
actual reflected light.
Impressionism, French Impressionnisme, a major movement, first in
painting and later in music, that developed chiefly in France during
the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Impressionist painting
comprises the work produced between about 1867 and 1886 by a group of
artists who shared a set of related approaches and techniques. The
most conspicuous characteristic of Impressionism was an attempt to
accurately and objectively record visual reality in terms of transient
effects of light and colour. The principal Impressionist painters were
Pierre Auguste Renoir,
who worked together, influenced each other, and exhibited together
Edgar Degas and
also painted in an
Impressionist style for a time in the early 1870s. The established
whose work in the 1860s greatly influenced
Monet and others of the group, himself adopted the Impressionist
approach about 1873.
Tout l'impressionnisme est né de la contemplation
et de l'imitation des impressions claires du Japon.
-- Ed. et J. de Goncourt, Journal, 19 avr. 1884.
En réalité l'Impressionnisme est multiple: le terme si critiqué
est surtout mauvais parce qu'on l'emploie tantôt dans un sens large,
tantôt dans un sens étroit. Il y a l'impressionnisme de
qui peint clair.
Il y a celui de Manet encore et de
qui spécule sur l'emploi
d'une nouvelle perspective. Il y a celui de
Pissarro et de
qui se fondent sur le plein air et l'emploi des tons purs.
Il y a enfin celui de
qui unit une conception lyrique de la vision
avec une analyse quasi scientifique des sensations colorées et qui
substitue au dessin classique la notation des ombres et des reflets.
Toutes ces tendances ont un caractère commun: elles se fondent sur
une tentative pour substituer aux conventions de l'école l'analyse des
données pures des sens. Et c'est par là qu'elles méritent finalement
toutes, en commun, le nom d'Impressionnisme.
The word ``impressionniste'' was printed for the first
time in the
on the 25 April 1874 by
Louis Leroy, after
Claude Monet's landscape entitled
Impressions: soleil levant
This word was used to call
Exposition des Impressionnistes
an exhibit hold in the salons of
the photographer Nadar and organized by the
``Société anonyme des peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs''
[``Anonymous society of painters, sculptors and engravers''],
-- P. Francastel, Nouveau dessin, nouvelle peinture, III.
Impression: soleil levant
The founders of this society were animated by the will to break
with the official art. The official theory that the color should
be dropped pure on the canvas instead of getting mixed on the palette
will only be respected by a few of them and only for a couple of years.
In fact, the
Impressionism is a lot more a state of the
mind than a technique; thus artists other than painters have also
been qualified of
Many of these painters ignore the law of simultaneous contrast as
established by Chevreul in 1823. The expressions ``independants'' or
``open air painters'' may be more appropriate than ``impressionists''
to qualify those artists continuing a tradition inherited from
who thought that the drawing and colors were
a whole, and English landscape painters,
Bonington and especially
whose first law was the observation of
nature, as for landscape painters working in Barbizon and in the
Stanislas Lépine and the Dutch
were among the forerunners of the movement.
In 1858, Eugène Boudin met in Honfleur Claude Monet, aged about 15
years. He brought him to the seashore, gave him colors and learned
him how to observe the changing lights on the Seine estuary.
In those years, Boudin is still the minor painter of the
Pardon de Sainte-Anne-la-Palud, but is on the process
of getting installed on the Normandy coast to paint the beaches
of Trouville and Le Havre.
Côte de Grâce,
in the Saint-Siméon farm,
he attracts many painters including
Sisley. The last three will meet in Paris in the free Gleyre
studio, and in 1863 they will discover a porcelain painter,
At the same time, other artists wanted to bypass the limitations
attached to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and were working
quai des Orfèvres in the Swiss Academy; the eldest,
from the Danish West Indies, was Camille Pissarro; the other two
were Paul Cézanne and Armand Guillaumin.
Le ``Salon des Refusés''
These people were highly impressed by the works of
and became outraged when they learned that he was refused for
the 1863 Salon. The indignation was so high among the artistic
population that Napoleon III allowed the opening of a
``Salon des Refusés'', where Manet, Pissarro, Jongkind,
Fantin-Latour, etc. showed their works.
Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
provoked a great
enthusiasm among the young painters, who saw represented
in Manet's painting many of their concerns.
They started meeting around him in the café Guerbois, 9, avenue
de Clichy, and thus creating l'école des Batignolles.
The 1866 Salon accepted the works of some of them: Degas, Bazille,
Berthe Morisot, Sisley; Monet exposed the portrait of
Camille, Pissarro, les Bords de la Marne
en hiver; Manet, Cézanne, Renoir were refused, and Emile
Zola wrote in l'Evenement a diatribe which made him
the official upholder of those newcomers bearing an more
revolutionary attitude in the conception than in the still
traditional painting. The main distinction lies in the attraction
for color and the liking of light; but Berthe Morisot remained
faithful to Manet's teaching; Degas was mixed between his admiration of
and the Italian
painters; Cézanne attempted
to ``faire du Poussin sur nature'';
Claude Monet himself, in la Terrasse au Havre and
les Femmes au jardin (1866, Louvre, salles du Jeu de Paume),
is far from announcing his future audacity.
Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe
The 1870 war
The 1870 war splitted those beginners. Frédéric Bazille was killed
in Beaune-la-Rolande; Renoir was mobilized; Degas volunteered;
Cézanne retired in Provence; Pissarro, Monet and Sisley moved
to London, where they met Paul Durand-Ruel. This stay in London
is a major step in the evolution of Impressionism, both because
these young artists met there their first merchant, and because
they discovered Turner's paintings, whose light analysis will
Back in Paris, most of these painters went to work in Argenteuil
(Monet, Renoir), Chatou (Renoir), Marly (Sisley), or on the banks
of the river Oise (Pissarro, Guillaumin, Cézanne).
Edouard Manet painted the Seine with Claude Monet and,
under his influence, adopted the open air work.
The opinion of the public
Durand-Ruel was unable to sell the works of the future impressionists
and had to cease buying in 1873; thus, next year, they decided to
expose in Nadar's (15 April-15 May 1874), where they displayed
the works that the Salon had refused. They invited with no success
Manet, but Lépine, Boudin,
and the painters Cals, de Nittis, Henri Rouart, etc. joined them.
Many artists became then conscious of the public and critics
incomprehension, but the solidarity didn't last long.
Cézanne didn't participate in the group second exhibit, galerie
Durand-Ruel, rue Le Peletier, in 1876, which hold 24 Degas and
works from Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Pissarro,
Sisley and Frédéric Bazille.
They met some upholders, such as Duranty, Armand Silvestre,
Philippe Burty, Emile Blémond, Georges Rivière, soon with Théodore
Duret. The disappearance of Cézanne, Renoir, Sisley, Berthe Morisot
in the 1879 exhibit proved that the group was splitting apart.
Renoir preferred to send to the official Salon
Mme Charpentier et ses enfants and the
Portrait of Jeanne Samary;
yet only few people admired his artworks and of those of his friends,
and the artists'life was uneasy, if not miserable.
Degas tried, with Pissarro, to maintain the unity of the group,
but his attempt failed since Monet, Sisley and Renoir were missing
for the fifth exhibit, opened in April 1880; however, artworks from
appeared there for the first time.
In 1881, the some of the Impressionists went back to Nadar's:
Pissarro, Degas, Guillaumin, Berthe Morisot. The ``seventh exhibition
of independant artists'' was the become the ``Salon des indépendants''
two years later.
Only Monet and Sisley went always deeper into the analysis of light
changings and their effects on appearances. Degas, Renoir and
Cézanne headed towards opposite directions, whereas Pissarro
was interested by the researches of Paul Gauguin,
If, at this stage, Impressionists were becoming
appreciated, their situation was still harsh; the Salon was still
refusing their paintings, and in 1894, 25 out of 65 artworks
donated by Caillebotte to the Luxembourg museum were rejected.
Yet, when Camille Pissarro, the Impressionist patriarch, died in 1903,
everybody agreed that this movement was the main XIXth century
artistic revolution, and that all its members were among the finest
painters. The influence of the Impressionists was great out of France,
especially in Germany, with Liebermann, Corinth, and in Belgium.
© 26 May 1996,
Nicolas Pioch -
Thanks to the
BMW Foundation, the WebMuseum
and contributors for their support.