C. Monet: Impresión atardecer, 1872.
C. Monet, Impresión atardecer, 1872.

  • Little History:
          Until the second half of 18th century, the most important style was Clasicism. From this moment a radical swift will be produced in History of Painting. The usual up to now was that artists would display their pictures in the Official Hall. On the contrary, new artists (known as “The Rejected”) had to find other places to exhibit their works. So first impressionist exhibition was celebrated on April, 15th of 1874 in Nadar’s photography Gallery. Artists were introduced as “Anonymous Society of painters, sculptors and engravers”. It included artists as important as Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, or Cézanne.
    Now exhibitions will be celebrated in different times and places. After the climax of this style its falling comes since it will be depassed by different concepts and aims. In this way many tendences will be gathered under the generic name “Neoimpressionism”.
  • Origin of the word “Impressionism”:
          Impressionist painters never told of themselves using this word. It was applied to them in a pejorative way by critic Louis Leroy, as he saw Monet’s Impression Dusk or Impression Raising Sun, painted in 1872 and shown in exhibition of 74. Next day, doing a parody of the picture’s title in order to make a joke, Leroy named the new movement: ‘when I beheld the work I thought that my glasses were dirty, what did this canvas mean?… The picture had neither up nor down… Impression! Of course, it makes an impression… Colored paper in his embrionary state is more complete than this sea-scene’. In this way the word “Impressionism” became the name of the stream that even to Leroy himself would make feel proud.
    It caused a big scandal, similar to that experimented by Manet. The refined public of the moment was not ready to accept a revolution like the one that Impressionsits proposed. Jokes and drastic criticisms they suffered would make them succeed. The climax for them was produced when 20th century was already begun.
  • Changes and characteristics:
         Their main aim was substituting the dominant idea of “Beauty” for the new one of “Freedom”. In order to understand this step we should pay attention to the historic and social frame:
    • Impact of the train: the idea of “speed” is experimented for the first time. Human eye knew in this way a “distortioned reality”.
    • Impact of photograph: photograph proved that color instead of drawing configures vision. So prior classicist theories were broken. Photograph made possible the idea of instant image, used by Degas for his dancing scenes.
    • Impact of oil painting from tubes: it will be common from the middle of the 19th century. It implies a revolutionary outcome since artist does not need carefully elaborating colors. Then painters can get out of his studio and work in the open air.
    • Impact of Nature and Light: working in the open air shows a new reality full of light. Its projection makes color possible.
    • Impact of Time: that is the age of clocks. Time is a topic that obsesses men, specially painters. Technique requires from new artists a clever and agile touch of paintbrush.
         These changes brought special characteristics for Impressionism:
    • Landscape as an important subject:
           It is one of the most fruitful geners. Landscape is a field that will attract a great part of impressionists’ interests: open air, communication with Nature, discovering of light… The latter will change with the time: chromatic shades will shift along the day. Landscape also implies representation of water and ice. Artists love surfaces in wich reflections and colored-lights become infinite. Representation of shapes is not so frequent and is always dependent on landscape. (Now figure is a pretext to paint landscape. On the contrary, Classicism took landscape as an excuse for representing human shape). It does not mean that inner scenes disappear. Degas works topics like dance or horses, both connected to speed and instant image.
    • Technique:
           Impressionists are defined by his agile technique, with long touchs of paintbrush rich in painting material. This was severely critizised by lovers of tradition who told that “news” crushed their tubes on the canvas. About the last phase of Monet it is said that his works are not painting, but sculpture on the canvas. Goya is often cited as a forerunner for this kind of paintbrush touch.
    • Color:
           It is important to say that impressionists never used in their palettes black color. They did it because they realize that shadows are never black, but colored. Indeed pure white does not exist, since light gives it many shades. Artists looked for pure colors, though they mixed them directly on canvas surface.
    • Lack of perspective:
           Impressionists ignore the concept of euclidian perspective that regulated the idea of painting up to this moment. Now “primitive” point of escape -established from Renaissance- disappears. Artists represent a flat bidimensional painting because this is the way our eye works. That was anticipated by Manet in his Pífano.

  • Main impressionist painters:

    Written by:
    Beatriz Aragonés Escobar.
    Licentiate in Art History

  • Visit our sponsors: