What is Impressionism
Impressionism was an art movement of the 19th century, which began as a private association of Paris-based artists who exhibited publicly in 1874. The term impressionism originated from art critic Louis Leroy, who commented Monet's painting 'Impression: Soleil Levant'. Leroy said that it indeed was just an impression and that the work could not be considered finished. The impressionists adopted this term and decided to use it for their own benefit.
Early Impressionist painters were radicals in their time, breaking many of the rules of picture making that had been set by earlier generations. Up until the Impressionists, history had been the accepted source of subject matter for paintings, but Impressionists looked instead to the many subjects in life around them. In doing so, they rejected attempts to portray ideal beauty, and instead sought the natural beauty of their surroundings at a given moment. They captured a fresh and original vision that often seemed strange and unfinished to the general public, but which, in our own times, has become much beloved. Sometimes they painted out of doors rather than in a studio as had been the previous custom. This enabled them to observe nature more directly and to capture the fleeting characteristics of the moment, especially the momentary and transient aspects of sunlight.
"Classic" Impressionist paintings are often easy to spot. Short, "broken" brush strokes of pure, untinted and unmixed colors give the appearance of spontaneity and vitality for which these paintings are so noted. The surfaces of these paintings are often highly textured with thick paint, a characteristic which clearly sets them apart from their predecessors in which smooth blending minimized the perception that one was looking at paint on canvas. Compositions are simplified and innovative, and the emphasis is upon overall effect rather than upon details.
How did Impressionism start ?
At the middle of the 19th century in France, the art world was officially dominated by the Academy of Fine Arts. They set the standards for French painting and held an annual art show, "the Salon." Artists could only get their work into the Paris Salon if it was approved by the Academy's "jury," and the jury had very set ideas about what should, and should not, be called art. In 1863, the jury made a disastrous misjudgment: They rejected Le d?jeuner sur l'herbe by ?douard Manet primarily because it depicted two nude women with a man on a picnic. Nudes were okay in historical and allegorical paintings, according to the jury, but to show them in daily life was strictly forbidden. The jury was not very nice in their wording of the rejection, and Manet felt humiliated. This set off a firestorm among many French artists.
When their works were rejected for the offical Salon de Paris, Napoleon III decided to set up a new exhibition for the rejected works, called 'Salon des Refus?s' (The Salon of the Refused). This show was harshly criticized for years by the art critics of the day who usually lined up to march with the Academy's views. In 1874, one of the critics, Louis Leroy, who was also an engraver, minor painter, and successful playwright, visited the Salon of the Rejects and wrote a scathing review of what he saw. Taking his cue from the title of a painting done by an obscure artist, he titled his article "The Exhibition of the Impressionists," thinking that this was a major put-down, since real artists did not paint their impressions, but produced well-calculated and carefully executed compositions with appropriate content. The article was in the form of a silly dialogue which seemed to trivialize the entire show. The painting which "inspired" Leroy's label was "Impression Sunrise," and the obscure artist was someone named Claude Monet. Leroy declared that the painting was at most a sketch and that it could hardly be termed a finished work.
Within a few years of Leroy's review, the term, "Impressionists," had clearly stuck, not as a term of derision, but as a badge of honor, and a new movement was born. The techniques and standards employed within this movement varied widely though gravitating somewhat around a core of values, but the real glue which bound the movement together was its spirit of rebellion and independence. The tyranny of the Academy of Fine Arts was crumbling.