IMPRESSIONISM THe modern movement

.Destroying the traditional background, the freshness of Impressionist style and revolutionary art techniques made a crucial breakthrough in the painting, music, and literature of the 19th century. Originally, the term 'Impressionism’ was used to denote the unique style of a group of artists whose artistic skills originated the entirely new trend in the art. The group of unknown young artists challenged classical trends, causing lively disputes over their creative manner, named as Impressionism. Highly evaluated nowadays, their masterpieces became the laughing-stock of Paris condemned by critics one century ago.

The Grande Galerie

Historical Background of Impressionism

Impressionism is a style of painting originated in France in the 19th century. Being created by the group of young students, including Claude Monet, Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Impressionism became a revolutionary epoch in the development of European culture, replacing the classical stage.

A range of important events affected the work of artists, musicians, and writers of the epoch of Impressionism.

In the visual art, Impressionism experienced the influence of several events. First, in 1854, friendly relationships established between Japan and France boosted the international trade. In 1862, a Far Eastern shop opened in Paris. Japanese carving affected the art technique of the future Impressionists, who painted their masterpieces with printmaking. Japanese wood-block prints suggested the Impressionists new forms and modes of painting, such as flat and decorative forms, attractive colours, and compositions, lacking the symmetry. Second, the Franco-Prussian war made the significant effect on the new trend in the art. During the war activities, the first leader of the skilled artists Frederic Bazille was killed. At the same time, Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley, and Camille Pissarro travelled to London where they taught the art techniques of famous painters. Finally, the exhibition of 1874 became the starting point of the official history of Impressionism in the Art. The outrageous behaviour of critics caused the rebel among the group of artists. Moreover, the witty remarks about ‘Impression: Sunrise’, one of the paintings by Claude Monet, gave the name to the entire movement in the art.

The impressionists cannot be considered a formal group as a whole. It is remarkable to note that the future impressionists did not even choose the name of their innovative trend and never planned to represent a radical revolutionary movement in painting. What they had in common was that they were all in Paris in the early 1860s and realized that they shared desire to paint the landscape, cityscape, and modern life in new ways. Robert Katz and Celestine Dars claimed that the first brilliant exhibition was held because nobody of the future impressionists was successful at the official Salon, the key place in Paris for the painters. Though this event of 1874 did not bring success to the young artists, it was noticed by a hostile journalist and critic Louis Leroy who described the exhibition, his feelings and attitude towards the painting ‘Impression: Sunrise’ in his article 'The Exhibition of the Impressionists', occasionally giving the name to the innovative branch in the visual art. Since that moment, the term 'Impressionism' has become widely known due to Louis Leroy. Nevertheless, the art was not accepted by critics, disapproving scraped dried paint from the palette thrown onto a dirty canvas. The mature public was shocked by the revolutionary modes and technology of painting, an unusual “approach to color and a range of subject matter, making the exhibition the laughing-stock of Paris. Despite Louis Leroy’s version of Paris scene 'Boulevard des Capucines' by Claude Manet, famous French writers Baudelaire and Zola highly appreciated the innovative trend and saw in their work an important advancement of art into the modern era


‘Impression: Sunrise’ (Claude Monet) 'Boulevard des Capucines' (Claude Monet)

Impressionist Works of Visual Art

Creating their masterpieces in the period of the struggle between modernity and classical order, the impressionists made a striking breakthrough in visual art.

Claude Monet as the founder of Impressionism in Visual Art.

Claude Monet is considered to be a founder of French Impressionism. One of his masterpieces ‘Impression: Sunrise' gave its name to the entire imressionist trend. The most famous Monet’s works are 'La Gare Saint-Lazare’, ‘Rue Saint-Denis’, ‘Festivities of 30 June, 1878’, landscapes in series ‘The Rocks of Bell-Ile’, ‘Cliffs at Belle-Ille’, ‘Poplars on the Bank of the River Epte’. However, his paintings were not success, starting to draw public attention only in 1880s. In his canvases, light is of vital importance. In fact, Monet has succeeded in rendering the same objects under different types of light, namely in the morning, afternoon, and evening. For example, the painter has created a series of the paintings, differring from each other only in the violence of color. In his masterpieces, Claude Monet evaluates the intimate and everyday, makes the accent on the picturesque moments and poetry of events. He highlights the interaction between the figure and the surrounding nature in scene set in the open air, the play of patches of light on clothes, ignoring small peculiarities of people’s faces.

‘Luncheon on the Grass’ by Claude Monet

The famous painting 'Luncheon on the Grass' by Claude Monet is considered to be a revolutionary concept of freedom, when artists can refer elements peculiar to different trends. In the above-mentioned canvas, Claude Monet painted a nude young female near two gentlemen in frocks. Imitating the famous scene of outdoor concert by Titan that had impressed the artist in Louvre in his youth, Monet’s painting was considered to be offensive for the existing morality of those days. The critics blamed the artist for showing nude figures in an outdoor background without allegorical context, understanding that ' Luncheon on the Grass' became the refined parody of classical art traditions. Following natural laws that contradicted everyday reality, the advocates of classical trend in art were involved in brisk controversies between progressives and conservatives. The key points of their debates were stated in the doctrine of Art for Art’s Sake. Despite Monet’s evading such public discussions, his painting “shows his lifelong devotion to pure painting. Rejecting habitual rules, this picture became the first step in the struggle between representatives of the old school and the Impressionists that sparked off a row at the exhibition of 1874.

Pierre-AugustE Renoir as the Co-founder of Impressionism in Visual Art

During the period of 1860s-1870s, Pierre -Auguste Renoir worked together with Claude Monet, combining their efforts and promoting a new, revolutionary style with the flat brush strokes transformed into flecks of paint to depict an unexpected scale of visual effects. Nevertheless, critics note that impressionism remained to be obtained by using feelings rather than considering the facts. Soon, other participants of the impressionist group started to use Monet and Renoir’s style of painting.

Renoir’s style is remarkable for its bright painting scale, cheerful character, and strong clear lines. His famous canvases are ‘The Large Bathers’, ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’, ‘Dance at le Moulin de la Gallette’. At the beginning of his career as a painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir created portraits and real life descriptions, succeeding in painting facial expressions. He is famous for his unique technique of broken brush strokes, skillfully rendering effects of lighting and movement. The influence of Japanese carvings and mode of art techniques can be seen there. In his middle years, Renoir is considered to use only five colors in his palette. Over time, his canvases developed into linear. In his advanced years, Renoir returned to impressionism, preferring brush strokes. During this time, the painter focused on epic nudes and domestic scenes.

‘The Large Bathers’ by Pierre-August Renoir
'Dance at le Moulin de la Gallette’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Pierre-AugustE Renoir

Being extremely diverse, Renoir’s heritage includes open-air landscapes, family scenes, and monumental portraits such as ‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’. This work renders typically Impressionist understanding of real life, surprising viewers with sparkling color and light. Renoir developed this approach to the palette under the influence of Claude Monet, who had visited London during the Franco-Prussian war to learn the art techniques of famous painters. The artist depicted his friends, having a rest on a balcony of a restaurant. Human figures, elements of still life, such as fruits, bottles of wine, and glasses, and landscape are rendered in the canvas ‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’. New modes of painting long back to Japanese wood-block prints, attracting viewers with decorative forms and beautiful colors. In the picture, a great deal of light impresses a viewer, creating the positive atmosphere. Being a great admirer of female models, Pierre-Auguste Renoir achieved significant results in bringing together several figures on one canvas that makes his painting rather complex to comprehend. The woman, who is playing with the dog, is the future wife of the artist. People are talking in a lively manner. The picture renders the friendly atmosphere and warm emotions, drawing attention to the moment as the unique part of our life. Admired about Japanese carvings and Claude Monet’s ideas after his visit of London, Renoir expressed his independent vision of Impressionism and its unique perceptiveness.

‘The Luncheon of the Boating Party’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Musical Impressionism

The musical Impressionism developed during the period from the end of the 19th until the beginning of the twentieth century. This tendency has the same historical backgrounds with the art Impressionism. The same historical events influenced the new tendency in music. In fact, the blossom of international trade and diplomacy, the Franco-Prussian war, and the quarrel between the group of Impressionists and the conservative Academie influenced musical Impressionism as well. Composers admired masterpieces by Claude Monet, Frederic Bazille, Alfred Sisley, and Auguste Renoir. Being similar to Impressionism in the visual art, the musical Impressionism embodied irregular phrases, ignoring traditional harmonic forms. This trend impressed with unresolved dissonances and veiled orchestral colours. Moreover, whole-tone and exotic scales were widely implemented in musical compositions of the time, decorating the tune with the ninth chords and frequent usage of modality.

Impressionism in music was rendered by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, regardless their firm rejection of belonging to this school in art. Like the Impressionists rebelled against the art traditions after the exhibition of 1874, the composers rejected the old forms and scales in music.

Claude Debussy claimed that he adored music. He tried to free it from barren traditions that stifle it. It is a free art gushing forth, an open-air art boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea. It must never be shut in and become an academic art. ‘Clair de Lune’ is one of his famous works, being the third movement of ‘The Suite Bergamasque’. Being inspired by the poem by Verlaine, the composer gave the same name to his musical work. Listener accepts the tune through the prism of senses, ignoring the intellect. The musical narrations evokes a range of emotions, making impressions on the audience.

Joseph Maurice Ravel

Belonging to French composers, Joseph Maurice Ravel wrote his ‘Gaspard de la Nuit’ that continues Debussy’s impressionist traditions. This piece of music is a fantasy, extraordinary, gentle, and fragile. Both pieces of music by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are composed in impressionist traditions, striking with irregular phrases, ambiguity of form, and exotic scales.


Several events made the influence on the development of Impressionism in literature, where it obtained the name of ‘Symbolism’. The industrial revolution contributed to the economic welfare, while war activities caused the waves of migrations. In fact, despite its tragic essence, the Franco-Prussian war caused the opportunity to get acquaintance with new patterns in literature designed by foreign poets. Created by Jean Moreas the manifesto of Symbolist poetry became the starting point of the new tendency, making the influence on poets. According to it, the real world with ideal forms is poor. Therefore, the task of a poet is to reveal the beauty of the inner world through the new forms of writing. Paule Verlaine is the bright representative of Impressionism. His poems evoke emotions, like his ‘Poèmes saturniens’. Like all the impressionists, Paule Verlaine gives his preference to the effect of emotions rather than the exact depiction of forms. Therefore, his poem seems be much brighter than the works of their contemporaries.

Knowledge Attained

To sum up, Impressionism is truly considered to be a revolutionary art. Being originated in France in the 19th century by a group of young students, Impressionism became a revolutionary era in the development of European art, replacing the classical epoch. Developing their skills intuitively, impressionists gave their preference to emotions rather than the exact depiction of forms. This style of Impressionism became the subject to severe theoretic conflicts between the impressionists and the conservative Academie of the French artistic establishment, highly appreciating classical art. The advocates of the conservative trend regarded the background and outside limits of the painting detracted from the focal point to be a failure. Nevertheless, Impressionism can be regarded as truly revolutionary art, having brought the new perception of reality and creating the background for Modernism.

Informational sources include

“Alfred Sisley: Biography.” 2013. Web.

Brodskaia, Natalia. Claude Monet. London: Parkstone International, 2010. Print.

Brodskaia, Natalia. Impressionism. New York: Parkstone International, 2011. Print.

“Camille Pissarro (1830-1903).” 2007. Web.

Clancy, John. Impressionism: Historical Overviews and Bibliography. New York: Nova Publishers, 2003. Print.

“Claude Monet.” n.d. Web.

“Edgar Degas.” 2007. Web.

“Edgar Degas (1834-1917): Painting and Drawing.” 2000-2013. Web.

“Frederic Bazille: Biography.” 2013. Web.

Janson, Horst Woldemar, and Anthony Janson. Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, and Art Nouveau. London: Prentice Hall Professional, 2004. Print.

“Impressionism and the French Impressionists.” 2013. Web.

Katz, Robert, and Celestine Dars. The Impressionist Handbook: The Great works and the world that inspired them. New York: Sterling Publishing Company, 2000. Print.

Lloyd, Christopher. Studies on Camille Pissarro. London: Routledge, 1986. Print.

“Pierre-Auguste Renoir Style and Technique.” 2013. Web.

Pitman, Dianne. Bazille: Purity, Pose, and Painting in the 1860s. Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 1998. Print.


Created with images by alexsar982 - "the sun" • gideon_wright - "The Grande Galerie" • Sharon Mollerus - "Monet, Woman with an Umbrella Facing Left, 1886" • Sharon Mollerus - "Monet, Chrysanthemums (detail)" • Sharon Mollerus - "untitled image" • WikiImages - "sisters girl on the terrace"

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