Sacrificing Detail: the Impressionism Movement

impressionismImpressionism is a style of painting that emphasizes the overall feel of a subject or scene, with the artist focusing on aspects such as colour and light rather than fine detail. Paintings in this genre are usually created with loose brush strokes or dots. Rural vistas are popular subjects in impressionistic painting, but the technique has often been used to capture urban scenes and people as well.

In the 1860s, the meeting of four significant painters set impressionism in motion: Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. The impromptu style of these artists’ work— usually painted in open air rather than being meticulously sketched and then finished in a studio— was at first panned by critics and the public alike.

How Impressionism Got Its Name

A skeptical art critic named Louis Leroy gave impressionism its name when he took a disliking to Monet’s famous “Impression, sunrise” painting. In a satirical exhibition review he dubbed artists of this kind as “impressionists”, intending to mock Monet’s title. Needless to say, the name stuck… In a different way than originally intended.

The Photographic Influence

The controversy around impressionism was not unlike the rejection, more recently, by film photographers of digital photo enhancement. Impressionists were revolutionary in their time, eschewing historic or mythological subjects for the immediacy of what they saw around them. Ironically, perhaps, the emergence of photography inspired impressionistic painters to capture transient moments.

The Japanese Influence

Another source of inspiration for impressionist painters was the Japanese Ukiyo-e art movement. Prints and paintings from this movement were characterised by blocks of bold colour and, often, diagonal compositions. This influence is seen in works by Monet, who collected Japanese art, and by Degas, who also was a collector of Japanese prints and a photographer.

Modern Impressionism

Despite the storm it created in its infancy, impressionism soon gained acceptance among critics and the public alike and is still hugely popular today. Outstanding artists such as Caillebotte, Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley made paintings that appealed greatly to the hearts of their audience as much as to their minds.