The Impressionist art movement was hugely influential in its day and continues to influence artists today. There are many modern Impressionist painters who continue to use the painting techniques and style that changed how painters created art in the late 19th century. Impressionism was all about showing how life truly was and revealing the emotion and light in scenes. Today, the tradition is continued by modern Impressionists while adding unique new features here and there.

Knowing what the characteristics of Impressionism art are can make it much easier to recognize and appreciate these works of art. Impressionist works are typically very easy to recognize for a variety of reasons, and once you know what you are looking for, you will be able to identify these kinds of paintings with ease. The techniques used to create these works of art are also central to the expression of the movement, which is part of why you will want to know more about how these paintings are created.

Five Characteristics of Impressionism Art

Impressionism art characteristics

1.  Quick and Loose Brush Strokes: A Signature Characteristic of Impressionism Art

This is the most easily recognizable feature of this painting style. The brushstrokes in Impressionist paintings are often very easy to see, and they are not blended with the brushstrokes around them. This means that the colors are more separated and more true in nature, allowing for the creation of a pastel, light, and airy feeling. Black paint is never used in Impressionist works either, so shadows are created using blue hues. This gives the entire painting a softer and slightly more romantic feeling in most cases.

Some Impressionist painters actually apply the paint to the canvas with a paint knife. This leads to layered paint that creates the feeling of a three-dimensional work. This has become an increasingly important part of the new Impressionist movement, and the works that are being created today often have this dimensional feeling.

The painting knife means of paint application offers a very lovely layered appearance that is not as common in older, classic Impressionist pieces. This is one of the key features of the new Impressionist movement and one that you can be on the lookout for when assessing works of art.

Part of the reason that the brushstrokes are so loose in this style of art is that the intention of an Impressionist piece is to show the idea, the emotion, or the feeling of a scene. Realism felt restrictive to the artists who founded the Impressionist movement, and they took pains to free themselves from the sharp lines and contrast of the former painting movements associated with portrait-making and still-life works.

2.  Brightness and Light: Essential Elements in Impressionism Art

Impressionist paintings are created with an eye to the feeling and the light of the scene. This means that the actual people or things in the scene are not as important as the light and the bright nature of the scene’s presentation. Colors can vary somewhat during different periods of movement, and there are pastel periods as well as periods where darker colors are more common.

However, even when the scene is dark, that does not mean that the lightness and brightness of the image are not preserved. In nighttime or darker scenes, the main features or focus of the image will be allowed to be brighter and surrounded by light. This might be a spotlight, as is sometimes seen in Degas’ works with dancers or ballerinas. It is also easy to see the light and the attention that was placed on it in a series of paintings like “The Haystacks” by Monet.

Brightness and light do not always mean that the scene itself is in the daytime or is suffused with sunlight. It does mean that the nature of the light in the scene is clearly depicted and is often the first thing that you notice about the painting. Impressionism is concerned very much with the feeling of a scene, and you often experience most of the emotion of these pieces through the painter’s careful use of light.

Impressionism art techniques

3. En Plein Air Painting: A Distinctive Technique in Impressionism Art

During the earliest years of the Impressionist movement, nearly all of the well-known works were created “en plein air” which means that they were painted outdoors. This has continued to be a feature of many of the Impressionist works that are produced today, although this is not a requirement. Painting outdoors can help an Impressionist painter to see the true colors and light of a scene. You will find that there are not many other painting movements that are so connected with this kind of painting, and the sense of light and life that is communicated by the paintings created in this environment is immediately recognizable.

En plein air might not always be practical for painters today, but there are still many Impressionist painters who make sure that they create outdoors whenever they can. Being able to capture the “impression” of the scene is critical to this painting movement, and painting outdoors allows painters to be immersed in the essence of what the scene is all about with ease.

Key features of impressionism art

4. Relative Color: A Key Concept in Impressionism Art

Relative color might not mean much to you at first if you are not a painter. There is actually local color as well, which means the way that an object would appear in natural and white light. Relative color means the way that color appears in the sun or clear outdoor light. This means that painters working in the Impressionist style seek to capture the color of the scene they are painting just as it sits in the real world.

Water might appear to be purple in tone in some lights, or a mountain might look blue or even grey. The use of local color means that Impressionists do not represent the items in the scene by the actual colors that they might really be, but instead represent them using the colors that they displayed at the time that the scene was captured on the canvas.

 This is a key aspect of en plein air painting, and it is clearest in Impressionism. You will still see this use of relative color in modern Impressionist works as well. It is often easy to tell when a painting has been created en plein air just because of the unique and vibrant way that the light shines through in the scene.

Exploring the world of impressionism art

5. Perspective with Distance: A Technique to Convey Depth in Impressionism Art

Due to the unique painting style of the Impressionist movement, these paintings are best viewed from far away. This means that you cannot stand up close to an Impressionist piece and get a good feel for what the painting is trying to show you. You will need to step back to take in the picture as a whole, to really understand and appreciate it.

While you might want to get up close to admire the way that the paint was placed on the canvas, you will need to step back to really see the scene that is depicted in the work. This was actually one of the critiques of the movement when it was brand new, as portraits could be viewed up close. This was part of what led to the accusation that Impressionist works were “not complete” or were “unfinished”.

This is actually one of the most well-known and admired features of this painting movement today. Being required to appreciate the whole scene from a distance is a great way to get perspective on what the painter was really trying to show with the work. When you get too close to a painting and are just looking at the small details, you might miss the point of the work as a whole. This is also a key aspect of being able to recognize the emotion and the light in an Impressionist painting. Displaying Impressionist art requires that you have a room that is large enough that the painting can be truly appreciated from afar.

Impressionism art style

Knowing About The Features of Impressionist Art is Essential

If you are thinking about collecting Impressionist art, you need to know more about the features that make it unique and special. This means being able to recognize the brushstrokes, subject matter, and other common features that define this style. New Impressionist painters use many of the techniques that the classic Impressionist painters utilized, and you can see these details in their works as well once you know what to look for.

When collecting this kind of art, you will also need to remember that these pieces are made to be displayed in a large room. Being too close to an Impressionist piece of art can render it hard to understand or appreciate. The true message of these paintings is conveyed in the subtleties of the light, the shape, and the feeling of the subject of the piece. When you are aware of the features that make Impressionist art unique and special, you can enjoy this type of art even more and collect it with a sense of purpose and enjoyment.