For art lovers, Impressionist art is one of the most pivotal and important developments in painting. There are many other painting styles that one could choose to collect, but there is just something special about Impressionism because of its sense of color, movement, and emotion. Knowing about the factors that make Impressionist art fit the category is important if you are going to collect the artwork in this style.
While Impressionist art has changed and evolved to create a modern interpretation of the movement, that does not mean that the important features of this painting style have ceased to matter. The factors that make Impressionist art fit inside of this painting style have not changed in any material way despite the passage of more than 100 years. Knowing about this painting style and its features is important before you start your collection of Impressionist art.
What is Impressionism Art?
Impressionist art evolved in the late 19th century in France. This painting movement got its feet under it with the help of painters like Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro. These were the painters who gave the new painting style a name and an identity. Impressionism was a break with the current painting traditions that people like Monet and Degas felt stifled creativity and created boring and lifeless works of art.
The Impressionist painting style is characterized by a few specific features. These features are important even today. Impressionist paintings are made with small, visible brush strokes, which are sometimes applied without a brush and are added using a painting knife. The forms of objects are represented, but without intense accuracy, because the focus of the work is on the nature of the light and the nature of the colors in the piece of art.
There are many classic Impressionist works that are done as a series of paintings throughout different times of the day. These kinds of works characterize the extreme importance of color and light in a painting done in this style. The unblended nature of the colors creates a special sense of motion and intensity in these works that is not present in realist works or paintings done in other styles.
Exploring the Impressionist Movement in Art History
Originally, “Impressionism” was bandied about as an insult to the painters making these new art pieces. Coined by an angry art critic named Louis Leroy, the painters making these new and exciting works of art decided to steal the critique and make it their own. Leroy was intending to indicate that the paintings that he saw in this style were just an impression of a finished piece, but were not completed and should therefore not be shown at art shows or considered complete works of art.
Those paintings in the new Impressionist style felt like this was an accurate interpretation not only of their painting style but also of their goals when creating their art. They did not wish to be confined to the staid, boring world of portrait painting or still-live painting focused on intense accuracy of color and shape. They wanted to show the color and the feeling of things, and perhaps more importantly, they wanted to show the inspiration that they found in their everyday lives.
The topics of Impressionist pieces of art were almost as offensive to art critics at the time, as the painting style itself. After all, no one painted street scenes or everyday people going about their business, or things like hay bales or the night sky during this period. It was thought that there was nothing elevated about these common, everyday items and scenes. Impressionist painters thought otherwise and were inspired by being able to paint the things that they experienced daily and that they found to be inspiring and moving.
This focus on regular people going about their daily lives, or the normal scenes that someone might see walking through the city or in the country was an essential part of what the Impressionist movement contributed to modern painting styles. While there had been some effort by other painters to create unique and different kinds of art before the Impressionist movement, these people had usually been working on their unique pieces and did not have the force of a “movement” behind them. Impressionist artists were clever enough to work together in what amounted to guilds, creating so many new and exciting pieces of art that their works could not be ignored.
Impressionism likely also benefited from its timing as well. There were social changes afoot during the late 19th century and the class system which had confined working-class people to be less than was chafing more and more. As the “common” people grew tired of being held down by people who thought they were their “betters”, exciting new art that was all about them and their lives felt like the inspiration to demand more from their daily existence. Impressionism and social change go hand in hand during the earliest years of the movement, and you can almost feel the social caste system cracking at the foundation when you look at some of these works of art.
How Impressionism Art Became a Recognized Style
Before the internet, it was not easy for people all around the world to find out about artists or things like fashion. During the late 19th century, artists who wanted to be “discovered” had to have their works displayed at art shows. The most important of these shows was the Salon in Paris. For years, Monet, Renoir, Degas, and others tried to get their pieces a spot in the Salon’s lineup. This was the final hurdle for Impressionism to become a recognized movement.
The Salon was controlled by judges who were also painting teachers at the Academie des Beaux-Arts and they did not feel that Impressionism was worthy of so much notice. After struggling against the prejudice of the Salon for years, the Impressionists decided they would exhibit their paintings. They did so as the Anonymous Society of Painters in 1874. This was a further sign that the old ways were no longer a good fit for either society or painters, and people came from all over to see the new and exciting works of art.
The Impressionists continued to display their works in their art shows through 1886. Some of the painters who added their works to these shows never completely identified their works as Impressionist art. People like Paul Cezanne and Paul Gauguin always hovered at the fringes of the movement, without totally committing to it. However, their works were also not in keeping with what the Salon and other art critics thought counted as art, and this was a good forum for all kinds of new art to have its day.
Finally, in 1877, the movement began to be recognized and called by its new name. Sadly for most of these artists, they struggled with poverty throughout most of their lives, but they were loyal to the new painting style that they had created and stood by it until the end. As with most art, most of the famed Impressionists of today only became significantly famous after they had passed away.
Recognizing the Techniques of Impressionist Painting
Knowing what is and what is not Impressionism is helpful for those who want to collect art in this genre. While the new Impressionist painting style is somewhat different from the original art which gave rise to the movement, there are still many common techniques and features that are used to create new art in this style. Recognizing these techniques and stylistic differences is critical if you want to collect and own Impressionist art that can create a recognizable and cohesive collection.
It is important to remember that Impressionist art is not concerned with the stark accuracy of any image that is being captured in a painting. Impressionism wants to preserve the sense of movement, color, and light that a scene offers to the viewer. No matter if the painting is of some people in the street or a beautiful nature scene, the edges of the image will be soft, and the colors and the light will be the first thing that you notice.
The brush strokes in Impressionist painting are short and very visible. They are not blended into the background either. This allows Impressionism to show bright colors, as well as muted tones quite uniquely. Impressionism also never uses deep black or any kind of harsh color since this would reveal sharp edges and draw the eye away from the light in the image. Since the brushstrokes are often made of layers of paint that have not been blended, Impressionist pieces have a sense of dimension and immediacy that other kinds of paintings do not.
The Impressionist painters wanted to capture the moment that a person first sees something and the impression that this first glance reveals. They felt that the truth of many things was contained in this first moment of awareness, and they wanted to make this unpolished, emotional reaction visible on the canvas. This idea of the first glance or sight of something is straightforward to see in paintings in this style, and once you realize that this is the purpose behind this form of art, you will start to recognize it right away.
The brush strokes that were once so offensive to the people who chose which art went into the Salon’s displays eventually became quite common, and over the years, these brushstrokes were incorporated into other painting styles and modes.
The Legacy of Impressionism Art
The first Impressionist movement’s exhibitions were hosted for ten years. After this, the painting style was so accepted, that it no longer needed its supportive exhibitions to promote its merits. That does not mean that the value or inherent style of Impressionist theory in painting ended there, though. There is an entire modern movement to create a new Impressionism that incorporates various other painting styles with the brushwork and the sense of light and emotion that is common to Impressionist creations.
Impressionism allowed painters to paint the things they saw before them, and to break free from the tried-and-true method of securing a patron who commissioned them to create portraits and nothing else. Impressionism gave painting permission to be used as a medium to convey emotion, everyday life scenes, and the actual spirit of things. Being free of the need to paint in classical styles allowed Impressionists to create the space necessary for other painting styles to come into existence. Artists like Picasso would likely never have had the freedom or recognition required to succeed in their unique artistic visions without the commitment of the impressionist painters to their movement.
When viewed through the lens of history, Impressionism reveals itself to be the vehicle that ushered in all kinds of new creativity in the painted medium. Impressionism is like a doorway that the art world passed through in the late 19th century, allowing the future to be bright, exciting, and flush with new ideas and artistic works.
Collecting Impressionism Art Pieces Can be Very Rewarding
Now that you know more about the history of Impressionism and you are armed with the tools to recognize the style, you should have no trouble collecting the paintings that you have always wanted to add to your collection. There are various styles within the style of Impressionism these days, and you can focus your collection on these more specific niches within the Impressionist movement or collect Impressionist works as a general whole.
Impressionist pieces are instantly recognizable and they are often very moving, making them a favorite of collectors all around the world. Being able to add these kinds of works to your collection can help you to decorate spaces with beautiful light and emotion. You will have no trouble finding the kinds of pieces that you have been looking for now that you know more about what Impressionism is and how to recognize it.