Impressionism – 6 Interesting Facts

Impressionism is an artistic movement that began in France during the 1860s. Many consider it as the earliest distinguishable modern development in painting. It rejects realism in favor of “impressions” created by light and captured in the blink of an eye. Behind this revolutionary and influential style, here are the following facts:

1. The term “Impressionism” came from a derogatory remark.

  • Critic Louis Leroy coined the term in his satirical review of Claude Monet‘s “Impression: Sunrise”. It made Leroy “so impressed, there must be an impression in it”.
  • Leroy claimed the piece was less finished than a sketch for wallpaper, due to its “freedom” and broken brushwork.

2. Salons and art institutions rejected works by Impressionist and independent painters.

  • In response, they formed the Salon des Refusés (“Salon of the Refused”). It exhibited works by Impressionists such as Camille Pissarro, James Whistler, and  Paul Cézanne.
  • The fledgling movement formed under the Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc. (“Artists, Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, Inc.”). Its members called themselves Impressionists during their third exhibition. They earned thousands of attendees by their eight presentation.

3. Impressionists usually met at cafés to discuss art and share ideas.

  • Leading painters such as Pissarro, Cézanne, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Edgar Degas often gathered at the Café Guerbois.
  • The Impressionists were a diverse group of creative individuals. Its members came from different class, cultural, and political backgrounds. They also included writers, photographers, and critics.

4. Painting outdoors was controversial.

  • One of the hallmarks of Impressionism was painting outside or en plein air. This method used direct observation instead of precise drafting (as per classical painting).
  • Outdoor painting allowed painters to capture scenes in the moment, like with photography. Many critics considered this to be mechanical and thus believed Impressionism was noncreative.

5. Impressionist paintings are a reflection of French prosperity and modern life.

  • People are usually depicted at work or play, in commercial streets or crowded venues. Aside from landscapes, frequent subjects include cityscapes and travel.
  • Renovated cities gave way to wide public spaces and the flâneur (“stroller” or “lounger”). These individuals wander the streets and observe their surroundings, detached from the crowd. A flâneur represents solitude in the urban world, and is usually depicted wearing a top hat and black coat.

6. Impressionism was greater embraced in America than in France.

  • Most Impressionist painters remained poor and hardly sold any of their works. Their exhibitions cost more money than they made.
  • Monet sold paintings to American buyers for as much as ten times the amount in France. This made him a millionaire and earned him a group of American painters who wished to become his students.

Impressionism bore lasting and iconic paintings despite antagonism from the establishment. Its “free” style liberated artists from institutional opinion, to pursue creativity and expression.