Impressionism was widely viewed as a distinct break from past artistic styles such as Classicism and Realism. It was rumored that the movement was initially rejected by the French bourgeois as it did not fall into any easily recognizable art form . Although the Impressionist movement did not exclusively consist of French artists, it did start in France in 1874 when a loose association of artists called the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. organized a groundbreaking exhibition in Paris. One of its founders’ – Claude Monet – work, Impression, Sunrise (Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris) gave the Impressionist movement its name when the critic Louis Leroy accused it of being a sketch or “impression,” not a finished painting.
In French painting, Impressionism is sometimes called optical realism because of its almost scientific interest in the actual visual experience and effect of light and movement on appearance of objects. In addition to their radical technique and depiction of “actual light”, the bright colors of Impressionist canvases were shocking for eyes accustomed to the more sober colors of Academic painting. Many of the independent artists chose not to apply the thick golden varnish that painters customarily used to tone down their works.
Its founding members, including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro, among others, were unified only by its independence from the official annual Salon, for which a jury of artists from the Académie des Beaux-Arts selected artworks and awarded medals. The independent artists, despite their diverse approaches to painting, appeared to contemporaries as a unified group whose chief concentration was to give the general “impression” of a scene using primary colors and smaller brushstrokes as it is affected by the actual light.
While conservative critics panned their work for its
unfinished sketchlike appearance, more progressive writers praised it for its depiction of modern life. Edmond Duranty, for example, in his 1876 essay La Nouvelle Peinture (The New Painting), wrote of their depiction of contemporary subject matter in a suitably innovative style as a revolution in painting. The exhibiting collective avoided choosing a title that would imply a unified movement or school, although some of them subsequently adopted the name by which they would eventually be known, the Impressionists. Their work is recognized today for its modernity, embodied in its rejection of established styles, its incorporation of new technology and ideas, and its depiction of modern life under various shades of light.
The goal of the earliest Impressionists was to render a sensory perception of a scene, allowing its viewers to use their judgment in deciphering what is actually before them. The Impressionists relaxed the boundary between subject and background so that the effect of an Impressionist painting often resembles a snapshot, a part of a larger reality captured as if by chance.
The founders of this art movement were driven by the will to break free from the canon of art. The official theory they upheld is essentially about the use color and how it should be dropped purely on the canvas instead of getting mixed on the palette. The paints themselves were more vivid as well. The nineteenth century saw the development of synthetic pigments for artists’ paints, providing vibrant shades of blue, green, and yellow that painters had never used before.
Impressionism is not an art movement that remains in the history books of art. Rather, it is an enduring “state of mind” that had become a springboard for many modern, post-modern and contemporary art movements and styles that are openly accepted today.