Impressionism, one of the most international and celebrated movements in art history, emerged in France in the 1860s. It combined the theme of modern life with a new interest in landscape, leisure, everyday life and painting outside of the studio.
The qualities of the Impressionist style are difficult to define as not all of the Impressionists painted in the same way. Whether an Impressionist choses to depict the modern world by painting outside, capturing a ‘snapshot’ like moment, focusing on light or space, with experimental materials, broken brushwork and/or a bright rainbow palette of colours varied depending on the individual artist.
However, the Impressionists’ works did all reflect their own personal view of modernity. This is due to the great influence of the writer Charles Baudelaire who in his book ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ encouraged artists to go forth and paint the ephemeral and fleeting moments of the modern world around them.
Monet’s painting ‘Impression Sunrise’ (pictured), exhibited in 1874, is a key was born. The critic Louis Leroy wrote work as it is where the term Impressionism against these works and in particular Impression Sunrise in a derogatory manner. He accused the work of being a sketch-like, unfinished mere impression. However, we know Impression Sunrise is finished as Monet has signed and dated the work. This harbour scene shows Monet’s personal interest in depicting the ephemeral moment of light on water and atmosphere at sunrise as well as the visual effects of smoke and mist at the busy port of Le Havre. Monet painted quickly using broken brushstrokes and there is also evidence of him painting ‘wet on wet’ in order to capture the fleeting sunrise before the paint can dry.
The enormous influence of French Impressionism on art lasted well beyond the original artists’ lifetimes. Their stylistic qualities and ideas inspired artists internationally beyond France in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So despite their exhibitions lasting less than two decades, Impressionism was a true rebellion in art from the traditional status quo. It is still well-known and loved today for its individuality, originality and creativity.