French Impressionism: A Brief Introduction
French Impressionism necessitates the study of the origins of this artistic style and some famous Impressionist paintings. We also discuss some of its most famous oil paintings and pioneering artists. Impressionist oil paintings began in France during the nineteenth century. As an art movement, Impressionism was devoted to painting outdoors spontaneously; the French Impressionists challenged conventional “studio-based” approaches.
The Musee d’Orsay holds one of the largest collections of Impressionist Art.
Why is it called Impressionism?
Impression, Sunrise by Monet, is the inspiration behind the name of this art movement. This oil on canvas painting was created in 1872, first appearing at a legendary Salon des Refuses (Exhibition of the Rejects). The title references the rejection of paintings by the traditional Paris Salon. Held in April 1874 at the studio of the photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (known as Nadar), this Exhibition launched the movement. It brought several young French artists together, including Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Paul Cezanne, Edouard Manet, and Edgar Degas.
Each artist rejected the traditional approach of the conservative French Salon. Instead of mythological paintings and classical compositions, these young artists wanted to paint modernity in all its wonderful reality. The Exhibition faced scathing criticism from art critic Louis Leroy. Leroy wrote a particularly critical review in the famous Le Charivari newspaper. Playing on Monet’s painting’s title, he derisively called the display an “Exhibition of the Impressionists.” while it was intended as a slur, the name stuck. He claimed Monet’s painting was nothing more than a sketch and described “wallpaper in its embryonic state” as more finished than “that seascape.”
Impressionism paintings and their artists quickly gained popularity with the French public. It brought the disparate group of painters closer together, and they went on to organize seven more Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886.
What is the meaning of Impressionism Art?
Impressionist art avoids historical narratives and imaginary mythological scenes. Instead, it draws meaning from the subject matter of everyday modern life. The Impressionists weren’t trying to paint photographic representations of the world. Instead, they focused on individual “impressions” of people, light, objects, and landscapes. Consequently, the meaning of Impressionist art came from these fleeting “impressions.”
Artists working in the movement wanted to capture life and movement. Their paintings communicate specific moments in time to viewers, as if the action was happening before their eyes.
What are the five characteristics of Impressionism oil paintings?
When researching Impressionist oil painting, a common question is, "How would you describe Impressionism?" Unfortunately, it is a notoriously tricky genre to characterize for one of the most famous art movements.
Nonetheless, five consistent characteristics of famous impressionist paintings are:
- Short, thick brushstrokes capture a scene’s “essence” rather than specific details.
- Colors are applied directly to the canvas rather than mixing them on a palette, making impressionist colors seem more vivid.
- Previously, artists covered their canvases in darker tones, but the Impressionists started to use white or light-colored backgrounds. Impressionist painters emphasize natural light, with close attention to the movement and reflection of color. In addition, they frequently painted in the morning or late evening to capture “in-between” phases of light.
- Painting “en Plein air” (simply meaning outside) allows for immediate depictions of the natural world.
What defines Impressionist oil painting?
Impressionist artists worked in various styles, depicting multiple subjects and settings. Consequently, one single definition of Impressionist paintings is nearly impossible. Nonetheless, Impressionist paintings depict nature spontaneously, freely, and directly. Artists often employed light, intensely vivid color palettes, quick impasto brushstrokes, and close-up perspectives.
Camille Pissarro once advised his impressionist colleagues to “paint generously and unhesitatingly” to avoid losing “the first impression.” Dark browns and blacks rarely appear in Impressionist art. However, they appear in a few paintings, such as La Promenade by Renoir and Cezanne's highly unusual Pyramid of Skulls.
Impressionist artists often applied their paint directly onto the canvas as a final defining characteristic. Previously, artists used multiple layers of thin paint glazes to build up effects. On the contrary, Impressionist artists opted for a thick, opaque painterly surface. These combined approaches were incredibly innovative. To some extent, the Impressionists built on the work of earlier masters such as J.M.W. Turner, Peter Paul Rubens, and Diego Velázquez. Nonetheless, they also created something entirely new and unique.
Who are the five foremost Impressionist artists?
Five of the most famous Impressionist artists are:
- Édouard Manet
- Claude Monet
- Edgar Degas
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- Camille Pissarro
Many other leading impressionist artists include Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, and Paul Cezanne. Unusually, there were several female impressionists in the late 19th century artistic movement. Notable female artists include Berthe Morisot, Marie Bracquemond, and Mary Cassatt.
While she became a successful painter in her own right, Berthe Morisot’s family never supported her artistic career. Mary Cassatt similarly faced difficulties. Unable to paint from live models in the USA because she was a woman, she found greater acceptance in France. Indeed, Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas were close friends who often worked together on compositions like Little Girl in a Blue Armchair.
What is an example of an Impressionist oil painting?
French impressionist artists were prolific and created thousands of oil paintings. Famous Monet paintings include several series of paintings looking at the same subject over days, months, and years at differing times of the day. Water Lilies paintings and The Houses of Parliament are well-known examples. The eerily beautiful Haystack paintings comprise around 25, all painted from 1890-1891.
While most Impressionist paintings focus on landscape paintings or figures within landscapes, Edgar Degas zoomed in on human bodies, mainly paintings of women. Degas disliked the “impressionist” label but used its intense color and expressive brushwork. Many Edgar Degas Ballerina paintings illustrate the point, as seen in The Star Prima Ballerina, aka l'Etoile. Pierre Auguste Renoir's painting Umbrellas 1886 also focuses on people rather than landscapes.
It is impossible not to mention Camille Pissarro and his contribution to the Impressionist art movement, and he was affectionately known as Père Pissarro. Pissarro was the only artist who showed in all eight Impressionist Exhibitions. He often depicted rural peasant life and labor scenes, and his vibrant compositions include paintings such as The Harvest Pontoise and The Washerwomen.
What makes an Impressionist Artist?
Impressionism was a massively influential movement. Consequently, artists working all over the world adopted the “impressionist” mantle. There are no strict criteria for an impressionist artist, only a broad acceptance of their focus on light, expression, and painting outdoors.
Impressionism soon traveled to Britain, adopted by artists like Philip Wilson Steer. It also notably influenced artists from the USA, where “American Impressionism” evolved into an exciting movement in its own right. Famous American Impressionists included Childe Hassam and his beautiful series of American flag paintings and patriotic art. James Abbott McNeill Whistler also adored the Impressionist approach, though he did not identify as an Impressionist. Other notable American Impressionist painters include William Merritt Chase, Julien Alden Weir, and John Henry Twachtman.
The Australian Impressionist movement includes Frederick McCubbin and Arthur Streeton. In Amsterdam, Impressionist Exhibitions featured the art of Jan Toorop and Isaac Israels paintings. Impressionism artwork was a global phenomenon.
Who is the most famous Impressionist painter?
The most famous impressionist artist must be Claude Monet, who rejoices in being known as the founder of the Impressionist movement. During his incredibly long and prolific career, he consistently embodies Impressionist ideas. Monet's paintings are en Plein air, painting outdoors, focusing on light and landscapes.
Monet moved to the small town of Giverny in northern France in 1883. His stunning house, with its beautiful gardens, sparked a new era of creativity. Monet's gardens at Giverny include the famous water lily pond with the iconic Japanese Bridge floating over its shimmering waters. In addition to the now legendary paintings of Water Lilies, his colorful paintings are intensely expressive and creative. They inspired a generation of later artists and intellectuals, and the French public revered him.
At Monet’s funeral, a distraught Georges Clemenceau, the former French Prime Minister, removed the black shroud from his coffin, exclaiming, “No black for Monet!” Clemenceau swapped the shroud for a bright flower-patterned fabric.
Impressionist Oil Painting: Fine Art Reproductions
Impressionist art reproductions are our most popular oil paintings. If you love colorful wall art, explore our catalog of reproductions of Famous Oil Paintings. Whether you favor oil painting reproductions from artists such as Monet, Degas, Pissarro, or Renoir, you will discover replica art to add joy to any home or office.