Key Dates: 1867-1886

A French 19th century art movement which marked a momentous break from tradition in European painting. The Impressionists incorporated new scientific research into the physics of colour to achieve a more exact representation of colour and tone.

The sudden change in the look of these paintings was brought about by a change in methodology: applying paint in small touches of pure colour rather than broader strokes, and painting out of doors to catch a particular fleeting impression of colour and light. The result was to emphasise the artist’s perception of the subject matter as much as the subject itself.

Impressionist art is a style in which the artist captures the image of an object as someone would see it if they just caught a glimpse of it. They paint the pictures with a lot of color and most of their pictures are outdoor scenes. Their pictures are very bright and vibrant. The artists like to capture their images without detail but with bold colors. Some of the greatest impressionist artists were Edouard Manet, Camille Pissaro, Edgar Degas, Alfred Sisley, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot and Pierre Auguste Renoir.

Manet influenced the development of impressionism. He painted everyday objects. Pissaro and Sisley painted the French countryside and river scenes. Degas enjoyed painting ballet dancers and horse races. Morisot painted women doing everyday things. Renoir loved to show the effect of sunlight on flowers and figures. Monet was interested in subtle changes in the atmosphere.

While the term Impressionist covers much of the art of this time, there were smaller movements within it, such as Pointillism, Art Nouveau and Fauvism.

Pointilism was developed from Impressionism and involved the use of many small dots of colour to give a painting a greater sense of vibrancy when seen from a distance. The equal size dots never quite merge in the viewer’s perception resulting in a shimmering effect like one experiences on a hot and sunny day. One of the leading exponents was Seurat to whom the term was first applied in regard to his painting ‘La Grand Jette’ (1886).

Seurat was part of the Neo-Impressionist movement which included Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Signac. The word Divisionism describes the theory they followed while the actual process was known as pointillism.The effects of this technique, if used well, were often far more striking than the conventional approach of mixing colours together.

The Neo-Impressionist movement was brief yet influential. The term Divisionism was also the name of an Italian version of Neo-Impressionism in the 1890s and early 1900s, and one can trace a line to Futurism which was founded in 1909.

Representative Artists:
Edouard Manet
Eugene Boudin
Frederic Bazille
Alfred Sisley
Edgar Degas
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Mary Cassatt
Camille Pissarro
Claude Monet
Walter Richard Sickert
Berthe Morisot