Impressionism: The Art of Light


Impressionism is a term used to describe a painting style that emerged in France during the nineteenth century. Painters such as Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir used quick brush strokes and lighter colors to capture the effects of light on their subjects. The impressionists blurred the lines between reality and fantasy in their paintings, focusing on light’s transient effects.

Impressionism in painting in the art world

Initially, the artists were greeted with mixed reactions. Some critics accused them of imitating the look of nature. Others said that their use of vivid colors was a gimmick to attract the attention of viewers from the lack of detail. While still others thought the brush strokes were too loose and suggested that the works were unfinished.

Only later would the Impressionist movement first gained traction at the fourth artist exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1874. The exhibition attracted more than 9000 visitors and was a financial success. The Impressionist had a lasting effect on the French art establishment by challenging the conservative principles of art education and artistic representation.

An emotional representation of the immediate

The Impressionists’ innovative features were characterized by bright colors and transient effects of light. They were admired for their ability to capture moments in time, making the viewer feel as if they are right there watching it unfold. The light quality in Impressionist paintings is often realistic and relatively accurate.

The Impressionist painters showed an interest in everyday life by capturing scenes from their environment: urban life and the countryside.  The Impressionists are credited with changing the focus of painting from the depiction of nature to the human experience’s portrayal.

Impressionist artists

Several more artists influenced the movement, including Paul Cézanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, and Edouard Manet

Van Gogh’s use of complementary colors and loose brushstrokes is particularly evident in his work “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”

Cassatt’s work also influenced Impressionism through her depictions of modern life and her financial support of many of the artists.

Seurat and Gauguin both emigrated to Paris, where they became part of the Impressionist movement.

While Manet is perhaps the most controversial of the Impressionists, as his artwork was not well received in his time.

The Impressionist movement was short-lived

By 1912, most of the original painters of the movement had died or abandoned the style.

Although Impressionism fell out of favor in the early twentieth century, it is still considered one of the most influential art movements. Artists such as Van Gogh and  Monet are still widely admired for their work. And it undoubtedly influenced later styles, like Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, and Post-Impressionism.