Impressionism: an art-movement




an art-movement

starting page

Impressionism firstly must be seen as a painting style. It also can be seen as a broader art-movement in the second half of the 19th century in France. The main characteristic was organising their own independent group expositions, now known as the ‘impressionist’ expositions from 1874-1886. But the problem is that many members of this movement and many partakers of these expositions didn’t paint in an impressionist painting style. Some were more related to Pre-Impessionism, to Realism and in 1886 to Neo-Impressionism. This causes much confusion. For example paintings of Degas and Manet are called ‘impressionist’, while they are more realist. Some, emphasize that avangardistic art was the common denominator (R2,p13), but I think that is to restrictive.
Here below you will find a more extended description of Impressionism as an art-movement, with links leading to various aspects. At the bottom of this page you will find some selective questions. The more affirmative answers, the more an artist can be seen as part of the ‘impressionist’ art-movement.


Impressionism as an art-movement:
Impessionism can also be seen as a broader art-movement of avant-garde artists. Artists that didn’t want to adjust to the prevailing standards of the ruling forces within the art-world in the second half of the 19th century. These standards were namely defended by L’Institut, the École des Beaux-Arts and the jury of the Salon de Paris. These standards coincided strongly with the Néo-Classicist painting style, most prominently depicted in the Prix de Rome paintings.

We can see the start with the large sized Un enterrement… that Courbet showed at the Salon of 1850/51, that was rejected for the Exposition Universelle of 1855 and shown in his Pavillon du Realisme. (But mark! Realism, not Impressionism.) Courbet didn’t show a historical, religious or mythological scene an a large sized canvas, but an everyday funeral with life sized peasants.

Another highlight is the Salon des Refusés of 1863. It stimulated the search for an alternative for the dominating Salon. Most mentioned is Le déjeuner sur l’herbe by Manet. It depicted (probably) contemporary prostitution, which caused a skandal. But Manet made this painting in his studio, using sub-dued colours and many blacks, so not in an impressionist painting style. Manet best can be defined as a Realist.

An important aspect of Impressionism as an art-movement are the circles of friends. Artists that attended the same art-workshops as Atelier Gleyre and Academie Suisse. Artists that met together at cafés (like Guerbois and Nouvelle Athènes), at dinners and soirees, etc. Artists that painted together. Artists that portrayed each other. Artists that owned each others works. But many of these artists hardly used an impressionist painting style.

The 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions from 1874-1886 can be seen as highlights of the ‘impressionist’ art-movement. They were held independant of the Salon and stimulated the start of other independant exhibitions. They are now known as the ‘impressionist’ expositions, but then were not named that way. Many partakers just joined 1 or 2 times, including Cézanne. Only Pissarro joined all the 8 expositions. Of the key-Impressionists Renoir and Sisley just joined 4x and Monet 5x. Degas maybe was the most active partaker, but didn’t want to be called an Impressionist and his style fits better within Realism. Many partakers showed more pre-impressionistic landscapes or Realist pictures. So ‘impressionist’ is not a good way to define these expositions, but still there is not a better term.

Later on there were exhibitions held that were explicitly called “impressionist“. They were held in London (1882 +1883 +1884), in Berlin (1882 + 1883), Rouen (1884), New York (1886) and so on. In many of these exhibitions the art-dealer Durand-Ruel was involved. And often it included works of artists that didn’t use an impressionist painting style, like Degas and Manet.
So, we see an art-movement that included artists that namely painted in a pre-impressionist and/or realist painting style. So, to call this art-movement ‘impressionist’ causes confusion. Namely works of Degas and Manet are defined as impressionist paintings, while they are not made in that style.

To call this movement and the 8 expositions (1874-1886) ‘realist’, ‘avant garde’, ‘new painting’ maybe causes more confusion. Therefore I will continue calling it ‘impressionist’, but always rendering it in quotation marks. I suggest to only name artists Impressionist, when they mainly painted in an impressionist painting style.

Note: around the ‘impressionist’ art-movements there are many myths created, which are just partly true. Many sources state that the Impressionists were mostly refused by the Paris Salon and rebelled against it (R5;R15;R18). But as you will read in the info about the artists, many had an ambivalent relationship with the Salon. Still, the surge for independance is an important characteristic of the ‘impressionist’ art-movement.


Selective questions:
Here below you will find some selective questions. The more affirmative answers, the more an artist can be seen as part of the ‘impressionist’ art-movement.

  1. Did the artist participate in most of the 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions?
  2. Was the artist co-founder of the Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc.?
  3. Was the artist active in the preparations and organizing of the expositions?
  4. Did the artist stop submitting to the Paris Salon?
  5. Did the artist join other independant group exhibitions?
  6. Did the artist belong to one of the circles of friends that formed the impressionist art-movement?
  7. Did the artist frequently meet with the other impressionists?
  8. Did the artist frequently paint with the other impressionists?
  9. Did the artist portray other impressionists and / or was the artist portrayed by other impressionists?
  10. Did the artist own works of other impressionists and / or were works of the artist owned by other impressionists?
  11. Did the artist correspond with other impressionists?
  12. Was the artists mentioned in contemporary reviews as belonging to the impressionist art-movement?



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