Impressionism: a historical reconstruction


starting page



Walther writes ‘it’s not easy to define’ Impressionism (R3,p94). Still I will try to sketch what Impressionism characterises. The eight ‘impressionist’ expositions from 1874-1886 can be seen as highlights of the impressionist art-movement. But Moffett emphasizes that the expositions mostly weren’t called that way and many of the partaking artists  didn’t paint in an impressionistic style (R2). Famous  so called impressionist painters like Manet and Van Gogh didn’t partake in these expositions at all (see related painters). Many emphasize that the impressionist art-movement consisted of several circles of friends in Paris (R4). Inspired by the Impressionists, painters in other countries began to paint in an impressionist painting style and even nowadays painters still do. Therefor I suggest to distinguish Impressionism as an art-movement in France from about 1863-1886 and Impressionism as a painting style. For the general references see. Note: the orange names refer to pages that are not yet public.


In the linked pages we will try to answer the next questions:

  • Why were the Impressionists called ‘impressionists’?
  • Were the partaking artists of the ‘impressionist’ expositions impressionists?
    Were they part of the impressionist art-movement in France from about 1863-1886?
    Did they paint in an impressionist painting style?
  • What circles of friends can we discern? Who were most active within these circles?
  • Who were the main Impressionists?
  • Pre-Impressionists: What painters inspired the Impressionists?
  • Which (impressionist) painters were related to the Impressionists but didn’t partake in the expositions?
  • What later painters (in other countries) painted in an impressionist style (after 1886)?


Some conclusions:
Many writers outline the Impressionists as opposed to and refused by the Paris Salon (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 independence is an important characteristic of the Impressionist art-movement.
The artists that were most active with the 8 ‘impressionist’ expositions, in order of importance, were: Pissarro, Degas, Monet, Rouart, Caillebotte, Renoir, Guillaumin, Morisot, Cassatt, Gauguin, Cals, Tillot, Forain and Vignon.
Many writers emphasize as distinguishing for the impressionist painting style the painting en-plein-air and the catching of the influence of sunlight on colours. But the painters of Barbizon and others did so before them and even Monet often finished his paintings in his studio. I think what distinguishes the impressionist painting style most, is the (slightly unnatural) brightness of the colours, the absence of black, the bluish/purple rendering of the shadows and the vividness of the juxtaposed brushstrokes. And also the conviction that a ‘sketchy’ painting renders a fleeting moment better than a ‘finished’ painting.
Compare the outcry of the conservative art-critic Claretie: ‘one wonders where the painting in the open air will stop and what will dare the artists, who intend to chase the shadow and the black from the whole nature’ (R264,p338).


Recommanded citation: “Impressionism, starting page”. Last modified 2021/08/20.