Home / Art / Art HistoryHow Impressionism Changed the Art World and Continues to Inspire Us Today

How Impressionism Changed the Art World and Continues to Inspire Us Today

Defining Characteristics

Since its conception, Impressionism has been defined by a set of characteristics. These include: painterly brushwork, distinctive colors, depictions of common subject matter, a focus on light, and compositions inspired by photography.

Thick Brushstrokes

Painterly brushwork is perhaps Impressionism’s most recognizable trait. Unlike the carefully blended brushstrokes distinctive of previous movements, Impressionist artist employed thick, sketch-like strokes. These quick marks capture the ephemeral, fleeting nature of moments in time.

What is Impressionism Art Impressionism Definition Art History

‘The Japanese Bridge’ (ca. 1918-1924)
Artist: Claude Monet [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Impressionism Art Impressionism Definition Art History

‘Little Girl in a Blue Armchair’ (1878)
Artist: Mary Cassatt [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Distinctive Color Palette

In addition to brushwork, Impressionists also exhibited a unique approach to color. Rather than mix paint to achieve certain tones, they instead grouped together individual brushstrokes of various colors. This method is particularly apparent in Impressionist depictions of shadows and snow, which, respectively, are never simply black and white.

What is Impressionism Art Impressionism Definition Art History

‘Snow at Louveciennes’ (1878)
Artist: Alfred Sisley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Impressionist paintings also often feature neutral color schemes with vivid pops of red that both draw in the eye and add balance to compositions.

What is Impressionism Art Impressionism Definition Art History

‘Dance at Le moulin de la Galette’ (1876)
Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Focus on Light

Many Impressionist artists (most notably, Claude Monet) had a penchant for painting en plein air, or outside. With this approach, artists were able to closely study the light and its effects on landscapes, buildings, and other outdoor sights.

What is Impressionism Art Impressionism Definition Art History

‘Haystacks, End of Summer’ (1871)
Artist: Claude Monet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Everyday Subjects

Another avant-garde aspect of Impressionism is the everyday nature of its subjects. Typical content portrayed in Impressionist paintings includes still life depictions, landscapes, portraits of friends and family, and modern city scenes.

What is Impressionism Art Impressionism Definition Art History

‘Claude Monet in Argenteuil’ (1874)
Artist: Édouard Manet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Impressionism Art Impressionism Definition Art History

‘Rue Saint-Honoré’ (1897)
Artist: Camille Pissarro [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Creative Cropping

Inspired by photography—a new and pioneering practice at the time—Impressionists produced paintings that acted as authentic snapshots of specific moments in time. With this muse in mind, artists began framing their scenes in more ‘natural’ ways, resulting in asymmetrical compositions cropped like candid photographs.

What is Impressionism Art Impressionism Definition Art History

‘The Rehearsal Onstage’ (ca. 1974)
Artist: Edgar Degas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Legacy & Presence of Impressionism Today

Naturally, as the starting point of modernism, Impressionism influenced many ensuing movements. Post-Impressionists adopted its painterly brushwork; Abstract Expressionists found inspiration in Monet’s unconventional approach to form; and many contemporary artists even continue to work in a Neo-Impressionist style.

By reinterpreting and reimagining the movement’s iconic aesthetic, these artists invite present-day audiences to see Impressionism in a new light—literally.

Related Articles:

How Van Gogh’s ‘The Starry Night’ Came to Be and Continues to Inspire Artists

Why Post-Impressionist Painter Paul Cézanne Is Known as the “Father of Modern Art”

How Flowers Blossomed Into One of Art History’s Most Popular Subjects

How Japanese Art Influenced and Inspired European Impressionist Artists

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