14 Characteristics of Impressionism
John Spacey, May 28, 2020
Impressionism is an 19th century art movement with a distinctive style that is instantly recognizable. The following are its basic characteristics.
LightAn accurate depiction of light including ambient light.
En Plein AirImpressionists left the studio and often painted outdoors in pursuit of natural light and contemporary life.
TimeImpressionist works often convey a sense of movement and the passage of time.
Brush StrokesThin, visible, free brushstrokes.
ColorNo attempt to blend or shadow to smooth out differences between colors.
LineLine is deemphasized in favor of color and free brushstrokes.
Unusual Viewing AnglesMany impressionist works are unconventional compositions that view subjects from unusual angles. This is thought to be the influence of Japanese ukiyo-e art prints that started arriving in Europe in the 1850s.
Soft Fuzzy LookAs an overall style, impressionist works tend to have a soft fuzzy feel.
Mood & AtmosphereIt is common for impressionist works to convey a mood and atmosphere. In other words, they are emotional.
Ordinary Contemporary SubjectsThe impressionists chose ordinary scenes and subjects of their day. This was unusual at the time as the dominant styles of the 1860s such as Neoclassicism and Romanticism depicted idealized scenes from antiquity.
Realistic DepictionsSubjects and scenes are represented in a realistic way.
Time PeriodAll art movements have a time and place that isn't replicated later. The impressionist style emerged as early as the 1860s. The movement is usually placed as 1870-1930. Impressionism influence later movements such as Neo-Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism.
Rule BreakersThe impressionists were rebellious artists who challenged a long period of stagnation in European art known as Academic Art whereby prestigious institutions attempted to standardize art.
Popular StyleImpressionism was rejected by critics of its day but had popular appeal. In fact, the term impressionism was coined in a completely negative satirical review by critic Louis Leroy. The official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris known as the Salon often rejected the works of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne. This led Emperor Napoleon III to decree that the public be allowed to judge works for themselves leading to the establishment of the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused). This eventually drew bigger crowds than the Salon itself such that impressionism threatened the art establishment of its day.
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