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An Introduction to Impressionism: A Legacy of Bright Shadows

“What seems most significant to me about our movement [Impressionism] is that we have freed painting from the importance of the subject. I am at liberty to paint flowers and call them flowers, without their needing to tell a story.” ― Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise- Oil on Canvas, a scenery of the port of Le Havre covered in fog.

Impressionism marks the division between the rigid rules of the classic art and the fluidity of modernist style movements. It was only the beginning of an artistic era that paved the way for many liberal ideas to turn to artistic styles.

Like any other new idea, impressionism was shoved aside for its lack of conformity with was already established as accepted; animosity to classic aesthetic, bold use of color and contrast that was not realistic, unapologetic brushstroke, and a sense of movement in contrast with statuesque nature of classic paintings.

What is Impressionism?

Impressionism started in France in the mid-19th century, consequent to the invention of photo cameras. This invention, along with enliven nights of the modern life in the industrial era, shone a light on the creative imagery; the idea was to capture the motion of life through a unique transience of light throughout the image.

The initial painting of Claude Monet, the central figure of the movement, and his compatriots were ridiculed by the academic art society. Having been rejected, the founding artists- Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, Bazille and Degas and many others who increasingly sided with the movement in the initial standing- combined efforts and created their own gallery.

At the time, the exalted exhibitions of classical painters of France and the entire western world were showcased at the annual salon of Académie des Beaux-Arts. The annual exhibitions were visited and commented upon by stately artists and even regal guests. In a rebellious response, the impressionist created Salons des Refusés in 1874. The Salon of the Refused became the international hub of the impressionist and hence the birthplace of the movement.

Characteristics of Impressionism in Art

Parisian urban scenes, agricultural fields, riverbanks and industrial life were the keynotes of the early impressionist works. Though uniqueness was noticeable from the works of one artist to another, all shared the common motif that was light and its projection- whether on water, scattered over the swaying wheat cultivations, or the starry nights.