What is Impressionism?

Author: Dana McGorlick-Appelman  Date Posted:20 January 2021 

Developed in France in the nineteenth century by artists such as Claude Monet, impressionism is a painting style that is based on ‘en plein air’ painting or painting outdoors, to capture fleeting moments of contemporary life and the dynamic and illuminating effects of sunlight outside, rather than studio-based subjects. The impressionists rejected the style of realism and historical painting that was popular at the time, turning instead to subjects such as landscapes and mundane scenes to portray them with vivid colours and in gestural forms.


Impressionism is characterised by rapid brushwork and thick, expressive impasto strokes to symbolise moments in time, generating a sense of atmosphere or “impressions” that absorb the viewer in the work. 

The first group exhibition of the Parisian impressionists was held in 1874, and featured works by Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Monet and Auguste Renoir. The movement was a critical turning point in the art community, developing a fresh visual language and signalling a significant shift from realism. It initially met with both disdain and admiration, and soon spread internationally.