Author Topic: Defining Characteristics of Impressionism  (Read 471 times)

Offline Linda Lovell

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Defining Characteristics of Impressionism
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2019, 01:07:19 PM »
The Impressionist movement was marked by a set of distinctive characteristics that represented a radical change in the way art is made and understood.Conspicuous BrushstrokesBefore Impressionism, painters used precise, almost invisible brushstrokes often blended together with golden varnish. The Impressionists, on the other hand, used thick, conspicuous strokes to depict the ephemeral nature of light and the passing of time.Using loose brushstrokes enabled them to paint quickly on the spot and capture the essence of the subject matter before the light changed or the subject moved. This kind of brushwork resulted in energetic paintings which portrayed the fleeting nature of the environment.Bright and Bold Color PaletteThe Impressionists were revolutionary with their approach to color. Instead of mixing several paints together to achieve the desired tone, the Impressionists often used clean, unmixed colors and grouped them together in an array of small brushstrokes to achieve the desired tones. These various colors optically blend together when viewed from afar. Although the Impressionists did not create this technique, they appear to be the first artists who used it as a key feature. As John Singer Sargent explained:"The habit of breaking up one's color to make it brilliant dates from further back than Impressionism - Couture advocates it in a little book called 'Causeries d'Atelier' written about 1860 - it is part of the technique of Impressionism but used for quite a different reason." John Singer SargentAs we can see in this gloomy depiction of a train station in Saint-Lazare, Monet combined emerald green, ultramarine, cobalt blue and even shades of yellow to create a vibration of color:The Impressionists also started to introduce more color when painting shadows. Instead of using blacks and browns, the Impressionists started incorporating blues, greens, purples and other colors with a distinct color tree. This may be due to most of the Impressionist paintings being created outside, where there is much more light and therefore more visible color. Or maybe it was due to a great understanding of how light and color work.The Fleeting Nature of LightPlein air painting allowed the Impressionists to closely study natural light and the way it influences the colors we use. Faithfully painting the light was a primary goal of the Impressionists. That was more important than the subject itself in most cases. Back then, light and color were still a bit of a mystery (and still are).In doing so, many artists painted the same subject matter over and over again under different light and weather conditions. Claude Monet did this on many occasions with haystacks, water lilies and the Rouen Cathedral.Depictions of Ordinary SubjectsThe rise of plein air painting in many ways determined the subjects which the Impressionists painted. Instead of grandiose historical or mythological themes, the Impressionists portrayed things they could see outside - typically an array of vivid landscapes, still lifes and scenes of everyday leisure activities (e.g. picnics, boat rides...).As Pierre-Auguste Renoir said:“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 RenoirAsymmetrical CompositionsInspired by the then newly developed medium of photography, the Impressionists produced paintings with unusual visual angles that resembled images of moments in time. This is why many Impressionist paintings feature asymmetrical compositions resembling candid photographs taken without the knowledge of their subjects.This is particularly visible in the works of Edgar Degas who, inspired by Japanese prints, painted ballerinas from intimate viewpoints, bringing the viewers into the close proximity of the dancers.