Impressionism – Concept, characteristics, works and authors

We explain what impressionism is, what its historical context and its characteristics are like. Also, representatives and impressionist art.

Impressionism tried to paint light at the exact moment they were observing the world.

What is Impressionism?

Impressionism is known as one of the main artistic movements of the 19th century, especially in the genre of painting, which he aspired to reproduce in his works the vital “impression” of the world around himIn other words, he was trying to paint the light at the exact moment they were observing the world. In this he broke with his predecessors, who favored full and identifiable figures and was a key movement in the development of the arts in Europe – and especially in France – and laid the foundations for later movements such as post-impressionism and the avant-gardes.

The impressionist name was also used for other arts, such as music or literature, or also sculpture and architecture, despite the fact that its defining features are quite particular to painting. This is possible because the philosophy of impressionism could be interpreted as an eagerness to imitate reality and, in any case, by conceiving art as the fruit of a rational process, something that went hand in hand with positivism, a doctrine of thought that reigned in bourgeois society in the nineteenth century.

The precepts of impressionism were opposed by expressionism, born at the end of the 19th century as a reaction in favor of artistic subjectivity and the inner expressive needs of the human being.

Historical context of impressionism

Impressionism - edouard manet
Édouard Manet laid the foundations for the emergence of Impressionism.

The term “impressionist” is attributed to the French art critic Louis Leroy, who would have used it in a derogatory way, in front of a painting by Monet called Impression, rising sun (1873), exhibited together with the paintings of other young artists in the Salon des Artistas Independientes de Paris between April and May 1874. Playing with the title of the painting, Leroy lashed out in the press against the thirty-nine “impressionist painters” on display, unknowingly naming the movement.

However, Impressionism enjoyed acceptance in the European artistic circuits of the time. The Paris of the time was a place of artistic pilgrimage for all of Europe, and numerous world exhibitions took place there, so the movement was born in the very center of the art of the moment.

It had as its precursors the romantic English landscapers of the early 19th century, for which scenes that transcended form were frequent, such as JM William Turner and John Constable. However, it will be Édouard Manet who properly lays the foundations for the emergence of Impressionism.

Characteristics of impressionism

The open panoramas allowed the fair of light and colors for the pictorial methods.

Impressionism He aspired to capture light in his paintings, through the combination of colors and brushstrokes, instead of shapes and silhouettes. The impressionist brushstroke, later baptized as “Gestalt brushstroke”, was brief and used pure colors, regardless of whether alone they were not relevant to the real model, since once the image was completed, the work could be perceived globally and thus reproduce a totality well defined, very bright and vibrant. This technique would later inspire the Neo-Impressionists or Pointillists.

Another advance of impressionism was the creation of new pigments to obtain purer colors. Thanks to this, the painters were able to rethink many chromatic laws of the time, understanding color in relation to its companions and the contrast they generate with them. That is why the Impressionists played shadow games, breaking with the usual dynamics of chiaroscuro, in favor of shadows made with complementary colors that gave the work greater depth.

Similarly, the Impressionists relegated form to the background, preferring to explore landscapes instead. The open panoramas allowed the fair of light and colors for his pictorial methods.

Representatives of Impressionism

The main representatives of Impressionism were:

  • Édouard Manet (1832-1883). Although he never formally belonged to the group.
  • Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Founding member of the group.
  • Claude Monet (1840-1926). Founding member of the group.
  • Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Founding member of the group.
  • Berthe Morisot (1841-1895). Also founder of the group.
  • Francesco Filippini (1841-1870). Founder of Italian impressionism.

Impressionism paintings

Print: Rising Sun Claude Monet
Print: Rising Sun was painted by Claude Monet in 1873.

Some recognized impressionist paintings are as follows:

  • Print: Rising Sun (1873) by Claude Monet
  • The rowers’ lunch (1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
  • Boulevard Montmartre at night (1897) by Camille Pissarro
  • Lunch on the grass (1866) by Claude Monet
  • Ballet class (1874) by Edgar Degas
  • The reader (1876) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Impressionist art

Claude Debussy - impressionist music
The greatest representative of Impressionist music was the French Claude Debussy.

Regarding impressionism in other artistic branches, two are worth highlighting:

  • Impressionist music. This is the name given to the musical trend born at the end of the 19th century characterized by a freer tempo, the use of modes and variations, and experimentation with the timbre, thus achieving effects never before seen musically. Its highest representative was the French Claude Debussy, whose works reached a dreamlike tone and sounds never heard before, and other great authors were Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Manuel de Falla and Albert Roussel.
  • Literature of Impressionism. Born in France in the second half of the 19th century, he arose as a reaction against realism in the literary field, trying to reproduce in letters what was achieved by impressionist painting: the primary register of sensations, suppressing the intellectualizing or reflective effects of literature. in favor of the descriptions, the “brushstrokes” of the characters. The greatest exponents of this trend were Octave Mirbeau and Marcel Proust, although many plays by Anton Chekhov can be considered within the trend.


This is the name given to the trend that came immediately after Impressionism, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, encompassing various personal styles that at the same time constituted – in the opinion of the English critic Robert Fry, creator of the term- a continuation of impressionism and a challenge to the limitations of the impressionist style used. This style was born in London in 1910 in an exhibition of three of its most representative authors and the most acclaimed painters in history, such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh.