Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sunrise). Claude Monet. 1872. Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Rumi (1207-73), Persian poet and mystic
In the 1870's, after viewing Claude Monet's painting, Impression, Soleil Levant, a Parisian art critic coined the term "impressionism", intending it to be a pejorative. However, the association of artists who embraced this style adopted the term and a ground-breaking artistic movement was christened and launched.
Two art forms had a significant impact on French Impressionistic painting: Japanese block prints (Monet had an extensive collection) and the emergence of photography. Photography, particularly snapshot photography, had an influence on both landscape and portrait art. The blurring of images coupled with the cropping and unusual juxtaposition of forms and figures created a feeling of movement and spontaneity, a goal of French Impressionists.
In addition to a feeling of movement and spontaneity, French Impressionism had several distinguishing characteristics.
In a departure from traditional indoor studios, artists worked in out-of-door venues (plein-air painting). Additionally, their subject matter centered around everyday people in these casual outdoor settings. This differed from earlier traditional forms which focused on rich or highly ranked people and historical or biblical themes.
Technique changed as well. Broken color and broken brushstrokes gave the paintings a sketchy and unfinished quality. These two techniques were also highly evocative, conveying a sense of light and atmosphere. There were other departures in technique. Traditional artists mixed colors on the palette. Impressionists, however, applied pure, unmixed color directly on the canvas. This further enhanced the sense of atmosphere that the Impressionists sought. Finally, in their continued exploration of light, these artists accomplished the shadowing of images with color rather than with blacks and grays. Their work in open air settings and the impact of color in those settings influenced this development.
French Impressionistic painting influenced movements in both literature and music, where writers and musicians continued the exploration of environment and atmosphere. This includes the music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, the writing of Virginia Woolf and Joseph Conrad. Notable French Impressionistic painters include Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Eduoard Manet, Pierre-August Renoir, Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt.