Impressionist art is art that adheres to the movement founded in 19th-century France; Impressionism. It focuses upon the practice of painting outdoors, as well as upon capturing the fleetingness of light and scenes of everyday life and often features visible brushstrokes.…
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The art form was developed during the 19th century in France by a group of Paris-based artists including and most notably Claude Monet. Their focus was upon painting outdoors, or en plein air, on the spot, quickly and spontaneously, rather than the usual practice of painting in a studio and off of sketches. The main subjects the painters depicted were those of landscapes and scenes of daily life. The painters focused largely upon the light and its transience. They found that they were able to capture the momentary effects of the sunlight by working quickly directly in front of their subjects en plein air and sought to render the shifting pattern of the natural scene in their pieces with a greater awareness of light and colour that this new setting allowed them.
In order to render this fleeting quality of the quickly changing light, brushwork became rapid and often broken up into visibly separate dabs – creating the visual effect for which impressionism is so well known today. Additionally, scientific discoveries and inventions of the 19th century had an important influence on the ways in which the impressionists worked. New research encouraged artists to experiment with complementary colours, leading them to use contrasting colours tactically in order to make each appear deeper and brighter.
Yet, even more significant to the impressionists was an interest in the way in which the human mind processes what it sees. When we look at a landscape, or a crowd of people, we do not instantly see every face, or leaf in detailed focus, but as a mass of colour and light. It was this experience that Impressionist painters sought to express in their works.
Impressionism is characterised as much by subject matter as it is by technique, and landscapes and scenes from modern urban and suburban life, painted in bright, pure colours are typical of the genre. The changing light and its realistic representation as well as bold and visible, quickly-painted brush strokes are of course integral to the genre but several distinct styles that exist define it further.
The broken colour technique is perhaps the most famous of the genre. It features colour being painted on the canvas using small, short strokes as opposed to the conventional method of carefully blending the tones and colours together and leads to the striking, almost dotted visual effect that is thought of as typical of impressionism today.
Another technique is the wet-on-wet style which involves painting objects with layers of wet paints without waiting for each stroke to dry and is characteristic of the impressionist genre. This technique allows for looser and softer edges as well as innovation in terms of mixing colours together.
Another technique that is heavily used in impressionist art is the impasto technique which entails depicting objects with thick and short brush strokes that are visible and stand out of the surface, providing them with great volume and depth.
When you think of impressionism you likely think of Claude Monet, and for good reason – it was he who pioneered the medium. He and the other impressionists in his Paris-based group defied the conventions and norms of painting at the time and were met with huge backlash from critics.
Amongst the painters who pioneered the style was Edgar Degas who is especially identified with the subject of dance – although, interestingly, Degas rejected the term ‘impressionist’, preferring instead to be known as a ‘realist’. Additionally, to the field of dance, Degas took a particular interest in the setting of the racecourse and took great enjoyment in rendering the complex musculature of horses and ballet dancers alike.
Jean-Louis Forain, Degas’ protégé, is another painter who helped to found the movement. He focused primarily upon Parisian nightlife in his paintings, depicting scenes of cafés as well as the opera and the ballet. In his paintings, he employed similar techniques to those used by his friend Degas, including a blurred background and isolated moments of sharp detail as well as bold flecks of bright colour.
Philip Tyler is a British artist who focuses on the materiality of paint and its potential to create illusionary spaces on the canvas – this is easy to see from the thick, sweeping, textured brush strokes which feature in his paintings. The artist explores themes of loss in his work which often features landscapes and nude bodies as its subject, and the result is hauntingly beautiful, yet deeply melancholic.
Another artist whose work is not to be missed is Ta Thimkaeo. This artist takes inspiration from a range of artistic styles including modernism and cubism and has grown to develop an incredibly distinctive style. Take a look at ‘Egg Boy in Top Hat’ and we are sure you’ll agree.
Fred Ingrams is a British artist who paints from life. Over the past few years his focus has been the marshy plains of The Fens, in eastern England. If you’re a Van Gogh fan, you’ll be sure to love Fred’s work who is clearly influenced by the artist.
Finally, Ewa Czarniecka often uses a row of people walking in the rain carrying brightly-coloured umbrellas as the subject of her paintings which are bold, bright and deeply textured. The beautifully colourful result is stunning.