From the Industrial Revolution to World War I, C. 1850–1914


How did photography influence Impressionist painting?

With the development of photography, nineteenth-century painters were challenged with setting themselves apart from the new medium. Realists had tasked themselves with accurately representing the visual world, but now a photographer could do this with the flash of a bulb. How were painters to respond? As is clear with Impressionism, nineteenth-century artists did not simply stop being interested in realism, this interest merely shifted. Because of the camera, artists in the latter half of the nineteenth century began to experiment with optical realism and the capturing of movement in a whole new way. In Manet’s great painting, Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1881–1882), a room full of dancers appears blurry, as they would in a photograph, and is an indication of movement. Photographs are also notable for their ability to capture a “slice of life,” and paintings such as Degas’ off-center L’Absinthe (1876) does just that. Degas crops the picture by slicing through an angled café table and cutting off the elbow of a cigarette-smoking patron. In a period when artists were already questioning the value of the academic art tradition, the development of photography encouraged nineteenth-century artists to continue to experiment with their techniques and their subjects, and to question the supremacy of Classical aesthetic values.


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