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


What is Impressionism?

Impressionism is an artistic style that developed first in France in the latter half of the nineteenth century and is known for a somewhat unfinished quality, as well as a focus on leisure and café scenes, landscapes, cityscapes, and genre scenes. Like the Realists, the Impressionists were interested in capturing visual reality, but they were particularly interested in the properties of light, both natural and artificial. Artists such as Claude Monet studied changes in the colors of the atmosphere as the sun moved through the sky. Recent rainfall intrigued artists like Gustave Caillebotte and Camille Pissarro, who both painted natural light and light from gas lamps that reflected off the rain-soaked streets of Paris. Most Impressionists came from middle or upper class French families, but because their work was initially unpopular, they often lived in poor neighborhoods in Paris, frequently gathering at the Café Guerbois in the Montmartre district. The popularity of leisure and café scenes is a tribute to the lifestyle of the Impressionists.

The Impressionists had a difficult time being accepted by both art critics and the art-viewing public, and were regularly rejected from exhibitions at the Palais de Beaux Arts (Palace of Fine Arts). Instead, they held their own shows between 1874 and 1886, and ended up having an enormous influence on modern art. Today, impressionism continues to be one of the most popular styles of painting and sculpture and impressionist shows attract thousands of visitors to museums and galleries around the world.


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