Impressionism emerged in the 1860s and flourished in the 1970s and 1980s, opposing the old-fashioned classicism and fictitious romanticism. In the last 30 years of the 19th century, it became the mainstream of French art and influenced the entire Western painting circle. Representative painters of Impressionism, such as Manet, Renoir, and Monet, took light and color as the main purpose of painting. They advocate going out of the studio, depicting natural scenes, grasping the instant impression, and making their paintings vivid and fresh. From the second half of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, many Impressionist art masters emerged in France. The most representative works include The Luncheon on the Grass by Manet, Impression Sunrise by Monet, and Sunflowers by Van Gogh.
In 1863, contrary to the official salon exhibition, the Salon des Refusés was held in Paris. At this Salon, Manet exhibited The Luncheon on the Grass, a painting of a nude woman and gentlemen having lunch on the grass. The painting was considered indecent and was heavily criticized and ridiculed. Innovative painters such as Monet, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, and Cezanne were willing to ally with Manet. In April 1874, an exhibition entitled Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) was held in the studio of the photographer Nadar. A Parisian art critic ranted, "Crazy, grotesque, revolting, unpleasant!" The exhibition quickly became the talk of the town, with visitors not only going to laugh but even spitting on the canvas. A small seascape painted by Monet was the most ridiculed, depicting a morning view of Harvard Harbor, titled Impression Sunrise, which was used by Louis Leroy, a conservative journalist, to deride it as "an exhibition of impressionist painters." The name "Impressionism" came from this. The Impressionist Exhibition was held eight times from 1874 to 1886. Except for the first, fourth, and eighth exhibitions, the term "Impressionism" was used as the exhibition's title.
There are mainly three phases of the Impressionism movement. The representative figures of Impressionism include Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, and Sisley. The representative figures of Neo-Impressionism include Seurat and Signac. The representative figures of Post-Impressionism include Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Gauguin.
Impressionist painters advocated getting out of the studio and going into the wilderness, countryside, and streets to sketch, striving to portray nature in a realistic way. Borrowing from the latest optical theory that the color of an object is produced by light and that the inherent color of an object does not exist, the Impressionists believed that a scene has different colors under different lighting conditions. Their mission was to faithfully portray the "reality" of a scene under changing lighting conditions. The Impressionist painters recorded this "moment" on the canvas for eternity.
In the late 1880s, a group of painters strongly influenced by Impressionism set off a technical innovation and started the Neo-Impressionism movement. Instead of using contour lines to divide the image, they used scientific depiction to pursue the expression of external light. They used small segments of color to complete a painting. Optically, the segment technique was a mixture of color and light, which improved the reflectivity and brightness of the painting. Painters used pure color on canvas, not mixing colors on the palette so that intermediate colors were created by natural mixing in the eyes of the viewer at a certain distance from the painting.
Neo-Impressionist artists divided the hues into seven primary colors - the seven colors of sunlight - and painted with purely primary colors arranged in tiny dots, using people's eyes to mix the colors on their own. In order to avoid the muddiness of colors caused by mixing colors on the palette, they tried to use small dots of primary colors directly on the canvas to maintain the purity and brightness of the colors themselves, making the picture vivid and lively in tone. Because of this painting method, Neo-Impressionism is also called "Pointillism."
Another characteristic of the Neo-Impressionists is the use of numerical construction in composition. The fine division of colors, the layout of the painting, the relationship between the whole and the parts, and the position and size of the figures all were divided according to a fixed ratio, which is also their bold introduction to the famous Greek "golden ratio" in painting. They pursued the unity of rhythm from the relationship of forms and expressed a dreamy poetic atmosphere.
Post-Impressionism is not a continuation of Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism but a breakthrough and rebellion against Impressionism. The so-called "Post-Impressionists" were not an art group and did not have a manifesto or hold group exhibitions of their works. They were closely related to Impressionism, but their creative tendencies were different from Impressionism. In order to distinguish them from Impressionism, later artists gave them the name "Post-Impressionism."
Post-Impressionism was not satisfied with the reproduction of objective things and the depiction of external light and color. They emphasized the expression of the painter's self-perception, subjective feelings, and emotions. They attached importance to the structure of forms and the lines, color blocks, and volume of the composition. In their view, art was not equal to the image of life, and painting was not a science but had to be created according to the painter's subjective feelings. Therefore, Post-Impressionist painters' expressions were exaggerated, deformed, and pursue personalized artistic language. The theory and practice of Post-Impressionism led to a break with the tradition of Western painting since the Renaissance, and thus a new concept of art emerged, and Western modernist art began to sprout in the 20th century.
Impressionism was a critical stage in the transition from realism to Modernism in European art in the mid-19th century. Impressionists entered the French painting scene with an innovative attitude, and their edge was aimed at the clichéd Classicism and the pretentious Romanticism. Impressionists absorbed the nutrients of realistic painting and began to study and represent natural light in their paintings. Impressionist painters abandoned the narrow brown tones in the 16th century and advocated getting out of the studio and going outdoors to sketch, striving to portray nature realistically and directly, depicting the landscape and daily life under the sun. They introduced the scientific concept of light and color into painting and revolutionized the traditional concept of inherent color. Impressionism recognized the unique aesthetic value of art forms and made bold explorations in form, laying the foundation for Modernism.
The most important achievement of Impressionist painting is the discovery and expression of colors in natural outdoor light, capturing the momentary changes of nature. In order to capture the momentary "impressions," Impressionist paintings are often more casual in composition, striving to highlight the serendipity of the picture and increase the vividness and lively atmosphere. It should be reminded that it is best not to be too close to the Impressionist painting. Looking closely, you will feel that the colors are fragmented and not mixed.