In Paris in the late 19th century (1874-1882), several artists who called themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc. organized an exhibit that launched the movement called Impressionism. These artists, such as Eduoard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Mary Cassatt, sparked worldwide following and revolutionized Western conceptions of painting. Appearing to other artists to be a group, these independent painters with quite diverse artistic approaches, were only unified in their rejection by the official annual Salon (the Académie des Beaux-Arts which is a French academic organization that judges and awards selected artworks). Criticized for the unfinished, sketch like appearance of their work, more progressive critics praised them for their depiction of modern life.
Their subjects were commonplace including landscapes, leisure and recreation in open air or “en plein air” settings, using quick and spontaneous brushstrokes to depict the fluctuation of light. Their subjects were captured by observation rather than idealization and they sought to capture typical moments in life with no moral message, rather than poses or dramatic scenes. They put special emphasis on and paid attention to the effects of light, atmosphere and movement using bold treatments in form of color and space.
Japanese wood block prints influenced many of the Impressionists, as did photography. They added interesting perspectives such as from above, tilted or cropped. They also developed a new practice called “optical mixing” where they placed the colors side by side on the canvas allowing them to blended by the eye far afar. Today the works of Impressionists are recognized for their modern embodiment in rejection of established styles, the incorporation of new technology and ideas, and depiction of every day modern life.
The Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), required reconstructing parts of the city that had been destroyed. The renovated city became a popular subject for Impressionists such as Camille Pissarro and Gustave Caillebotte. During this period, factories for manufacturing consumer goods were increasing. Fashion was becoming more prevalent in society and industry was being revolutionized. Directly affecting impressionism were scientific advances such as better quality brushes and synthetic paint pigments that became available.
Post-Impressionism came about later in 19th century (1880-1890’s) France. During that time, Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and Maurice Denis, members of a group of experimental artists known as the Nabis, played a significant role in the revival of decorative painting. Their experimentation with the arrangement of line and color was meant to function as a visual equivalent of nature without replicating its appearance. They also hoped to reassert the role of paint in decorating interior living spaces.
Influenced by Impressionists use of color, yet pushing the appearance of nature, especially stressing high-keyed color, they developed bold new styles using innovative brushwork and emphasizing geometric shapes and figures. These techniques are known as Divisionism or Pointillism and they contrast significantly with the short, spontaneous canvases of Impressionism. Contributing to these developments were the likes of Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gaugin, and George Seurat. These techniques later influenced many abstract painters of the early 20th century.
Post-impressionists used impressionist techniques but took style to a completely new level. They embedded their works with more passion and synthesized reality through their personal vision. They searched for meaning in their art. The Post-Impressionists rejected Impressionism’s focus on spontaneous and naturalistic rendering of light and color. Instead, they placed emphasis on more meaningful and emotional content, formal order and structure. However, like the Impressionists, they stressed the artificiality of the picture. Both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism include some of the most famous works of modern art such as Monet’s “Waterlilies, a Series of Waterscapes”, and van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.
The “Impression Sunrise”, by Claude Monet is painting that led to the name of the Impressionist movement. The very characteristics known to Impressionism are seen here: The sketch-like appearance; short brush strokes; movement demonstrated in the appearance of waves and reflection of sunlight. The subject matter is commonplace. This painting was not meant to evoke emotion.
“The Red Vineyard”, by Vincent van Gogh is believed to be the only painting sold during his lifetime. As you can see, the appearance of movement is shown in the water with the waves and reflection of the sun. The main difference here is the use of high-keyed color and the geometric shapes of the subjects. Although many paintings were still open air in the Post-Impressionist movement, this particular work was done by memory the day after van Gogh walked through the vineyard. He was moved by the landscape and women working and attempted to capture how they toiled in the field.
Both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism planted seeds for modern art. They were both rejected during their time, yet they continue to be some of the most well-known and beloved of artistic movements and are the most sought after art style of all. If you were to look among prints of works from these periods side by side with modern day prints (specifically for home décor), you would most certainly see major influence. In fact, if you had no knowledge in this subject, you may not realize you are looking at something that was originally created over a century ago.