What is Impressionism?

The Impressionist art movement originated in France at the end of the 19th century and aimed to challenge the traditional approach to the representation of reality through painting. In general, Impressionist works emphasise light and colour and often feature free brushstrokes, fragmented perspectives and never-before-seen subjects. Among the most famous Impressionist artists are Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley and others. These Impressionists emerged from a post-revolutionary Parisian avant-garde scene that embraced new artistic forms. Their works are now widely recognised for the originality of their technique and the diversity of the subjects they tackle, whether domestic or urban. The Post-Impressionist movement was a reaction to the work of the Impressionists in the late 19th century, and included some of Europe's most influential painters. This avant-garde style originated in France, but quickly spread across the continent and had a strong influence on German Expressionnism and Fauvism. Post-Impressionism blends both realism and symbolism in artworks, with an emphasis on bright colours and striking patterns. Artists such as Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh used this type of painting to create powerful images that still inspire modern painters today.

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Artists generally used small brushstrokes to represent an object instead of drawing details with precision and accuracy. They also abandoned traditional blending techniques in favour of abrupt transitions between colours, resulting in what are considered 'fuzzy' dots of colour. Although Impressionnism is not as important today as it was in its early days, it has nevertheless had a lasting impact on modern art, not least through the incorporation of light into works of art, a feature of many current styles.

Some of the most famous impressionist artists:

Claude Monet

Claude Monet is considered one of the world's most important painters. His distinct impressionist style has captivated millions of people, making him a fixture in modern art galleries. Among his catalogue, some of his greatest paintings are the Water Lilies, Impression, Sunrise and Poppy field. Apart from these works - the Water Lilies being the most iconic - Monet painted other landscapes depicting the beauty of nature as well as bright cityscapes depicting 19th century Parisian life. His distinct style and incredible detail are evident in all of his works; it is no wonder they remain so popular today.

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Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas' style is characterised by the use of pastel colours, dynamic compositions and precise observation. Degas was also known for his interest in mid-nineteenth century Parisian life, which is depicted in most of his paintings. Many consider his most famous works to be the Blue Dancers, The Dancers in Pink and the iconic Dancers in Pink and Green. He also created many sculptures and monotypes, including his famous sculpture of a young dancer with a bouquet of flowers. Although Degas died over a hundred years ago, he remains one of the most important French Impressionists and his work continues to inspire and influence many contemporary artists.

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Paul Cézanne

Paul Cézanne was a 19th century French artist, now considered the "father of modern art". His style reflects both Post-Impressionism and Impressionism, as he strove to capture the physical sensations of colour and light in his art. He drew inspiration from many sources, including the 16th century Dutch masters and Japanese prints. He is famous for training his eye to focus on everyday objects such as fruit bowls and landscapes in a new way, looking for shadows and creating interesting angles to present these objects in his paintings. His timeless works include The Card Players, The Apple Basket and Mount Sainte-Victoire seen from the Lauves - all considered by many to be some of the most beautiful works of art ever created.

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Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin was a French post-impressionist artist whose unique style was characterised by bright colours, simplified forms, bold use of primitive elements and the inclusion of Polynesian influences. He often used symbols, both as metaphors and as narrative devices, to create emotional appeal in his art. Some of his most famous paintings include Arearea, Two Tahitians and Aha Oe Feii. Although he was the subject of much criticism during his lifetime, his works are widely admired today by modern audiences as representing a revolution in European painting.

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Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh was a post-impressionist artist whose pioneering work signalled the transition from 19th to 20th century art and made him one of the most influential and beloved painters in art history. His style is known for its intense colour palettes, dramatic perspectives and powerful brushstrokes. His most famous works include Starry Night, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Almond blossom. Starry Night, painted in 1889 while he was in an asylum, is said to capture his inner soul with its vast expanse of swirling stars and turbulent sky over the city. It has become one of the most recognised paintings in the world.

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Impressionnism and Post-Impressionnism had a lasting impact on the development of art and many of their characteristic motifs are visible in modern works. Impressionism's emphasis on fleeting 'impression' as opposed to precise representation and Post-Impressionism's emphasis on colour, emotion and meaning have shaped artistic traditions and become essential elements of visual language. Although both movements had no detractors, their influence is profound and can still be felt in the art world today.

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