Characteristics of Impressionist Art

  • The brush strokes in Impressionist art are very distinctive.     Impressionist painters used large and visible strokes to help portray a dreamy and abstract mood. They created different textures, both visually and physically, with assorted colors layered together.  Impressionist painters developed a way of applying pigment that has been called “broken color” or “broken brushstrokes.” The paint is applied in mosaic-like patches which creates a rough irregular surface texture.  

Claude MONET 

Impressionists broke with the notion of academic finish by which paintings appear to have a flat or smooth surface. In an Impressionist canvas, paint is applied in thick raised strokes which is called impasto(Thick Paint)

  • The lighting is often one of the most important focal points in Impressionist painting. Several Impressionist painters devoted entire series of paintings to a single object observed during different times of the day. Monet's haystacks are a perfect example of a dedication to lighting. 

  • The lines .  Impressionists loved to play with lights and shadows. Many employed a combination of striking, solid lines with visible soft lines. The painting may have a sharp silhouette line filled with blurred shadow lines or a blurry background with a sharp foreground. 

                                                  EDGARD DEGAS

  • Use of Pure Color  Artists traditionally mixed paints on their palette to achieve a certain hue or color before applying it to the canvas. Impressionists broke with this formula by employing pure, prismatic colors fresh from the new tin tubes unmixed on the palette and laid directly on the canvas. Upon close inspection each hue is applied separately but would be visually fused together by the human eye giving the sensation of flickering light and vibrating atmosphere.  


    • Painted "En Plein Air"   The rise of plein-air painting, or painting out-of-doors, is a phenomenon closely connected with Impressionism.Artists had sketched in the open air before and it was not new to art in the 19th century. But what was new was method of completing a work directly in the open air, and also in the recognition that such works were equal or superior to “composed” landscape and figure subjects, conceived and executed in the studio. Often, work completed out of doors was on wood panels that fit securely into an artist’s paint box for safe travel.

    • Photographic Influence Photography made its appearance in the early nineteenth century at a time when scientists, philosophers and artists were intent on acquiring an objective and positive knowledge of reality. Photography exerted a powerful influence on the visual arts. Its ability to create a likeness had an immediate effect on portrait painters, but its influence soon spread to landscape artists. By the time of the Impressionists, technical advances had led to the development of the snapshot camera. Blurrings, unusual juxtapositions and the accidental cropping off of figures in snapshots created the sense of movement and spontaneity that the Impressionist artists wanted to achieve. 


    • Subject Matter
    The subject matter of Impressionism is often casual, everyday life, captured with an immediacy enhanced by transient effects of light and atmosphere.

    • High Horizontal Line

    Impressionist painters employed a wide range of compositional devices in their work. One of them was the use of a high horizon line that often creates a plunging perspective.

    • Influence of Japanese Prints. Japanese woodblock prints were first seen in France in the 1850s and soon became immensely popular. Many of the French and American Impressionists collected these prints. The prints both inspired and confirmed the Impressionists’ own ideas about color and form, revealing a very different approach to composition than that of the Western tradition. Japanese artists combine areas of solid color with stylized outlines, emphasizing the surface pattern of the print rather than the illusion of space beyond the picture plan. While European artists created a sense of space and depth using perspective, Japanese printmakers implied spatial relationship by placing one object behind another in overlapping planes.