Impressionism and photography grew up together

Preceeding impressionism, photographic like movements of neoclassicism and realism lead painters with strict codes of composition and choice of subject. Impressionism emerged in the mid 19th century in France; in the present day we would call it a protest movement against the status quo "controllers" of the art scene.

Shortly after the earliest photography, Daguerrotypes in the late 1830s, appeared the relationship between photography and painting became an extremely close one. The work of photographers such as Nadar, Disderi, Cuvelier and Le Gray, to mention just a few, stimulated Monet, Manet, Degas and the young Impressionists to develop a new way of looking at the world.  Impressionism used photography as inspiration for its observation of light, its representation of a space, the lack of color in photography and its exploration of spontaneity and visual ambiguity. Furthermore, the impressionistic brushstroke led some early photographers to become interested in the materiality of their images and to look for ways of making their photographs less precise and more pictorial in effect, not unlike photographers today.

A group led by Monet, Renoir, Degas, Sisley, Bazille, Berthe Morisot, in 1874,  decided to make exhibits on their own, without the approval of the Salon, a controller of the art scene. They called themselves the Anonymous Society of painters and wanted to show their work to the world without the constraints of critics, thus they did their own exhibitions

Impressionist ways of studying light completely changed the world of painting, but how?

The senses and emotions are impacted by the play between light, shadow and their effect on colors.  Impressionistic representation of space, vibrant color, light and exploration of visual ambiguity allows the viewer to reconnect with nature through their sense and emotions.

Exploration of space and perspective

In neoclassism and realism, painting often seemed staged. Impressionists, on the other hand, grabbed the scene in the moment, which created scenes with unconventional angles. Light was their guide in how to seize a moment in their paintings. 

Following the ways light appeared while painting led impressionists to explore different ways to represent space. For example, Monet, because of his bad eyesight, made backgrounds more blurry and interpretative and less realistic of the outside world. 

Chicago Art Institute Monet's water lillies

More vibrant colors

The use of more explosive colors enabled the play of light and shadow in impressionism. Many French impressionists were interested in color theory because bold color gave a new meaning to  reality.

Pointing to Fall Available for purchase here

The subject was light

To many critics, impressionist’s work looked like unfinished sketches, mere impressions of something and not real artworks. Monet reclaimed the word Impressionism and named one of paintings after it: Impression soleil levant and it is considered first impressionist paintings.

The main subject of this painting isn’t the person rowing on the boat in the first panel. The subject is the lighting of the scene as a whole. The contrasting colors put an emphasis on the ephemeral nature of the sunrise.

Spontaneity was the key

By painting outside, these impressionist artists would see the change of ambient light and shadow integrating it in their painting. Impressionists painted the impermanence of life, and how natural phenomena would change through time.

The development of small metal oil tubes enabled painters to carry their material outside easily. As a result, painters started to paint more outdoors resulting in the expression “plein air’’ painting (which means outside) or ‘peinture sur le motif’’ which means painting with the presence of the subject you are painting.

Auguste Renoir, La grenouillère, 1869 (oil on canvas), 66x81, Nationalmuseum, Stockolm via wikipedia 

With this method, the brushstrokes were less precise. They weren’t blended and concealed. They were left out as it is to be seen. As light doesn’t have a shape, it can’t have to be captured by a certain form, perfect for this type of brushstroke.

Nature is where the great light is

As we have seen, some impressionists painted en ‘’plein air’’. This way they were more exposed to natural environments. French impressionists started to develop more sensitivity to nature through the study of natural light. This created a slight change in the choice of subject also. In realism there were already scenes of nature, but they weren’t depicted the same way. The impressionist movement depicted the affective and sensible dimension of nature, not just it’s shapes. 

Some painters would paint repetitively the same landscape, but at different times of the day. This way they were able to capture all the potential of the same scenery. Impressionist paintings do not show supremacy over nature but on the contrary their profound admiration. 

Up North With Monet, available for sale here

Impressionism and photography grew up together. They have a common experience that lives on today creating beautiful, inspiring art reflecting the majesty of nature.