What was so different about it?
In the 19th century a group of artists in France started to draw and paint landscapes and scenes of everyday life, like cooking, sleeping and bathing. These may seem fairly normal things to see in art now, but in the 19th century most of the art that was made in Europe had much grander subjects such as battle scenes from history, or stories from ancient Greece and Rome.
The impressionist artists were not trying to paint a realistic picture, but an ‘impression’ of what the person, object or landscape looked like to them. (This is why they are called impressionists). They wanted to capture the movement and life of what they saw and show it to us as if it is happening before our eyes.
They often painted thickly and used quick (and quite messy) brush strokes. Most of the paintings before impressionism have a much flatter, neater surface and you can't really see the brushstrokes at all.
Some of the main impressionist artists are Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas.
Before impressionism, landscapes in art were often imaginary, perfect landscapes painted in the studio. The impressionists changed all that. They painted outdoors and ‘on the spot’. As they were outside, they looked at how light and colour changed the scenes.
What time of day do you think Monet painted these trees? What do you think the weather was like?
This is the advice that another impressionist, Camille Pissarro, gave about how to paint a landscape:
Work at the same time on sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on an equal basis...Don't be afraid of putting on colour...Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression.