Why is it called impressionism?

The thing is, impressionist artists were not trying to paint a reflection of real life, but an ‘impression’ of what the person, light, atmosphere, object or landscape looked like to them. And that’s why they were called impressionists! They tried to capture the movement and life of what they saw and show it to us as if it were happening before our eyes.

Who were the impressionists?

Some of the main impressionist artists are Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas.

How did they paint?

John Singer Sargent, ‘Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood’ ?1885
John Singer Sargent
Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood ?1885

Before impressionism, landscapes in art were often imaginary, perfect landscapes painted in the studio. The impressionists changed all that. They painted outdoors.

As they were outside, they looked at how light and colour changed the scenes. They often painted thickly and used quick (and quite messy) brush strokes. In most of the paintings before impressionism you can't really see the brushstrokes at all.

Camille Pissarro, ‘The Pork Butcher’ 1883
Camille Pissarro
The Pork Butcher 1883
Camille Pissarro, ‘The Little Country Maid’ 1882
Camille Pissarro
The Little Country Maid 1882

Camille Pissarro gave this advice about how to paint an impressionist 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.

Claude Monet, ‘Poplars on the Epte’ 1891
Claude Monet
Poplars on the Epte 1891

Were there women impressionists?

Berthe Morisot, ‘Girl on a Divan’ c.1885
Berthe Morisot
Girl on a Divan c.1885

Berthe Morisot became a successful artist but her family did not encourage her to paint professionally.

American artist Mary Cassatt joined the impressionists for some of their later exhibitions in Paris. She was determined to be a successful artist. In the United States she wasn’t allowed to paint from live models because she was a woman.

Was impressionism only in France?

Philip Wilson Steer, ‘Girls Running, Walberswick Pier’ 1888–94
Philip Wilson Steer
Girls Running, Walberswick Pier 1888–94

Artists in other parts of the world were also inspired by this idea of capturing scenes of everyday life. This is a painting by a British artist called Philip Wilson Steer.

He managed to capture the magic and excitement of a day at the seaside. Look at the sunlight sparkling off the sea!

There were also painters in the United States who were impressionists. Childe Hassam created lively paintings of city life in New York and Theodore Robinson was best known for his scenes of everyday life in the countryside.