Impressionism is almost a cliché by now- it’s on address books and calendars and dorm room walls.
But I still find it a great inspiration. I feel like I grew up with the French Impressionists. My mother was a fan, and I read Cristin Bjork’s Linnea in Monet’s Garden as a little girl.
Like the girl in the book, I had decided to test this up close dots and splotches and far away sunlit garden effect in person, moving closer and further to watch the magic happen. (Rather to the concern of the security guards and my parents!)
Impressionism as a movement dates from the late 19th century. It was a snide term tossed out in a review of a group show upon seeing Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise. (A painting that is famous for giving the movement it’s name, but not so much for being an excellent example of its intent…)
Though they’re considered establishment today, in their day the Impressionists were (admittedly briefly) the radicals of the art world. They ignored centuries of received wisdom about color and composition, and the value of detail and precision. Instead they focused on capturing light, finding a way to show the passage of time in the feel of the lighting. They emphasized brush strokes, and by playing with the effects of adjacent colors seen from a distance.
The French Impressionists also tended to take a more human view of the world. Their landscapes had ordinary people, bathers on the coast or people eating lunch. Monet’s famous flowers were from his garden, not plucked out of nature untamed.
They used the world around them, and its people, as their subjects.
Many also took advantage of modern technology, not looking towards an idealized past, but taking in the world around them.
Gritty and dirty and terribly useful, train stations could serve both as models and as the transport that allowed city living artists to get to the countryside in a timely fashion for painting in the open air. Progress in chemistry created new paints which allowed for new shades, and much more affordable variants of the classic ones.