Home » Artists » Impressionists » FAQs about the Amazing French Impressionists

Frequently asked Questions about the 19th Century French Impressionists

This article answers all the frequently asked questions about the most beloved 19th century French Impressionists. Here you will learn where impressionism originated, who the impressionists were, their art style and how they differed to the art styles before them.

The artworks of the French Impressionists
The artworks of the French Impressionists

What is Impressionism art?

Impressionism art was a rebellious art movement that began in the late 19th century. These avant garde artists rejected the rigid rules of traditional fine art and embraced a new art form. They yearned for an art style that reflected the modern world in which they lived. Their idea was to abandon realism for capturing fleeting impressions of what they saw around them & capture that very moment.

The French impressionists abandoned their painting studios, set up their painting easels outdoors and focused on the light of that transient moment. Painting outdoors (plein air painting) was a very new concept. These artists also moved away from the darker colors of traditional art and started using a brighter and more joyful palette of colors.

Below are affiliate links is for products that I recommend. If you make a purchase through a link, I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Where did impressionism come from?

Impressionism art originated in France in the late 19th century. Art historians believe that a small medieval port town called Honfleur in Normady was the birthplace of Impressionism art.

A Honfleur born artist, Eugene Boudin, introduced young Claude Monet to the techniques of painting outdoors (plein air painting). He also taught Monet to observe and capture onto his canvas the effects of changing lights on the landscapes around him. These lessons stayed with Monet throughout his entire life as an impressionist.

Claude Monet Painting entitled "Impression, soleil levant"
Claude Monet Painting entitled “Impression, Sunrise”

How did impressionism originate?

An important precursor to impressionism was the Barbizon School of painters. This group was founded by the artists Théodore RousseauCharles-François DaubignyJules Dupré,  Jean-François Millet & others. They were active between the years of 1830 until the 1870s. These artists gathered together to paint in the forest of Fontainebleau near the village of Barbizon. Their revolutionary idea was that nature and landscape was the primary subject matter itself and not just a backdrop for biblical or traditional scenes.

The Barbizon painters left their painting studios and and painted outdoors, working directly from nature. Their painting style however was realistic in form.

Barbizon School Painter Charles Francois Daubigny

The impressionism painters, who emerged a generation later, fully embraced the idea of painting outdoors. They also followed the Barbizon painters in using landscapes as their preferred subject matter.

However the Impressionists took the ideas of landscape painting one step further. The impressionism artists rejected the realism of the Barbizon artists. The impressionists preferred to paint with broader and coarser brushstrokes & omitted the finer details. They aimed to capture the essence or “impression” of the landscape.

The Lesson in the Garden - Berthe Morisot Impressionism painting
Impressionism painting by Berthe Morisot

Why is it called impressionism and what does impressionism mean?

Impressionism was a name that stuck after a very unsuccessful art exhibition. An art critic called Louis Leroy who attended the exhibition, wrote a review in which he criticized the artworks as being unfinished paintings and merely “impressions”. His words reflected the views of many people during that period. They did not accept that these paintings did not capture the exact details of the scene. The critic used the term “impression” as an insult but the name stuck and the group proudly ended up calling themselves the impressionists.

Impressionism artwork by Pierre Auguste Renoir
Impressionism painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Who were the French impressionists?

The great majority of artists who formed the impressionism art movement were French. The French impressionists include Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot and others. There was also an American artist, Mary Cassatt, who moved to Paris and became a central figure in the French impressionism art movement.

Claude Monet Impressionism landscape at sunset
Claude Monet Impressionist landscape

The Foreign Impressionists

In addition, there were many foreign artists who came to Paris to study traditional art in Paris. However, some of them moved away from traditional art when they saw the artworks of the impressionism artists. They studied and experimented with these new techniques and brought this new art form back to their own countries.

These artists include the Russian artist Konstantin Korovin, The Australian painter John Peter Russell, the talented German painter Max Liebermann, the Irish artist Roderic O’Conor and many others.

The American Impressionists & the Giverny Artist Colony

There was also a large group of Americans who followed Claude Monet to Giverny. They set up a Giverny artist colony and studied the techniques of impressionism there. Most returned to America continuing to paint American scenes using the French impressionism techniques. These artists include Louis Paul Dessar, Louis Ritman, John Leslie Breck, Richard Emil Miller, Lilla Cabot Perry, Frederick Carl Frieseke, John Singer Sargent and many others.

John Leslie Breck painting influenced by the French Impressionists
John Leslie Breck Impressionism painting

What is the Impressionism art style?

Before the emergence of impressionism, landscape paintings were mainly imaginary scenes painted inside art studios. However, the 19th century impressionism artists changed all that. They abandoned their art studios and set up their easels outdoors in order to capture the landscapes as they saw them, flaws & all.

The French impressionists focused on the effect of light on the scene. They often used thick paint and painted quickly, using coarse and quick brushstrokes. In contrast, most paintings before impressionism were so real and life-like that you can barely see the brushstrokes at all.

The impressionism painters were not trying to capture real life with all its details. They preferred to depict the essence of the scene, light, atmosphere, object or landscape. The impressionists aim was to capture a fleeting snap-shot in time.

One of the famous female French impressionists - Berthe Morisot
Impressionism painting by Berthe Morisot

How did impressionism influenced modern art?

The Impressionism artists layed the foundation for the next generations of modern art. The impressionist painters were the first group to fully reject the established, state-sponsored art form of their time. This radical move away from the traditional world of art, paved the way for later artists to experiment with their own revolutionary ideas. These later and radical ideas brought many new modern art forms such as, fauvism, pointillism, cubism, abstract, surrealism and more.

The French Impressionists painting en plein air
The French Impressionists painting en plein air

Who is the most famous Impressionist?

The most famous French impressionist is Oscar Claude Monet. However during his lifetime he wasn’t that famous at all! In fact, for most of his artistic life Monet was a struggling artist. For many years he was barely able to make ends meet. No one was interested in his strange looking paintings! During these years, Monet felt like an absolute failure as an artist and even suffered with depression. It was only in his later years that the art world started appreciating Monet’s artworks and began buying them.

Today Claude Monet is a household name around the world and he is most famous for his series of water lilies.

See the below articles for more information about Claude Monet.