Impressionism (1860-1886)
Barbizon school








Impressionism is a school that arose and developed in France in the second half of the 19th c. – beginning of the 20th. It spread across whole Europe and brought a real revolution in the art world. The impressionism was an art school that strove to share an impression that would be perceived as something material. The aim of an impressionist artist was to “deliver only his own impression from things and not to worry about generally accepted rules”. He works on a picture right under open sky, makes small touches, uses only pure colours of rainbow, indenting to convey the whole intensity of light and life itself at one certain moment. Despite the fact that impressionism was absolutely new school they had some precursors. You can find this tendency in some works of El Greco, Velázquez, Turner, Goya, Turner and Constable. But the main roles were plaid by French artists Corot and Courbet who were the immediate precursors. First the Word « impressionisme » was used by a journalist Louis Leroy : his review was published in Le Charivari and was devoted to the first exhibition. The name of the movement is derived from the title of a Claude Monet work, “Impression, Sunrise”. Impressionism was an absolutely new technique that reflects new perception of reality. It was a tendency, which occurred against official art. The whole art culture was represented by the Académie des Beaux-Arts that organised the Salon de Paris – an annual art show; artists whose work displayed in the show won prizes, garnered commissions, and enhanced their prestige. But some younger artists painted in a lighter and brighter manner than painters of the preceding generation, extending further the realism of Gustave Courbet and the Barbizon school. They were more interested in painting landscape and contemporary life than in recreating scenes from history. Each year, they submitted their art to the Salon, only to see the juries reject their best efforts in favour of trivial works by artists working in the approved style. A core group of young realists, Claude Monet, Pierre-AugusteRenoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, who had studied under Charles Gleyre, became friends and often painted together. They soon were joined by Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin. After seeing the rejected works in 1863, Emperor Napoleon III decreed that the public be allowed to judge the work themselves, and the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) was organized. While many viewers came only to laugh, the Salon des Refusés drew attention to the existence of a new tendency in art and attracted more visitors than the regular Salon. As they couldn’t be exhibited at the salon the later part of 1873 Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, and Sisley decided to organise the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs ("Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers") and show their work an independent exhibition. Cézanne, Berthe Morisot, and Edgar Degas joined them soon. The first exhibition was held in 1874 from 15th April till 15th May where 30 artist were represented. It didn’t bring any success to the new art and rose perplexity, indignation and mockery. The second one was in 1876. It collected 20 artists. The third exhibition was in 1877 with 18 participants, 4th – from 10th of April till 11 May 1879, 16 participants, 5th – 1-30th of April 1880, 18 people, 6th – 2th of April till 1 of May 1881, 13 artists, 7th – in March 1882, 9 artists, 8th – the last one- from 15th of May till 15th of June, 17 artist, including neo-impressionists and symbolists. The group which organised the first exhibition gradually came apart duo to internal debates and contradictions. But the new generation of artist came along. Now they are calledpost-impressionists. The main impressionists were Frédéric Bazille, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley.




“Nabi” is a Hebrew word meaning “prophet”. The Nabis used the term, suggested to them by the poet J. Lahor, to identify themselves , for most of them boasted the prophetic attribute of a beard, short and fringed in Bonnard’s case , while Denis had a fair one , Vuillard a generous growth, and Serusier a blazing red one. The term also flattered their esoteric outlook, both literarily (Symbolism) and mystico-religious (the Rosicrucians), so typical of the generation which fought naturalism by concentration on exceptions to the rule and affecting to divide society into “artists” and “bourgeois”. At any rate, the Nabis intended to sound the knell of official art and begin a new epoch, but not by resorting to destructive methods : on the contrary , their epoch-making methods were to be muted and subtle insidious and tender , subversive and mischievous. As a group the Nabis were neither prophets of woe nor unapproachable pariahs. They ways parted later but left their friendships and companionships intact. They accepted life and society came to accept them. With the exception of Vallotton perhaps, these bold innovations enjoyed happy artistic careers. The Nabis’ nucleus was formed of the Academie Julian, which provided places for those pupils whom the Ecole des beaux-arts could not take. Bonnard , Denis, Ranson, Ibels, and Serusier studied at the former. Serusier had set up his easel at Pont-Aven one autumn day in 1888 and it was there, in the Bois d’Amour , that he met Gauguin who delivered to the spot a brief but shattering lecture: “That tree there is green isn’t it? Well then, use the loveliest green on your palette. And that shadow, almost blue? Paint it as blue as possible.” Whereupon as the legend goes, Serusier painted on the list of a cigar box “a crude landscape, synthetically composed of violet, vermillion, Veronese green and other pure colours squeezed straight from the tube without being mixed with white”. This, according to Denis , was the famous “talisman” which revealed to these serious and cultivated young painters artistic principals which became paramount. To the marvellous aesthetic creed which Serusier elaborated by working for a while at Le Pouldu with Gauguin, there quickly rallied several deserters from the Ecole des Beaux-arts: Roussel, Vuillard and Piot. The last recruits were Maillol then a painter, Felix Vallotton and the Dutch painter Verkade. Such was the total manpower of the Nabist movement. At that time it seemed that official art annulled the bond between style and ideal , for true style is inextricable from an artist’s personal vision and is diametrically opposed to all stereotyping. Conventional painting had become trapped into the status of consumer goods for a society whose demands reflected its own mediocrity and moral strictures (edifying scenes), licentious anecdotes (both historical and ribald) and covetousness. Denis postulated that a picture , taken at face value and seen in terms of its own particular properties , can express an artist’s sensibility as perfectly as music or poetry. This standpoint was important to Denis so he formulated what he called the theory of equivalents. “In place of the idea of ‘nature as seen through the individual temperament’ we have substituted the theory of equivalents and symbols: we contend that in an artist’s imagination, the emotions or states of mind aroused by any spectacle become signs or plastic equivalents capable of reproducing those emotions or states of mind , and that it is not necessary to supply a copy of the original spectacle; also that there should be an objective harmony corresponding to every state of sensibility and capable of expressing it.” In adopting the theory of equivalents in which “Symbol” was obviously a keyword, the Nabis paid tribute to contemporary literary and intellectual theories. As their various friendships testify, they were a highly cultured group and possessed of vast curiosity. In 1891 Bonnard, Denis, and Vuillard shared a studio wit Lugne-Poe at 28 rue Pigalle. Denis who worked on Remy de Gourmont’s Theodate, and especially Vuillard, took great interest in the problem of theatrical décor. The Theatre des Arts, founded by Paul Fort with their collaboration, Antoine’s Theatre Libre and Lugne-Poe’s Maison de l’Euvre (of which Vuillard was a director) all consulted Denis and Vuillard. From 1890 onwards the whole group frequently met at the offices of the Mercure de France and the Revue Blanche (under the management of the Natanson brothers) where Vuillard later exhibited his work. Apart from the obvious influence their artistic environment had upon them , the Nabis were most influenced by several great contemporary painters , by Gauguin in particular, by the Gauguin of Pont-Aven and the Yellow Christ which had aroused such admiration at the Café Volpini exhibition in 1889. It was to Gauguin that they owed their first impetus and the fundamental tenets of their aesthetic doctrine. Yet Nabist painting must not be confused with Gauguin’s: their refined manner, though parallel to primitivism in a speculative and indirect way , never shared Gauguin’s robust monumentality. Yet another and almost as persuasive a lesson aroused their interest; Japanese art. In April 1890 an exhibition of Japanese art was opened at the Ecole des beaux-arts: the Nabis visited it eagerly. Two other contemporary masters also attracted them: Odilon Redon (as a spiritual master) and Cezanne (aesthetic lucidity of his works). Despite various individual inclinations discernible right frim he start, the main tastes they had in common kept the group together until about 1900; after that each member followed his own path which in some cases , led far beyond original Nabist conceptions. They exhibited as a group from 1891 to 1896 at the Galerie de Le Barc de Bouteville, Ambroise Vollard, Durand-Ruel and Bernheim Jeune. Their work was also displayed at the Salon des Independants, at the Nationale des Beaux-Arts, and at Les XX in Brussels.

The Artists of the Group


Edouard Manet

Manet was born in Paris to wealthy parents and his artistic talents were apparent early in his life. In 1850, after a short stint in the French navy, he joined the studio of Thomas Couture  a Neo-Classical painter who steered his students away from an obsessive attention to detail.
Manet’s work was remarkable for its modernity, both in terms of technique and subject matter - qualities that attracted the admiration of a younger group of painters who came to be known as the Impressionists. Despite challenging the views of the art establishment, Manet craved official acceptance for his work. Consequently, he never exhibited with the Impressionists, although his work influenced their development. Manet spent much time with members of the Impressionist group in the cafes of Paris, and during the 1870s he painted in an Impressionist style. Much of his subject matter was also in keeping with the spirit of his contemporary, Edgar Degas.
In 1883, Manet’s achievements were recognised by the state when he was awarded the ligion d’Honneur.

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas came from a wealthy family and trained initially as a historical painter. However, his interest in modern motifs became apparent in the early 1860s, when he began to paint racecourses.
He was also a gifted portrait painter, sowing a rare insight into the character of his sitters. From early on, Degas’s work is almost abstract in its concern for design and pattern and its use of unusual viewpoints. In 1869, his exhibited at the official Paris Salon for the last time, exhibiting independently thereafter.
Degas was instrumental in organizing the first independent Impressionist exhibition in 1874 and was involved in all but one of their subsequent exhibitions. Many of his contemporary motifs proved offensive to the public. At the Impressionist exhibition of 1886 his pastels of women at their toilette (perfectly acceptable in a classical setting) caused uproar.
From the 1890s, as his eyesight began to deteriorate, Degas painted loose images in pastel, and produced models in wax.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Renoir, who began his career a porcelain painter, was a founder member of Impressionists, with Monet, in 1860. Bazille and Sisley soon joined the group and from 1863 they began to work out of doors near Barbizon , where Renoir also befriended Camille Pissarro  and Paul Cezanne. He exhibited t the first three Impressionist exhibitions and at the seventh. Otherwise, he showed his work at private one-man exhibitions and at the Paris Salon. Until the 1890s, Renoir was generally more interested in painting people than landscapes. Unlike some of the other Impressionists, he favored society portraits and pictures of the middle-classes at play. He painted with soft caressing ,almost sensual, brushstrokes – there is no trace of the darker undertones found in the work of Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas.
Renoir became dissatisfied with his style and in 1881 travelled to North Africa and Italy. For a few years he practices a harder, more ‘classical’ style, in which forms were far more clearly delineated.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet was born in Le Havre. In 1895 he moved to Paris, where he  met Bazille, Pissarro, Sisley and Renoir. They soon began painting together outdoors. Unlike Manet and Degas, Monet was not concerned with painting the realities of modern life. His interest lay in nature and the fleeting , natural effects of light. Monet’s few paintings of interiors and his images of city life are merely and excuse to study light in a different environment. Success was long in coming and for many years his family suffered hardship. His first wife, Camille, died of cancer in 1879 and thereafter he lived with Alice Hoschede, the wife of a bankrupt former patron.
Monet is best known for his series paintings, in which he explored particular subjects in differing light conditions at various times of day, most famously his series of haystacks , poplar trees and Rouen Cathedral. His waterlily paintings, produced almost exclusively from 1899 when his moved to Giverny, just outside Paris, are a natural progression of this. As his eyesight deteriorated his work became increasingly abstract.
Monet died an artistic rebel , an inspiration for the abstract movement and the new avant-garde.

Camille Pissarro

Pissarro was born in the West Indies, although he had Danish nationality. The oldest of the Impressionists, he went to Paris in 1885, where he painted in the manner of the landscapist Gustave Courbet. He was a founder member of the Impressionist group, and the only one to exhibit at all eight independent exhibition. Pissarro was highly influential in the early work of Paul Cezanne, who worked with him at Louveciennes for ten years. From 1888, he suffered with eye problems and stopped working in the open air. Instead he concentrated on views of city life, usually painted looking down from hotel windows. In 1889 with the other Impressionists, he exhibited at the Paris World Fair. During the 1890s his work became increasingly well known. Between the mid-1880s and 1890, under the influence of Georges Seurat, Pissarro painted in the ‘scientific’ divisionist or pointillist style. From the 1880s,  he also began to concentrate in figures as the subjects of his work.

Alfred Sisley

Alfred Sisley was English but was born in Paris, to wealthy parents. He had planned to be a businessman but in 1875 began to draw. In 1862 he met Monet, Bazille, and Renoir at Charles Gleyre’s studio in Paris. With them, he painted in the open air in the woods near the village of Barbizon.
An enthusiastic follower of Monet, Sisley was a committed landscape artist. Of all the Impressionists, he experimented the least with his style and technique, painting in the same manner throughout his career although there is a more brittle quality to his late work. Sisley’s main focus was to paint the landscape around him , usually seen from a distance and disappearing to a vanishing point on the horizon.
Sisley died of cancer in 1899, and his finances were in such a poor state that his fellow artists made a collection foe his children. At a posthumous auction of his works, however he prices – so low in his lifetime – rose dramatically.

Berthe Morisot

Morisot, the daughter of a top civil servant and great-great-niece of the rococo artist Jean-Honore Fragonard, grew up in a cultured environment. Between 1860 and 1862 she was a pupil of French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, who advised her to paint put of doors. She came into contact with the Impressionists through Edouard Manet, whom she befriended in 1869. She married Manet’s brother and persuaded Manet to experiment with painting outside to abandon his predominant use of black and to adopt a lighter, Impressionist palette.
Morisot exhibited at all but one of the Impressionist exhibitions. She excelled at portraits and domestic scenes, which she imbued with a spontaneity and light , airy quality. She always worked in the Impressionist style and had a rare understanding of tonal harmony. She was also highly skilled in the use of watercolors.





Barras Hill, Ian, Paintings of the Western World. Impressionism. Amsterdam, 1980

Eisenman F. Stephen, Nineteenth Century Art A Critical History. London, 1996

Pool, Phoebe, Impressionism. London, 1988

Serullaz, Maurice, Phaidon encyclopedia of Impressionism. New York, 1978

Wilson, Michael, The Impressionists. New York, 2002




Degas, Edgar, L'Absinthe, 1876

 Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1872

Camille Pissarro, Boulevard Montmartre, 1897

Claude Monet, Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), 1872

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette), 1876