What Does The Term "Impressionism" Mean?

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The term "impressionism" refers to a painting style that focused on capturing "impressions" of natural beauty with dots of color on canvas. It was developed by such artists as Claude Monet (1840–1926), Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), and Alfred Sisley (1839–1899), who took an almost scientific approach to their works. The word came from a painting by Claude Monet, called Impression: Sunrise, 1872, and was used by a journalist to characterize this small group of painters, whose work departed from the traditional style of their day.

The artists met occasionally at the Café Guerbois in Paris to discuss their works and techniques. They were opposed to the emotional and imaginative nature of the romantic styles popular at the time. Advocating a more realistic technique, they called themselves The Anonymous Society of Artists, Painters, Sculptors, etc., but they had trouble finding a willing audience for their works. Though the artists resisted the title "impressionists," the word has remained in artistic vocabulary.

Other artists such as Georges Seurat (1859–1891) and Paul Signac (1863–1935) were dubbed as "neo-impressionists." They advanced the work of the original group through more scientific theories of light and color, adding deliberate optical effects to their work. Among the neo-impressionists were Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901), Paul Gaugin (1848–1903), Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890), and Paul Cézanne (1839–1906). The impressionists clearly paved the way for the great art of the twentieth century, inspiring modern artists to take a different look at nature.

Further Information: Callen, Anthea. Techniques of the Impressionists. London: Orbis, 1982; Claude Monet. [Online] Available http://www.columbia.edu/-jnsl6/monet_html/impressionism.html, October 23, 2000; Greenfeld, Howard. The Impressionist Revolution. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972; Harris, Nathaniel. A Treasury of Impressionism. New York: Crescent, 1979; Impressionism. [Online] Available http://www.best.com/-martyw/Impressionism2.html, October 23, 2000; Impressionism. [On-line] Available http://metalab.unc.edu/wm/paint/theme/impressioisme.html, October 23, 2000; Jaffe, Hans Ludwig. The World of the Impressionists: The Artists. Maplewood, N.J.: Hammond, 1969.