In 1874, fifty-five artists held the first independent group show of Impressionist art. The unfriendly reviewer Louis Leroy to a canvas by Claude Monet first applied the name impressionism in 1874; it has come to be used very freely. In easiest terms, French Impressionism was an especially un­dersized, avant-garde movement whose affiliates tested from 1870 to 1880 with painterly habits to attain light on canvas. Impressionism entails a certain technique, primarily the ac­quirement of light on canvas through the use of pure, lurid, bright colours, and such stylistic and compositional elements as a shallow, two-dimensional space, occupied by compressed forms, an uptitled picture plane resulting in a high horizon, off-centre focal points, preference for dynamic diagonals rather than static verticals and horizontals, and the juxtaposi­tion of decorative patterns and textures.

Post Impressionism is a term used to describe those in­fluenced by the Impressionism movement. There is no fixed style to Post Impressionism like there was with Impression­ism, all of the artists of the Post Impressionist movement had different directions with their painting style, and they weren’t a coherent group like the Impressionists either. Their work does however have more of an emotionally charged style.

Post Impressionism was given its name in 1910 when an exhibition of the works by the likes of Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec were shown in The Metro­politan Museum of Art in New York. British art critic gave the works the term of Post Impressionist. Post Impressionism did not begin in 1910 however, the term almost seems absurd as Post Impressionism began while the original Impression­ists were still very much popular and in action. Post Impres­sionism began in France, much like Impressionism did and ended not long after Impressionism, Post Impressionism and its main artists with their distinct and very different styles mostly all led or inspired other movements in Modernism.

The Post Impressionists still continued to have a similar style to the Impressionists but with fewer limitations. There was a continuation of the use of vivid colours, and the bold dollops of unmixed paint were still used. The subject matter also remained quite similar with real-life, ordinary subjects being chosen, emotion and expression was however one thing that was different from the Impressionist painting in their work. They went beyond just painting something normal, they were able to put mood and emotion into their works. Post Impressionism took painting to new levels, Impressionism had previously made the break from all the rules of painting and now Post Impressionism was able to go beyond that, as mentioned before many of the Post Impressionists led to other art movements. Cezanne’s structural work eventually led to cubism and Van Gogh’s symbolic, expressive paintings led to expressionism.

Summarizing the transition in styles from Impression­ism and Post Impressionism there is an obvious link in some of the main foundations of style and subject within the simi­lar movements. Post Impressionism appears to most signifi­cantly work on an emotional level.

Plein Air is a French term meaning in the open air. In art history it refers to a perception that a painting conveys the sensations of being in the open air. This eminence was much sought after by the Impressionists, and before them the Barbizon School of landscape artists who painted in the For­est Fontainebleau into the 1840s. Possibly further more than any other, Claude Monet was the archetypal plein air painter. He was possessed with encapsulating the effects of light on the landscape in an almost scientific way, also in seizing the atmospheric “envelope” of the landscape.

The Impressionists preferred landscape, some incorpo­rated structural design followed by figure studies and still lives. Human figures, when dealt with, most often came from high society and were mainly portrayed in leisure, urban activi­ties. Artists neglected classical studio themes to go outside and paint the landscape that surrounded them. On the other hand, some Impressionists, painted the rural poor just as they saw them, with a rough-textured technique that displeased establishment. So in subject matter is somewhat juxtaposed.

. In its exercise of colour, Impressionism radically devi­ated from tradition. Progress in the areas of optics and colour theory enthralled these painters. Working outdoors, Impres­sionists provided the play of sunshine and the tones of the environment with a palette of bolder yet lighter colours than classical studio painters used.

In 1666, Sir Isaac Newton had shown that white light could be split into many colours. Including the three primary colours, red, blue, and yellow – by a prism. The Impression­ists learned how to form the prismatic colours with a palette of unadulterated, concentrated pigments and white. Not like Academy painters, who sheltered their canvases with a sinis­ter under painting, Impressionists worked on unprepared white canvas or a pale grey or cream background for a lighter and brighter end product.

Eugene Chevreul’s book, published in 1839, On the Law of Simultaneous Contrast of Colours, directed the Impres­sionist custom of laying down strokes of pure, balancing col­ours. Chevreul found that colours alter in relation to the extra colours by them. Complementary colours or those directly opposite each other on his colour wheel, make the most pow­erful effects when sited next to each other, he wrote. Red-green or blue-orange mixtures cause an actual vibration in the viewer’s eye so that colour appears to leap off the canvas. So that viewers react sensitively to the glittering sunlight on Monet’s rivers or the splash of orange costume on Degas’ ballet dancers. Artists such as Renoir wanted their colours to convey noise, if the could not achieve this at first, they added further colours until they achieved the voluble effect wanted.

The Impressionists, regardless of claiming to paint in­stinctively and unknowingly what they saw, strangely enough learn how to achieve the desired effect by examining prec­edent, scientific theories. The Industrial Revolution brought economic prosperity to France, and Emperor Napoleon III set out to formulate Paris as the showpiece of Europe. He ap­pointed civic planner Baron Hausmann, ‘Prefect of the Seine’, to replace the dirty, old medieval city with wide boulevards, parks, and monuments. The new steel-ribbed railroad stations and bridges were feats of modern engineering.

Cafes, restaurants, and theatres attracted the influential new merchant class who had made their homes in and around Paris, also known as the bourgeoisie. Most Impressionists were born in the bourgeoisie class, this cleaner, and more ‘well off world was the world they painted. “Make us see and un­derstand, with brush or with pencil, how great and poetic we are in our cravats and our leather boots,” the poet Charles Baudelaire challenged his friend Edouard Manet.

The Impressionists, who were also known as the “Inde­pendents,” (what they preferred to be called), brought together a wide variety of these influences, beliefs, and styles when they first exhibited and met in Paris cafes to discuss art. Their rejection of the Academy and the Academy’s rejection of them unified the crowd. The Impressionists favoured landscape, some of which incorporated architecture followed by figure studies and still lives. Human figures, when dealt with, most often came from the upper classes and were first and fore­most portrayed in leisure activities with largely urban sur­roundings.

Impressionism disregarded and broke every one of the rules of the French Academy of Fine Arts, the unadventurous school that had subjugated art education and taste ever since 1648. Impressionist scenes of modern urban and country life were a remote cry from the Academic efforts to teach ethical lessons through historic, mythological, and Biblical themes. This convention, drawn from ancient Greek and Roman art. Featured idealized images. Symmetrical compositions, hard outlines, and meticulously smooth paint surfaces characterized academic paintings.

In spite of the Academy’s power, signs of artistic and political discontent had been seen long before 1874. The early-and mid-19th century was a time of political instability in France. Between 1830 and 1850, the population of Paris dou­bled. During the Revolution of 1848, Parisian workers with socialist goals overthrew the monarchy, only to see conserva­tives seize the reins of government later that year.

Edgar Degas’ subject matter characterized this perfectly, here in his work Classe Danse (see below) he sketched from a live model in his studio and combined poses into groupings that depicted rehearsal and performance scenes in which danc­ers on stage, entering the stage, and resting or waiting to per­form are shown simultaneously and in counterpoint, often from an indirect angle of vision. Obviously, they are upper class and partaking in leisure activities. Other subjects from this period include the racetrack, the beach, and cafe interi­ors.

Women in 19th century Impressionism were of great importance. Of the most importance out of all art movements of the time. Their depiction in paintings, role in society and the artists who represented them characterized this.

Firstly, a major part of Impressionism, was viewing women as objects of beauty, and when portrayed were often from high society and were mainly portrayed in urban based, leisure activities. However this was archetypal mainly for the male painters, females dealt with the maternal side of things. Themes such as connections between a child and their mother, depiction of women in family environment and taking part in intellectual activities were what these females painted to di­verge from the obstacles and prejudices of the 19th century.

While in society at the time women were subjugated to men, and in no public way seen as their equal, they were (as stated above) objects of beauty and splendor in the eyes of Impressionists. In France, Emperor Napoleon III was making industrial reforms, which really did not have much to do with women, at the same time in America this was around half a century before the stock market boom, and the market flood­ing of household merchandise, so women were still largely house bound and controlled by their husbands, also no major women’s rights movements had taken place.

Two major Impressionist female artists were Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt. While Morisot was French, Cassatt was born in America and travelled to and fro Paris, with her family, studying, and working. Of course, their gender sus­pended them from experiencing the aspects of society that largely influenced male artists; their entrance to the twilight world of cafe, the music hall and the brothel was deprived of them. As a result of this they drew direct influences from other Impressionistic artists that were males, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec to name a couple.

In 1874, Cassatt’s work caught the interest of Degas, which resulted in a close friendship between the two, not only this but also an invitation exhibit with the new Impressionist movement. Cassatt thought highly of Manet, Degas and Courbet. The strong usage of black is what likens her work directly to Manet’s. Seeing as women were not permitted to go to life-classes, at which students drew live nude models, this deprived them of a significant aspect of art training. Bear­ing in mind that she was an artist seeking to steer clear of conformity, this and her restricted access to public areas irri­tated her. To get over this hurdle, she chose to illustrate women partaking in intellectual and intelligent activities and taking a more academic approach to life, this was her way of promot­ing women’s position in society.

Berthe Morisot, one of the most important Impression­ist female painters, generally painted cherished maternal scenes and pictures of women and children in her works. These works are equal to, by and large, the works of Monet and Manet, and that said a lot for a 19th century woman. Her main theme was the close relationship of mother and child, this reoccurred many times throughout her painting career. Morisot was a stable contributor to the Impressionist move­ment, her work being displayed at 7 out of the 8 independent exhibitions. In the period of 1880s to early 1890s her themes and motifs did not deviate from that which was her arche­typal (relationship between mothers and child). This was obvi­ously not to discredit her, as she was extremely well respected as an artist at the time, regardless of gender.

Emile Zola was a French novelist during the studied period; it was the criticism that he gave which confirmed the interpretation of what it meant to paint an impression. Saying it was an artist trying to record how the atmospheric effect of a particular moment produced a particular impression on him or her as an individual. When the Impressionists spoke of their interest in impressions, they meant they were interested in painting the unique effect that nature produced in them, or the experience that marked the meeting place of the individual, interior self and the outside world. By saying they paint their impressions, they meant they were recording the primal im­pact nature made on their senses, or the raw unarticulated appearance things had when seen without prejudice. In 1866, Zola defended Manet against accusations of insincerity with the claim that his “temperament” led him to see a subject in “stains”. Zola’s defence of the art, and over all influence was important, but not all that significant on the wider scale.

French critic, Baudelaire, was influential to prominent Impressionists such as Degas and Manet. He was largely in­volved in Degas’ flaneur paintings and greatly affected the way in which these were approached. While Baudelaire had a well-respected opinion his influence was more fixated on specific artists than Zola’s which tended to be rather open. This sophisticated criticism on the exclusive artists is what greatly impacted their style and subject matter.

Japanese art (although Impressionists often referred to things Japanese as “Chinese”) had a major influence in the composition, background and style of Impressionist works. High viewpoints, peculiar spatial ambiguity, the shallow back­ground are evident in Manet’s Boating (1874). Which depicts a man and a woman enjoying leisurely times on a boat; the man in the centre of the picture looks forward as if at the viewer, the woman on the left hand side looks with a hint of boredom over the sea. In the top right corner there is a plane of the sail; Manet is using this as though he was peeling back the paint so one could see the canvas. The French of the mid-nineteenth century saw Japanese culture as “primitive” and Japanese prints as masterpieces of naive vision. Degas’ pas­tels of women in feminine maintenance activities have prec­edents in the work of Japanese artists depicting animals. The Impressionists, regardless of claiming to paint spontaneously and innocently what they saw, strangely enough learn how to achieve the desired effect by examining artistic precedent, Japanese sources.

Impressionism was a major turning point away from tra­ditionalism in art. Subject matter, technique and overall com­position were all radically changed. Without Impressionism today’s art would be very different as Impressionism inspired many of the movements that combine to make modem art. For its time Impressionism was a quite avante garde however in our context it is viewed as merely a way of painting, to go back and experience just how out of place Impressionism was in France during that time would be incredible.