The Impressionist movement originated in late nineteenth century France, earning its name from Claude Monet’s painting, titled: Impression: Sunrise. It became a jeering term to refer to the plein-air painting technique employed by many painters; that is, their preference to paint out in the open air of southern France, as opposed to working from a studio. Art from the Impressionist period tends to favor a lighter, softer color palette, and less refined brush strokes to capture the many nuances of the effects of natural lighting. However, it is a very loose term; there is great deal of variety within the movement. American painter Mary Cassatt painted almost solely women and children, and the influence of Japanese block prints is much stronger in her art than others; the French painter Edgar Degas is known for his numerous paintings and studies of young ballerinas; the lesser known Gustave Caillebotte preferred to paint urban landscapes; Claude Monet dedicated an entire series to studying the effects of light on Rouen Cathedral as well as simple haystacks. Many of the Impressionists were grouped together not necessarily because of their painting style, but because of their decision to exhibit at the Impressionist exhibition in 1874, when many of their own works were rejected from the conservative French Salon, then the final word on what was and wasn’t art. However, some of them, like Eduoard Manet, refused to exhibit with them, instead waiting for the Salon’s approval.
It didn’t take long for Impressionism to become incorporated into the mainstream. If it wasn’t immediately welcomed in France, it became quite popular in America, and continued to be an influence on later movements, although the post Impressionists (another very loose art historical name) would later attempt to break away from the Impressionists’ fascination with delicate light and color.
Some art historians regard Impressionism as the predecessor to modern art movements, because it was the first time in history that artists refused to accept the art critic’s rejection. As Franceso Salvi said, ”Impressionism is at the root of all modern art, because it was the first movement that managed to free itself from preconceived ideas, and because it changed not only the way life was depicted but the way life was seen.”