An introduction to Impressionism

Originating in Paris in the late nineteenth century, impressionism was an art-historical movement provoked by a number of changes in technology. The advent of steam and electricity, urbanisation, and the rise of the bourgeoise – the middle classes who, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, could now afford leisure time – dramatically changed society. Impressionism was a response to these changes.

Key exponents of the movement included Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Berthe Morisot and Claude Monet, whose painting Impression, soleil levant (Impression, sunrise), 1872, is considered responsible for the name of the movement. These artists were deeply interested in capturing fleeting scenes of everyday life, often taking their practice outside the studio, en plein air – in open air. The loose, rapid brushstrokes, more open composition and an emphasis on capturing the changing effects of light marked a dramatic shift from the preceding traditions of studio painting.

Impressionism in Australia occurred in the late 1880s. With the Australian bush as their backdrop, the Australian Impressionists worked hard to capture the unique palette of Australian sunlight, heat and dust, and these artists brought a distinctly nationalistic impulse to their impressions of Australian landscape and life.

Imagine

Choose your favourite impressionist landscape. Describe what it would be like to live here.

Fascinated by changes in atmosphere, the impressionists depicted both warm and cool scenes. Select a work of art which, if you could step inside the painting, would be a cold environment or would it be hot?

Create

Take a series of photographs of the same scene at ten different times during one particular day. Examine the light and colour you have captured at each interval. Which time of the day did you prefer? Compare your images with other members of your class.

Trent Parke, Australia, born 1971, 365 sunsets, Adelaide, 2010-11, Adelaide, 365 pigment prints; Gift of Macquarie Group through the Art Gallery of South Australia Contemporary Collectors Trent Parke Appeal 2015, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Trent Parke, courtesy of Hugo Michell Gallery, Adelaide, Stills Gallery & Magnum Photos.