For the Love of Impressionism Impressionism is arguably the most beloved and famous of all the artistic styles to date, which is celebrated for its bright colour and new, imaginative view of the world and society. However, originally in Paris in the 1870's, this kind of art was viewed as controversial and undisciplined, it was considered to threaten the values that fine art was meant to uphold. Then in 1874, a group of artists got together to make their own exhibition, mostly of quite small, informal pieces of art that would not have attracted any notice in the Salon (the big annual art exhibition in Paris). They did eight shows altogether, the last one being in 1886. In the first show, the critics picked up on the title of one of Claude Monet's Paintings, Impression Sunrise, and decided to call the whole group 'Impressionists'.

The name stuck, and what was supposed to be just a nickname, ended up being the accepted name of the group. Impressionist artists tried to convey the look and feeling they perceived by the immediate world that surrounded them. Particularly for Monet, this meant painting out of doors, trying to capture the effects of weather, nature and light on the spot, which would be very difficult for a "normal" artist. A very rapid sketch, like Impression De Santis 2 Sunrise, looks as if it was entirely painted on the spot, but often he must have needed to finish his more elaborated pictures away from the scene, after the lighting effects had changed.

To contrast Monet, Edgar Degas although having this look that gave the feeling the figures were just glanced at. painted his works entirely within his studio, but he arranged his objects and figures to portray this just glanced at look. He often showed figures in such informal poses as stretching or scratching themselves, and frequently used the borders of the pictures to cut off parts of figures, in order to give a sense of immediacy to them. The Impressionists' technique complemented the anxiousness and speed of their subjects. In their landscapes, they treated their subjects very informally, using a flurry of rapid and varied brush strokes to capture the overall effect of the scenario, without detailed descriptions of the objects within it. More often, too, they expressed lighting effects with bold contrasts of colour, having rich, warm highlights against blue shadows, and rejecting the old, traditional methods of treating the form of light and shade in terms of contrasts between light and dark tones. Almost always there is remarkable technique and composition associated with Degas's use of lighting effects, Renoir's fat, sensuous brushstrokes, Pissarro's use of slabs and bits of paint, and Gauguin and Van Gogh's bold, bright colors.

Also associated with these elements is the theme of change. The Impressionists, particularly the greatest among them, seemed remarkably open to changing the way they painted. De Santis 3 The Impressionists's subjects were often of modern day, depicting the entertainment parts of Paris, or of the landscapes around the edges of the city that had been invaded by tourism and industrialization. Pierre-Auguste Renoir mainly focused on the young women of the city at the theatres, in caf " es, or in the streets and gardens of Paris. Ber the Morisot's favorite subjects were more domestic and tamed, showing her family and friends socializing at home. Monet, together with Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley, specialized in landscape scenes from the surrounding areas of Paris, and Degas was fascinated by the world of ballet, and by the entertainers in Paris's popular caf " es.

The critics at the time praised these artists initiative for organizing their own exhibitions to display and get their work seen and talked about, but their paintings were harshly criticized. The main focus of this criticism was the technique the impressionists used. The visible brushwork made their canvas appear crude and unfinished, and the colour appeared to be exaggerated and surreal. Also, the subjects they chose were considered unworthy and not suitable for fine art, as they focused on the least likely and seemingly trivial aspects of the modern world, rather than concentrating on scenes of natural beauty or moral significance. The Impressionists first exhibitions in the 1870's took place during a period of political and social repression, during the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War and the urban uprising of the Paris Commune of 1870-1. Their art appeared especially challenging and revolutionary during this period, and in these years they were only supported by a small number of loyal friends, fellow artists, writers and collectors.

However, after the emergence of a better government in 1879, their work began to attract De Santis 4 a wider circle of dealers and buyers. By 1890, Monet, Renoir and Degas, in particular, were achieving commercial success. During the 1880's they all moved away from contemporary subjects. Monet traveled widely, painting fierce effects of light and weather across the coasts of France. Renoir began to paint scenes of women bathing in what could be described as almost seemingly timeless natural settings. Degas focused more on pictures of women bathing in everyday domestic places such as bathrooms, without obvious contemporary details.

In Argenteuil, Monet created paintings that were lighter, brighter, and more hurried, in a deliberate attempt to learn from the younger Monet and Renoir. In his later years, Monet's approach changed from one in which the subject was in change and motion to one that stayed constant and stable, and was affected by changes in light and the seasons. Degas created works in which his use of color seems to have been heavily influenced by Gauguin, while Pissarro finished his life in Paris, creating urban scenes that were very different from the rough, working-class canvases of his early career. The Impressionist technique, too, became even more complex. Monet started to adopt a more elaborate technique as a means of showing the forces of nature. Pissarro used a smaller, more regular brushstroke to create carefully organized pictures of colour.

Renoir became more occupied with the art of the old masters and with the problem of reintroducing traditional styles back into his paintings. Degas increasingly worked in coloured pastel, using this medium as a means to bring together colour and drawing. In the 1880's the fame and reputation of Impressionism grew rapidly and this form of painting influenced many younger artists. Paul Gauguin exhibited with the De Santis 5 Impressionist group and worked in a style close to Pissarro's, before he rejected Impressionism's dependence on the natural world to go instead with an art based on the imagination. Vincent van Gogh was instantly influenced by the Impressionists's style when he came to Paris in 1886 and the intense colour and vigorous brushwork of his later work was developed from Impressionism. By 1900, its impact had spread all across the western world, and the work of the original members of the impressionist's group were getting extremely high prices on the international art market.

Impressionism was very much about changing art's focus from the past to the present. The Impressionists broke away from the traditional, institutionally controlled French art environment that was centered on the Academy of Fine Arts, and its sponsored exhibitions, the Salons. Impressionist painters turned from the deliberate, classically based style of French painting toward one that was less structured and more personal. Advances in science and technology affected both the subject matter portrayed, and the techniques used, by Impressionist painters. Expansion of railway service made it easy to shuttle between the two landscapes for which the Impressionists would gain notoriety in Paris and its suburban environments. The emerging fields of optics and photography informed the styles of Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat, and Edgar Degas.

We tend to think of the history in terms of a few individual geniuses, acting as teachers for a number of small subsequent groups of artists, but the Impressionists were entirely different. They chose to develop their craft as equals, painting and learning from one another in small groups. One of the legacies of Impressionism is to leave the viewer with a profound sense of life captured on the canvas, through motion, light and colour. De Santis 6 And also life lived by these remarkable artists, always seeking to experience and to learn, to better capture on the canvas the reality before their eyes. When you look at the history of Impressionism, it makes you realize how tastes change, and an art that we, today, can easily enjoy and appreciate, could seem crude and controversial and undisciplined to its first viewers.

We should remember this in our responses to the art of today.