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(c. 1870 - c. 1905)

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Impressionism            Neo-Impressionism

The Impressionist art movement of painting developed in late 19th-century France in reaction against the formalism and sentimentality that characterized the academic art of that time. The Impressionist movement is often considered to mark the beginning of the modern period in art. 

France 1999. Impressionism. Claude Monet.

Claude Monet

France 1968. Impressionism. Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir 

Monaco 1974. Impressionism. Alfred Sisley.

Alfred Sisley

Impressionism in painting arose out of dissatisfaction with the classical and sentimental subjects and dry, precise techniques of paintings that were approved by the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris and created in studio settings. The Académie traditionally set the standards of French art and sponsored the official Paris Salon exhibitions, which reflected and popularized them. Rejecting these standards, the Impressionists preferred to paint outdoors, choosing landscapes and street scenes, as well as figures from everyday life. Their primary object was to achieve a spontaneous, undetailed rendering of the world through careful representation of the effect of natural light on objects. The foremost Impressionists included Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Edouard Manet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, and Alfred Sisley. Also other painters, such as Camille Pissaro, and Mary Cassatt, were part of the movement.  

France 1968. Impressonism. Edgar Degas.

Edgar Degas

France 1962. Impressionism. Edouard Manet.

Edouard Manet 

France 1995. Impressionism. Berthe Morisot.

Berthe Morisot

In academic painting, form was defined and shape modelled by graduated tones; shadows were indicated with black and brown. The Impressionists, by contrast, eliminated minor details.  They preferred the primary colours ( red, yellow, and blue) and complementary colours ( green, purple, and orange). They achieved effects of naturalness and immediacy by placing short brushstrokes of these colours side by side, juxtaposing primary colours so that they would appear to blend when viewed from a distance. Juxtaposing a primary colour (such as red) with its complementary colour (green) brought out the vivid quality of each. Thus the Impressionists achieved greater brilliance and luminosity in their paintings than that ordinarily produced by blending pigments before applying them to the canvas. Further, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir discovered that shadows are reflections of the object's own colour. 

France 2006. Pane of 10 stamps, dedicated to Impressionism.

France 2006. Backside of the same booklet with information on the individual stamps.

Although the particular characteristics of French Impressionism were innovative in 19th-century painting, the attempt to depict the effects of natural light was not new. In the 17th century, Jan Vermeer had used a sharp contrast of light and shadow to bathe his canvases in natural light. Diego Velázquez in the 18th century and Francisco de Goya in the early 19th century conveyed the impression of natural light by eliminating minor shadows and representing areas of light rather than details of form. Their brushwork is similar to that of the French Impressionists.  The direct precursors of Impressionism were the English landscape painters John Constable and J. M. W. Turner (see Romanticism). When Monet and Pissarro first saw their work, in 1871, they were particularly impressed by Turner's rendering of atmosphere and his representation of the diffusing effects of light on solid objects. 

France 1977. Camille Corot. French pre-Impressionist. "The Bridge in Mantes".

Thirty years before the first Impressionist exhibition, Camille Corot, an occasional member of the Barbizon School who is sometimes called the "father of Impressionism", interpreted the fleeting aspects of changing light in a series of subjects painted during different hours of the day. 
  • France 1977.  Camille Corot:  "The Bridge in Mantes". 

The Barbizon School of painting was also a precursor of the Impressionist movement in France. Particularly many foreign artists who had come to France for educational and inspirational purposes, were followers of this school until they eventually would develop their own style. An example of this is the Romanian painter Stefan Luchian, who has his own page on this site. 

Eugène Louis Boudin, Monet's first teacher, a pre-Impressionist painter of seascapes swiftly executed at their actual locales, taught his successors to convey a feeling of spontaneity, and Gustave Courbet encouraged the Impressionists to seek inspiration from everyday life. 

The term "impressionist" was first used by the journalist Leroy in the Parisian magazine Charivari to characterize derisively a painting by Claude Monet entitled Impression: Sunrise. 

The term was officially adopted for the Impressionists' third exhibition in 1877. Notable French contemporaries who championed the Impressionists included such literary figures as Émile Zola and Charles Baudelaire, the painter-collector Gustave Caillebotte, and the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. 

Long accustomed to the conventional academic style, the press and public were initially hostile to the new style, but during ensuing years, however, Impressionism gradually won acceptance.

Monaco 1974. Claude Monet. "Sunrise", the painting that indirectly gave name to the art movement Impressionism.

The Impressionists developed individual styles and as a group benefited from their common experiments with colour. Monet alone was doctrinaire in applying what had become Impressionist theory. He painted many series of studies -- the cathedral of Rouen, haystacks, a lily pond, and poplars -- each study painted at different times of the day and different seasons of the year. Pissarro used a subdued palette and concentrated equally on the effects of light and on the structure of forms. Sisley, although greatly influenced by Monet, retained his own delicacy of style. Degas, who was not an orthodox Impressionist, caught the fleeting moment, especially in ballet and horse-racing scenes. Renoir preferred to paint the female form rather than pure landscapes. Morisot's subtly painted landscapes gained strength from brushwork rather than colour.

Other members of the Impressionist movement were Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894) ("Portraits from the Countryside" 1876) and Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910) ("Evening Atmosphere" 1893-1894), who both appear on postage stamps for the first time ever in the above booklet issued by France in 2006. 

France 2001. Impressionism. Johan Barthold Jongkind. "Honfleur at Ebb".

French Impressionism was widely influential. Outside France, the most marked effects of the style were seen in the work of the American painter J. A. M. Whistler, whose so-called nocturnes (1877) portray such effects as fireworks or lights shining through mist. 

Other artists affected by Impressionism include the Americans Mary Cassatt (who has her own page on this site), Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, and John Singer Sargent, the Englishman Walter Sickert, the Italian Giovanni Segantini, the Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind, and the Spaniard Joaquín Sorolla. 

To this comes a number of painters from the former Eastern Europe, who let themselves influence by the Impressionist movement. Examples are the Romanian painter Stefan Lucian, and a large number of Polish painters, see below. 

Sharja 1968. Impressionism. Winslow Homer. "Stormy Waters". Winslow Homer. Impressionism. Postcard showing a landscape by Homer.

Poland 2005. Impressionist painting. Stamp #1 of four.

Poland 2005. Impressionist painting. Stamp #2 of four.

Poland 2005. Impressionist painting. Stamp #3 of four.

Poland 2005. Impressionist painting. Stamp #4 of four.

East European Impressionism is -- among others -- philatelically represented on this very attractive set, issued by Poland in 2005, together with a souvenir sheet. 

Unfortunately Polish Post has given no information about the titles etc. of these art works, only the artist's name is printed on the side of each stamp. But this does not make the set less attractive. 

See also the Romanian painter Stefan Lucian (link at the bottom of the page). 

Poland 2005. Impressionist painting. Souvenir sheet.

  • Poland 2005. Set of four Polish Impressionist paintings with corresponding souvenir sheet. 


The Post-Impressionists Paul Cézanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh and Henri Rousseau were greatly influenced by the Impressionists' brilliant use of colour. Cézanne's work anticipated Cubism, while that of Gauguin and van Gogh was an early stage of Expressionism.  The Post-Impressionists have their own section on this site. 

Sources and links:

Impressionist painters on this site (in alphabetical order). Those marked with an asterisk are represented on this page. 

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