Impressionist Styles

In a recent post, I shared two of J. M. W. Turner’s vague impressionistic paintings. He was definitely a predecessor to the impressionist movement which later developed in France and which led to similar movements in music, literature, poetry, and dance.

Lately I’ve done quite a bit of browsing, reading about various artists, and learning more about the history of impressionism. In doing so, I’ve viewed many different impressionist paintings. While I tend to think of impressionist art as involving blurred lines and indistinct elements, it’s really so much more than that. It’s not easy to categorize what impressionism is because so many different artists approached the movement with different perspectives and different styles.

For my own knowledge and understanding, I needed a definition to hold on to, something somewhat sturdy — which can be hard to find with impressionist art, to be sure.

Here’s one good definition, I think:

Characteristics of an Impressionist painting include distinctive brush strokes, vivid colors, ordinary subject matter, candid poses and compositions and most importantly, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities and unusual visual angles. 

The term impressionism comes from the fact that critics saw these new works as little more than hastily-done painted sketches — or quick impressions of a scene. They were looked upon as incomplete, and many viewers were aghast that artists would display unfinished paintings and put them up for sale.

Many impressionist paintings, however, do appear — to my untrained eye, at least — to be quite finished, and quite representational. One such painting is Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte.


To me, this painting appears very precise and extremely detailed — both ideas I don’t usually associate with impressionism. Yet by artistic standards, it does meet the criteria, focusing on an ordinary scene, showing the play of light, and giving an impression of a rainy day in Paris.

My thoughts of impressionism are usually closer to paintings such as Sunrise by Claude Monet, my personal favorite of the French impressionists.

Monet Sunrise


There seems to be a vast difference in these two impressionist paintings, and this is where I question myself and my own developing style of painting. Can a painting be both realistic and impressionistic? In looking at Caillebotte’s work — and that of other impressionist artists — the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

I’m definitely struggling to find myself, or at least, to define myself, and maybe that’s wherein the problem lies. Is art truly meant to be defined, classified, categorized, or organized with neat little labels attached?

I tend to see art on a continuum that begins with hyper-realism — which I don’t like — and extends to abstract art — which I don’t understand.  It passes through points of realism, representational art, and impressionism. Of course, there’s far more to art than even these broad categories, but for simplicity’s sake, this is how I identify artists and their works.

Although art can often be difficult to understand, I do know what I like, and I have an idea of where I want to be on that wide-ranging spectrum. I want to be somewhere between representational art and impressionism. I want to embrace much of the impressionist concept of brushstrokes, colors, and light, yet I don’t want to move too far from representation in my paintings. As I said yesterday, I want to paint trees that are recognizable as trees.

Perhaps what I’m liking best as I study impressionism and its history is the idea that there’s room for many different styles, that impressions can be expressed in many different ways. Again, it’s giving me a greater sense of freedom, a feeling that I can find a place for myself in impressionist art. I don’t have to emulate specific artists or attempt to copy elements of anyone else’s style. I can be free to be who I am.

To me, that individuality is a key in impressionism. 

Of course, the more I learn about impressionist art, the more I realize how very little I actually know. I want to read more now about the artists of the impressionist movement, I want to visit galleries and see more of their works, and in my own art, I want to play with lights and colors and brushstrokes. In time I hope to make my landscape paintings fully my own and discover my true place as an artist.



  1. One book I highly recommend on this subject is, “The Private Lives of The Impressionists” by Sue Roe – I think you’d find it VERY interesting, Judith! It covers a good span of the lives of the major artists in this movement and how they really fought for their movement and struggled and also things like their relationships with each other and which paintings were painted when and what happened to some of them (artists and paintings!). The only thing I found lacking was that I wished I had a companion book that had colour prints of ALL the paintings mentioned. 🙂

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    1. Oh, the book sounds wonderful, Hilda! Thank you so much for the recommendation. I will be going to the library later, and I will see if it’s available in the system. I love reading the life stories of artists. In fact, tomorrow’s post takes a quick look at the life and paintings of Mary Cassatt. I just finished writing it earlier this morning. Thank you again!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re welcome! that’s where I found it, in my local library – there’s a lot about Mary Cassatt in it too ( I really LOVE her work, btw!) I will look forward to reading your blog post about her! 🙂

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      2. Just got back from the library… couldn’t find the book in the system 😦 I am going to browse a bit online and see if I can locate a used copy. Editing again here LOL… I did find the book on Amazon. I know what I want for Christmas now. 🙂 I also just heard of another book we both might like. It’s “Growing Up with the Impressionists: The Diary of Julie Manet”. Have you read it?

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      3. No I have not read that one! I think Julie must be one of Manet’s several children (the book I recommended spends quite a bit of time on Manet, who was quite a character!)….hmmm, I will have to see if I can get my hands on THAT! Thanks Judith!

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  2. Dear Judith, I am so glad to encounter one of my favorite artists (that I have researched so much) in your post. You being visually puzzled as to why Caillebotte is usually associated with the Impressionists is fully on point. Gustave Caillebotte had such a photographic eye (and he even experimented with the medium which was at the time in its infancy), his plunging perspective and social observations and commentaries make his art ever so singular but to me, also quite spectacular. He was friends with most of the Impressionist painters but unlike them all, he was very wealthy. As a result, if we know and revere the Impressionists to this day and marvel at the Musee d’Orsay Impressionist collection, we owe it all to Caillebotte. he not only purchased a lot of his Impressionist friends’ paintings (including Renoir’s Moulin de la Galette) to help them make ends meet, he also bequeathed most of his Impressionist collection to the French State under the condition that it be displayed prominently in a major national museum. The French Government initially refused!!! Can you believe this? So Caillebotte is not only a very talented and original artist but a patron who definitely enriched the art world far more than we may think.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this information. Now I want to read more about Caillebotte and his work. And I am definitely grateful to him for his support of the impressionist movement. 🙂

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  3. You may find interesting an article I have on my blog about The Last Monet and Abstraction as well as Monet’s Eyes on his Grandes Decorations at Musee de l’Orangerie. Not only was Impressionism significant as an art movement, it also led the path to Abstraction and Modern Art.

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  4. Hi, I am a bit irritated, Judith, because of the Image of the painting “Sunrise” (Monet). The colours seem to be . I know the painting. The original colors are dominated by a range of reluctant, pale blue-grey shades that creates a completely different atmosphere – and not such intense yellow-green. Is this a digitally modified version?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s one I found on a site about Monet’s art. I wish I could remember which site it was. I’ve noticed how often the colors look different in paintings. It’s very bothersome. I can’t certainly understand your irritation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, changing the color scheme is really interesting. But the original painting is dominated by light blue-grey colors. with a little bit of pastel green, as wikipedia shows too. I ahd the chance to look at it in Paris…that`s the reason why I wonder if the version you`ve publsihed is a piece digitally enhanced arts. However, I like the sunrise very much like you. Thx for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I will browse a bit and see what other color variations I can find. I wasn’t sure what the correct color palette should be, so I chose one from a Monet site thinking that might be correct. Thanks for letting me know that it’s not right.


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