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Written by Emma-Kate Wilson
Why is an important question to consider, and it all falls back to what the artists were capturing — light and movement.
Artists began painting en plein air (in the open-air) and fed into the reason why the art movement shocked so many at the time. The artists were depicting the world around them; the everyday, mundane society. Places like the streets of Paris, grimy and filled with people, or the harbours where ships docked their boats, became the subject matter of the European driven movement.
People were used to seeing the biblical scenes or famous philosophical moments from Greek mythology, in oversized canvases that loomed over the audience, forcing them to consider their personal role in a subservient society. However, the impressionism artists joining Monet, like Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Berthe Morisot, and Edgar Degas, painted in small, ‘dabbing’ brushstrokes, capturing every minute of life, often on small canvases that were easy to carry around.
The timing of industrialisation was critical to the movement as well. The tools that artists had formerly used became lighter and easier to step out of the studio— informing artworks we continue to see today.
Interestingly, and incredible given today’s prices of these artists, at the time critics ridiculed the artworks seeing the paintings as ‘unfinished’ and ‘amateurish.’ However, these qualities are what gives the artworks the Impressionist label; the depiction of an ephemeral moment, an impression of time.
The movement also paved the way for female artists. The Impressionists captured everyday moments, as such, domestic life became the subject matter, and the usual doors to painting (the nude and history) opened.
Manet’s sister-in-law, Berthe Morisot, painted the world around her, a quiet scene between a mother and her children that defined the beginning of Modernism. At 23, her works were shown in the esteemed Salon de Paris, the first to do so. As a founding member of the movement, her works remain iconic in art history and continues to inspire female painters today.