French Impressionism Revolution: Painting with New Perspectives

French Impressionism, an influential art movement, emerged in the late 19th century and revolutionized the way artists captured the world around them. Known for its light, visible brush strokes, and emphasis on depicting natural light, French Impressionism offers a fresh, captivating view on everyday scenes and landscapes. The movement challenged traditional techniques and brought a new vibrancy to art that resonates even today.

✍🏻 Written by Dr. Laura Whitman from MemoryCherish

Painting techniques used by Impressionists were groundbreaking. They often painted outdoors, or ‘en plein air,’ to better capture natural light and movement.

With a focus on the play of light and color, these artists broke free from the norms of their time.

Whether you’re an art enthusiast or simply curious, exploring the unique and radical techniques of French Impressionism promises to be an engaging journey.

Dive in and see the world through their eyes.

1) Claude Monet’s Water Lilies Series

Ever wonder why Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series is so admired? These paintings are truly a feast for the eyes.

Imagine the glow of soft sunlight filtering through leaves, reflecting off serene water, and illuminating delicate water lilies. That’s what Monet captures.

Monet started these paintings in the late 1890s. He continued creating them until his death in 1926.

Each piece showcases his garden pond in Giverny, full of vibrant water lilies. There are about 250 paintings in this series, each one unique yet connected by this common theme.

Consider the painting titled Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond. It’s a huge canvas that measures 200 × 1276 cm!

You can find this masterpiece at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The vast size really allows viewers to immerse themselves in the beauty.

Monet’s technique is fascinating. Look closely and you can see the layers of color and quick brushstrokes.

He used these to portray the shifting light and reflections. He was very interested in capturing how light changes and how it interacts with water.

Can you see the tranquility he must have felt while painting these? The series is not just about water lilies; it’s about the peace and beauty of nature.

Today, you can see some of his most famous works in Paris at the Musée de l’Orangerie. The next time you’re in Paris, make sure to visit and experience the magic firsthand.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

Picture this: it’s a warm Sunday afternoon in Paris. You can hear the laughter, the clinking of glasses, and the soft rustle of dresses. That’s exactly what Renoir wanted to capture in his famous painting, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette.

Renoir painted this masterpiece in 1876, during the early days of Impressionism. The painting is a vibrant, lively depiction of a Parisian dance garden.

Renoir skillfully uses light and color to bring the scene to life, making you feel as if you’re right there, basking in the joyous atmosphere.

He painted some of his friends into the scene, adding a personal touch. The expressions and movements of the dancers show Renoir’s ability to capture the liveliness and joy of the moment.

Look closely, and you’ll see how he uses dappled sunlight to create a sense of movement and excitement.

The painting is on display at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Seeing it in person is a treat, as the vibrant colors and intricate details jump off the canvas.

Renoir’s technique here is fascinating. He uses quick, light brushstrokes to capture fleeting moments.

This approach is typical of Impressionist painting, where the aim is to capture the essence of a scene rather than its precise details.

3) Camille Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre

Camille Pissarro’s “Boulevard Montmartre” captures the vibrant life of one of Paris’s grandest streets.

Painted in 1897, this piece is part of a series showcasing the boulevard during different seasons and times of the day. Can you picture the bustling scene?

Pissarro painted these works from his room in the Grand Hôtel de Russie. He had a perfect view of the boulevard, letting him capture its busy daily life. The series includes views from winter to spring, each with a unique feel.

Using oil on canvas, Pissarro brought the lively street to life. The details in the pavement, the buildings, and the people show his skill.

His brushstrokes and color choices create a sense of movement and light that draws you in.

One of Pissarro’s pieces from this series, “Boulevard Montmartre (Spring Morning),” sold for £19.9 million in 2014 – that’s around $38.3 million today! This shows how treasured his work is. Can you believe it?

Each painting in this series is spread across various art museums globally, making it a must-see for art lovers.

Interested in seeing more? You might want to visit ImpressionistArts or check out Britannica to dive deeper into this beautiful artwork.

4) Édouard Manet’s Olympia

Did you ever wonder what made Édouard Manet’s Olympia so controversial?

Painted in 1863, it features a nude woman named Olympia, lying on a bed, with a black maid by her side. This painting wasn’t just any nude. It was bold, real, and caused a stir in the 19th century.

Manet’s choice to depict a contemporary woman, rather than a mythical figure, shocked many. Critics were not pleased. They thought the painting lacked the grace and idealism of traditional art.

Olympia’s direct gaze made viewers uncomfortable. She wasn’t submissive, and that was new.

The salon where it was first exhibited in 1865 received it poorly. Critics and the public were bewildered by Manet’s modern approach. Many did not appreciate its realness and frankness.

Olympia’s figure was modeled by Victorine Meurent, who frequently posed for Manet. The servant was modeled by Laure, who also appeared in other works by Manet. The painting’s details, like the black cat at Olympia’s feet, added to its provocative nature.

Eventually, this masterpiece found its home at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

People now see it as a turning point in modern art, showing a shift from idealized figures to real-life depictions.

5) Alfred Sisley’s The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne

Imagine standing by the Seine, watching holidaymakers stroll along the riverbanks.

Alfred Sisley painted this serene scene in 1872. This painting, The Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne, captures a suspension bridge near a quaint village.

The bridge was built in 1844, connecting Villeneuve-la-Garenne to Paris. In Sisley’s piece, you can see the cast-iron and stone structure, an emblem of modernity during that time.

The painting shows a close-up view. Sisley’s brushstrokes are quick and feathery, capturing light and motion.

The Impressionist style gives the scene a dreamlike quality. It draws you in, making you feel the gentle sway of the bridge and the tranquility of the river.

This work hangs in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It’s more than just a painting; it’s a window into 19th-century French life.

Sisley’s ability to blend nature with man-made structures gives the painting its unique charm.

Take a moment to imagine the scene. Can you hear the water, see the sunlight glinting off the bridge? That’s the magic of Sisley’s work. His skill makes you experience the beauty of the moment.

6) Berthe Morisot’s Summer’s Day

A sunny garden with a woman in a flowing dress, surrounded by colorful flowers and trees, capturing the essence of a peaceful summer day in the French countryside

Imagine a serene day on a rowboat, surrounded by calm waters.

Berthe Morisot captures this exact moment in her painting, Summer’s Day. Using loose brushstrokes, she painted two women seated in a boat at the Bois de Boulogne.

Morisot, a key figure in the Impressionist movement, had a unique style. She chose soft tones of blue, green, and yellow for this piece.

The brushstrokes are free and flowing, which give the painting a sense of movement and lightness.

The painting is held by the National Gallery in London. It was donated by Hugh Lane and has a fascinating history, including being stolen from the Tate at one point.

Her work stands out for its blend of precision and softness.

7) Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day

Have you ever walked through Paris on a rainy day?

Gustave Caillebotte captures this experience in his famous painting, “Paris Street; Rainy Day” (1877).

The painting shows people walking through the Place de Dublin, an important intersection near the Saint-Lazare station in Paris.

Caillebotte’s work is different from other Impressionist paintings. He used carefully drawn lines and detailed modeling to create a sense of depth and structure. This made his work stand out among other Impressionists who often used looser brushstrokes.

In “Paris Street; Rainy Day,” you notice the large umbrellas and wet streets, which create a feeling of a recent rain shower.

The artist’s use of perspective draws your eyes to the vanishing point, making you feel like you’re standing in the middle of the intersection.

One interesting aspect is how Caillebotte captures modern life. The people in the painting wear contemporary fashions and seem preoccupied with their own thoughts.

This reflects the changing urban environment of late 19th-century Paris, an exciting time filled with growth and transformation.

Pay attention to the composition. Caillebotte balances the figures and buildings perfectly, making the scene feel both dynamic and calm.

The gray tones and soft light add to the realistic atmosphere.

If you look closely, each figure in the painting has a story. This attention to detail makes “Paris Street; Rainy Day” a masterpiece capturing a moment in time, inviting viewers to step into the daily life of Paris.

To see the painting up close, check out its digital display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

8) Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath

Mary Cassatt’s “The Child’s Bath” is an iconic piece from the late 19th century. Created in 1893, this oil-on-canvas painting depicts a tender moment between a woman and a child.

Cassatt captures a mother’s care in a way that’s relatable and heartwarming.

The painting measures 39.5 by 26 inches. Using bold colors and innovative techniques, Cassatt blends Impressionist styles with Japanese woodcut influences. This unique mix sets her work apart from her peers.

What’s fascinating is the unusual perspective. Cassatt opts for an overhead angle, drawing the viewer into the scene. It almost feels like you’re part of this intimate moment.

“The Child’s Bath” has been part of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1910. It remains a favorite for many visitors. Its contrast of gentle emotion and strong technique makes it unforgettable.

Cassatt, influenced by Edgar Degas, focuses on everyday life through human connections. Her emphasis on the human form, especially mothers and children, highlights themes of care and closeness. It’s a testament to her skill and vision.

This painting is a must-see for anyone exploring French Impressionism. It shows the everyday beauty and the power of simple, heartfelt moments.

9) Edgar Degas’s The Ballet Class

The ballet studio is filled with soft, natural light, casting a warm glow on the dancers as they practice their graceful movements. The room is alive with energy and movement, capturing the essence of the French Impressionism art movement

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a ballet class?

Edgar Degas gives us a peek with his painting, The Ballet Class. This work, created between 1873 and 1876, captures a group of dancers practicing under the watchful eye of ballet master Jules Perrot.

Degas’s use of oil on canvas brings the scene to life. The texture showcases the soft layers of the dancers’ tutus and the light bouncing off the wooden floor.

Every detail, from the tension in a dancer’s shoulders to the relaxed postures of others waiting their turn, is thoughtfully presented.

This painting isn’t just about the dancers. It also highlights Degas’s interest in light and movement.

You can almost see the flicker of real-life motion in their stances. It’s a snapshot of a moment in time, frozen yet full of activity.

Find The Ballet Class in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. If you stand back, you might even feel like you’re part of the class. Such is the magic of Degas’s work, pulling viewers into his impression of everyday life.

10) Paul Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire

A serene landscape of Mont Sainte-Victoire, with rolling hills, vibrant colors, and visible brushstrokes, capturing the essence of French Impressionism and Cézanne's unique painting techniques

Paul Cézanne’s “Mont Sainte-Victoire” captures the beauty and majesty of a mountain near Aix-en-Provence. He painted this mountain many times, each work showing a different perspective or weather condition.

Can you imagine seeing it through Cézanne’s eyes?

He bought property north of Aix in 1902 and painted the mountain often between 1902-1906. During this period, he created eleven oil paintings and many more in watercolor.

Cézanne had a unique approach to his art. He used brushstrokes that built up the forms of the landscape, almost like constructing a house brick by brick.

This technique gives his paintings a structured yet dynamic feel.

One key aspect of these paintings is the use of color.

Cézanne didn’t focus on blending colors smoothly. Instead, he placed colors side by side, letting the viewer’s eye mix them. This approach differs from other Impressionists who used softer transitions.

His “Mont Sainte-Victoire” works can be found in various art museums worldwide. Each one showcases his evolving style and deep connection to the landscape.

If you get a chance to see these paintings, take a close look at the brushwork and the way he handles color. It’s truly a different experience from just viewing a single painting.

French Impressionism

A serene garden with vibrant colors, dappled sunlight, and loose brushstrokes capturing the fleeting moment

French Impressionism changed the way we think about art with its focus on light, color, and everyday scenes. It brought new techniques and a fresh perspective to the art world.

Origins and Historical Context

It all started in the late 19th century in France. Artists were tired of the strict rules of academic painting and wanted to try new things.

The Impressionist movement began around 1860 and was named after a painting by Claude Monet called “Impression, Sunrise.” Can you picture the excitement in the air?

Painters like Renoir, Sisley, and Pissarro often met at cafes in Paris to share ideas. They were influenced by the rapid changes happening in the city and the world.

The invention of portable paint tubes allowed them to paint outdoors, capturing the real light and scene.

Key Characteristics and Themes

What defines an Impressionist painting? For one, visible brush strokes.

Artists used small, quick strokes to show movement and light. They avoided fine details and instead focused on how light affected colors.

Nature, cities, and common people were favorite subjects. The painters tried to capture the moment, like a snapshot. They experimented with unusual angles and compositions. Open compositions and everyday scenes made the art relatable.

Have you ever noticed how the sun changes color as it sets?

These artists caught those fleeting moments on canvas. The transient effects of light and color became their signature.

Influence on Modern Art

French Impressionism didn’t just stay in the 19th century. It had a long-lasting impact on modern art.

Artists like Van Gogh and Seurat picked up the loose brush strokes and new techniques.

Even today, you can see its influence in how artists capture light and movement.

Impressionism showed that there’s beauty in everyday life and moments. It broke the norms and encouraged future artists to look beyond traditional methods. Impressionist ideas continue to inspire and shape contemporary art.

Have you ever looked at modern paintings and wondered why they feel so vibrant and alive? That’s the spirit of Impressionism living on.

Art Movements Associated with Impressionism

A serene landscape with vibrant colors and soft, blurred brushstrokes. A scene capturing the play of light and shadow, with an emphasis on capturing the fleeting moment

There are several art movements that developed from or were directly influenced by French Impressionism. These movements each brought their own unique techniques and philosophies to the art world, building on the foundation laid by the Impressionists.


Post-Impressionism came right after Impressionism. Artists like Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne used Impressionist principles but took them further.

Instead of just capturing light and color, they wanted to express deeper emotions and ideas. Can you see Cézanne’s brushstrokes? He used structure and form to show his subjects, giving them a more solid feel.

Van Gogh, on the other hand, used bold colors and swirling lines to convey emotion. His famous painting, “Starry Night,” showcases this style. The sky seems alive, doesn’t it?

Post-Impressionists were less focused on realism and more on personal expression. They paved the way for future modern art movements.


Neo-Impressionism emerged as a response to Impressionism’s spontaneity and loose brushwork. Georges Seurat and Paul Signac used a technique called Pointillism, where small dots of pure color are applied to the canvas.

Stand back from the painting, and those dots blend into vibrant images.

Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” is a great example. Each dot is like a tiny brushstroke of light and color.

This method required precision and patience. It focused on color theory and how colors interact with each other to create harmony in a painting. Neo-Impressionists brought a more scientific approach to painting, merging art and science.


Symbolism was another art movement influenced by Impressionism but took a more abstract turn.

Symbolist artists explored themes of mysticism, spirituality, and dreams. They often used symbols and metaphors to express ideas rather than depicting reality.

Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon were key figures in this movement. Redon’s work, for instance, often features mysterious and fantastical elements. His piece “The Cyclops” creates a dream-like atmosphere.

These movements each evolved from Impressionism, pushing the boundaries of art in different directions. They show how one art movement can inspire a range of unique styles and philosophies.

Painting Techniques of the Impressionists

Sunset over a tranquil river, dappled with vibrant brushstrokes. Trees and flowers in soft focus, capturing the essence of the moment

The Impressionists changed art forever with their unique painting techniques. They transformed brushwork, color, light, shadow, and embraced outdoor painting.

Brushwork and Color

The Impressionists’ brushwork was revolutionary. They used short, broken strokes to capture the essence of a scene. These strokes were often visible and gave paintings a sense of movement and vibrancy.

They moved away from smooth, detailed brushwork to create texture.

Colors were bright and bold. Artists like Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir often avoided black, even in shadows. Instead, they mixed complementary colors to achieve depth and contrast.

Can you imagine seeing such vibrant hues?

They wanted to capture the way light played on surfaces, so they used pure, unmixed colors side by side. This created optical mixing where your eyes blend the colors naturally.

Use of Light and Shadow

Light and shadow were key elements in Impressionist painting. They loved to paint at different times of the day to capture changes in light.

Everyone talks about Monet’s haystacks, right? This series showcased how light transformed the same object.

Instead of using dark colors for shadows, they painted them with a variety of hues to show how light interacts. They painted reflections and ambient light, creating a feeling of time and atmosphere.

Shadows in Impressionist works often had blues, violets, or greens, making them look more natural.

Impressionists like Edgar Degas paid particular attention to indoor lighting too. Lamps, candles, and windows brought unique challenges and opportunities to play with light’s effects on their subjects.

Outdoor Painting (En Plein Air)

Outdoor painting became a hallmark of Impressionism. Artists packed up their easels and paints and headed outside to capture the world around them.

Think about the challenges they faced—changing light, weather, and curious onlookers. It was all part of the experience.

They wanted to paint scenes as they saw them. Being outdoors allowed them to observe every detail of how light and color interacted with the environment.

You can almost feel the fresh air when looking at these works.

This approach led to spontaneous and lively compositions. Camille Pissarro and Alfred Sisley are great examples of artists who embraced en plein air.

They chose everyday scenes—rivers, streets, gardens—offering glimpses into daily life. This method made their art feel immediate and real, breaking away from the stiff, studio-bound traditions of the past.

Frequently Asked Questions

A group of artists painting en plein air, capturing the play of light and color, using loose brushstrokes and vibrant palettes

French Impressionism revolutionized the art world with its unique techniques and perspectives. This section addresses some common questions you might have about this influential movement.

What are the distinguishing characteristics of Impressionism in art?

Impressionism is known for its loose brushwork and light-focused composition. Paintings often feature ordinary scenes, capturing fleeting moments of life with soft edges.

Which painting techniques are commonly associated with Impressionist artists?

Impressionist artists often painted outdoors to capture natural light. They used quick, short brushstrokes to depict their subjects and avoided the smooth, blended surfaces typical of earlier art.

How did French Impressionism differ from the preceding art movements?

French Impressionism broke from the realism and formal compositions of previous movements. It focused on the play of light and color, giving a more spontaneous and emotional representation of scenes.

What are the key principles behind Post-Impressionist artwork?

Post-Impressionism built on Impressionism’s ideas but added more structure and form. Artists used vivid colors and bold, often symbolic content to express deeper emotional and psychological themes.

How did Impressionist painters approach the depiction of light and color?

Impressionist painters keenly observed natural light and its effects. They often depicted how light changes throughout the day, using vibrant, unmixed colors applied directly to the canvas to represent shadows and highlights.

In what ways did French Impressionists break away from traditional painting methods?

Impressionists rejected the precise, meticulous techniques of academic painting. They embraced spontaneity, painting quickly and often from life.

This allowed them to capture the essence of a moment rather than a detailed, idealized scene.

About The Author
Dr. Laura Whitman | MemoryCherish
Dr. Laura Whitman | MemoryCherish

Dr. Laura Whitman is the Head of Education at MemoryCherish, the #1 photo restoration company in the world.

With a PhD in Art History and a specialization in photographic preservation, she brings an unrivaled breadth of knowledge to her role.
Over her 19-year tenure in the field, Dr. Whitman has become a respected authority on topics ranging from photo restoration techniques to historical context and genealogy.

Her work has been recognized by major media outlets such as ABC, NBC, and FOX News, and she has been trusted with collaborations by Adobe. As an educator, she has developed numerous 'how-to' guides and tutorials, making photo restoration accessible to millions.

MC Icon

Restore Your Photos Now!

Done By Our
Restoration Experts

$99 $38


More Articles From MemoryCherish


7 Tips to Clean Old Photos

Did you know that you can clean your old photos with just a little bit of time on your hands? With our simple tips, your old family pictures will look as good as new. Here are some tips to help you restore those precious memories.

Read More »
faded photo 1

Faded Photos: Is My Faded Photo Forever Gone?

Do you have a family photo that’s been faded? I’m sure you have at least one. You get your hands on some old photos from your grandparents or parents and they’re all faded out, the colors are dull, and the pictures are in terrible condition.
So what can be done? Can these beautiful memories ever be restored to their former glory?

Read More »

What's the best way to cherish the past?