Why Was Impressionism Art at First Rejected?

Vincent Van Gogh - Self Portrait.

I recently watched the movie about Vincent Van Gogh called At Eternity’s Gate, which is a beautiful movie about the life of Vincent Van Gogh. When I watched the movie, I got to thinking, “Why were so many impressionism artists so widely rejected during their lifetime?”

During the emergence of impressionism art, fine-art oil painting was an essential addition to the interior design of a home, especially for the affluent and the increasing arrival of the middle classes. For these art patrons, only some particular art styles were considered acceptable for them to use for the interior design of their home, and impressionism art did not fit into any of these culturally acceptable fine art categories. 

There are many reasons why impressionism art did not fit into any of the popular or acceptable fine art oil painting categories.

Some of the reasons are:

They broke from long-accepted artistic norms.

Impressionism art broke from the long-accepted art norms of the day. Impressionism art was almost considered messy and too abstract for many art patrons. It was a freestyle that did not have a realistic look that many oil paintings from that day thought were acceptable.

For example, fine art oil paintings had to have a realistic look from the norms of that time period. Suppose you had a portrait; it had to look like a person and had to be anatomically correct. A person’s skin had to be the actual skin color, and a still life of objects as flowers, vases, or fruit had to look like actual flowers, vases, or a bowl of fruit.

The norm of that day was that art subject matter that was acceptable was also somewhat limited. Many fine art oil paintings would show a person’s religionist beliefs by painting a scene from the bible. There were some portraits and also landscapes and still life paintings. Even scenes from mythology were acceptable.

Edgar Degas said it very well when he said:

“A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people” 

Edgar Degas

It didn’t fit into what was culturally acceptable art.

What is interesting about this time period was that nudity in art was acceptable, as long a the paintings were from mythology. The fact they were from mythology somehow made nudity culturally acceptable.

Then this group of renegade impressionism artists came along, and they were changing what would have been culturally acceptable for the day. You can say they were pushing the cultural norms of society.

Where nudity was acceptable in the painting of mythology, here the impressionism arts come, and they are painting nudity in the form of a real live person. ‘That was totally culturally unacceptable and considered extremely scandalous for the time period.

A stamp printed by EQUATORIAL GUINEA shows the painting The Source by famous French artist Pierre Auguste Renoir, circa 1973

It was the start of art distancing itself from reality

Impressionism art was the beginning when art started to distract itself from reality. A person’s face no longer had the colors of actual skin tones on their faces but may have various other colors. The landscape had changed to be bright colors that the artist saw in their imagination and not the reality of what was actually there. Art started to distance itself from the realistic fine art paintings of the day.

The impressionist artists were also not interested in trying to conform to the art of the day. In fact, many of them did just the opposite of that, such as Vincent Van Gogh. These artists continued to explore and paint this new style without any real thought if they could ever actually sell a painting.

As Vincent Van Gogh said

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh painted his dreams as he saw them, and he did not care if those dreams were realistic, looking paintings or not. And many people of the time found those dreams to be disturbing.

Vincent Van Gogh - Starry Nights
Vincent Van Gogh – Starry Nights, Located at MOMA – Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Impressionists were changing art

The public did not understand this new impressionism style of painting. They ridiculed the artists. Some paintings they even tried to vandalize. Many in public felt the artists were untalented as they saw them as having an almost childlike kind of art style.

The invention of paint tubes allowed the impressionist painters to go outside and paint in nature. This also gave them a chance to first-hand paint with the sun shining, so they could study light and color in an outdoor setting. They would study the sun’s light as it would change throughout the day and see how the colors could also change with the sun. They were not limited to indoor workshops or study.

Also very different from the other artists of their day, the impression also painted from what they felt, dreamed, or saw in their imaginations. They looked at color and then painted the color they saw. As Claude Monet said so beautifully in this quote:

“Try to forget what objects you have before you – a tree, a house, a field, or whatever. Merely think, ‘Here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow,’ and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own impression of the scene before you”

Claude monet

Some of the impressionist artists saw great success in their lifetime. Claude Monet, for example, was able to see artistic and financial success. His family first rented and then later were able to purchase a house and some gardens in Giverny. By the 1890’s he was so successful he was able to build up his gardens, build a greenhouse, a new studio, and a building that had excellent light. As Monet’s wealth continued to grow, so did his garden. Some of his most famous paintings are from the water lilies he had in his garden.

Claude Monet - Water Lillies and Japanese Bridge
Claude Monet – Water Lillies and the Japanese Bridge

The impressionist painters were and are an amazing group of individuals and painters. They are amazing in that they put their art ahead of all else. They did not really care what culturally acceptable norms of the time were; they painted because there was something inside them driving them every day to get out there and paint what they saw.

Because of them and this ability, they had to not care about the day’s norms that we now have so many great and wonderful impressionist works of art that we can study, and we can receive inspiration from for our own art. This amazing group of artists can teach us all important lessons that we need to believe in ourselves and our art, just like they did. This is their legacy to each of us.

Related Questions

When was the impressionism art era?

The impressionism art movement started in France during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, the main period is from 1867 to 1886.

Who are the major impressionism artists?

The major impressionism arts are: Claude Monet, Pierre- Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, Edouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, Vincent Van Gogh, Mary Cassatt, Alfred Sisley, Georges Seurat, Gustave Caillebotte, Paul Gauguin, Frederic Bazille, Eugene Boudin, Armand Guillaumin, Childe Hassam, Henri Matisse, Theodore Robinson, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Valentin Serov, and Paul Signac.

Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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