Skip to main content

Guide to Impressionism

Find out how a radical breakaway movement became one of the most popular styles in modern art.


The term 'Impressionist' was first used as an insult in response to an exhibition of new paintings in Paris in 1874. A diverse group of painters, rejected by the art establishment, defiantly set up their own exhibition. They included Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Degas.

Monet, 'Lavacourt Under Snow, about 1878-81 

What characterises Impressionism for most people nowadays, is both the subject matter and the technique. Landscapes, and scenes from modern urban and suburban life painted in bright, pure colours are typical. Impressionists often began (and sometimes completed) their paintings outdoors rather than in a studio. Their rapidly applied brushstrokes are often visible. 

Monet, The Water-Lily Pond, 1899 

Today, the Impressionist paintings are some of the best-known and best-loved in the collection. It takes a leap of the imagination for us to realise how radical the movement was considered in its day.