Impressionist Art: French Impressionism

It is difficult to underestimate the influence of Claude Monet’s paintings on the art. He was using realistic subjects and showed them from purely individual perspective. He was not trying to find strange themes, but was depicting the everyday moments of people from the middle-class of the French society of his time. The spontaneous style and fresh palette Claude Monet used in his paintings made me choose his work, Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil, in Winter, for analysis.

Claude Monet was one of the most prominent artists of the French Impressionism. In 1874 a group of young painters that consisted of Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas and Cezanne, organized their own exhibition. The public reaction to this revolution in art was not very friendly. The critiques accused the artists in the attempts to attract the attention of the public with the works that were absolutely different from the ones of acknowledged artists. The impressionist paintings were considered to be a mockery, an attempt to make fun of honest and serious people (Meyers 2005). It took years to understand the real value of this new sincere art. All of these different artists had one thing in common: they were fight against academicism and conservatism in art.

All those paintings were similar in the attempts to convey the personal impression the artist had of the world. They contained subjective experience of color, light, and space. Trying to express their immediate impressions of the world most accurately, the artists freed from traditional rules and created a new method of painting.

 Impressionists expressed their own new principles of perception of the world in paintings. They erased the line between the themes that are worthy of high art, and minor things that should not be portrayed. According to the new method, the viewer was not only to decipher the plot of the painting, but was also emotionally involved in learning the secrets of the painting. The impressionist vision of the world turned from being analytical and three-dimensional to irrational and two-dimensional. The canvas can be defined as planar visual installations, when the depicted object merge with the environment, dissolves in the light and air. Later Cezanne called the leader of the French Impressionists Claude Monet just an eye, which depicts what it sees, without analyzing it. Such detachment of visual perception also led to the suppression of color memory, when the things have their strict color associations. For example, the sky is always blue, and the grass under this blue sky is always green. It was normal for the Impressionists to paint green sky and blue grass, because it was their perception.

For the Impressionist the way of depiction is prior to the subject. Object is only a pretext for creating purely visual problems. It is characterized by short strokes that allowed depicting the individual perception of the nature. The Impressionists were the first to break with the traditional principles of spatial construction of the paintings that originated from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. They used asymmetrical composition to highlight the main things in the painting. However, the paradox was that even abandoning the naturalism of academic art, destroying its rules and declaring the aesthetic value of fleeting, the Impressionists were quite naturalistic. For example, Claude Monet depicted the landscapes he saw near the train station. They were ordinary faceless people, who were living in his city (Howard 1997).

The Impressionism was developing during the time of Industrial Revolution. The industrial Revolution refers to the transition from using machine force instead of manual labor. It led to the transition from a primarily agrarian economy to an industrialization, which resulted in the transformation of an agrarian society into an industrial one. The industrial revolution took place in different countries not during the same period time, but in general the period of changes started from the second half of the 18th century and continued throughout the 19th century. The industrial revolution is characterized by the rapid growth of the productive forces on the basis of developing machine industry and the spread of capitalism as the world’s dominant economic system. Industrial Revolution refers not just to the beginning of the use of machines, but also with the change of the whole structure of society (Clark 2007). It was accompanied by a rapid increase in labor productivity, urbanization, economic growth and increase of living standards.

The rise of Impressionism as a new method to portray reality can be considered in some aspects a reaction of the artists to the challenge the new technology like photography created. The pictures seemed to be better in reproducing reality than the paintings. It was easier to make them, there was no need to be artistically talented and study for years, and they were more detailed than the paintings. It is possible to say that photography actually made the artists to pursue other means of artistic expression. The photography could not create the individual perception of the world, but the Impressionists coped with this task.

Claude Monet created the Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil, in Winter in 1875. It is an oil painting on canvas 60.9 x 81.6 cm (24 x 32 1/8 in.). The artist depicted the moment when the sunlight broke through the snow clouds. Faceless people are walking down the boulevard with their umbrellas, their silhouettes are similar and they are not emphasized in the composition of the painting. This work can be definitely called a vivid example of Impressionist art. It is the personal perception of Monet of the city of his time. Paris was rapidly developing, numerous factories started to work in the town, more and more people moved from the villages to work in the city. The buildings become more numerous, while the nature disappears. The two thirds of the Boulevard Saint-Denis is the depiction of houses and fences. They seem to be everywhere and they are so big that people are small in comparison to them. Previously, the urbanized landscape was not considered to be the right thing for the elite art. However, the Industrial Revolution changed the city view and the Impressionists took their impression from what they saw around them.

Lewis writes:

At Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil, in Winter, we are given a transient moment that has been caught by the artist, the rough brush work, the unique colors, the sense of immediacy, all typical characteristics of the  Impressionists.  The couple of paintings Monet depicted of his street, similar to this one stood too well for everything painting was suppose to ignore:  the litter of fences and factories, the town seeping like a stain into the surrounding fields, the incoherence of everyday life. But according to the art critic Frederic Chevalier, even these discordant elements might be understood as a coherent world view; together, their subject and technique could stand for the idea of modernity” (Lewis 2007).

Boulevard Saint-Denis, Argenteuil, in Winter by Claude Monet is one of the well-known examples of Impressionist art. It contains the artistic techniques like specific composition, coloring and brush stokes the Impressionists used. It also reflects the Industrial era that was rapidly developing in Europe of that time.


Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton University Press.

Howard, M. (1997). Encyclopedia of Impressionism. Thunder Bay Press

Lewis, M. T. (2007). Critical Readings in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: An Anthology. University of California Press

Meyers, J. (2005). Impressionist Quartet: The Intimate Genius of Manet and Morisot, Degas and Cassati. Harcourt

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