We have now looked in detail at the work of 38 artists whose styles became impressionist, or nearly so, and have briefly considered another 23. Although far from comprehensive, this is more extensive than you will find almost anywhere else, with the exception of the books edited by Broude (1990) and Walther (1993).
Who started Impressionism?
Looking back at artists active before 1869, the year in which Monet painted his early, floridly Impressionist works such as Bathers at la Grenouillère, there were several individuals and groups who were decidedly pre-Impressionist.
The most obvious, and that given in all the better accounts of Impressionism, was of course the Barbizon School in France, and most notably Corot. But it had parallel movements in the Netherlands (the Hague School), and in Italy (the Macchiaioli). A notable precursor in Germany was Carl Blechen, who tragically died young, and without apparently passing on significant influence to others. Avant garde works by Turner were also important.
Using my scoring system to assess their paintings, I consider that Corot, Turner and Blechen were often achieving 7/12, sometimes even 9/12 in certain paintings, before 1850.
So by 1860 there was, across Europe, and in parallel with the social and political unrest which was fomenting in many countries, a widespread movement away from highly-finished realism.
In the 1860s, at least two artists, Jongkind, Monet, and perhaps Nicolae Grigorescu (evidence is limited because of a lack of dates), started to undergo the transition to full-blown Impressionism, and several others (Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot, and Sisley) were quick to follow.
Thus the essential precursors to Impressionism were pan-European, and the first Impressionists were also from several European countries – France, the Netherlands, Romania, and the UK. We should therefore be referring to European and not French Impressionism, although prior to about 1880 the hub of the movement was certainly Paris.
How did Impressionism spread?
During the 1870s, a few artists from outside France started to visit and encounter Impressionism, and some returned home to continue painting in impressionist style there. But at this stage numbers were limited, and the influence of the Barbizon School was often greater.
That trickle of converts swelled into a rush during the 1880s, when impressionist style was transmitted as far afield as Russia, Finland, the USA, and Australia. This coincided with increasing acceptance of Impressionism in its European heartlands.
During the 1890s, as Neo-Impressionism was trying to take hold in France, large numbers of visiting student artists were returning home in the rest of Europe, and more distant countries such as Canada and Japan. Impressionism had become a truly world phenomenon and movement.
Remaining countries, such as those in South America, and Turkey, embraced Impressionism in the first decade of the twentieth century, just before the outbreak of the First World War, and the rise of modernism. There can have been few progressive art galleries across the world which had not shown Impressionist paintings by 1914.
In a period of forty years, Impressionism had grown and spread worldwide, and changed forever public appreciation of painting. As this series has shown, there is still a great deal to appreciate in the works of the Impressionists, and a great many more than most histories would like to admit.
This is still not the end of this series: I hope to make arrangements which will enable me to feature further painters in the future, and hope to add to the collection of artists represented here.
Broude N ed. (1990) World Impressionism: The International Movement, 1860-1920, Abradale Press, Harry N Abrams. ISBN 0 8109 8115 7. (A pioneering survey of impressionism around the world, now long out of print but sometimes available secondhand.)
Walther IF ed. (1993/2013) Impressionism 1860-1920, Part 2, Impressionism in Europe and North America, Taschen. ISBN 978 3 836 54893 9. (Originally published in two parts, this updated survey includes many artists and works omitted by Broude, and is now available in a convenient single volume.)