Impressionism was once considered radical. In color, brushwork, and subject, these paintings and sculptures shocked the French art establishment when publicly exhibited in the 1870s.
Their makers—a loose association of independently minded men and women—had become frustrated by the rules and traditions of the official French art of the day, which prized realistic depictions of great moments in history and religion. They instead wanted to capture the everyday world around them in ways that felt immediate, honest, and lively.
With pure, unmixed colors, visible brushstrokes, and roughly sculpted surfaces, these works sometimes left audiences wondering if they were made as sketches (“impressions”) for subsequent, more polished pieces. The artists matched their innovative techniques with unconventional subjects. A view of a bustling city street, an informal portrait of a child, or a study of the momentary effects of light and weather on a landscape became vehicles for transforming how the art of their time looked and was made.