The specificities of Impressionism
A good way of understanding how large the gap is between the Impressionism and the contemporaneous mainstream art is to compare the Impressionism and the Classical movements.
While the Classical art was limiting painting to pompous representations of important historical or mythological scenaries, the Impressionism is focusing on modernity and daily life. Even the outcasts (prostitutes, drunkards, drug addicts...) were subjects of impressionist paintings, while they were absolutely banned from classical art. Nudity is only represented for divinities (certainly not ordinary people!) and has to be "clean", meaning that the body must be perfect with regards to the classical standards and proportions. When it comes to landscapes and seascapes, Impressionism is also in opposition with Classical art. When the a Classical painter will try and magnify the elements and nature, idealize the proportions and the weather, to have a perfected vision of nature, the Impressionist will only represent the impression of the landscape (the light especially), without magnifying the details.
The difference in subjects discussed previously is consistent with a major difference between Classical and Impressionist painters: the first ones only paint indoors, in their studio, while the second ones generally paint outdoors, and sometimes only improve some details in their studio. The Impressionists use lighter equipment, made available by new technological advances (the paint tubes, or premixed paint with synthetic pigments). This also explains the apparent hurry in which impressionist paintings seem to be painted.
- Thick brush strokes for the Impressionists, while the strokes are often invisible (that would be an imperfection) in Classical paintings.
- Colours aren’t mixed together but applied side by side, to give larger contrasts, while in Classical paintings, the colors are blended smoothly, so that the color on the painting is more homogeneous.
- Colors are used by Impressionists to emphasize natural light, using brighter colors.
- Impressionists use very few black paint, which is used a lot in Classical paintings. Instead, they use greyish blends of complentary colors.
- There are no successive layers in Impressionist paintings, the painting is done in one go, while Classical paintings are usually done over several months.