Social Research Glossary


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home


Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Impressionism is an approach to painting originating in France in the 1860s, which is characterised by attempts to capture the visual impression of the moment, especially the shifting effect of light and colour of landscapes and everyday scenes, usually painted outdoors.

explanatory context


analytical review

The National Gallery (UK) (undated) explains:

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.... 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 in a studio. Their rapidly applied brushstrokes are often visible.

BBC Arts (2014) states:

Taking their name from Claude Monet's 'Impression, Sunrise', the Impressionists were established in Paris during the 1870's.

Concentrating on relaying the immediate visual effect of the world around them, using bold brush strokes and contrasts of colour, the artists initially drew heavy criticism for their perceived naive and trivial approach to art.

The subject matter varied from Monet's landscapes to Renoir's boulevards of bustling Paris life and Degas' delicate ballerinas, but all pertained to capture the impression of the moment.

From the late 1880's, public perception gradually changed and the Impressionists received reverence, paving the way for their followers Guaguin, Seurat and Van Gogh.


Tate Gallery (undated):

Impressionism developed in France in the nineteenth century and is based on the practice of painting out of doors and spontaneously 'on the spot' rather than in a studio from sketches. Main impressionist subjects were landscapes and scenes of everyday life. Impressionism was developed by Claude Monet and other Paris-based artists from the early 1860s. (Though the process of painting on the spot can be said to have been pioneered in Britain by John Constable in around 1813–17 through his desire to paint nature in a realistic way).

Instead of painting in a studio, the impressionists found that they could capture the momentary and transient effects of sunlight by working quickly, in front of their subjects, in the open air (en plein air) rather than in a studio. This resulted in a greater awareness of light and colour and the shifting pattern of the natural scene. Brushwork became rapid and broken into separate dabs in order to render the fleeting quality of light.

The first group exhibition was in Paris in 1874 and included work by Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and Paul Cezanne. The work shown was greeted with derision with Monet's Impression, Sunrise particularly singled out for ridicule and giving its name (used by critics as an insult) to the movement. Seven further exhibitions were then held at intervals until 1886.

Other core artists of impressionism were Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot with Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet also often associated with the movement.

Although originating in France, impressionism had great influence overseas. Core British impressionists included Walter Richard Sickert and Wilson Steer.

Artists in the Tate Gallery collection can be looked up here (accessed 10 June 2019)

associated issues


related areas

See also




BBC Arts, 2014, Impressionism Gallery, last updated 2 Septembert 2014, available at, originally accessed 7 March 2013, still available 6 June 2019.

National Gallery (UK), undated,Guide to Impressionism, available at, accessed 7 March 2013, still available 6 June 2019.

Tate Gallery, nd, 'Impressionism', available at, accessed 10 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z Home