Articles and Features

Celebrating 150 Years of Impressionism

Impressionism 150th anniversary - "Impression Sunrise" by Monet (1872)
Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1872. Oil on canvas. Approx 18×25 inches or 48x63cm. Currently in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris.

By Alexandra Melekki

Once the impression is captured, they declare their role finished.

Jules-Antoine Castagnary

150 years ago, on April 15th, 1874, a group of 30 artists forming the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Printmakers, etc., organised an exhibition that would launch the movement known as Impressionism. Among the members of the society who showcased over 150 pieces on the Boulevard des Capucines in Paris were Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Degas, Cézanne, and Pissarro. While each artist had a unique approach to their work, they all converged in rejecting the established modus operandi of state-controlled salons and the realism associated with traditional painting. Born out of the tumultuous post-war period following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the Civil War, this exhibition signalled a bold departure from traditional art.

The show faced heated criticism, with the term “impressionism” initially used as an insult to the distorted forms and vivid colours employed by the artists. Louise Leroy famously criticised Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise,” unwittingly bestowing upon the movement its unifying name. Despite individual stylistic differences, which subsequently led to ripples within the fabric of the collective, the rejection of conventional subjectivity and the pursuit of truthful expressions remained central to the effort until the group’s dissolution in the early 1880s. Though short-lived, Impressionism sparked a seismic shift in the art world, paving the way for stylistic experimentation, new subject matters, and forms of expression.

Impressionism 150th anniversary - Auguste Renoir
Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Bal du moulin de la Galette, 1876 (detail). Oil on canvas. 131.5 x 176.5 cm. Paris, Musée d’Orsay. Photo: Bridgeman Images

The Impressionists’ revolutionary techniques, characterised by short, broken brushstrokes and vibrant palettes, challenged the artistic conventions of their time. With the fleeting effects of light and colour over detailed representation, they ushered in a new era in art. Their influence extended well into the 20th century, laying the groundwork for movements such as Cubism and Abstract art. Indeed, 1874 is hailed as the birth year of modern art, as Impressionism left an undeniable mark on the artistic landscape, forever altering the trajectory of Western painting.

Exhibitions and Events

The 150th anniversary of the first Impressionist show is commemorated with a series of celebratory events. From a dedicated festival in Normandy until September, to exhibitions in cities such as Strasbourg, Bordeaux, and Nantes, the legacy of Impressionism continues. In Paris, the Musée d’Orsay hosts the landmark exhibition “Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism” until June 14th, which later travels to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism, Musée d’Orsay

From March 26th to July 14th, 2024

The Musée d’Orsay is displaying some 130 works, most of which were hung in the groundbreaking 1874 show. “Paris 1874” reviews the circumstances that led these 31 artists (only seven of whom are well-known across the world today) to join forces and exhibit their works together.

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Normandy Impressionist Festival 

From March 22nd to September 22nd, 2024

“Normandie Impressionniste” presents a multifaceted festival that explores Impressionism in its myriad forms, alongside contemporary artistic expressions. Featuring 150 events to celebrate its 150th anniversary, the festival is divided evenly between classical and contemporary art. Among the highlights is a significant exhibition of works by contemporary British painter David Hockney at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen.

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Impressionism and the Sea, Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny

From March 29th to June 30th, 2024

The Musée des Impressionnismes Giverny in Normandy presents an exhibition focusing on the sea, a beloved theme among Impressionist painters like Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet, and Paul Gauguin. As a highlight of the Normandie Impressionniste festival, this exhibition invites visitors to embark on a poetic journey through Deauville and Cabourg, offering a fresh perspective on seascapes: exploring the lives of fishermen, maritime activities, storms, and more.

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Robert Wilson’s Cathedral of Light, Rouen Cathedral, Normandy 

From May 24th to September 28th, 2024

In addition to exhibitions, visitors can experience an audiovisual installation by American stage director Robert Wilson, which chronicles the life of Claude Monet and will be projected onto the façade of the Rouen Cathedral. Normandy is also offering numerous painting classes, providing individuals with the opportunity to explore Impressionism firsthand. 

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Impressionism 150th anniversary - artwork by Armand Guillaumin
Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927), Femme et enfant dans un paysage (Woman and Child in a Landscape), 1890

Discovering Degas: Collecting in the Age of William Burrell, Burrell Collection, Glasgow

From May 24th to September 30th, 2024

Experience the Burrell Collection’s impressive array of 23 masterpieces by Degas, complemented by 50 additional artworks encompassing paintings, works on paper, and sculptures. 

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Vive l’impressionnisme!, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

From October 11th 2024 to January 26th, 2025

The Van Gogh Museum will showcase Impressionist masterpieces from the Dutch collection, including works of famous impressionists, from Claude Monet and Edgar Degas to Auguste Rodin and Camille Pissarro.

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Impressionists: The Dawn of Modernity, Historical Infantry Museum, Rome 

From March 30th to July 28th, 2024 

The exhibition “Impressionists – The Dawn of Modernity,” marks a significant homage to the Impressionist artistic movement in Italy, commemorating its 150th anniversary. The focal points of the exhibition are the eminent artists and masters of Impressionism, including Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin and Pissarro, among others, along with noteworthy figures who contributed to the evolution of this new artistic approach: Bracquemond, Guillaumin, Forain, Desboutin, Lepic.

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Sotheby’s Impressionist Celebration 

From March 1st to 31st May, 2024

The British art auction house Sotheby’s is hosting a series of auctions, talks and exhibitions to celebrate the anniversary of Impressionism.

Learn more about the exhibition here.

Relevant sources to learn more

More articles from Artland Magazine you may like:
Impressionism: The Movement That Went Against the French Academy
Claude Monet: Life and Art of the Founder of Impressionism
Mary Cassatt: Story and Paintings of a Radical American Impressionist in Paris
The Grainy Textures & Dreamy Atmospheres of Contemporary Impressionist Photography

Other relevant sources:
150 years of Impressionism: how a small group of artists changed the way we see
Impressionism: Art and Modernity

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