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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette), Musée d'Orsay, 1876

Impressionism was the modern art movement which started circa 1870 - 1880 in France, which broke with traditional Classicist style. The Impressionists focused in their painting on bright colors, light and atmosphere.

Quotes on Impressionism[edit]

Sorted chronologically, by date of the quote

1855 - 1890[edit]

  • Beauty in art is truth bathed in an impression received from nature. I am struck upon seeing a certain place. While I strive for a conscientious imitation, I yet never for an instant lose the emotion that has taken hold of me. Reality is one part of art; feeling completes it.. ..Before any site and any object, abandon yourself to your first impression. If you have really been touched, you will convey to others the sincerity of your emotion.
    • Corot (c. 1856), in his Notebooks; as quoted in Artists on Art – from the 14th – 20th centuries, ed. by Robert Goldwater and Marco Treves; Pantheon Books, 1972, London, p. 241
  • It seems to me, when I see nature, that I see it ready made, completely written — but then, try to do it! All this proves that one must think of nothing but them [impressions]; it is by dint of observation and reflection that one makes discoveries.
    • quote of Claude Monet (1864), in his letter to Frédéric Bazille from Honfleur, July 15, 1864; As cited in: Joyce Medina (1995) Cezanne and Modernism: The Poetics of Painting. p. 60
  • In Paris one is too preoccupied by what one sees and what one hears, however strong one is; what I am doing here has, I think, the merit of not resembling anyone, because it is simply the expression of what I myself have experienced.
    • quote of Claude Monet (1868), in a letter to Frédéric Bazille from Etretat, December 1868; As cited in: Mary Tompkins Lewis (2007) Critical Readings in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. p. 83
  • Lighten your palette.. [remark to the younger [ Paul Cezanne circa 1873, to encourage him to start using bright colors], ..paint only with the three primary colours and their derivatives.
  • quote of Camille Pissarro (c. 1873), in Cezanne his Life and Art, Jack Linssey, - Evelyn, Adams and Mackay, London, 1969, p. 154-55
  • The innocent passer-by attracted by the bunting outside [of Durand Ruel's exhibition (in Rue Le Peletier in Paris) of the 'Impressionists: Exposition de Peinture' par, 1876] goes in to have a look. But what cruel spectacle meets his terrified gaze! Here, five or six lunatics deranged by ambition – one of them a woman [ Berthe Morisot ] – have put together an exhibition of their work.. .These self-styled artists call themselves 'intransigents' [= uncompromising people]. They take canvas, paint and brushes, splash on a few daubs of color here and there at random, then sign the result. The inmates of the Ville-Evrard Asylum behave in much the same way.. .Try telling M. Pissarro that trees are not purple, or the sky the colour of butter; that the things he paints cannot actually be seen anywhere in nature.. ..try to explain to M. Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a rotten mass of flesh, with violet-toned green spots all over it, indicating a corps in the final stage of decay.
    • w:Albert Wolff (1876), a quote of the French art-critic in the Paris paper 'Figaro', 1876, criticizing the second Impressionist exhibition: 'Salon des Refugées'); as quoted in The private lives of the Impressionists, Sue Roe, Harpen Collins Publishers, New York 2006, p. 154
  • I've got it... the Saint Lazare [station in Paris, then]. I'll show it just as the trains are starting, with smoke from the engines so thick you can hardly see a thing. It's a fascinating sight, a real dream. I'll get them [the station office] to delay the train for Rouen for half an hour. The light will be better then.
    • Claude Monet (1877), his remark to Renoir (who reacted later: you are mad, but indeed all the trains were haled and the engines were crammed with coals so as to give all the smoke, Monet wanted in his series of paintings!) in January 1877; as quoted in The private live of the Impressionists, Sue Roe; Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2006, p. 173
  • ..the beautiful [to the Impressionists] is what the supernatural is to the Positivists – a metaphysical notion which can only get one into a muddle, and is to be severely let alone. Let it alone, they say, and it will come at its own pleasure; the painter’s proper field is the actual, an to give a vivid impression of how a thing happens to look, at a particular moment, is the essence of this vision.
    • w:Henry James (1876), a quote of his review for the ‘New York Tribune’ in May 13, 1876); as quoted in ‘’The private lives of the Impressionists’’ Sue Roe, Harpen Collins Publishers, New York 2006, p. 153
  • ..the ever-present light blends with and vivifies all things. The idea was that 'nothing should be absolutely fixed,.. that the bright gleam which lights the picture, or the diaphanous shadow which veils it, are only seen in passing, in the actual moment during which the viewer looks at the scene, which, composed at it is of reflected and ever-changing lights, palpitates with movement, light and life.
    • Stéphane Mallarmé (1878), a quote from his article 'The ever-present light' referring to the new Paris school of oncoming Impressionism; published in 'Art Montly Review', 30 September 1878 in Denys Riout - as quoted in Les écrivains devant l'impressionisme', Paris, Macula 1989, pp. 88 -104
  • I insist upon 'doing it alone'.. I have always worked better alone and from my own impressions.
    • Claude Monet (1884), in a letter to his art-buyer w:Durand-Ruel in Paris, 1884; Quoted in: Discovering Art, – The life time and work of the World’s greatest Artists - 'MONET', K.E. Sullivan, Brockhamptonpress, London 2004, p. 51
    • Monet was painting then in Northern Italy, on the edge of the Mediterranean
  • I always urged my contemporaries [the Impressionist painters in Paris, circa 1885] to look for interest and inspiration to the development and study of drawing, but they would not listen. They thought the road to salvation lay by the way of colour.
    • Edgar Degas (1885), his critical remark is here quoted by Walter Sickert in "Post-Impressionism and Cubism," Pall Mall Gazette (1914-03-11)
    • According to Sickert, Degas had said this to him in 1885
  • If you saw the first painted color-studies that I made when I came here to Nuenen [1883] — and the present canvas [1885] — side by side — I think you’d see that as far as colour is concerned — things have livened up. I think that the question of the breaking of colours in the relationships of the colours will occupy you too one day. For as an art expert and critic, one must also, it seems to me — be sure of one’s ground and have certain convictions. At least for one’s own pleasure and to be able to give reasons, and at the same time one must be able to explain it in a few words to others, who sometimes turn to someone like you for enlightenment when they want to know something more about art.
    • Vincent van Gogh (1885), refers to his famous painting 'Potato Eaters' - in Letter #0497 to his brother Theo (Amsterdam, 30 April 1885)[1]
  • What seems most significant to me about our movement [Impressionism] is that we have freed painting from the importance of the subject. I am at liberty to paint flowers and call them flowers, without their needing to tell a story.
    • Renoir , quoted in: Charles Altieri (1989) 'Painterly Abstraction in Modernist American Poetry', p. 169
  • People will keep on taking them [The French Impressionists] for theorists, when all they wanted was to paint in gay, bright colours, like the old masters.
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates / Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 64
    • Renoir’s remark to Vollard is referring to the Impressionist artists Monet, Sisley and Pissarro
  • I wanted to tell you that in about 1883 there occurred a kind of break in my work. I had got to the end of 'Impressionism', and I had come to the conclusion that I didn't either how to paint or how to draw. In short, I had come to a dead end.
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates / Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 175; Renoir's remark to Vollard
  • We have reached that delightful moment when 'Impressionism' is about to be born, when its light (the formula for which has yet to be found) is still only a hint, a caress, in the silvery snows of Manet [Monet? because Manet did not paint in open air] or in the pale skies of Pissarro. Ah, how one would like to prolong this moment of hesitation for ever, this moment of transition, when transparent blue shadows are putting black shadows to flight and bitumen disappears!
    • Edouard Manet?, as quoted in ‎Pierre Courthion, Portrait of Manet by himself and his contemporaries, 1960/1983. Translation of La Grande Revue (10 August 1907), p. 212

1891 - 1920[edit]

  • Everybody’s going crazy over the Impressionists; what art needs is a Poussin made over according to nature. There you have it in a nutshell.
    • Quote of Paul Cézanne (1896), in a conversation with Vollard, in the studio of Cézanne, in Aix; as quoted in Cezanne, by Ambroise Vollard, Dover publications Inc. New York, 1984, p. 67
  • How few of our young English impressionists knew the difference between a palette and a picture! However, I believe that Walter Sickert did — sly dog!
    • Aubrey Beardsley (1904), in Under the Hill and Other Essays, "Table Talk" p. 64
  • The point to be made clear is that, whatever may be our temperament, or our power in the presence of nature, we have to render what we actually see, forgetting everything that appeared before our own time. Which, I think, should enable the artist to express his personality to the full, be it large or small. Now that I am an old man, about seventy, the sensations of colour which produce light give rise to abstractions that prevent me from covering my canvas, and from trying to define the outlines of objects when their points of contact are tenuous and delicate; with the result that my image or picture is incomplete. For another thing, the planes become confused, superimposed; hence Neo-Impressionism, where everything is outlined in black, an error which must be uncompromisingly rejected. And nature, if consulted, shows us how to achieve this aim.
    • Paul Cézanne (1905), in his letter to w:Émile Bernhard, 23 October 1905, as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock, Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 180.
  • For an Impressionist to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to realize sensations.
  • It's like Impressionism. They all do it at the Salons. Oh, very discreetly! I too was an Impressionist. I don't conceal the fact. Pissarro had an enormous influence on me. But I wanted to make out of Impressionism something solid and lasting like the art of the museums.
    • Paul Cezanne, in 'What he told me – I. The motif'; Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, (1897 - 1906); Thames and Hudson, London 1991. p. 164
Bath Road, Chiswick by Camille Pissarro, 1897. Oil on canvas.
  • That is why, perhaps, all of us derive Pissarro.. ..He told me all about it. In 1865 he was already cutting out black, bitumen, raw sienna and the ocher's. That’s a fact. Never paint with anything but the three primary colours and their derivatives, he used to say me. Yes, he was the first Impressionist.
    • Paul Cezanne, in 'What he told me – I. The motif'; Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne, - a Memoir with Conversations, (1897 - 1906); Thames and Hudson, London 1991. p. 164
    • Camille Pissarro was guiding Cézanne for several years, painting impressionistic landscapes; they frequently painted together in open air
  • Work on the same time on sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on an equal basis.. .Don’t be afraid of putting on colour.. .Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression.
    • Camille Pissarro, a quote in 1896, in: Paul Cézanne, ‎Terence Maloon, ‎Angela Gundert (1998) Classic Cézanne, p. 45
  • The so-called 'discoveries' of the Impressionists could not have been unknown to the old masters; and if they made no use of them, it was because all great artists have renounced the use of effects. And in simplifying nature, they made it all the greater.
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 178; Renoir’s remark to Vollard
  • I wanted to tell you that in about 1883 there occurred a kind of break in my work. I had got to the end of 'Impressionism', and I had come to the conclusion that I didn't either how to paint or how to draw. In short, I had come to a dead end.
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir, as quoted in Renoir – his life and work, Francois Fosca, Book Club Associates /Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1975, p. 175; Renoir's remark to Vollard
  • Neo-Impressionist method is an attempt is made to achieve the richness of the sunlight spectrum with all its tones. An orange that blends with yellow and red, a violet that tends toward red and blue, a green between blue and yellow are, with white the sole elements. Through mixture (in the eye of the observer) of these pure colours , whose relationship can be varied at will, from the most brilliant to the greyish. Every brush stroke that is taken from the palette remains pure on the canvas.
    • Paul Signac From Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism by Paul Signac. Paris: 1899
  • The Neo-Impressionist does not stipple, he divides. And dividing involves... guaranteeing all benefits of light.
    • Paul Signac From Delacroix to Neo-Impressionism by Paul Signac. Paris: 1899; As quoted in: Flaminio Gualdoni. Art: The Twentieth Century Rizzoli, 2008, p. 12
  • Ninety per cent of the theory of Impressionist painting is in.. ..Ruskin's Elements.
    • Attributed to Claude Monet (1900), talking to a British journalist; quoted by Wynford Dewhurst in "What is impressionism?," Contemporary Review, March 1991; Cited in: John Ruskin (2012) The Elements of Drawing. p. viii.
  • This Mr Dewhurst (Wynford Dewhurst, [who was writing a book Impressionist Painting, its Genesis and Development, published in 1904] has not understood the Impressionist movement in the very least. All he sees in it is a technical method... ...He also says that before going to London [to see the English landscape-painters as Constable and Turner], we [ Monet and Pissarro ] knew nothing whatsoever about light; but we have studies that prove the contrary. He omits the influence of w:Claude Lorrain, Corot, all the 18th-century painters, Chardin most of all. But what he fails to realize is that while Turner and Constable were of service to us, they confirmed our suspicion that those painters had not understood 'The Analysis of Shadows', which in the case of Turner are always a deliberate effect, a plain dark patch. As to the division of tones, Turner confirmed us its value as a method, but not as a means of accuracy or truth to nature. In any case, the 18th century was our tradition. It seems to me that Turner too, had looked at w:Claude Lorrain. I am even inclined to think there is a picture by Turner, 'Sunset', hung side by side with a Claude.
    • Camille Pissarro (1903) in a letter to his son Lucien, 8 Mai 1903, as quoted in Letters of the great artists – from Blake to Pollock - , Richard Friedenthal, Thames and Hudson, London, 1963, p. 149 (translation Daphne Woodward)
  • Since the appearance of Impressionism, the official salons, which used to be brown, have become blue, green, and red.. .But peppermint or chocolate, they are still confections.
    • Claude Monet (1909), as cited in: Sarah Walden (1985) The ravished image, or, How to ruin masterpieces by restoration p. 67
  • My ambition is limited to capturing something transient.
    • Berthe Morisot (1841-95) in: Correspondence de Berthe Morisot, ed Denis Rouart Paris (1950).
  • Impressionism is only direct sensation. All great painters were less or more impressionists. It is mainly a question of instinct, and much simpler than Sargent thinks. But he went on to agree that impressionists had noted how strong
    • Claude Monet, quoted in: Stephen Lucius Gwynn. Claude Monet and His Garden: The Story of an Artist's Paradise, Macmillan, 1934, p. 69: Comment by Monet to the English biographer Sir Evan Charteris.
  • I didn't become one... As long as I can remember I've always been one.
    • Claude Monet in: Claude Monet, ‎Charles F. Stuckey (1985) Monet: a retrospective. p. 91
    • Monet answering the question, how he had became an impressionist.
  • I want the to give colors intoxication, fullness, excitement, power. By trying to forget Impressionism, I wanted to conquer it. In the process I was conquered. We must work with assimilated, digested Impressionism.
    • Paula Modersohn-Becker (died in 1907), as quoted in: Ingo F. Walther (2000) Art of the 20th Century. Part 1, p. 49
  • No, mes amis, impressionism is not charlatanry, nor a formula, nor a school. I should say rather it is the bold resolve to throw all those things overboard.
  • Comme nous avons mal fait de nous laisser appeler Impressionistes.
  • What a pity we allowed ourselves to be called Impressionists.
  • The point is that any piece of Impressionism, whether it be prose, verse or painting, or sculpture, is the record of the impression.
    • F. S. Flint (1914), in German Chronicle, Poetry & Drama, vol. II, ed. Harold Munro Poetry Bookshop, London 1914
  • The Impressionists were the first [painters] to reject the absolute value of the subject and to consider its value to be merely relative..
    • Fernand Léger (1914), Contemporary Achievements in Painting, in 'Soirées de Paris', Paris 1914; as quoted in The documents of 20th century art, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1973
  • From the day that the impressionists liberated painting, the modern picture set out at once the structure itself on contrasts; instead of submitting to a subject, the painter makes an insertion and uses a subject in the service of purely plastic means..
    • Fernand Léger, in 'Functions of Painting by Fernand Leger'; Contemporary Achievements in Painting, Fernand Leger, 'Soirées de Paris', Paris 1914; p. 14
  • What I am trying to do is something different — an effect of reality, but what some fools call Impressionism, a term that is usually misapplied, especially by the critics who don't hesitate to apply it to Turner, the greatest creator of mysterious effects in the whole world of art.
    • Claude Debussy As quoted in The Lives of the Great Composers (1997) by Harold C. Schonberg, p. 464

1921 - 1950[edit]

  • The air you breathe in a picture is not necessarily the same as the air out of doors.
    • a critical quote of Edgar Degas in An Intimate Portrait (1927) - A memoir by w:Ambroise Vollard, translated by Randolph T. Weaver. Dover, 1986 - "The Crime and the Punishment" (p. 47)
  • If I were the government I would have a special brigade of gendarmes to keep an eye on artists who paint landscapes from nature. Oh, I don't mean to kill anyone; just a little dose of bird-shot now and then as a warning.
    • a critical quote of Edgar Degas in An Intimate Portrait (1927) - A memoir by w:Ambroise Vollard, translated by Randolph T. Weaver. Dover, 1986 - "Some of Degas' Views on Art" (p. 56)
  • Ce n'est pas avec des idées qu'on fait des vers, c'est avec des mots.
    • We do not write poems with ideas, but with words.
    • Stéphane Mallarmé A remark reported in Psychologie de l'art (1927) by Henri Delacroix, p. 93; as translated in Literary Impressionism (1973), Maria Elisabeth Kronegger, p. 77
  • Impressionism was the name given to a certain form of observation when Monet, not content with using his eyes to see what things were or what they looked like as everybody had done before him, turned his attention to noting what took place on his own retina (as an oculist would test his own vision).
Romans in the Decadence of the Empire (1847)
  • The habit of breaking up one's colour to make it brilliant dates from further back than Impressionism - Couture advocates it in a little book called 'Causeries d'Atelier' written about 1860 - it is part of the technique of Impressionism but used for quite a different reason.
  • Hullo! What's this? What are these funny brown-and-olive landscapes doing in an impressionist exhibition? Brown! I ask you? Isn't it absurd for a man to go on using brown and call himself an impressionist painter?
    • Frank Rutter (1933), Art in My Time, p. 111. Rich & Cowan, London, 1933
    • Rutter satirising the reaction of fans of impressionist art on seeing Cézanne's work in London in 1905
  • It is true that the Impressionists perhaps gave a more faithful representation of nature through their discoveries in out-of-door painting. But that they increased their statute as artists by so doing is controversial.. .If the technical innovations of the Impressionists led merely to a more accurate representation of nature, it was perhaps of not much value in enlarging their powers of expression.

1951 - 2000[edit]

  • The impressionistic method leads into a complete splitting and dissolution of all areas involved in the composition, and color is used to create an overall effect of light. The color is, through such a shading down from the highest light in the deepest shadows, sacrified an degraded to a (black-and-white) function. This leads to the destructions of the color as color.
    • Hans Hofmann (1951), in "Space pictorially realized through the intrinsic faculty of the colors to express volume" in New Paintings by Hans Hofmann (1951); also in Hans Hofmann' (1998) by Helmut Friedel and Tina Dickey
  • They [his early Paris sketches, of circa 1910] are in a high key, somewhat like impressionism or a modified impressionism. I think I’m still an impressionist.
    • Edward Hopper (c. 1958), in: an interview in the late 1950's, Katherine Kuh and Avis Berman ed., in 'My Love Affair With Modern Art', New York 2006, p.276
Robert Delaunay, Paysage au disque, 1906–1907, oil on canvas.
  • No original Gauguins were to be seen in Australia, for post-impressionism was officially thought to be the vulgar effusion of five-thumbed lunatics.
  • Marcel Duchamp, one of this century’s pioneers, moved his work through the retinal boundaries which had been established with Impressionism into a field where language, thought and vision act upon one another. There it changed form through a complex interplay of new mental and physical materials, heralding many of the technical, mental and visual details to be found in more recent art.. ..He declared that he wanted to kill art (“for myself”) but his persistent attempts to destroy frames of reference altered our thinking, established new units of thought, a “new thought for that object”.
    • Jasper Johns (1968), Marcel Duchamps 1887 – 1968, Artforum 7 no. 3, November 1968, p. 6
  • An art mode, new or old, is for the creative mind essentially a point of beginning. Content is brought into being by the activity through which the artist translates the movement into himself. In such an appropriation, there is no difference between an ongoing movement and one that is finished. During the reign of Minimalism, a painter might realize the new through Impressionism. That art history has a schedule of continuous advances en masse is a fantasy of the historian. The shared syntax of art movements is constantly replaced by the sensibility and practice of individuals. The avant-garde art of yesterday is the only modern equivalent of an aesthetic tradition. The fading of the ideas of a movement does not mean that it can no longer be a stimulus to creation. At the very dawn of a movement, the work of its artists commences to replace the concept; instead of Cubism there appear Picasso, Braque, Gris. Compared to the activities to which they give rise, ideas in art have a brief life. In the last analysis, the vitality of art in our time depends on works produced by movements after they have died.
    • Harold Rosenberg (1975, Art on the Edge (1975) "Shall These Bones Live?: Art Movement Ghosts", p. 230
  • Bement [an art teacher] told me things to read. He told me of exhibitions to go and see … the two books that he told me to get were Jeromy Eddy ‘Cubists and Post-impressionism’ and Kandinsky ‘On the Spiritual of Art’ … It was some time before I really begun to use the ideas. I didn’t start at until I was down in Carolina — alone — thinking things out for myself.
  • ..the paint marks [in Impressionist paintings] placed apparently without order and which suddenly became magnificently ordered if one knew how to make the right distance.. .. to communicate a deep, sun-drenched image of a stream, landscape or face.. ..My eyes were popping out of my head.
    • Salvador Dali (1973), in Comment on deviant Dali, les aveux inavouables de Salvador Dali, André Parinaud (1973); as quoted in The Unspeakable confessions of Salvador Dali, Parinaud, ed. W. H. Allen, London 1976, p. 42
  • Light is impressionism.
    • Gae Aulenti in: Time (8 December 1986) : On positioning galleries for impressionist and post impressionist paintings at the top of her design for Paris's Musée d'Orsay
  • All this could be enough -- we would leave an Impressionist painting at this stage -- probably much earlier -- and leave it possibly with great satisfaction.

2000 and later[edit]

Modern Art of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Moulin Rouge: Two Women Waltzing, 1892.
  • After 1909, Monet drastically enlarged his brushstrokes, disintegrated his images, and broke through the taming constraints and delicacy of Impressionism for good. Nineteen gnarly paintings, starting in 1909 and carrying through his final seventeen years, finish off the notion that Monet went happily ever after into lily-land.
  • Impressions are like pearls; ideas are like the string that turns the pearls into a necklace. The string is invisible, but it is not dispensable and cannot be broken.
    • Mu Xin, Mu Xin, a Chinese scholar lost in New York,, 29 December 2013

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