The term impressionism was first used in 1874 by a critic in the French newspaper Le Charivari. At an exhibition, he had seen the work "Impression du soleil levant" by Claude Monet. He did not think much to it and called Monet and his co-exhibitors 'impressionists', a term that by no means was intended to be laudatory. The impressionists resisted the official academic art that could be seen each year at the large exhibitions. They left ateliers and went to paint in the open air. By doing so, they were unable to create their images quite as accurately. They wanted to suggest what they saw, to call up a mood or atmosphere. Of main importance in this was the feeling, the image and the effect on the 'audience'. They chose to paint realistically, but when doing so to place the emphasis on a quick portrayal of the atmosphere. The sensory impression was of importance and the portrayal of light and colour. They worked quite quickly because they attempted to portray the light of that time.

No (contour) lines or points are shown in the work of the majority of impressionists. To them, everything consisted of colours that continually changed under the influence of the light. For a correct representation of reality, the impressionists also took inspiration from scientific theory and the law of physics in terms of colours, the spectrum and the idea of complementary colours. The quick impressions of nature were painted with significant attention being paid to light and colour. The landscapes, harbour and seascapes, flower still life paintings and people were painted with loose brushstrokes in the form of a sketch, where the exact detail or the perspective were not actually deemed relevant. Shapes were formed by using loose brushstrokes next to one another and through fresh, unmixed paint shades. Black and brown were not used for shadows, shadows had colours. Important impressionists were, in addition to Claude Monet, the painters Edouard Manet, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, Henri Fantin-Latour and Edgar Degas. We see impressionist tendencies in the sculptures of Auguste Rodin, Medardo Rosso and Rik Wouters.

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