At MusicalExpert, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is Impressionism?

Impressionism is an art movement that emerged in the 19th century, characterized by small, thin brush strokes and an emphasis on capturing the fleeting effects of light. It marked a departure from traditional realism, inviting viewers to experience the artist's perception of a moment. How does this style continue to influence the art world today? Explore with us.
T Thompson
T Thompson

"Impressionism" is a term that was first used to describe visual art in the late 19th century that emphasized the conveyance of an overall impression of a particular scene, usually outdoors, using primary colors and short brushstrokes to represent the appearance of reflected light. The desired result of impressionism was to capture the artist's perception of the subject rather than the subject itself. Artists of this movement desired to portray images in the way that someone might see something if he or she merely caught a glimpse of it.


Impressionist paintings contain very bright, bold colors and tend to have very little detail.
Impressionist paintings contain very bright, bold colors and tend to have very little detail.

Impressionist paintings contain very bright, bold colors and tend to have very little detail. The founders of this movement were Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. They were soon followed by such notable artists as Camille Pissarro, Gustave Caillebotte, Edgar Degas, Frederic Bazille, Edouard Manet and Mary Cassatt.


Although the Impressionist movement was begun by painters, musicians were quick to follow suit. Music composers began avoiding the traditional harmony of thirds and started using more discordant chords and diverse arrangements to convey personal impressions and moods. This allowed the musicians to suggest moods and places through vague rhythms and vibrant, shifting harmonies. This style of music was first introduced by Claude Debussy, whose compositions attempted to create visual images by suggesting light and color schemes through variations in pitch, tone and rhythm. Many composers quickly followed in Debussy's footsteps, most notably French composer Maurice Ravel, who was greatly influenced by American jazz and frequently borrowed ideas from the Far East, Greece and Spain in order to "paint" rich sounds into his music.

Writings and Poetry

Writers and poets also embraced Impressionism and began to use imagism and symbolism to convey their impressions, rather than the objective characteristics of certain events and objects. The impressionist style of fiction writing often centers on the mental life of the characters by observing their impressions or sensations instead of interpreting their experiences. Impressionistic poetry often implies a response to an event or subject rather than describing the actual feelings that are evoked. This allows the reader to form his or her own ideas as to what the writer is trying to convey, as opposed to the writer telling outright how he or she sees and feels about a subject.

Influence on Art

Impressionism paved the way for a broader, more expansive way of looking at art in general. Artists were encouraged to express their own visions in their work and were free to experiment with traditional forms to create their own unique work. As a result, both artists and their audiences have evolved over the years, becoming as eclectic and innovative as the world around them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Impressionism in music?

Impressionism in music is a movement that emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, primarily in France. It is characterized by a focus on mood and atmosphere, innovative orchestration, and a tendency to evoke images and sensations. Composers like Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel are central figures of this movement. They utilized new scales such as the whole tone, and unconventional chord structures to create a sense of ambiguity and subtlety in their compositions.

How does musical Impressionism differ from Romanticism?

Musical Impressionism differs from Romanticism in its approach to emotion and structure. While Romantic music emphasizes dramatic expression and often follows strict forms, Impressionism seeks to capture fleeting moods and scenes, often employing more fluid forms and ambiguous harmonies. Romantic compositions typically have a clear tonal center and emotional narrative, whereas Impressionist music tends to be more evocative, with a focus on timbre and color.

What are the key characteristics of Impressionist music?

Key characteristics of Impressionist music include a focus on atmosphere and timbre, use of non-traditional scales like the whole tone and pentatonic scales, and innovative orchestration techniques. Composers often avoided traditional harmonic progressions, favoring modal and exotic scales to blur tonal lines. Rhythmically, there is a preference for free, flowing tempo and avoidance of strong, predictable beats, creating a sense of fluidity and spontaneity.

Can you name some famous Impressionist composers and their works?

Famous Impressionist composers include Claude Debussy, with works such as "Clair de Lune" and "La Mer," and Maurice Ravel, known for "Boléro" and "Pavane pour une infante défunte." Other notable composers associated with Impressionism are Erik Satie, with his "Gymnopédies," and Paul Dukas, known for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." These composers have significantly influenced the direction of Western classical music.

How did Impressionism in music influence other art forms?

Impressionism in music paralleled developments in visual arts and literature, influencing and being influenced by these disciplines. The focus on light, color, and momentary impressions in paintings by Monet and Renoir, for example, can be seen in the musical works of Debussy and Ravel, who sought to capture similar effects in sound. This cross-pollination of ideas contributed to a broader cultural movement that valued sensory experience and innovation.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


For an example of impressionistic writing, take a look at Huysman's "Against Nature" or Proust's "In Search of Lost Time." There isn't much of a traditional plot structure. The text deliberately meanders, in an attempt to imitate the way our minds interpret the world. It's a precursor to Modernism's "stream of consciousness" style, but the two are not the same.


do you know the different characteristics of impressionism in music?


The simplest way to see impressionistic writing is relating to the character's environment through the character's five senses rather than narrative, omniscient description. The world is the character's impression, not the narrator's description. So the environment becomes the character's reality, not a narrator's cage for the character.

This actually reads better in nonfiction narrative. With skillful interviewing, a writer can learn how a "character" interacts with his or her world through the filter of senses shaped by a lifetime of experience.

For example hold a cup of coffee and what do you see, smell, taste, hear, feel, and how does it affect your alertness, your mood, your ability to receive information from your senses.

Simple? A central African culture (which I don't recall) has 16 names for a cup of liquid based on its purpose. They translate loosely to, a warming, a cooling, satisfier, or if you plan to throw it on someone, a word that means an instrument of annoyance. It's still the same cup and the same liquid.

I hope that helps. --HJ, St. Louis


I cannot understand the part about writers. Can anyone explain it in more simple terms?????


Can anyone compare and describe the impressionism of Claude Monet's "Waterlilies" to Debussy's Piano Prelude La Fille aue cheveux.


im looking for these questions:i need to:

Gather information about impressionism (time, period, place, reasons for and artists of impressionism.)

*talk about the most significant characteristics of impressionism

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Impressionist paintings contain very bright, bold colors and tend to have very little detail.
      By: Lauren Rinder
      Impressionist paintings contain very bright, bold colors and tend to have very little detail.