Impressionism – in fact it is my favorite art movement; the use of light and the fleeting effect of the captured moment, as well as the brushstrokes and texture visible in the works. In particular, I really love the post-impressionists and the connection with Ukiyo-e, or Japanese prints, which is another great artistic style. I have a huge enthusiasm for this period so please bear with me… Also, for all artwork information, please hover mouse over image.

Woman Wiping Sweat by Kitagawa Utamaro

What first drew me to the style was the fact that it was inspired by Japanese Ukiyo-e; I am a History/JPN major and so have a great appreciation for the historical and cultural value of these works. The works themselves are known for their bold compositions, minimal shading and flat surfaces spanned with bold colors. It seems to me that Ukiyo-e artist’s use the policy of “less is more”, and by avoiding the intense realism of western art (namely shading), there is more dependent upon composition and line…. oftentimes creating a strong and bold work.  Though Japanese artist’s of that era had no exposure  to any western culture at all, let alone art.

One of the more well-known of these print-makers was Kitagawa Utamaro, who and demonstrates the Ukiyo-e style with a master’s hand.

by Mary Cassatt - 1890-91, 34.5x21.1 cm, Art Institute of Chicago

The Letter by Mary Cassatt

The flat colors, bold lines and compositions of such works were a huge influence on the French Impressionists, particularly Mary Cassatt, whose own work was full of simplified forms and flat colors in imitation of the Ukiyo-e. The influence is particularly evident in her work, The Letter. Compare with Utamaro’s Woman Wiping Sweat and the similarity in line and use of color, as well as subject is clear. Of course, Cassatt took the influence and created many of her own masterpieces.

One of my favorite aspects of Impressionist art is the loose, flowing brushstrokes, which are also a huge defining feature of Impressionism. I find this style incredibly expressive and a great response to Ukiyo-e. One of my favorite artist’s of the Impressionist movement is Gustave Caillebotte, whose works are full of these loose brushstrokes, as well as the dappled-light which Impressionism is known for. The Impressionists seemed to want to capture a fleeting moment with their use of light. The loose brushstrokes and the dabs of broken color, which, when the viewer steps away, cohere visually and form a vague impression of the subject. Hence the term ‘impressionism’ (in my personal opinion).

Boulevard Seen From Above by Gustave Caillebotte

Caillebotte’s  work shown below demonstrates these traits well, and also boasts a  bold composition and viewpoint, much like the Ukiyo-e.

As time passes, eventually impressionism further evolves; this particular change is called Post-impressionism. Post-impressionism is hard for me to define; it seems to differ from Impressionism, indeed, yet each of the artist’s from the movement utilize different many different techniques. There seem to be recurring trends of vibrant colors, however – the use of color is incredibly important and no longer depends upon Impressionism’s pastels and dappled light.

Faaturuma by Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin’s work exaggerates the color, and makes use of solid lines and flat forms. When one compares Faaturuma to Caillebotte’s Boulevard, one can see the main difference between Impressionistic style and Gauguin-style post-impressionism is that Gauguin, though making his strokes visible, they hardly blend or are ‘broken dabs of color’.

In fact, in regarding the elements at use, I would say that Gauguin’s style is very similar to Ukiyo-e. Line and solid form seem to be the most important aspects of each respective style. I daresay that Gauguin’s style is an exact blending of Impressionism and Ukiyo-e, but that’s only my opinion.

But, I cannot talk about this artistic movement without also referring to one of my favorite artists- Vincent van Gogh.

Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum by Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh is also well-known for his use of vibrant colors, but also his amazing texture. His brushstrokes are so visible, in fact, that the thick oil paint is actually built up off the canvas.

If one were to view his work in detail, the paints thickness is clearly visible. While van Gogh certainly did not depict light in then same way that the Impressionists were known for, I would maintain that he does concern himself with it’s properties. In Cafe Terrace, the light seems to be exaggerated to a great deal, giving the Cafe a intimate feeling. The stars and windows along the street almost glow with warmth.Van Gogh is also known for placing more importance upon his emotions than actually depicting a subject as it was; he is quoted in letters to Theo van Gogh (his brother): “It is color not locally true from the point of view of the stereoscopic realist, but color to suggest the emotion of an ardent temperament.” This is particularly evident in van Gogh’s Night Cafe, filled with clashing reds and greens of the most vibrant. Again, as van Gogh himself says,  “In my picture of the Night Café I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime. So I have tried to express, as it were, the powers of darkness in a low public house… the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green.”

Night Cafe by Vincent van Gogh

Gauguin and van Gogh were known for being friends and living together for a time in Arles, evident in some of their paintings, of each other or the same subjects. Both artists seem to depend upon an exaggeration or distortion of color to depict emotions or symbols- perhaps due to their close association. For an interesting comparison of van Gogh’s Night Cafe, see Gauguin’s companion piece located here.

Each of these artists and pieces are some of my favorite works and artists. I hope I didn’t overload you with artwork or anything. 🙂

Works Cited:

images taken from various google results;

artwork information from and