We all know the great masterpieces of French Impressionism by Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. But, did you know that American impressionist artists developed their own take on this art movement? Rendering American life at the turn of the century in vibrant colors and loose brushwork, this style was immensely popular with American collectors. Here's an overview of this often-overlooked art movement.

The Beginning Of American Impressionism

French Impressionism, which emerged in the 1860s, was the primary source of inspiration for American Impressionism. When Impressionism emerged as a counter-movement to the rigidity of the painting style taught at the art academies, the leading Impressionists exhibited their works in eight group exhibitions in Paris. The last of those closed its doors in 1886. The Parisian art dealer Durand-Ruel took the initiative and organized a comprehensive exhibition of French art in New York. This laid the basis for the spread of this artistic movement on the other side of the Atlantic, where it slowly but surely became more popular amongst collectors and artists.

American Art Pre And Post The Civil War

The American Civil War, which had raged in the US from 1861 to 1865, constituted a caesura in society and art. The art of the pre-war period had been characterized by a purely national art style of the grand American landscape or history paintings about the War of Independence. Those works, however, were not very collectible and did not fetch high prices on the market. Moreover, American art was not considered fashionable. An American artist who wanted to be successful in his own country must have been trained in the academic painting style in the great art school in Europe. The time after the civil war saw a rising appetite for paintings based on the French Impressionists' style.

The New American Taste

It was common practice for American artists to travel to Europe to be educated in academic painting as the American collectors favored European academic painting. Many American artists were working in Paris when Impressionism first emerged, and they disapproved of this style, as did American collectors. This development went hand in hand with forming an active art market in the US, where art dealers began showing works by American artists and established names from Europe. Soon, there was a growing taste for works that blended a particular nationalism and cosmopolitanism, representing an American version of European painting trends.


Popularity With The Upper Class

The post-war period was an age of new prosperity and a new international and economic position. For fashioning their cultural status, this new wealthy elite, which got rich in the war and through the industrial revolution, was looking to Europe. This new wealthy middle and upper class emerged, and they were hungry for art and wanted to participate in art collecting in Europe. They built large houses they wanted to decorate in European fashion, importing large amounts of artworks, mainly Old Masters and decorative arts, from Europe. American art was not appreciated at the time. For an American artist to succeed in his own country, he must have been trained in the academic painting style in the great art school in Europe. Over time, however, the new Impressionism style became very popular with the upper class, who enjoyed seeing the reality of their lives reflected in these works. The first contemporary American paintings which were widely collected by American collectors were American impressionist paintings.

Characteristics Of American Impressionism

At its core conviction, American Impressionism did not differ from French Impressionism; it rejected the way the painting was taught at the academy and its rigid rules regarding subject matters and composition. Instead, impressionists were more interested in painting landscapes outside or intimate domestic scenes in natural light, with bold and rapid brushwork and often with thickly applied, vividly colored paint. You can admire and even own breathtaking oil painting reproductions of American Impressionism at 1st Art Gallery.

The characteristic of American Impressionism was fusing this European style with a certain Americanness, which found particular expression in its aim to capture fleeting moments of places that constituted national identity. Patriotic Impressionism was developed based on the great depictions of nature by the Hudson River School, which had been active in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Additionally, compared to their French counterparts, American artists were much more cosmopolitan and often traveled and crossed the Atlantic to visit museums and attend exhibition openings and artists' colonies.

Impressionism In The Industrial Age

American Impressionism art developed against rapid social and technological changes in the industrial age. As railroads, automobiles, and other new technologies emerged, American Impressionism artists often painted vast landscapes and small towns as a return to nature. But they also admired those urban changes and tried to capture this new time in a vibrant and modern style, American Impressionism. These American Impressionists paintings were vibrant, fusing light and color to show the energy of the urban life on one side and the quietness of domestic life.

Notable American Impressionist Artists And Remarkable Paintings

Mrs Chase In Prospect Park

American Impressionism artists dived deep into the French Impressionist style in two ways: Some of them traveled to Paris, and others studied the works in exhibitions in America.

After visiting France and encountering artists like Claude Monet, American painters like Theodore Robinson were the first to adopt the Impressionist style in the late 1880s.

The artist Childe Hassam visited exhibitions of French Impressionist works in America frequently and merged what he saw with his fascination for the American landscape. Stylistically, Monet was his primary influence. William Merritt Chase is well known for his atmospheric paintings of the leisure life of the upper class in park settings. 'Mrs. Chase in Prospect Park' shows his wife sitting on a rowing boat in a pond, studying the water surface deep in thought.

Mary Cassatt, who had left her American home to move to Paris in 1874, was an impressionist of the first hour. In Paris, she exhibited with Edgar Degas and other Impressionists in a group exhibition in 1877. However, due to her gender, her field of artistic action was much more restricted than that of her male colleagues. One of her best-known paintings is 'Woman Sitting with a Child in Her Arms.' Cassatt often painted this subject matter which perhaps can be interpreted as a secularization of the religious theme of the Madonna and Child.


American Impressionism is a testament to the flexibility and adaptability of art. American artists took inspiration from French Impressionism and made it their own, creating a unique style that gained popularity among contemporary collectors and defined a new American age. If you're interested in exploring American Impressionist paintings for yourself, 1st Art Gallery offers a wide selection of high-quality reproductions that allow you to experience the beauty and elegance of this treasured art movement in your own home.