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Ideas for Studying Impressionists in Art

written by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 2/24/2014

These art lesson plans on impressionists will help students understand how this style of art developed as well as who the key players were. Challenging the students to look at how the artists crafted their work, as well as the history in play at the time will enable the students to understand.

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    Introducing the Impressionists

    When teaching any period in art, it is important to give students some background. This will enable students to understand better how Impressionism and why the particular period developed.

    For instance, impressionism was born through the sarcastic comments of art critic, Louis Leroy. His unflattering review of Claude Monet's painting, Impression: Sunrise (1873) gave rise to the term, "impressionism." Most scholars would agree that the period of impressionism developed during the end of the nineteenth century.

    During the late 1800s, the world was undergoing many changes -- the U.S. was involved in the Civil War and the end of slavery; the Franco-Prussian War raged in Europe; the Empires of Britain, Germany and the U.S. gained power. Wars were fought in Russia, South Africa, and South America, as well as the last American Indian War at Wounded Knee. Industrialization continued to bring advances in electricity as well as the development of machines such as the sewing machine and automobile.

    All of these factors influenced the art of the day.

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    Characteristics of Impressionism

    What are the characteristics of impressionistic art? The most recognized characteristics of this art period include:

    • Light that is accurate and visible
    • Small visible brush strokes
    • Unique perspectives
    • A sense of movement
    • Composition that is open and flowing
    • Subject matter that is common, ordinary, every day

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    Key Players

    The most influential artists of the impressionistic period were all based in France. Among them are:Mary Cassatt 

    • Frederic Bazille
    • Mary Cassatt
    • Paul Cezanne
    • Edgar Degas
    • Claude Monet
    • Pierre-Auguste Renoir

    Click here for a spreadsheet of impressionists and major works for further review by students.

    Note: Mary Cassatt is an American; however, she lived in Paris at this time, showcasing her work at several exhibitions.

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    Some students might ask why artist like Van Gogh or Gauguin are not included in the list of players. These artists are among the younger people influenced by the Impressionists. Their work is part of the "Post Impressionist" movement.

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    Lesson Plan

    After giving students a brief, yet comprehensive, view of the history of this period, they can begin examining the work of the Impressionists.

    Materials needed for this lesson plan are books, posters and/or small post cards of the Impressionists' work; art paper; watercolors, tempera paints, chalk or pastels.

    Have each student decide on one painting they like best. As they reflect on the piece, have them list what particular elements of the painting align to the six characteristics of Impressionism. They should be able to describe in detail either orally or in writing why they think the elements they pick are pertinent.

    Next, have each student pick a place or scene in their life similar to the one in the painting they have just reflected on. Have them create an impressionistic piece that will compliment their chosen artwork.

    When complete, hang the students' work alongside small copies of the original artwork. Have the class point out what is similar and what might be different.

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    Final Impressions

    By giving students an historic background, art lesson plans on the Impressionists are sure to spark interesting conversation, as well as creative responses by the students.


  • All photos from Wiki Commons.