American Impressionism was a style of painting related to European Impressionism and practiced by American artists in the United States from the mid-nineteenth century through the beginning of the twentieth. The style is characterized by loose brushwork and vivid colors with a wide array of subject matters but focusing on landscapes and upper-class domestic life.
Impressionism emerged as an artistic style in France in the 1860s. Major exhibitions of French impressionist works in Boston and New York in the 1880s introduced the style to the American public. The first exhibit took place in 1886 in New York and was presented by the American Art Association and organized by Paul Durand-Ruel . Some of the first American artists to paint in an impressionistic mode, such as Theodore Robinson and Mary Cassatt, did so in the late 1880s after visiting France and meeting with artists such as Claude Monet. Others, such as Childe Hassam, took notice of the increasing numbers of French impressionist works at American exhibitions.
Impressionism was initially unpopular in the United States. At the first exhibit in 1886, Americans were attracted to the landscape paintings but were offended by the realist figures and nudity depicted in other paintings. American artists were hesitant to adopt the style of Impressionism while studying in France as it was created as a radical rejection of tradition at the Academy and American artists hoped to gain acceptance through their traditional academy studies. Overtime, American patrons began to accept the abstract forms of Impressionism, especially as American artists, such as Mary Cassatt, began to adopt the styles of French Impressionism.
Mary Cassatt played a large role in the adoption of Impressionism by American patrons. Mary Cassatt formed a close relationship with Edgar Degas, who, impressed by her work, invited her to show with the French Impressionists in 1877. She was the only American to ever exhibit her work alongside the original Impressionists in France. Through her connections to wealthy upperclass Americans, Cassatt convinced many of her friends of the artistic merits of Impressionism and encouraged the purchase of French works.
Unlike early Renaissance painters, American Impressionists favored asymmetrical composition, cropped figures, and plunging perspectives in their works in order to create a more "impressionist" version of the subject. In addition, American impressionists used pure color straight from the tubes to make the works more vibrant, used broken brushstrokes, and practiced "impasto"- a style of painting characterized by thick raised strokes. European impressionists painted tranquil scenes of landscapes or the lower and middle classes. American impressionists focused on landscapes like the European impressionists, but unlike their European counterparts, American impressionists also painted scenes of quiet domesticity, in contrast to the emergence of industrialization.
As railroads, automobiles, and other new technology emerged, American impressionists often painted vast landscapes and small towns in an effort to return to nature. Before the invention of collapsible paint tubes artists were often confined to using subjects in their studios or painting from memory. With the invention of paint tubes in 1841, artists could transport their paint and easily paint in nature.
From the 1890s through the 1910s, American impressionism flourished in art colonies—loosely affiliated groups of artists who lived and worked together and shared a common aesthetic vision. Art colonies tended to form in small towns that provided affordable living, abundant scenery for painting, and relatively easy access to large cities where artists could sell their work. Some of the most important American impressionist artists gathered at Cos Cob and Old Lyme, Connecticut, both on Long Island Sound; New Hope, Pennsylvania, on the Delaware River; and Brown County, Indiana. American impressionist artists also thrived in California at Carmel and Laguna Beach; in New York on eastern Long Island at Shinnecock, largely due to the influence of William Merritt Chase; and in Boston where Edmund Charles Tarbell and Frank Weston Benson became important practitioners of the impressionist style.
Some American art colonies remained vibrant centers of impressionist art into the 1920s. But with the advent of the Aschan School in 1910, the tides of the American art world started change. Impressionism in America further lost its cutting-edge status in 1913 when a historic exhibition of modern art took place at the 69th Regiment Armory building in New York City. The “Armory Show”, as it came to be called, heralded a new painting style regarded as more in touch with the increasingly fast-paced and chaotic world, especially with the outbreak of World War I, The Great Depression and World War II.
Prominent impressionist painters, from the United States include: