Sheldon Museum of Art


Date of this Version



Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Volume 1, Number 2


T he term American Impressionism, when used in the context of stylistic analysis, implies a specific set of definable characteristics, and by extension, a traceable lineage that will fit comfortably in the historical narrative of American art. If one seeks to assert this notion when confronted with an exhibition of American Impressionist painters, the result will be confusion coupled with a healthy dose of skepticism. For unlike their French counterparts, who established a style in close proximity to one another, both geographically and philosophically, American artists arrived at Impressionism from a variety of viewpoints.

Early surveys of American art tend to focus only on those American painters who fit comfortably into the accepted perimeters of ERY Girl with Turkeys, Giverny, 1886, oil on canvas the French Impressionist style, specifically the light-suffused, intensely colored, and form dissolving canvases pioneered by Claude Monet. More recently, scholarship has recognized the pervasiveness of certain aspects of Impressionism contained in the work of many American artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that is too insistent to be ignored.

In reality, the term Impressionism, even when applied to the French, is only a label of convenience that encompasses a variety of individual styles. Originally it was meant as a derisive nickname applied by an indignant critic to works in the first group exhibition , Societe anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, etc. in 1874. "Impressioniste" was quickly adopted by the French group as being far less unweildy than their original title, while also lending a certain notoriety to their subsequent exhibitions.