Impressionism in Literature | Definition, Characteristics, Literary Example, Art

What is the meaning of the literary term, "Impressionism"? Analyse the term with examples.


Impressionism Definition

Impressionism is an artistic movement heralded in 1870s in France. Impressionists always seek to capture a feeling or experience rather than to depict accurate depiction and perfection.

Impressionism Characteristics

Characteristically impressionist painting include relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, ordinary subject matter, and unusual visual angles. They were always against the rules of academic painting. Among the impressionist painter van Gogh and Renoir come in front.  Painters, however, aren’t the only artists whose work is impressionistic.  There are several authors who also can be placed in this “school,” including Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Henry James.

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Impressionism Artists

Edouard Manet

Claude Monet

Alfred Sisley

Frédéric Bazille

Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Impressionism Art


Edouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) was perhaps the most controversial piece of art in the 19th century as it depicts nudity of the contemporary setting candidly.


Monet’s Impressionism painting, Sunrise initiated the Impressionist movement.


Alfred Sisley’s beautiful pastoral scene displays a gentle color-palette, evocation of tranquility and peace, and emphasis on the overall quality and atmosphere of a landscape.

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Impressionism in Music

Impressionism in music refers to an idea or affect through a wash of sound rather than a strict formal structure. Claude Debussy is a prominent impressionist in music.

Impressionism in Literature

In literature, impressionist writers exhibit some special traits:


  1. 1. Narrative style and ambiguous meaning are the hallmarks of impressionistic literature. The narrator gives the readers more scope to think, judge and conclude, rather than depending upon him.


  1. They often describe the action through the eyes of the character while the events are occurring, rather than providing minute details. All of the details seem unclear.


  1. They’re concerned with the “emotional landscape” of the setting. They always want to sketch such a natural background when natural phenomena look pale and weird at the time of suffering and agony of the characters.


  1. They exercise details in such a way that it’s sometimes difficult to see a clear picture of events if one focuses on the details too closely. If readers stand back from the novel he will get the full picture.


  1. They often avoid chronological telling of events. Instead they give the readers information in a way that forces them to focus on how and why things happen, rather than on the order in which they occur.

Impressionism Literary Example

Joseph Conrad’s TheHeart of Darkness is often regarded as one of the prime examples of Impressionistic literature. Throughout the novella, we witness the inner workings of Marlow’s thoughts and emotions as he journeys up the Congo River toward the Inner Station and his encounter with Kurtz. In fact, it is Kurtz who presents the major focus on Marlow’s attention. However, Marlow never comes out and explicitly tells us what he thinks and believes about Kurtz; instead, Conrad leaves us to draw our own conclusions.

Kurtz, too, is much the same. He also shares his thoughts and feelings about his job and his role in the African jungle and the reader is left to “read between the lines” to interpret his exact meaning. No example could better exemplify the element of Impressionism with the novella than Kurtz’s final words: “the horror, the horror.” We do not know exactly what “the horror” is and instead are left to devise our own interpretation.

Post Impressionism

Post impressionism originated in France in the late 19th century. The major artist of post-impressionism artist include Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.

1 thought on “Impressionism in Literature | Definition, Characteristics, Literary Example, Art”

  1. Ah, fascinating stuff! I had no idea that Impressionism had such a deep impact on literature. The concept of ‘impression’ as a literary device is so clever and really allows for a more subjective and personal interpretation of the world. The examples provided in the post, particularly that of Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,’ are fantastic. It’s clear that the Impressionist movement has had a lasting influence on literature, and I’m eager to read more works that incorporate these techniques.


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