In this essay, I shall try to examine how great a role colour played in the evolution of Impressionism. Impressionism in itself can be seen as a linkage in a long chain of procedures, which led the art to the point it is today. In order to do so, colour in Impressionism needs to be placed within an art-historical context for us to see more clearly the role it has played in the evolution of modern painting. In the late eighteenth century, for example, ancient Greek and Roman examples provided the classical sources in art. At the same time, there was a revolt against the formalism of Neo-Classicism. The accepted style was characterised by appeal to reason and intellect, with a demand for a well-disciplined order and restraint in the work. The decisive Romantic movement emphasized the individual’s right in self-expression, in which imagination and emotion were given free reign and stressed colour rather than line; colour can be seen as the expression for emotion, whereas line is the expression of rationality. Their style was painterly rather than linear; colour offered a freedom that line denied. Among the Romanticists who had a strong influence on Impressionism were Joseph Mallord William Turner and Eugne Delacroix. In Turner’s works, colour took precedence over the realistic portrayal of form; Delacroix led the way for the Impressionists to use unmixed hues. The transition between Romanticism and Impressionism was provided by a small group of artists who lived and worked at the village of Barbizon. Their naturalistic style was based entirely on their observation and painting of nature in the open air. In their natural landscape subjects, they paid careful attention to the colourful expression of light and atmosphere. For them, colour was as important as composition, and this visual approach, with its appeal to emotion, gradually displaced the more studied and forma, with its appeal to reason.
Impressionism grew out of and followed immediately after the Barbizon school. A distinctive feature of the work of the Impressionists was the application of paint in touches of mostly pure colour rather than blended; their pictures appeared more luminous and colourful even than the work of Delacroix, from whom they had learned the technique. To the modern eye, the accepted paintings of the salon artists of the day seem pale and dull. Like the paintings of the Barbizon school, much of their painting was done outdoors, in an attempt to capture the fleeting impression of the play of light at a certain moment. The first Impressionist Exhibition was held in 1874. Prominent among the Impressionists were Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Paul Czanne, Eugne Boudin, and Gustave Caillebotte.
Impressionism is thought to be ‘…the fruit of the scientific thought and research of the nineteenth century’ . One of the principles of the movement was that they substituted the natural chiaroscuro of the colour that was based on the solar spectrum for one that was based more on tones of black and white. It was this principle that has affected painting ever since and most profoundly . It was accompanied by the shock of discovering something new, although earlier paintings, such as those of the Barbizon School had been heading towards the same direction.
Most people, even today, relate light with the colour white and darkness with black. Painters of the past have used black in an effort to dim a specific colour, and white to order to lighten it. Scientific knowledge has left us with a complete understanding of how the human eye works, and optics has given painters the opportunity to manipulate light more effortlessly.
Thus, we have learnt that white light can be resolved into a scale of colours ranging from violet to red, that black is the reversal of the colour due to its ability to absorb all rays of colour, and that pure white and black exist only in theory . Even a surface that appears to be white to us has the slightest tint of yellow, purple or red; likewise, even the dimmest black has tints of colour in it.
It was the awareness of all these details that led the Impressionists into excluding black from their