Realism to Impressionism

Realism & Impressionism

The more I look at, think about and experience remembering Impressionistic paints I realize that I have a range of feelings about them. Some paintings like Edgar Degas’, The Dance Class appeal to me. However, others like Claude Monet’s The Rouen Cathedral, Full Sunlight and others in the series do not.

Yet, Monet’s, Water Lily Pond (Green Harmony) creates a restful feeling in me but Degas,’ Before the Performance, feels plain and unnatural so doesn’t appeal to me.

I have learned from our readings and my research that French Impressionism has its roots in and grew out of Realism. This is a clue as to why some Impressionistic paintings appeal to me and others do not. I realized that the Impressionistic paintings that appeal to me are those may be the least impressionistic.


Jean-Francois Millet’s, The Angelus, is a wonderful example of French Realism. It depicts two peasants stopped in a field to pray the Angelus, one of Catholicism’s daily prayers. We can see they were in the midst of picking potatoes and a church steeple in the far background.

This painting is not realistic in the way a photograph is, it is realistic in its presentation of real life in the French countryside at the time. Degas’ Dance Class is like that. The perspective seems a bit distorted, as well as the young dancers faces. But we are given a realistic scene from life in Paris, and are left with impressions of the dancers emotions, be it boredom, physical effort, or worry (one of the girls is even biting her nails.)




In the mirror the girls dance in front of we see a reflection from a open window of urban Paris. It’s really just colors and perpendicular lines, but clearly leaves us with the impression of an urban landscape. It’s similar to the church that we see in the background of Angelus. It’s not photographically realistic, but the colors and shape make clear to the viewer that it is a church there and that an evening sun is soon to set.


Monet’s Water Lily Pond (Green Harmony) is an amazing painting. We see the sunlight on the crowns of the trees in the background. We see them reflected in the still water visible between water lilies. I’m left with a sense of a very slight, warm breeze, soft enough that it doesn’t disturb the water.



The Rouen Cathedral series of paintings by Monet and Degas’s Before the Performance are so unlike Angelus, Dance Class or Water Lily. I think in these paintings the artists were trying to depict the impression that a particular type of light on an object, or the objects movement, leaves with a viewer. In the case of Monet it is sunlight at different times during the day and year on a cathedral wall, and Degas’ Performance was interested in artificial light and physical movement.

In these paintings, it’s not the people or places depicted that are important, but how they look. The cathedral and the dancers are objects that the painter used to demonstrate light and movement. It seems to me the subject of the paintings in these paintings isn’t important – the dancers’ faces aren’t shown and the cathedral wall could have been any wall or cliff face.

Works Cited –

“The Angelus (1857-9) by Jean-Francois Millet.” Encyclopedia of Visual Arts, Accessed 18 Oct. 2016

“Edgar Degas (1834-1917.” Encyclopedia of Visual Arts, Accessed 19 Oct. 2016

Gersh-Nesic, Beth. “Realism and the Painting of Modern Life.” Kahn Academy, Accessed 19 Oct. 2016

“Realism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.” Kahn Academy, Accessed 18 Oct. 2016

“Realism to Impressionism (1830-1900).” Encyclopedia of Visual Arts, Accessed 18 Oct. 2016

“Rouen Cathedral (Monet Series).” Wikipedia, 1 Aug. 2016, Accessed 17 Oct. 2016



3 thoughts on “Realism to Impressionism

  1. Hi! I really like your blog and your blog post. You laid out your information very well and it allows the reader to be able to follow along with your thought processes. I too am not a fan of The Rouen Cathedral by Monet and Degas’s Before the Performance. I find them to be too blurry for my liking. I am also in agreeance that Degas’ Dance Class has a slight distortion but that it shows how life was like living in urban Paris. I really like that you decided to use five photos to compare; I think you were able to give a lot more information because of that.
    Here is a link to some more information about Monet’s Lily Pond.


  2. I found the information about how French Impressionism had grown out of Realism interesting. The comparison you had made to realistic paintings from the Romantic Era and Photographs was fascinating. I agree with your analysis on the series of paintings The Rouen Cathedral and how the light on the objects depicts the impression that the viewer receives from the paintings. I admired the series of paintings The Rouen Cathedral as the paintings had reflected an art style I had not been familiar with and the light and movement that you had described. As I had found your analysis of The Rouen Cathedral paintings informative here is a link with more information regarding the series of paintings that I had found interesting.


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