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English Impressionism

It should perhaps more accurately be called English Post Impressionism.


Steer Girls Running, Walberswick Pier 1889—94


When carrying out an analysis we should consider technique, composition, subject matter, narrative and related artists who painted similar subject matter and other pictures by the same artist.

The picture is typically classed as impressionist although it might be more accurate to call it post-impressionsit.

A restricted palette of red, blue and yellow with blocks of colour using a similar short brushstroke for most of the picture but excluding the sky. The brush stroke direction changes for example, on the pier it is horizontal but on the girl's dresses vertical. The similarity in brushstrokes is sometimes called English brushstrokes as it is typical of many English impressionistic paintings. The French Impressionists used a variety of brushstrokes.

The picture surface is flat and we are aware of a surface covered in paint. The picture is dreamlike with the girls appearing to float over the pier like fairies. Note that are not holding hands but they are in the shadow as the arm of the girl on the right ahs been repainted. As it was painted over five years this is not a mistake but intentional.

The three shadows at the bottom add a note of mystery, who are they? Are they the artists or do they represent us on holiday? Are the a family of husband, wife and one child? Are they connected with the girls?

The people in the picture are middle class at play in the late afternoon, maybe on holiday. It therefore represents the city at play like Frith's Ramsgate Sands or Dyce's Pegwell Bay.

The feeling is one of innocence and nostalgia, dreamy, wistful and childlike. Like a picture of a memory with the long shadows and the sea suggesting time, time passed and eternity.

Symbolically, perhaps the girls are running away from womanhood as represented by the two women at the end of their shadow. Women at the boundaries. Perhaps a painting about beauty and innocence.


Sickert, Bathers at Dieppe, 1902. The viewpoint is unusual and the palettte restricted to black, blues and reds. The horizon is not visible as we are looking down although the sky at the top of the picture is ambigous and the perspective creates an uneasy feeling. The stripes of the waves is reflected in the stripes of the costumes. There are tow types of bather, possibly two classes of bather, those in black costumes and those in striped costumes, perhaps suggesting two classes of bather. The people are not distinguished, they are faceless. The edge is cut off like a Japanese picture with the bather at the bottom right walking out of the picture.

Sickert has a sagacious eye and it is often difficult to read his paintings as there are so many ambiguities. The light is a mixture of dark, late afternoon and bright midday sun.

There are a variety of brushstrokes but Monet would not use the dark shadows under the waves, this is more reminiscent of Manet.

British Impressionism

Most people play the game of spotting the French influence but there was a vibrant and different development in both England and France and a great deal of two-way interaction between them.

In France, outside of the academic painting there was a great deal of development and as an example of the range the following paintings are all from 1870/1:

Barbizon Painters

Jongkind, The Barge on the Canal near Paris, 1870


Boudin, Breton Shoreline, 1870


Courbet, The Wave, 1870


Whistler, Blue and Silver: The Blue Wave, Biarritz, 1862

(Barbizon) Impressionism



Manet Effect of Snow at Petit Montrouge, 1870 (sketch)



Monet, Train in the Country, 1870



Renoir, Barges on the Seine, 1870

Characterized by taches (from the French stain or blot or spot) brushstrokes.



Fantin Latour Bathers, 1870. Broken brushstrokes, effervescent, light but more peotic. All about red, purple and green and beauty, e.g. we are reminded of Titian.



Puvis de Chavenne, Sleep, 1870. Another alternative to the academy was Symbolism, more dreamy, about mood, poetic, timeless. Puvis ("poovy") was a mural painter, for example, "Art and Nature". He was a huge admirer of Rossetti and Burne Jones.

In 1870 there were a lot of ideas and approaches vying with each other and our simplistic approach of categories, such as Impressionism do not accurately convey the complexity of the approaches used.

The PRB influenced the Symbolists, consider:


Wallis, The Stonebreaker, 1857


Puvis de Chavannes, The Dream, 1883


Millais, Autumn Leaves, 1855-6 is the best early example of nostalgic, mysterious, end of day, passing innocence - Symbolism.

Millais, Vale of Rest, 1857. Ambiguity, suggestivness, about mood rather than a story. Taken from "Vale of Rest: Where the weary find repose", Mendelssohn's Sechs Lieder (Six Songs).

Aestheticism of painting, poeticising, time of day.



Degas, Madame Camus with a Fan, 1870



Rossetti, La Donna del Fiamma, 1870 (Jane Morris).



Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Silver, 1871



Monet, The Thames at Westminster, 1871.

Exploring aestheticism before Impressionism is even invented.

"Nature contains the elements of color and form of all pictures — as the keyboard contains the notes of all music — but the artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful — as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he brings forth from chaos, glorious harmony. — To say to the painter, that nature is to be taken, as she is, is to say to the player, that he may sit on the piano!
Whistler The Ten o’clock Lecture 1885 to "outline the difference between art and nature"

"Aesthetic Realism" is one term that could be used. It is perhaps a more accurate term for Realism.

  • Poetic/musical
  • Types (such as time of day)
  • Formal beauty



e.g. Breton, The Weeders, 1868 could be seen as realist or aestheticist.


Breton, The Song of the Lark, 1870


Breton, Young Peasant Girl with a Hoe, 1882. See the Van Gogh quote:

"one must have imaginative power and sentiment when painting. Fortunately realism and naturalism are not free from this." Van Gogh of Breton Young Peasant Girl with a Hoe, 1882. Realism and naturalism must both have imaginative power.


Bastien Lepage, October Potato Gatherers, 1879, secondary colours, not primary.


Bastien Lepage, Blés Murs (Ripened Wheat), aesthetic element to Realism.


Millais, Chill October, 1870. Convincing as landscape but monotone quality and dying light are emotional, painted after the death of his son.


Mason, The Harvest Moon, 1872, a meditation on mortality, time of day.


John Reid, Toil and Pleasure, is this aesthetic?

In A Country Cricket Match, also displayed here, Robertson Reid showed a rural community as a social unit, playing or watching the village cricket match. Here the hierarchical structure of the rural community is shown as dramatically polarised, between those who work the land to live and those that use it for recreational purposes. The weary workers stand to one side as members of the hunt ride across the field. Ironically, it is the efforts of the poor, as represented by the land workers, which creates the wealth of the rich, as represented by the hunters. (Tate Britain)


Stott, Changing Pastures, 1893, subdued moody palette.

French rural naturalism inspired artists across Europe during the 1880s. It embraced both a technique and a range of subjects, and encouraged a sober and humble appreciation of the people who worked on the land. Some artists were most concerned with details of costumes and agriculture, while others, like Edward Stott, sought to go on from the subject to imply abstract notions of seasons and ages. The design of this painting is based on a network of right angles, and suggests in turn that there is nothing casual about the work of the cowherd.Stott lived at Amberley in Sussex, and the view may be based on that area, although he did not work directly from nature. (Tate Britain)


John Brett, Britannia's Realm, 1880. An aesthetic realist landscape because of the light effects.

Comes back to impressionism and facture - a declaration of the material used, it draws attention to artificiality and the process of painting.

NEAC paintings, aesthetic quality, realist quality, high tone colour, various brushstrokes.


Clausen, Girl at the Gate


Clausen, A Frosty March Morning, 1903, looks like Post Impressionsim Pissarro, watercolour effects in the background.


Sargent, The Oyster Gatherers, 1878, bright, high key responding to Impressionism, the sponteneity of a sketch.


Inchbold, Peat Burning, 1864-6.


Sargent, Monet Painting on the Edge of a Wood, 1887


Steer, The Bridge, 1887, builds on impressionism,


Steer, Boulogne Sands, 1888, Steer tries everything, experiments, Seurat, Impressionism, basically ecletic.


Degas, On the Beach, 1876


1889, London Impressionists, Goupil Gallery


Steer, Girls Running Walberswick Pier, 1889-1894

Prefer to call it Post Impressionism, Seurat Granda Jatte, Van Gogh, a range of styles.

Other Paintings



Elizabeth Stanhope-Forbes, The Edge of the Wood, 1894


Elizabeth Stanhope-Forbes, Blackberrying, 1906


Clausen, Sunlight and Shadow (The Hayrick), 1880


La Thangue, Boat Builders’ Yard, 1882


Realists, Barbizon Impressionists and associates:


Breton The Weeders 1868


Boudin, Beach of Trouville, 1870


Boudin, Bathers on the Beach at Trouville, 1869


Manet, Effect of Snow at Petit Montrouge, 1870


Renoir, Barges on the Seine, 1870


Monet, Train in the Country, 1870


Monet, The Thames at Westminster, 1871


Whistler Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Chelsea 1871
(ex Harmony in Blue—Green—-Moonlight 1871)


Fantin Latour, Bathers, 1870



Puvis de Chavannes, Sleep, 1870



La Thangue, The Return of the Reaper, 1886


La Thangue, The Plough Boy, 1900


Sargent, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose1885—6


Steer, Knucklebones, Walberswick, 1888


Lavery, On the Bridge at Grez, 1884


Lavery, The Bridge at Grez, 1884


Lavery, The Tennis Party, 1885


Helen Allingham, A Cheshire Cottage


North, The Quantock Hills, Somerset 1903. "North’s interpretation of nature was that of a poet. He did not sit down, like the average landscape painter. in picturesque scenery and arrange it inprovingly hut living his life full of varied interests he waited until an entrancing moment in the passage of light or some human episode happily related to its surroundings awoke in his heart the ecstasy which is the poetic state. Then no sacrifice of time or labour was too great in the searching of nature to aid his revelation.
It was Watts who first encouraged him to experiment in oils. North told me that his "oil” technique was an endeavour to get as near as possible to the effect of water colour which he considered a less encumbered means of expression. Having prepared his canvas with a ground of Chinese white he rubbed in with warm colour the masses of his conlpOsition, then with a very liquid medium of his own called ‘papoma' he washed in the sky and gave atmosphere to his forms with powder colours, finally glazing the full passages as though he were enamelling. In water colour and oil an effect of intricate detail is found on examination to be quite illusive — multitudinous form is conjured by finding and losing it in endless hide—and—seek till the eye accepts infinity.
A. Herbert. John William North, ARA, RWS. The Old Watercolour Society's Club, Fifth Annual Volume. London, 1928, p. 48.