Let us begin by discussing Impressionism and its place in the western artistic tradition. Such a discussion, in my opinion, requires that we make a distinction between artistic ethos and artistic technique. As an ethos Impressionism did not hold its place and it was not to be the map of the road along which twentieth century art would travel. Werner An Impressionism research paper has stated, “The Impressionist outlook is characterized by an unconditional affirmation of modern life…a joyful, optimistic attitude towards nature; these painters accepted the glittering beauty of this world as a gift….” These attitudes could not long endure in the Europe of that time. Darker visions and philosophies were coming to the fore. In the works of Edvard Munch, James Ensor, and Egon Schiele frightening, terrible and grotesque things began to appear. In the pre World War I Expressionist movements—Fauvism, Die Brucke, Blaue Reiter—a somber tone, and a sense of bohemian revolt against bourgeois life, which Impressionism had celebrated, was often sounded. After World War I and its horrors, the spirit of Impressionism was simply not maintainable; the cultural tone of Europe between the wars was something utterly different from that which had prevailed in France in the 1870’s and 1880’s.
We must remember in this connection that Impressionism was initially controversial and that it was self-consciously reacting against the artistic establishment of its time. One Impressionism research paper has noted that the early Impressionists were driven to stage their own exhibition in 1874 because the Salon, the bastion of the conservative French artistic establishment, had been ignoring their canvasses. He has also noted that the new techniques of the Impressionists were made possible by a series of technical developments in the chemical industry, the creation of brilliant new chemical pigments. Impressionism was new and controversial at its birth; it may be seen as something that burst on the scene with great energy, enjoyed a brief vogue, and then faded quickly. Why was it such a transient phenomenon?