Impressionism vs Expressionism

Impressionism vs Expressionism

When it comes to art styles like impressionism and expressionism, a lot of people get confused regarding their nature and this is understandable due to their some visual similarities. But in the reality, both of these art styles are poles apart. They have different subjects and the thought that is related to them along with the differences in the origin. In this article, we will be diving deep into both of the art styles; mentioning their similarities and differences that will clear all the confusion in your head. 



The art movement has its origin in the late 19th century in the city of Paris. It was an artistic reaction to the fast-changing urban environment. As it took birth among the immense urbanization and modernization, the art style showed a distant difference from the traditional painting rules of Europe. At the start, this led to an uproar in the artist’s community as if the artists had committed some kind of blasphemy. They had to face heavy criticism from the conventional artists but with time, impressionism became highly loved among the community.

The biggest feature of this art style is that it rejected all the traditional styles. Impressionism did not follow any rules which gave room for creativity and newer ideas started to emerge out. The painting style is miles away from the traditionally used realist style. The main focus is on the colours and the tone to achieve the right picture instead of focusing on the details and the medium of art. The artists used vibrant and light colours for the impression of light around their subject.  Impressionism is more about the things an artist sees around him. They gave a new view to the outdoor world which mainly depicted serenity in this crowded world. This was the main subject for this painting style. The artists did their best to capture the light impressions in their paintings. Following are the main characteristics of impressionism.

    • Colours are vibrant instead of mixed ones
    • Focus on the light and its effects on the subjects
    • Unconventional viewing angles were very common
    • The paintings were mainly about modern life and society
    • Brushstrokes were small touches, often broken with broader strokes

 Whenever someone sees an artwork with impressionism, it feels like the artist had only seen the subject for a brief movement and he tried to paint everything he could remember. The term impressionism was derived from the painting of Claude Monet’s painting named “Impression, Soleil levant”. Some of the famous names in Impressionism are Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Édouard Manet, Armand Guillaumin, etc.



Expressionism’s origins lie in Germany and Austria that started at the start of the early 20th century. Just like Impressionism, this art style was also an artistic response but the differences lie in the subject. In expressionism, the main focus was the effects humans had to see due to the industrialization of society. Expressionism explored the deepest human emotions of the artists making them the main subject of every artwork.

The artist usually paints the emotion he feels due to the things in his surroundings. The theme can be away from reality but this is the beauty of Expression as it created countless ideas owing to the diversity of human nature. The paintings belonging to this art style focused on creating a mood that introduced the emotional factor in them. The whole theme was subject to an orthodox colour selection that had no relation with humans whatsoever. For example, in Edvard Much’s painting, The Scream, we saw a person with a greenish coloured face. The interpretation of the artwork is left to the imagination of the viewers. It is possible that they can get the real emotion out of the painting; connecting them with the artist directly.

Expressionist paintings often show us the dark side of human nature and this effect is magnified with the distorted brush strokes and the grim colour choice. Sometimes, the emotions in the paintings are taken to an extreme level which leads to the depiction of fantasy and violence in them. Sometimes, the artworks of this art style were mainly agitated brushstrokes blended with a solid background. Expressionism was a big influencer for abstract art and other modern art forms. Following are the main characteristics of Expressionism.

    • Use of colours for specific emotions i.e. yellow for anger
    • Solid and bold hues for the intention in the emotions
    • Distorted and agitated brushstrokes
    • Distorted subjects mainly conveying tensions and unease in the new urban life


With the proper information regarding both of these styles, we will discuss the similarities and the differences among them. Some of the famous artists belonging to this art style are Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Georges Rouault, Max Beckmann, August Macke, Paul Klee, Marc Chagall, Edvard Munch, Wassily Kandinsky, etc.



Following are the similarities between these two art styles:

    • Both of these art styles emerged as an artistic response to the new modern and urban lifestyle
    • Both were seen as an opposition to realism and the traditional art styles
    • Both of them explored similar themes like isolation, modernization, etc



Following are the differences in these two art styles:

    • The place of origin is different for both art styles
    • Humans and their emotions were the key subjects in expressionism while impressionism focused more on the environment and scenery
    • Impressionism mainly had vivid and bright colours while expressionism introduced darker and solid hues



Despite having huge differences in the style of art, Impressionism and Expressionism are strongly linked with each other. Due to similar starting times and conditions, they complement each other pretty well and interrelate on a deeper level. To date, both of these art forms are alive and well-practiced among different areas of the globe. Artists from the countries like Africa, Asia, etc show a huge inclination towards impressionism to portrayer their culture. Similarly, expressionism has also inspired art styles like Abstract art, Surrealism, etc.

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