What is the Difference Between Classicism and Impressionism? Exploring the Contrasting Art Styles

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between classicism and impressionism? Whether you are an art enthusiast or not, these two styles of art have undoubtedly made their way into your life in one way or another. From famous painters like Monet and Van Gogh to iconic buildings like the Pantheon in Rome, classicism and impressionism play an important role in history and culture. But what exactly sets the two styles apart?

Classicism is often associated with symmetry, balance, and order. It emerged during the Renaissance period and is heavily influenced by classical Greek and Roman art. Artists who follow this style focus on creating idealized, realistic representations of the human form and their surroundings. Impressionism, on the other hand, emerged in the late 19th century and is characterized by its use of light and color to create atmospheric and emotional effects. Impressionist artists often use loose brushstrokes and unblended colors to give the impression of a fleeting moment in time.

Despite their differences, both classicism and impressionism have had a significant impact on the art world and continue to influence artists today. Whether you prefer the order and structure of classicism or the emotional impact of impressionism, there’s no denying the power and beauty of both styles. So, next time you’re admiring a piece of art, take a moment to consider whether it leans more towards classicism or impressionism – you might just learn something new.

Origins of Classicism and Impressionism

Classicism and Impressionism are two of the most significant and influential art movements in history. Both movements originated in Europe, and both had profound impacts on the way that art was viewed and created. Understanding the histories of these two movements is crucial to understanding their differences.

Classicism emerged in ancient Greece and Rome, where artists sought to embody the perfect forms of the human body, nature, and architectural design. Classicism emphasized precision, balance, and symmetry and sought to create art that was timeless and universal. During the Renaissance, classical ideals were revived, and artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo created some of the most iconic works of art in history.

Impressionism, on the other hand, emerged in the mid-19th century in France as a rejection of the strict academic style that had dominated the art world. Impressionist artists sought to capture the fleeting and transient experiences of everyday life, using loose brushstrokes and vivid colors to create vivid scenes that depicted modern life. Impressionists like Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh rejected the formalized rules of classical painting, embracing instead an art that was spontaneous and unstructured.

  • Classicism emerged in ancient Greece and Rome and was focused on precision, balance, and symmetry.
  • Impressionism emerged in mid-19th century France as a rejection of the strict academic style.
  • Impressionists used loose brushstrokes and vivid colors to depict the fleeting experiences of everyday life.

Classicism and Impressionism represent two very different approaches to creating art. While Classicism was focused on creating timeless and universal works, Impressionism sought to capture the transient and ever-changing nature of the world. Understanding the origins of these movements is essential to understanding the philosophies that underpin them, and the ways in which they have shaped the art world today.

To summarize, Classicism and Impressionism originated in different times and places, with different philosophical ideals and artistic goals. While Classicism emphasized precision and balance, Impressionism favored spontaneity and vividness. Both movements have had a significant impact on the art world, and their legacies continue to inspire artists and art lovers all over the world.

Artistic Techniques in Classicism and Impressionism

Classicism and Impressionism are two types of art movements that have contributed significantly to the art world. Both have their unique characteristics and have been developed to create specific visual effects that evoke certain emotions and feelings in the viewer. These artistic techniques have some differences and similarities.

  • Classicism: This movement began in the 17th century and is known for its emphasis on symmetry, order, and simplicity. Classicism focused on idealized human figures and classical themes like mythology, ancient history, and biblical stories. This style utilized techniques like chiaroscuro (the use of light and dark shading) and foreshortening (depicting objects close to the viewer in a shorter perspective than objects in the background) to create a sense of realism. Classicism also placed a heavy emphasis on proper proportions of the human body, use of perspective, and strong lines to create a sense of balance in the artwork.
  • Impressionism: This movement emerged in the late 19th century and was known for its use of bright colors, loose brushwork, and an emphasis on capturing a moment’s fleeting effect. Impressionist artists often painted outdoors or en plein air, depicting everyday scenes like landscapes, human figures in motion, and urban life. This style utilized techniques like broken color, where the colors are not mixed but placed next to each other on the canvas and the color mixes in the viewer’s eyes. They also adopted a technique called alla prima or “wet on wet” that allowed them to complete a painting in a matter of hours or days and capture the natural lighting and color effects of a particular moment. Impressionism also focused on capturing the changing atmosphere and light in their paintings, not necessarily creating a sense of realism or order like classicism.

While these movements have significant differences, they have also influenced each other. Impressionism has roots in the French Realism movement, which emphasized depicting contemporary life in a realistic and objective manner, much like Classicism. Impressionists like Edgar Degas often portrayed ballet dancers and women’s daytime activities similar to classicism’s emphasis on artistic beauty.

Furthermore, both styles demonstrated the importance of techniques to evoke emotion in the viewer. Classicism relied on the traditional techniques of perspective and foreshortening to create a sense of depth and realism. Impressionists, on the other hand, used techniques such as loose brushstrokes to give a painting a sense of movement and atmosphere.

Broken Color
Alla Prima Technique
Loose Brushstrokes

In conclusion, both Classicism and Impressionism are significant art movements that evolved with time. The differences between these movements include their subject matters, techniques, and styles. While Classicism focused on idealization of human figures and classical themes, Impressionism focused on capturing a moment’s fleeting effect. However, both styles used techniques to evoke emotions in the audience and contributed significantly to the art world.

Color Palette Differences between Classicism and Impressionism

Color palette is one of the most fundamental differences between classicism and impressionism. Classicism utilized a restrained and formal color scheme that highlights the imitations of life. Classical paintings feature limited, muted colors that are representative of the time period and the values that were in place during that era.

On the other hand, impressionism saw the use of brighter, more vivid colors that truly capture the feeling of a particular moment. Impressionists focused on capturing a snapshot of a fleeting moment with pure and unadulterated colors to represent their perception of the specific moment they were trying to recreate.

Color Palette Differences between Classicism and Impressionism

  • Classicism utilized limited, muted colors
  • Impressionism focused on using bright, vivid colors
  • Impressionists aimed to capture a moment and perception through color

Color Palette Differences between Classicism and Impressionism

Classical paintings typically depict scenes with formal gestures and poses. Therefore, the subdued color palette will reflect this formal and purposeful representation of life. Artists of this era used their paintings as a way to celebrate the virtues of excellence, beauty, and the perfect balance of the natural world.

Whereas impressionism took a more spontaneous approach and strove to accurately represent the moment. The vivid colors are used to convey a sense of immediacy and capture the fleeting emotions and impressions of a particular moment in time. Impressionists aimed to transport the viewers to the moment they have captured and allow them to feel the emotions, the colors, the movements, and to see life from a whole new perspective.

Color Palette Differences between Classicism and Impressionism

To further understand the color palette differences between classicism and impressionism, let’s take a look at an example. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’ painting ‘Madame Rivière,’ created in 1805, is a classical example. It depicts Madame Rivière, a modest and poised woman, with a restrained and formal color palette, consisting of neutral tones such as brown, beige, and gray. On the other hand, Claude Monet’s painting ‘Water Lilies’ from 1916 depicts an impressionist scene, with wildflowers and waterlilies, using bold and bright colors such as blue, green, pink, and yellow, to capture the freshness and vibrancy of the scene.

Classicism (Madame Rivière, 1805)Impressionism (Water Lilies, 1916)
Neutral tones (brown, beige, gray)Bold and bright colors (blue, green, pink, yellow)
Formal and restrained depiction of lifeSpontaneous and immediate representation of life

Philosophical Differences between Classicism and Impressionism

Classicism and Impressionism are two distinct art movements that have philosophical differences. While Classicism is grounded in traditional values, Impressionism centers on individualism and freedom.

  • Classicism: Classicism is an art movement that emphasizes the revival of classical art forms and ideals. The movement aims to achieve perfect balance, proportion, and harmony in art. Classicism values order, clarity, and rationality. These traditional values are reflective of the Enlightenment era, which were grounded in reason and logic.
  • Impressionism: Impressionism, on the other hand, is an art movement that focuses on fleeting moments and the effects of light on color. Impressionist painters aim to capture the essence of a moment in time, rather than striving for perfection or idealization. Impressionism celebrates individuality, freedom, and spontaneity.
  • Philosophical Differences: The philosophy behind Classicism and Impressionism is fundamentally different. Classicism values tradition, order, and rationality, while Impressionism places importance on individuality, freedom, and spontaneity. Classicism seeks to convey universal truths and ideals, while Impressionism celebrates the fleeting moments of nature and everyday life.

These philosophical differences are reflective of the broader social, political, and cultural contexts of the respective time periods. Classicism emerged during the Enlightenment era, which was characterized by reason and rationality. Impressionism arose during a time of cultural shifts and individualism, where artists began to challenge traditional art forms and ideals.

Overall, Classicism and Impressionism are two distinct art movements with unique styles and philosophies. These differences highlight the diversity and evolution of art throughout history.

Famous Artists that Embraced Classicism and Impressionism Styles

Classicism and Impressionism are two very different art movements that emerged in different periods of time. Classicism is characterized by its adherence to formal compositional rules, while Impressionism emphasizes capturing the fleeting sensory experience of a moment. Here are some famous artists who embraced both Classicism and Impressionism styles throughout their careers:

  • Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres: A neoclassical painter who was known for his precise outlines and clear forms. Ingres’ paintings often featured historical or mythological subjects in a highly polished style.
  • Claude Monet: A French Impressionist painter who sought to capture the fleeting effects of light and color in his paintings. Monet’s brushstrokes were loose and spontaneous, and his subject matter often depicted the beauty of nature.
  • Edgar Degas: A French Impressionist painter who was known for his depictions of ballet dancers and horses. Degas’ work often featured unusual angles and asymmetrical compositions, and he used color to convey mood and atmosphere.

These artists were admired in their respective movements for their unique style of painting. Even though Classicism and Impressionism are distinctly different movements, these artists show that it is possible to embrace both styles throughout their career.

Here is a table that summarizes the main differences between Classicism and Impressionism:

Emphasizes formal compositional rulesEmphasizes capturing the fleeting sensory experience of a moment
Uses clear outlines and precise formsUses loose and spontaneous brushstrokes
Subject matter often depicts historical or mythological subjectsSubject matter often depicts the beauty of nature and everyday life

Even though these movements are different, they all share a commitment to beauty and aesthetics. Whether it is the precise lines of Ingres’ neoclassical paintings or the loose brushstrokes of Monet’s impressionist canvases, these artists sought to create works that delighted the eye and provoked the imagination.

Classicism and Impressionism in Literature and Music

Classicism and Impressionism are prominent movements that differ significantly in literature and music. Both movements have unique characteristics that set them apart from one another.

Classicism in literature emphasizes the importance of reason, order, and balance. It is characterized by clarity, simplicity, and elegance in style. Classicism advocates for universal truths and values, as well as emphasizing the importance of the individual and society. Classic works in literature that belong to this movement include the plays of William Shakespeare and the works of Jane Austen.

Impressionism, on the other hand, is a literary movement that emerged in the late 19th century. It emphasizes the sensory experience and emotional response of an individual rather than focusing on the objective reality. Impressionist literature is characterized by the use of the stream of consciousness technique and descriptions of fleeting moments of everyday life. Some famous works of literature that belong to this movement are James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway.”

  • Classicism in Music:
  • Classic music is characterized by simplicity, symmetry, and balance. It emphasizes the use of melody, harmony, and rhythm. Classic music has a fixed form and structure and is performed by orchestras or ensembles. Some famous classic composers include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

  • Impressionism in Music:
  • Impressionist music is characterized by its use of tone color, harmony, and rhythm to convey emotions. It is more subjective and abstract compared to classical music. Impressionist music is often associated with nature and the use of unconventional instrumentation. Famous impressionist composers include Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

Classical literature and music are concerned with universal values and seek to maintain tradition and order. Impressionistic literature and music, on the other hand, focus on subjective experiences, emotions, and individuality. Despite their differences, both movements have contributed significantly to the field of literature and music.

It is essential to understand the characteristics of these movements to appreciate and interpret literary works and musical compositions accurately.

Influence of Classicism and Impressionism on Contemporary Art

Classicism and Impressionism are two significant art movements that have greatly influenced contemporary art. From learning and adopting the techniques of these movements, contemporary artists have been able to create groundbreaking works of art. The following are the ways in which Classicism and Impressionism have impacted modern art:

  • Subject Matter: Classicism focused on idealizing the human form, mythological subjects, and historical events. Impressionism, on the other hand, was more interested in capturing the fleeting moment and everyday life. Contemporary Art is influenced by both movements, portraying the idealization of subjects while focusing on mundane activities of everyday life.
  • Use of Colour Palette: Impressionism made use of bright, vibrant colours that blended seamlessly on top of each other to create an illusion of light and movement. Classicism made use of a more monochromatic palette dominated by earth colours. Contemporary artists have taken this fusion and produced works that blend the best of both worlds.
  • Technique: Classicism was founded on the use of line, form, and shadow, with the artists striving to create a naturalistic representation of their subjects. Impressionist artists, on the other hand, used short, choppy brushstrokes and were more interested in depicting the sensations of light and atmosphere. Today’s artists use a fusion of these styles to give their artworks a sense of depth and motion.
  • The art of abstraction: Modern Art has been able to embrace the concept of abstraction, which is a complete departure from the naturalism found in Classicism. Impressionism influenced this movement with the emphasis on enigmatic compositions and the intrinsic properties of painting as a medium of art.
  • The Emphasis on the moment: The contemporary art movement is heavily influenced by Impressionism’s emphasis on capturing the ephemeral moment. This tradition is founded on experimenting with colour theory and brushwork to depict the sense of perpetual fluidity in life and evokes an emotional response without overwhelming the viewer.
  • The Emphasis on Ideological Form: A lot of contemporary artists use Classicism’s Ideological symbols as a means to give their artworks a sense of meaning beyond their visual presentation.
  • Combining art forms: The use of photography and digital art manipulations arises from nature and history of classicism and impressionism. In a more significant way, the combination of different cultures’ forms, shapes and styles inspired by different artists creates a wide-ranging mix of contemporary art.


Contemporary art is a fluid, open-ended genre that allows artists to borrow from different art movements and styles, and both Classicism and Impressionism have contributed to the richness of this genre. Contemporary artists have taken the best of both movements, blending techniques, colours, and subject matter and creating art that is truly an amalgamation of the two styles. The fusion of these traditional styles has brought forth a new wave of modern art, one that accurately reflects the changing landscape of contemporary art.

What is the difference between classicism and impressionism?

Q: What is classicism?
A: Classicism is an artistic and intellectual movement that originated in the Greco-Roman cultures. It emphasizes order, balance, clarity, simplicity, and rationality in art and literature.

Q: What is impressionism?
A: Impressionism is an art style that originated in France in the 19th century. It is characterized by short brush strokes, vibrant colors, and an emphasis on the effects of light and atmosphere on objects.

Q: How do classicism and impressionism differ in their subject matter?
A: Classicism focused on mythological and historical themes, whereas impressionism depicted everyday life, landscapes, and the natural world.

Q: How do classicism and impressionism differ in their technique?
A: Classicism emphasized the use of ideal forms and clear lines, while impressionism prioritized capturing fleeting moments and the effects of light through loose brushwork.

Q: What was the reaction to classicism and impressionism in their respective eras?
A: Classicism was widely accepted and praised in its time, whereas impressionism was initially rejected and regarded as unconventional.

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