Impressionism: As a literary term, writing that seeks to capture transitory, subjective impressions of characters, settings, and events. Literary impressionism took its name from the French Impressionist movement in painting, which reached its height in the 1870s and 1880s. The Impressionists believed that subjective impressions of objects, people, and scenery were legitimate artistic subjects, indeed, that it was more important for painters to render such impressions than to produce technically precise representations. Impressionist painters often used bright colors and worked directly from nature, seeking to capture fleeting moments on canvas and to depict the ephemeral effects of light. Leading Impressionist artists included French painters Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir; American painter Mary Cassatt; French sculptor Auguste Rodin; and Polish painter Władysław Podkowiński.
Impressionist literary works emphasize sensory images and characters’ emotions, thoughts, and perceptions, tending to disregard the type of objective, concrete details associated with conventional plots. The French Symbolists, such as Charles Baudelaire and Stéphane Mallarmé; other writers active in the Aesthetic Movement, such as Oscar Wilde; and stream-of-consciousness novelists, such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, have all been called impressionists or, at least, impressionistic in their writing. Impressionism also influenced the early-twentieth-century poetic movement of Imagism; indeed, English writer T. E. Hulme, the movement’s theorist, declared in “A Lecture on Modern Poetry” (1908) that “[w]hat has found expression in painting as Impressionism will soon find expression in poetry as free verse.”