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Most people know what Impressionism is, but they don’t know that the name was originally coined as a derogatory term. In 1874, a group of 30 artists—Paul Cèzanne, Edgar Degas and Claude Monet among them—mounted an exhibition in the studio of Nadar, a pioneering figure in the history of photography. Critics hated the show, and one dubbed the group Impressionists after seeing Monet’s contribution to the exhibit: A landscape painting title Impression, Sunrise. The sobriquet was meant as an insult, connoting the idea that the paintings were mere impressions, rather than works that were actually finished—and hence, not presentable. But it stuck, and was soon embraced by the artists associated with the style. Since then, Impressionism has become one of the most beloved movements in art history, with examples housed in the collections of major museums such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA and the Guggenheim. Still, the critic’s dis about how “unfinished” Impressionism appeared pointed to why the form was such a radical break from the past. For two centuries, art in France had been dominated by the Royal Academy of Art in Paris. Founded in the mid-17th century to train artists, the Academy also enforced artistic standards for how and what an artist could paint or sculpt. Its rules emphasized a highly polished approach to figuration, and formulated a hierarchy of genres according to importance. So-called History Paintings (which dealt with the achievements of the state—i.e., the King or Queen—often through allegories based on classical mythology) stood atop the pecking order, while landscape paintings were relegated to secondary status. The Academy awarded artists who towed the official line by including them in its annual salon exhibition, which routinely rejected entries by the Impressionists when they first began to emerge in the 1860’s. In time, the Academy and the academic style lost it’s grip on art as Impressionism was better suited to capturing contemproary life in the Industrial Age. Impressionism altered the course of art history during the 19th-century and set the table for Modern Art in the century to come. If you want to find out more about the artists involved, look no further than our guide to the top Impressionist painters in art history.