Impasto is the process or technique of applying paint or pigment in a thick manner, causing it to stand out prominently from the surface.
Impasto, originally prominent in the works of Venetian Renaissance artists like Titian and Tintoretto, also found its place in Baroque painting, as exemplified by Rubens. This technique became increasingly noticeable in nineteenth-century landscape, naturalist, and romantic paintings.
In modern art, the use of impasto gained importance as the notion emerged that a painting's surface should possess its own reality rather than merely serving as a smooth window into an illusionary world. It was believed that the texture of the paint and the brushwork's shape could directly convey the artist's emotions and response to the subject, a concept sometimes referred to as ‘gestural’.
A painting with a prominent impasto technique is often described as ‘painterly’, suggesting that the artist revels in manipulating the paint itself and fully exploiting its tactile qualities.
The idea that artists should emphasise the inherent characteristics of their chosen medium is a fundamental concept in modern art, encapsulated in the phrase "truth to materials." In the mid-twentieth century, some artists, such as Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach, took impasto to the extreme in their works.