Harpignies straddled the world of official, Barbizon, and Impressionist landscape painting. His subjects were the forest scenes beloved of Corot and fellow Barbizon painters. Yet Harpignies’ range of influence was not limited to his contemporaries; he incorporated stylistic precedents from the classical tradition as well. As a classicist, Harpignies aimed for a formalized, highly artificial, and sentimental evocation of natural phenomena that stemmed ultimately from the French landscape tradition founded by Claude. However, in the 1860s he adopted a greater freedom and broadness of brushstrokes, and a palette governed by greater contrasts both of colour and tone.
Moonlight is an excellent example of his ability to synthesize diverse strains of landscape painting. It is typical of the style Harpignies mastered by the 1870s, and continued to practice for the rest of his career. It shows an interest in strong contrasts of light and dark, especially contre-jour effects. Unlike the artist’s early paintings, characterized by precise brushstrokes, here Harpignies used thick impasto and palette knife work to render the general “impression,” rather than exact detail.