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Impressionism

Started: 1872

Ended: 1892

Important Art and Artists of Impressionism

The below artworks are the most important in Impressionism - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Impressionism. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.


Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863)

Artist: Edouard Manet

Artwork description & Analysis: When Manet painted his Le déjeuner sur l'herbe(Luncheon on the Grass), he had already distanced himself from the tradition of Realist painting and the academic subjects of the salon. When the work was presented at the 1863 Salon des Refuses it caused an uproar due to both its aesthetic rendering and its "racy" content. The painting, which depicts the picnic of two fully clothed men and two nude women, defies the tradition of the idealized female subject of Neo-Classicism in the positioning of the woman on the left who gazes frankly out at the viewer- she is confrontational, rather than passive. The thick, imprecise brushstrokes of the background, flattening of three-dimensionality, and use of unconventional subject matter influenced later Impressionists in their portrayals of the natural world and modern life.

Oil on canvas - Musee d'Orsay, Paris


Fog, Voisins (1874)

Artist: Alfred Sisley

Artwork description & Analysis: Sisley, along with Monet, was one of the central proponents of the plein air technique, using this method in his famous paintings of the Voisins countryside, where he moved in 1871. Unlike Degas, Renoir, Cassatt, or Morisot, Sisley focused almost expressly on representations of the atmosphere while diminishing the importance of the human figure, if they appeared at all. Fog, Voisins demonstrates this general preoccupation with the visual perception of the natural world through the application of rough, clearly visible brushstrokes and the blurry, almost ethereal rendering of color and form. Here, a woman, serenely picking flowers, is almost entirely obscured within the dense fog that eclipses the pastoral scene. Like much of Sisley's work, the protagonist of the painting is nature and the visual reception of it.

Oil on canvas - Musee d'Orsay, Paris


In a Park (1874)

Artist: Berthe Morisot

Artwork description & Analysis: A central figure of the Impressionist circle, Berthe Morisot is known for both her compelling portraits and her poignant landscapes. In a Park combines these elements of figuration with representations of nature in this serene family portrait set in a bucolic garden. Like Mary Cassatt, Morisot is recognized for her portrayals of the private sphere of female society. As in this quiet image of family life, she centered on the maternal bond between mother and child. Her loose handling of pastels, a medium embraced by the Impressionists, and visible application of color and form were central characteristics of her work.

Pastel on paper - Musee du Petit Palais, Paris



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L'Absinthe (1876)

Artist: Edgar Degas

Artwork description & Analysis: Prior to the work of later Realists and the emergence of Impressionism, still life and portrait painting were considered lesser, escapist genres. What Degas achieved with L'Absinthe and similar works expressed something altogether new. This dour scene of two lonely individuals sitting in a cafe communicates a sense of isolation, even degradation, as they apparently have nothing better to do in the middle of the day. Degas's heavily handled paint further communicates the emotional burden or intense boredom of his subjects. His paintings allude to the oppressive atmosphere of the city and the psychological ennui of its inhabitants. Although Degas continued to reject the Impressionist label throughout his life, his paintings exemplify a similar preoccupation with the portrayal of light and motifs of modern life that were central to the group's work.

Oil on canvas - Musee d'Orsay, Paris


Paris Street, Rainy Day (1877)

Artist: Gustave Caillebotte

Artwork description & Analysis: While the work of Gustave Caillebotte adheres to a distinctly realistic aesthetic that differs from most impressionistic renderings, his paintings reflect a similar concern with subjects of modern life. Paris Street, Rainy Day shows this tendency within his work, through the depiction of the typical urban scene; the panoramic view of the rain-drizzled boulevard presents the newly renovated metropolis, while the anonymous figures in the background emphasize the alienation of the individual within the city. The painting centers on the apathetic gaze of the male figure, who epitomizes the cool detachment of the flaneur, poised in his characteristic black coat and top hat. Like Caillebotte's other paintings, this work depicts the impact of modernity on the individual's psychology, the fleeting impressions of the street, and the effect of the changing urban sphere upon society.

Oil on canvas - The Art Institute of Chicago


Vetheuil in the Fog (1879)

Artist: Claude Monet

Artwork description & Analysis: In 1878, Monet moved his family to the town of Vetheuil in northern France. They temporarily lived with a wealthy magnate who became Monet's patron. His Vetheuil in the Fog is among his finest works, offering a subtle, albeit distinct impression of a figural form. As was characteristic of many of Monet's paintings, he applied his brush rather quickly to the canvas in order to capture the exact image he wanted before the sunlight shifted or faded away altogether. Monet's emphasis on the fleeting changes in the natural world was a central aspect of his oeuvre that captures the ephemerality of nature and preserves it within the picture plane; thus, the momentary perception is crystallized in the replication of the optical experience of it.

Oil on canvas - Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris


At the Opera (1880)

Artist: Mary Cassatt

Artwork description & Analysis: Cassatt focused on modern subjects of the city under Haussmannization, while emphasizing, in particular, the private and public life of women. Here, she depicts the Palais Garnier of the Paris Opera, which was opened in 1875 and served as a focal point for the city's social life. As the painting demonstrates, the opera was not only a site for culture and entertainment, but also for seeing and being seen; the woman's binoculars, presumably directed at the stage, are echoed in the man's binoculars, across the concert hall, directed at her. Through this emphasis on looking, Cassatt arrives at a playful meditation on the act of visuality and the artist's gaze, which were central concerns of the Impressionist artists.

Oil on canvas - Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, Massachussetts


Girl with a Hoop (1885)

Artist: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Artwork description & Analysis: Like Monet, Renoir loved to employ natural light in his paintings. However, by the 1880s he had become dissatisfied with capturing fleeting visual effects. Having felt he had "wrung Impressionism dry," and losing all inspiration or will to paint, Renoir began to search for more clarity of form. In Girl with a Hoop, a work he was commissioned to paint of a nine-year-old girl named Marie Goujon, Renoir developed a new style he dubbed "aigre" (sour), in which he applied thick, elongated brushstrokes to evoke natural movement in the backdrop and soft, textural brushstrokes complemented by hard lines to portray the young girl in the foreground. This painting, through its fluid handling of paint and portrayal of the young girl at play, evokes the distinctly carefree mood of much of his work. While the other Impressionists focused on more existential themes of alienation in modern society, Renoir centered on the representation of leisure activities and female beauty, asserting his disregard for subjects of an overtly critical nature.

Oil on canvas - The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


The Boulevard Montmartre, Afternoon (1897)

Artist: Camille Pissarro

Artwork description & Analysis: Referred to by Cézanne as "the first Impressionist," Pissarro is known for his bright palette, subdued landscapes, and fixation on the representation of natural light. Pissarro's painting The Boulevard Montmartre, Afternoon applies the techniques of his earlier plein-air paintings to the depiction of the city. Like Monet's Boulevard des Capucines (1873), this work uses broad strokes of paint, carefully applied to the canvas, to represent the fleeting nature of modern life and the visual impressions of the metropolis. The Boulevard Montmartre, Afternoon is one of a series of paintings, painted in Pissarro's room at the Hotel de Russie overlooking the street, that depict the same scene during different points of the day and different seasons of the year. The series emphasizes the changing effects of natural light upon the urban setting, resulting in an insightful reflection on the passage of time and the transformation of the city.

Oil on canvas - The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Related Art and Artists


Portrait of Doctor Gachet (1890)

Movement: Post-Impressionism

Artist: Vincent van Gogh

Artwork description & Analysis: Van Gogh was one of the modern era's most gifted and emotionally troubled artists. Although grossly underappreciated in his lifetime, Van Gogh was an impulsive and often spontaneous painter who embodied many of the ideals of the Post-Impressionist movement. In Portrait of Doctor Gachet, Van Gogh strove to elicit a complex mixture of emotions within the viewer, rather than portray a naturalistic description of the sitter. Van Gogh created painterly rhythms and swirling forms within the arrangement of the figure in order to convey elements of strength, intelligence, and melancholy. Through such intimate and personalized interpretations, Van Gogh epitomized the rejection of Impressionistic optical observation in favor of an emotionally laden representation that appealed to the viewer's heart, rather than his mind.

Oil on canvas - Private collection


Street, Berlin (1913)

Movement: Expressionism

Artist: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

Artwork description & Analysis: Kirchner is renowned for his many Berlin street scenes, and this particular work is perhaps his most well known from that category, if not his entire catalog. His jagged, angular brushstrokes, acidic colors, and elongated forms all charge the street atmosphere on the canvas and achieve something very rebellious for its time and exemplify the stylistic break with tradition that the members of Die Brücke sought. As a founding member of the group, Kirchner set out to establish a new order of painting, one that visibly renounced Impressionistic tendencies and the need to accurately portray figurative forms. In Street, Berlin, Kirchner created a stunningly askew rendition of an alienated, urban street procession. Without regard for realistic depiction of form, he bent and contorted his narrow figures like they were blades of grass in a meadow. Another uniquely modern feature of Street, Berlin was Kirchner's choice to position two prostitutes (identifiable by their signature plumed hats) as the painting's (somewhat off-center) focal point.

Oil on canvas - The Museum of Modern Art, New York


Artwork Images

Number 1 (Lavender Mist) (1950)

Movement: Abstract Expressionism

Artist: Jackson Pollock

Artwork description & Analysis: One of thirty-two paintings in Pollock's 1950 solo exhibition at Betty Parson's New York gallery, Number 1 (Lavender Mist) was the only painting that sold. Despite critical praise and media attention, the artist did not garner sales of his famous drip paintings until later in his career. Pollock titled several paintings Number 1, and coded them with alternate titles. Thus, Number 1 (1949) and One, Number Thirty One, are closely related but upon close viewing differ slightly. Number 1 (Lavender Mist) exemplifies gestural abstraction, in which paint was poured or applied with extreme physicality to reflect the artist's inner mind. The color is expressive, while space is created through alternative layers and drips of opaque paint, creating a textured canvas surface that is nearly dizzying.

Oil on canvas - National Gallery, Washington DC

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Alfred Sisley
Alfred Sisley
Alfred Sisley
Alfred Sisley was an English Impressionist landscape painter who spent much of his life working in France. As an enthusiast of plein air painting, Sisley was among the group of artists that included Monet, Renoir and Pissarro who dedicated themselves to capturing the transient effects of sunlight. He was a true Impressionist and committed landscape painter who never deviated from this style or subject into figurative work like many of his contemporaries.
TheArtStory: Alfred Sisley
Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot came from a family with a long history of successful painters. She was the only woman painter accepted and respected by the Impressionist circle. Morisot served as a model for Manet, married his brother, and went on to have a meaningful art career herself.
TheArtStory: Berthe Morisot
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas was a French Impressionist painter, printmaker and sculptor with an extraordinarily long career from the mid-nineteenth century until after WWI. As one of the original group of Impressionists, although he preferred to be called a Realist, he traveled widely and employed the use of photography in his creative process. He is most renowned for his painting and drawings of ballet dancers in rehearsal and performances in the theatre.
TheArtStory: Edgar Degas
Gustave Caillebotte
Gustave Caillebotte
Gustave Caillebotte
Gustave Caillebotte was a nineteenth-century French painter and one of the Impressionist artists, though his style resembled Realism more than Impressionism. Caillebotte was also an early practitioner of using photography for composing his images, a prominent art patron, and an outspoken supporter of other Impressionists like Pissarro, Monet, and Renoir. His vast wealth also allowed Caillebotte to fund several exhibitions of Impressionist art, and to convince the Louvre to acquire many important works.
TheArtStory: Gustave Caillebotte
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet
Claude Monet was a French artist who helped pioneer the painterly effects and emphasis on light, atmosphere, and plein air technique that became hallmarks of Impressionism. He is especially known for his series of haystacks and cathedrals at different times of day, and for his late Waterlilies.
TheArtStory: Claude Monet
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt was an American painter and printmaker active in France in the late nineteenth century. She was closely associated with Impressionism, and her signature subjects were intimate, domestic scenes of women, mothers, and children.
TheArtStory: Mary Cassatt
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was one of the leading figures of French Impressionism during the late-nineteenth century. Renoir tended to favor outdoor scenes, gardens bathed in sunlight, and large gatherings of people. Known as a master of light, shadow and color, Renoir was also highly esteemed for his depiction of natural movement on the canvas. In terms of the French Impressionists' lasting popularity and fame, Renoir is perhaps second only to Monet.
TheArtStory: Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro was a French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painter. Known as the "Father of Impressionism," he used his own painterly style to depict urban daily life, landscapes, and rural scenes.
TheArtStory: Camille Pissarro
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism
Post-Impressionism refers to a number of styles that emerged in reaction to Impressionism in the 1880s. The movement encompassed Symbolism and Neo-Impressionism before ceding to Fauvism around 1905. Its artists turned away from effects of light and atmosphere to explore new avenues such as color theory and personal feeling, often using colors and forms in intense and expressive ways.
TheArtStory: Post-Impressionism
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter, commonly associated with the Post-Impressionist period. As one of the most prolific and experimental artists of his time, van Gogh was a spontaneous painter and a master of color and perspective. Troubled by personal demons all his life, many historians speculate that van Gogh suffered from a Bipolar disorder.
TheArtStory: Vincent van Gogh
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism
Expressionism is a broad term for a host of movements in early twentieth-century Germany and beyond, from Die Brücke (1905) and Der Blaue Reiter (1911) to the early Neue Sachlichkeit painters in the 1920s and '30s. Many Expressionists used vivid colors and abstracted forms to create spiritually or psychologically intense works, while others focused on depictions of war, alienation, and the modern city.
TheArtStory: Expressionism
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was one of the driving forces in the Die Brücke group that flourished in Dresden and Berlin before WWI, and one of the most talented and influential of the Expressionists.
TheArtStory: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
TheArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
TheArtStory: Jackson Pollock