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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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
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At the Opera (1880)
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)
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)
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
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Related Art and Artists
Portrait of Doctor Gachet (1890)
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)
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
Number 1 (Lavender Mist) (1950)
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