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Most Important Art
Concepts and Styles
|Edouard Manet was a French painter and a prominent figure in the mid-nineteenth-century Realist movement of French art. Manet's paintings are considered among the first works of art in the modern era, due to his rough painting style and absence of idealism in his figures. Manet was a close friend of and major influence on younger artists who founded Impressionism such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.|
Art Story: Edouard Manet Artist Page
|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.|
Art Story: Claude Monet Artist Page
|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.|
Art Story: Edgar Degas Artist Page
|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.|
Art Story: Pierre-Auguste Renoir Artist Page
|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.|
Art Story: Camille Pissarro Artist Page
|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.|
Art Story: Alfred Sisley Artist Page
|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.|
Art Story: Mary Cassatt Artist Page
|John Singer Sargent|
|John Singer Sargent|
|John Singer Sargent was the premiere portraitist of his generation, well-known for his depictions of high society figures in Paris, London, and New York. He updated a centuries-old tradition in order to capture his sitters' character and even reputation.|
Art Story: John Singer Sargent Artist Page
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|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 solo exhibition herself.|
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"Impressionism is only direct sensation. All great painters were less or more impressionists. It is mainly a question of instinct."
Impressionism can be considered the first distinctly modern movement in painting. Developing in Paris in the 1860s, its influence spread throughout Europe and eventually the United States. Its originators were artists who rejected the official, government-sanctioned exhibitions, or salons, and were consequently shunned by powerful academic art institutions. In turning away from the fine finish and detail to which most artists of their day aspired, the Impressionists aimed to capture the momentary, sensory effect of a scene - the impression objects made on the eye in a fleeting instant. To achieve this effect, many Impressionist artists moved from the studio to the streets and countryside, painting en plein air.
Most Important Art
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Vetheuil in the Fog (1879)
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
Exhibitions in Paris and The Salon des Refusés
In 1863, at the official salon, the all-important event of the art world, a large number of artists were not allowed to participate, leading to public outcry. The same year, the Salon des Refusés was formed in response to allow the exhibition of works by artists who had previously been refused entrance to the official salon. Some of the exhibitors were Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro, and the early iconoclast Édouard Manet. Although promoted by authorities and sanctioned by Emperor Napoleon III, the 1863 exhibition caused a scandal, due largely to the unconventional themes and styles of works such as Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1863), which featured clothed men and nude women enjoying an afternoon picnic.
In 1884, another influencial exhibition started up by the Société des Artistes Indépendants which included many Impressionists. The Société rebelled against the policies of the conservative juries of Paris and would later come to be a focal point for avant-garde activity and a driving force for Modernism in Paris.
Édouard Manet and the Painting Revolution
Édouard Manet was among the first and most important innovators to emerge in the public exhibition scene in Paris. Although he grew up in admiration of the Old Masters, he began to incorporate an innovative, looser painting style and brighter palette in the early 1860s. He also started to focus on images of everyday life, such as scenes in cafes, boudoirs, and out in the street. His anti-academic style and quintessentially modern subject matter soon attracted the attention of artists on the fringes and influenced a new type of painting that would diverge from the standards of the official salon.
The Impressionist Exhibitions
By the late 1860s, a small number of young painters working in Paris were beginning to discover one another through a series of small exhibitions. Though not yet united by any particular style, they shared a general sense of antipathy toward overbearing academic standards of fine art, established at the time by the influential Paris salon. The first of these alternative exhibitions was held in 1874 in the studios of photographer Felix Nadar, under the title Société Anonyme des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs, etc. It was not until the third exhibition in 1877 that they began to call themselves the Impressionists. While their first exhibition received limited public attention, their later shows attracted vast audiences, with attendance records well in to the thousands.
Concepts and Styles
The Term "Impressionism"
The movement gained its name after the hostile French critic Louis Leroy, reviewing the first major Impressionist exhibition, seized on the title of Claude Monet's painting Impression, Sunrise (1873), and accused the group of painting nothing but impressions. The Impressionists embraced the moniker, though they also referred to themselves as the "Independents," referring to the subversive principles of the Société des Artistes Indépendants and the group's efforts to detach itself from academic artistic conventions. Although the styles practiced by the Impressionists varied considerably (and in fact not all of the artists would accept Leroy's title), they were bound together by a common interest in the representation of visual perception, based in fleeting optical impressions, and the focus on ephemeral moments of modern life.
Claude Monet and Plein Air Painting
Claude Monet is perhaps the most celebrated of the Impressionists. He was renowned for his mastery of natural light and painted at many different times of day in an attempt to capture changing conditions. He tended to paint simple impressions or subtle hints of his subjects, using very soft brushstrokes and unmixed colors to create a natural vibrating effect, as if nature itself were alive on the canvas. He did not wait for paint to dry before applying successive layers; this "wet on wet" technique produced softer edges and blurred boundaries that merely suggested a three-dimensional plane, rather than depicting it realistically.
Monet's technique of painting outdoors, known as plein air painting, was practiced widely among the Impressionists. Inherited from the landscape painters of the Barbizon School, this approach led to innovations in the representation of sunlight and the passage of time, which were two central motifs of Impressionist painting. While Monet is largely associated with the tradition of plein air, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, and Alfred Sisley, among others, also painted outside in order to create their lucid portrayals of the transience of the natural world.
Impressionist Figures by Degas and Renoir
Other Impressionists, like Edgar Degas, were less interested in painting outdoors and rejected the idea that painting should be a spontaneous act. Considered a highly skilled draftsman and portraitist, Degas preferred indoor scenes of modern life: people sitting in cafes, musicians in an orchestra pit, ballet dancers performing mundane tasks at rehearsal. He also tended to delineate his forms with greater clarity than Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, using harder lines and thicker brushstrokes.
Similarly, other artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Berthe Morisot, and Mary Cassatt focused on the figure and the internal psychology of the individual. Renoir, known for his use of vibrant, saturated colors, depicted the daily activities of individuals from his neighborhood of Montmartre, and, in particular, portrayed the social pastimes of Parisian society. While Renoir, like Morisot and Cassatt, also painted outdoors, he emphasized the emotional attributes of his subjects, using light and loose brushwork to highlight the human form.
Women and Impressionism - Morisot and Cassatt
Whereas Degas and Renoir painted figures mainly within the public context of the city, Morisot focused on the female figure and the private lives of women in late-nineteenth-century society. The first woman to exhibit with the Impressionists, she created rich compositions that highlighted the internal, highly personal sphere of feminine society, often emphasizing the maternal bond between mother and child in paintings such as The Cradle (1872). Together with Mary Cassatt and Marie Bracquemond, she was considered one of the three central female figures of the movement.
Cassatt, an American painter who moved to Paris in 1866 and began exhibiting with the Impressionists in 1879, depicted the private sphere of the home, but also represented the woman in the public spaces of the newly modernized city, as in her painting At the Opera (1879). Her work features a number of innovations, including the reduction of three-dimensional space and the application of bright, even garish colors in her paintings, both of which heralded later developments in modern art.
Since the movement was deeply embedded within Parisian society, Impressionism was also greatly influenced by Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann's renovation of the city in the 1860s. Haussmann's urban project, also referred to as "Haussmannization," sought to modernize the city and largely centered in the construction of wide boulevards, which became the literal hub of public social activity. This reconstruction of the city also led to the rise of the flaneur: an idler or lounger who roamed the public spaces of the city in order to be seen, while remaining detached from the crowd. In many Impressionist paintings, the detachment of the flaneur is closely associated with modernity and the estrangement of the individual within the metropolis.
These themes of urbanity are depicted in the work of Gustave Caillebotte, a later proponent of the Impressionist movement, who focused on panoramic views of the city and the psychology of its citizens. Although more realistic in style than other Impressionists, Caillebotte's images such as Paris, Rainy Day (1877) depict the artist's reaction to the changing nature of modern society, showing a flaneur in his characteristic black coat and top hat, strolling through the open space of the boulevard while gazing at passersby. Other Impressionists depicted the fleeting impressions and movements of the metropolis in cityscapes such as Boulevard des Capucines (1873) and The Boulevard Montmarte, Afternoon (1897). Similarly, these works emphasize the geometrical arrangement of public space through the careful delineation of buildings, trees, and streets. By applying crude brushstrokes and impressionistic streaks of color, they evoke the rapid tempo of modern life as a central facet of late-nineteenth-century urban society.
Although the Impressionists proved to be a diverse group, they came together regularly to discuss their work and exhibit. The Cafe Guerbois in Montmartre was a regular meeting place. The group collaborated on eight exhibitions between 1874 and 1886 while slowly beginning to unravel. Many felt they had mastered the early, experimental styles that had won them attention and wanted to move on to explore other avenues. Others, anxious about the continued commercial failure of their work, changed course.
Meanwhile, the lessons of the style were taken up by a new generation. If Manet bridged the gap between Realism and Impressionism, then Paul Cézanne was the artist who bridged the gap between Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Cézanne learned much from Impressionist technique, but he evolved a more deliberate style of paint handling, and, toward the end of his life, a closer attention to the structure of the forms that his broad, repetitive brushstrokes depicted. As he once put it, he wished to "redo [Nicolas] Poussin after nature and make Impressionism something solid and durable like the Old Masters." Cézanne wished to break down objects into their basic geometric constituents and depict their essential building blocks. This experiment would ultimately prove highly influential for the development of Cubism by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
Later still, many modern artists looked to Impressionism. For example, although the movement is not generally considered to have had a powerful impact on Abstract Expressionism, one can trace important similarities in its artists' works. Philip Guston was once described as a latter-day "American Impressionist," and the surface qualities, suggestions of light, and "all-over" treatment of form in Jackson Pollock's work, all point to the work of Claude Monet.
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Useful Resources on Impressionism
| Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society |
By Robert L. Herbert
| The Great Book of French Impressionism |
By Diane Kelder
| Impressionism A&I |
By James Henry Rubin
| Impressionism |
By Ingo F. Walther
| Art and Culture: Critical Essays |
By Clement Greenberg
| Impressionist Art and Paintings || The National Gallery: Guide to Impressionism |
| The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Impressionism: Art and Modernity |
| 'Impressionism' at the de Young |
By Kenneth Baker
| Suburban Pastoral |
By Andrew Motion
| A Decade That Remade the World in Painting |
By Michael Kimmelman
| 3 Artists Who Left A Fainter Impression |
By Alan Riding
| Monet in 6 Minutes: A Brief Look at His Personal Life & Revolutionary Approach to Art |
Also, see how his works changed over his lifetime and were affected by his diminishing eyesight
| BBC Documentary: The Impressionists |
| The National Gallery: Corot to Monet |