Impressionism Movement and Chronology

"Impressionism is only direct sensation. All great painters were less or more impressionists. It is mainly a question of instinct."

Synopsis

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.

Key Ideas

Impressionism was a style of representational art that did not necessarily rely on realistic depictions. Scientific thought at the time was beginning to recognize that what the eye perceived and what the brain understood were two different things. The Impressionists sought to capture the former - the optical effects of light - to convey the passage of time, changes in weather, and other shifts in the atmosphere in their canvases.
The Impressionists loosened their brushwork and lightened their palettes to include pure, intense colors. They abandoned traditional linear perspective and avoided the clarity of form that had previously served to distinguish the more important elements of a picture from the lesser ones. For this reason, many critics faulted Impressionist paintings for their unfinished appearance and seemingly amateurish quality.
Impressionism records the effects of the massive mid-nineteenth-century renovation of Paris led by civic planner Georges-Eugène Haussmann, which included the city's newly constructed railway stations; wide, tree-lined boulevards that replaced the formerly narrow, crowded streets; and large, deluxe apartment buildings. Often focusing on scenes of public leisure - especially scenes of cafes and cabarets - the Impressionists conveyed the new sense of alienation experienced by the inhabitants of the first modern metropolis.

Beginnings

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.

Salon des Artistes Indépendants

Like the participants of the Salon des Refusés, the Société des Artistes Indépendants rebelled against the policies of the conservative juries of Paris. Their first exhibition, which opened in May 1884, adhered to the policy of "no jury nor awards," and included over 400 artists, many of whom had been previously rejected by the official salon. While various Impressionist painters participated in this initial exhibition, the Société des Artistes Indépendants 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

Manet and his contemporaries as depicted by Henri Fantin-Latour in the painting: A Studio in the Batignolles (1870)

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 1887 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. The Impressionists continued to exhibit their work together until 1886, holding a total of eight exhibitions over twelve years.

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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.

Impressionist Cityscapes

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.

Later Developments

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.



Original content written by Justin Wolf
comment to editor

QUOTES

"There are no lines in nature, only areas of color, one against another."
-Édouard Manet

"You would hardly believe how difficult it is to place a figure alone on a canvas, and to concentrate all the interest on this single and universal figure and still keep it living and real."
-Édouard Manet

"If the painter works directly from nature, he ultimately looks for nothing but momentary effects; he does not try to compose, and soon he gets monotonous."
-Pierre-Auguste Renoir

"I am following Nature without being able to grasp her; I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."
- Claude Monet

"After 1918, as we know, enlightened public - as well as critical - esteem went decidedly to Cézanne, Renoir and Degas, and to Van Gogh, Gauguin and Seurat. The 'unorthodox' Impressionists - Monet, Pissarro, Sisley - fell under a shadow. It was then that the 'amorphousness' of Impressionism became an accepted idea; and it was forgotten that Cézanne himself had belonged to, and with, Impressionism as he had to nothing else."
-Clement Greenberg, from essay "The Later Monet"

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The French Salon
The French Salon
The Salon was a biannual Paris exhibition that, in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, became the most important regular exhibition in Europe. Initially restricted to members of the French Academy, it was later opened up; however, it remained strongly associated with the Academy's conservatism, and this eventually encouraged artists to exhibit outside of its confines.
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Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne was an influential French Post-Impressionist painter whose depictions of the natural world, based on internal geometric planes, paved the way for Cubism and later modern art movements.
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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.

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Edouard Manet
Edouard Manet
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.
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Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot
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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.

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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.
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Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
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Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt was a nineteenth-century American painter and printmaker, and is commonly associated with the French Impressionists. Cassatt moved to Paris in 1866 - where she would live until her death - and began studying privately with instructors from the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and befriended the likes of Degas, Pissaro and Morisot. Cassatt's painting style was not terribly distinctive, but her subject matter was, painting portraits of women in quiet solitude, and some of the more intimate moments enjoyed between mothers and daughters.

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Gustave Caillebotte
Gustave Caillebotte
Gustave Caillebotte was a nineteenth-century French painter and one of the lesser-known Impressionist artists, though his style resembled Realism more than the former. Caillebotte was also an early practitioner of photography as an art form, 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 Manet's famed Olympia.

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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.
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Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
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Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
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Georges Braque
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Abstract Expressionism
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Philip Guston
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Initially associated with the New York School of abstract art, Guston famously abandoned pure abstraction in the 1950s and turned to figurative art and quasi-abstract cartoon imagery. His later work, for which he is best known, was a major influence on the development of Neo-Expressionism in the U.S.
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Jackson Pollock
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Le déjeuner sur l'herbe
Le déjeuner sur l'herbe

Title: 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
Fog, Voisins

Title: 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
In a Park

Title: 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

L'Absinthe
L'Absinthe

Title: 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
Paris Street, Rainy Day

Title: 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
Vetheuil in the Fog

Title: 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
At the Opera

Title: 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
Girl with a Hoop

Title: 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
The Boulevard Montmartre, Afternoon

Title: 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

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863, Edouard Manet, Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Oil on canvas

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.
Fog, Voisins

Fog, Voisins, 1874, Alfred Sisley, Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Oil on canvas

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.
In a Park

In a Park, 1874, Berthe Morisot, Musee du Petit Palais, Paris
Pastel on paper

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.
L'Absinthe

L'Absinthe, 1876, Edgar Degas, Musee d'Orsay, Paris
Oil on canvas

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.
Paris Street, Rainy Day

Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877, Gustave Caillebotte, The Art Institute of Chicago
Oil on canvas

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.
Vetheuil in the Fog

Vetheuil in the Fog, 1879, Claude Monet, Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris
Oil on canvas

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.
At the Opera

At the Opera, 1880, Mary Cassatt, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, Massachussetts
Oil on canvas

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.
Girl with a Hoop

Girl with a Hoop, 1885, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Oil on canvas

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.
The Boulevard Montmartre, Afternoon

The Boulevard Montmartre, Afternoon, 1897, Camille Pissarro, The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Oil on canvas

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.
Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.