Most of the history of art can be attributed to the formation of different artistic movements. From the drama of the baroque to the emotion of romanticism, these movements reflect the looks of the time. Then, in the 1870s, a revolutionary new style emerged called Impressionism.
Led by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, this revolutionary movement went against the standards of painting of the time. Instead of seeking realism, Impressionist artists emphasized light, movement, and atmosphere in their depictions of everyday life. As a result, their works captured fleeting moments in time.
Want to know more about Impressionism? Scroll down to see a selection of 15 famous paintings by the masters of this iconic 19th century style.
Take a tour of Impressionism by discovering these 15 famous paintings.
Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1872
Claude Monet exhibits Impression, Sunrise in the Première Exposition des Impressionnistes, an independent exhibition hosted by avant-garde Parisian artists. Its sweeping style and fitting title drew a wave of negative reviews from local art critics.
“They are impressionists in that they do not render a landscape, but the sensation produced by the landscape ”, Jules Castagnary de The century, wrote. “The word itself has passed into their language: in the catalog, the Sunrise by Monet is not called landscape, but impression. Thus, they leave reality and enter the realm of idealism.
Ultimately, however, it was this painting and its critiques that gave the Impressionists their name.
Berthe Morisot, The cradle, 1872
Berthe Morisot was one of the the three great ladies, or “three great women”, from Impressionism, alongside Mary Cassatt and Marie Bracquemond. The cradle was exhibited alongside Monet Impression, Sunrise at the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874, and received praise for her “feminine grace”.
Claude Monet, Woman with a parasol, 1875
Woman with a parasol represents Monet’s wife and young son at the top of a grassy hill in Argenteuil. He uses a range of expressive brushstrokes in the sky and across the terrain to create a breezy atmosphere. Likewise, the drape of his wife’s voluminous white dress and the straps of her cap enhance the freshness of the moment.
Edgar Degas, The dance class, 1875
While most Impressionists depicted exterior scenes, Edgar Degas preferred human subjects and interior spaces. In particular, he has devoted much of his creative career to capturing artists at work, especially ballerinas. The dance class is one of his first forays into this field.
“People call me the painter of dancers,” Degas told Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard. “It never occurred to them that my main interest in dancers is rendering movement and painting pretty clothes.”
Edgar Degas, Place de la Concorde, 1875
Place de la Concorde represents the artist and patron Ludovic-Napoléon Lepic with his daughters and his dog in a public square in Paris. The large amount of negative space, the cropped figures, and the unusual composition suggest that Degas was influenced by photography.
Edgar Degas, Absinthe, 1875-1866
Compared to other impressionist paintings, and even to many other works by Degas, Absinthe stands out for its subdued color palette and dark subject matter. It depicts a woman and a man at a table in a bar, both of whom appear visibly dejected. In front of the woman is a glass of absinthe, which was a popular drink at the time. Although this was a controversial painting during Degas’ lifetime, it has since become important for its portrayal of a less seen “impression” of contemporary life.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, A ball at the Moulin de la Galette, 1876
Pierre-Auguste Renoir creates a ball at the Moulin de la Galette in 1876, when Impressionism was still in its infancy. It depicts a jubilant crowd of people including actors, artists, critics and Renoir’s family members at the original Moulin de la Galette, an outdoor dance hall in Montmartre. Sun-speckled lighting, delicate brush strokes, and sultry female figures are all iconic of Renoir’s style.
Claude Monet, Gare Saint-Lazare, 1877
Gare Saint-Lazare is the first in a series of 12 paintings by Monet based at Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. It captures a moving train, as plumes of steam and smoke fill the building and obscure the sky, and pedestrians dot the train tracks below. This series stands out in Monet’s work by its more urban subject matter, the artist being best known for his works inspired by nature.
Gustave Caillebotte, Street of Paris ; Rainy day, 1877
Painted in 1877, Street of Paris ; Rainy day is one of Gustave Caillebotte’s most famous paintings and a key part of Impressionism. Although more realistic in the modeling of its figures, the piece uses a striking composition with cropped figures clearly inspired by the new practice of photography. Overall, this serves to capture a fleeting ‘feel’ of a contemporary urban scene, which was a fundamental desire of the art movement.
Marie Cassatt, Little girl in a blue armchair, 1878
Although not as well known as other Impressionists, Mary Cassatt was one of the pioneers of modern art. Of American origin, she moved to Paris to pursue a career in painting. There she came into contact with Degas and other Impressionists and joined their movement. Little girl in a blue armchair is one of his most successful works and one of the earliest examples of his depictions of children. The asymmetrical composition also testifies to the influence of Degas, who was his teacher for many years.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Nautical festival lunch, 1880–1
Nautical festival lunch was displayed at the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882 to wide appreciation. The painting combines all the subjects Renoir loved to paint the most: still lifes, portraits and outdoor scenes. Again, this oil painting focuses on leisure activities, as the group is pictured having lunch on the sunny balcony of Maison Fournaise, a restaurant where boats could be rented not far from Paris. .
Marie Cassatt, The child’s bath, 1893
As Cassatt’s painting matured, she focused on one subject in particular: mother-child relationships. The child’s bath is one of his most iconic pieces for its striking perspective, pastel color palette and composition. It also reflects Cassatt’s fascination with Japanese woodcuts, a popular muse for many Impressionists of the time.
Camille Pissarro, Boieldieu bridge in Rouen, rainy weather, 1896
As one of the founding members of the Impressionist movement, Camille Pissarro played an important role in developing the style and encouraging independent exhibitions of an artist’s work. His most famous works represent urban scenes seen from above. Pont Boildieu in Rouen, rainy weather is part of a series of works he produced during a stay in Rouen.
Pissarro describes the painting in a letter: “The theme is the bridge near the Place de la Bourse with the effects of the rain, crowds of people coming and going, the smoke from the boats, the docks with cranes, the workers. in the foreground, and all in gray colors sparkling in the rain.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Large Bathers, 1884–7
The great swimmers was made after Renoir visited Italy and saw some of his favorite works by Titian and Raphael in person. As a result, this piece carries on the tradition of bathers in art in the Impressionist style. It represents three women bathing in the foreground while two are washing in the background. While the painting initially received mixed reviews for its departure from typical Impressionism, it has since become a favorite for its attempt to merge history with modernity.
Claude Monet, The water lilies and the Japanese bridge, 1897–99
From 1883 until his death 43 years later, Monet lived in idyllic Giverny, France. There he surrounded himself with beauty, as evidenced by the sunny interiors of his home, the collection of Japanese prints hanging on its walls, and the oriental-inspired gardens he built just steps from his front door. entree – a colorful creation which he called his “most beautiful masterpiece.”
Water lilies with a Japanese bridge represents the crown jewel of his garden, the Japanese bridge which frames the artificial pond of water lilies.
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