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Famous Painters of Impressionism
Men and Women and their Art

Impressionism is the most popular movement in Western art. Impressionism began as a new way of depicting the world with bold color to capture the fleeting effects of light and color in nature. The style was born in the 1850s and 1860s in the studios of Paris, by a group of independent painters who studied and worked together. For subjects they turned away from classical, religious and mythological topics, and looked at contemporary life and nearby landscapes. The painters chose modern subjects from daily life, the busy cafes and concerts of Paris and the countryside. The Impressionists also rejected the overworked highly finished surfaces of academic art in favor of an airy, unfinished look.

What is Impressionism?

Dance at the Moulin De Gatte
In Impressionism, the goal of the painting was to recreate the sensation of the visual experience for the viewer, instead of recreating the subject. To the Impressionists, color was more important than line. They used distinct slabs of bright, bold color, and contrasting colors like red with green and blue with orange, to capture the effect of sparkling light. Shadows were indicated with color instead of black paint. They rejected the scrupulous realism that was the style of the day. Instead they depicted the fleeting impression of the moment, rather than the details of the subject.

The Child's Bath
To do this, paint was applied quickly in thick brushstrokes that capture the ephemeral effects of light, atmosphere and color. Color was dabbed onto scrubbed paint, with visible brush strokes. The paint was unmixed, rather than smoothly blended, for a feeling of intense, vibrating color. Sometimes paints were applied wet paint on wet paint, and mixed into one another on the canvas. The invention of metal tubes for paint in 1840 allowed painters to work longer outdoors. The Impressionists took advantage of this and created many of their paintings outdoors.

Traditionally, painting composition used a point of focus with figures arranged to lead the eye to the point of focus. The Impressionists went in a new direction with paintings that looked uncomposed and unplanned. The arrangement was open and unstaged. Poses were relaxed, informal and candid. To capture the effect of movement, they used unusual visual angles, blurred figures and figures cropped at the edge of the canvas.

Introducing Impressionism to the Art World

Olympia by Manet

La Toilette, by Degas
In France, as elsewhere, traditional academic art focused on historical, mythological and religious themes. Portraits showed dark, stylized, carefully finished images. Academic painting was recognized at the Salon de Paris, the annual juried art show. The Salon ridiculed and rejected paintings in the Impressionistic style as crude and unfinished. In 1863 Napoleon III created by decree the Salon des Refusés, where paintings rejected by the Salon of the Académie des Beaux-Arts could be displayed. The artists of the refused works included the young Impressionists, who were considered revolutionary. In 1874, a group of the Impressionist painters, led by Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Bazille, Pissarro and Cezanne, set up a show of their own. Art critic Louis Leroy dismissed their show as unfinished wallpaper. Having seen Monet's painting titled Impression: Sunrise, he gave them the name Impressionists. Nevertheless, the Impressionists persevered. They held eight Impressionist art shows between 1874 and 1886, exhibiting the works of 55 painters over the years. Pissarro was the only artist to exhibit at all 8 of the shows.

Influences of Impressionistic Art

The Cradle, by Morisot
It was a historic time of great change in Paris, and the Impressionists were agents of change themselves. The invention of the photographic camera allowed them to study the freeze-frame photographs of humans and animals in motion made by Eadweard Muybridge. During this period, the narrow winding streets of Paris were torn down and completely rebuilt with long boulevards, parks, cafes, restaurants and theaters. Train stations were erected for the new railroads that carried city workers and struggling artists into the suburban parks. Some of the painters served in the Franco-Prussian War. Japanese woodblock prints were shown in Paris in the 1850s and influenced the painters, Monet, and Cassett among others.

Famous Painters of Impressionism

  • Manet
    Edouard Manet (1832-1883) twice failed the exam to enter the Navy. His bold nude Olympia scandalized the establishment. He shocked critics at the Salon des Refuses with Dinner on the Grass, which showed a nude woman with men in street clothes at a picnic. He painted The Races at Longchamp. Manet had a strong influence on the other painters, including Degas and Morisot.

  • Monet
    Claude Monet (1840-1926), as a schoolboy, sold charcoal caricatures. After he contracted typhoid he was released from military service in Algeria. His painting of sunrise over water titled Impression: Sunrise, led to the use of the term Impressionism. At times Monet and Manet painted side by side outdoors. Monet led open-air painting trips to Fontainebleau forest. His water lily paintings are memorable, as are a series of boldly colored Haystacks. Monet found inspiration in the gardens of his house at Giverny, which he painted extensively.

  • Renoir
    Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was apprenticed to be a porcelain painter before he studied painting. He was a working class painter who painted working class subjects. Unlike other Impressionists, he exhibited his painting Madame Charpentier and Her Children at the Salon to much success. His work is remarkable for his use of color, as in Two Sisters, Jugglers at the Cirque Fernando, The Rower’s Lunch and La Loge, showing a contemporary man and woman in a box at the opera. Although badly crippled by arthritis in old age, he continued painting with brushes strapped onto his hands. His painting of an outdoor dance, Bal au moulin de la Galette, Montmartre sold for $78.1 million in 1990.

  • Degas Self Portrait
    Edgar Degas (1834-1917) left his law studies to study painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His paintings of ballerinas are important for their emphasis on composition and line. He painted The Millinery Shop, Ballet at the Paris Opera, The Curtain and The Dance Class. At the sixth Impressionist exhibition of 1881, Degas showed a bronze sculpture of a ballerina dressed in a real tutu and ribbon.

  • Cezanne
    Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) paid attention to the structure of space and land and rendered landscapes with a strong geometric shapes, such as Auvers. His use of broken shapes was the forerunner of modern abstract art. After the onset of diabetes, his difficult personality strained his relationships with his wife and friends.

  • Sisley
    Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) studied at the studio of Swiss artist Marc-Charles-Gabriel Gleyre, where he met and painted with Frédéric Bazille, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Sisley, known for gentle landscapes, painted the villages near Paris. The Seine at Port-Marly depicts workers dredging the bottom of the river.

  • Pissarro Self Portrait
    Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) was born in St. Thomas and moved to Paris at the age of 25. He studied under Corot. He suffered a great loss when almost all of his paintings were destroyed in the Franco-Prussian War. He painted Peasant Women Planting Pea Sticks, as well as Woman and Child at the Well. In his later years he adopted the pointillist technique of Seurat and Signac, which uses small dots of unblended color. He married a maid from his mother’s household, and their six surviving children and many grandchildren are active in the art world.

Famous Women Artists of Impressionism

Women were not free to paint in the public places of Paris, and often could not paint male subjects. Women also were not permitted to enter the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where Renoir, Degas and Pissarro attended art classes. The three grand ladies of Impressionism, Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot and Marie Bracquemond triumphed over these limitations to paint remarkable domestic scenes of women and children in daily life, which they exhibited with the other Impressionists.

  • Bracquemond
    Marie Bracquemond (1841-1916) studied with Ingres. The French museums commissioned her to make important copies of paintings in the Louvre. She showed her work in Impressionist exhibitions of 1879, 1880, and 1886. Her paintings include Afternoon Tea. Her artistic career was ended by the professional jealousy of her artist husband.

  • Cassatt Self Portrait
    Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was an American from Pittsburgh who moved to Paris at the age of 20. She painted Five O’clock Tea with two women on a couch. Her paintings of mothers with children are poignant. Influenced by the work of Degas, she brought to her canvases a modern sense of movement, light and design. In 1879 she showed three pictures of young women at the opera in the fourth show of the Impressionists. Her color prints of domestic life, with blocks of unshadowed color, were influenced by the Japanese prints she collected. Almost blind by 1914, she was forced to stop painting and took up the cause of women's suffrage.

  • Morisot by Manet
    Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was a significant Impressionist artist who studied with Corot. At the age of twenty-three she had two landscape paintings accepted by the Salon de Paris. Morisot continued to show regularly in the Salon. She exhibited in seven of the eight Impressionist shows. She painted landscapes, portraits, garden settings, and boating scenes, as well as family and domestic life. Married to the brother of Edouard Manet, she introduced Manet to the other Impressionists and convinced Manet to try open air painting. White was always an important color in her paintings, white fabric, lace and bedclothes. She painted Lady at Her Toilette; Summer’s Day, a boating scene with two women; and The Butterfly Chase with a woman and children carrying butterfly nets. In spite of her artistic success, her death certificate said that she was without any profession.

The Enduring Influence of Impressionist Painters and Their Art


Lacking critical approval, the early paintings of the Impressionists often did not sell. Most of the painters lived in hardship. The Impressionist painter Gustave Caillebotte collected their paintings and supported them out of his huge inheritance. Paul Durand-Ruel was the dealer and patron who arranged shows for them in London and New York and brought fame to the Impressionist movement. A friend of Mary Cassatt, Mrs. Potter Palmer, bought 25 Monet paintings in 1891. Impressionism was adopted by artists around the world, including the Americans James Whistler, John Singer Sargent and Theodore Robinson. The Impressionist movement also influenced the music and literature of the period.

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