Impressionism originated in 19th-century France. The movement revolutionized the art world. Numerous artists like Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Édouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, and Mary Cassatt made impressionist pieces. Impressionist artists captured fleeting moments, vibrant light, and scenes from daily life. Today, the influence of Impressionists persists. It’s visible in the continuing artistic importance of color, light, and themes coming from everyday life.
1. The Most Famous Impressionist Artist: Claude Monet
Claude Monet was an advocate of the Impressionist movement throughout his whole career. The movement was even named after one of his works called Impression, Sunrise. To capture the change of light, Monet liked to paint outdoors, a practice he was introduced to by his mentor Eugène Boudin. The artist Gustave Courbet once visited Claude Monet while he was working on his large painting Women in the Garden and said that Monet needed the conditions of the light to be perfect even when painting the leaves. He focused on depicting the same scene but at different times of day and during various weather conditions from 1890 on.
This led to series such as Haystacks. While the beginning of his career was shaped by poverty, he started to make more money in the 1880s. In 1890, he was able to buy a house in Giverny, France. He created a water garden with a lot of water lilies there. It inspired Monet’s well-known Water Lilies series which consists of around 300 paintings. His eyesight got worse in 1908 and in 1923 he had a cataract operation. He nonetheless worked on the series. He donated a number of these works to the French government in 1926, the same year he died.
2. Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas is famous for his depiction of Parisian society and portrayal of female subjects, especially ballet dancers. While Impressionists like Claude Monet painted out of doors, Edgar Degas preferred to work inside. He was born in Paris in 1834 as the son of a banker and art enthusiast. He studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and learned from the work of the Old Masters, whose works he saw at the Louvre and in Italy.
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Degas met Édouard Manet while he was copying a piece by Diego Velázquez in the Louvre. Through Manet, Degas was introduced to the group of Impressionists. Instead of making history paintings, Degas started to paint scenes from contemporary everyday life. His paintings featured ballerinas, working laundresses, and women at their toilettes.
Influenced by the Impressionist movement and photography, Degas wanted the scenes in his works to seem spontaneous and fleeting. He often cut off people or objects from his paintings which increased their snapshot-like quality. He, however, acknowledged that the achievement of this effect was planned out meticulously. The unusual perspectives of his paintings were also influenced by Japanese color prints.
3. Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in 1841. He started working as a painter in a porcelain factory when he was 13 years old. He went to evening courses at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1862 and took lessons at Charles Gleyre’s studio. There, he met Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille. During that time, painters would create their works inside a studio. Renoir, Monet, Sisley, and Bazille however broke with that tradition and went to the forest of Fontainebleau to paint in 1864.
He is known for his snapshot-like depictions of get-togethers seen in works like Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette or Luncheon of the Boating Party. He is also famous for his portrayal of women and nudes. With his work Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, Renoir vibrantly depicted Impressionist themes like modern everyday life as well as the constantly changing lighting conditions, here seen through seemingly fleeting illuminating spots. His paintings show subjects that are generally thought of as pleasant such as flowers, beautiful women, people having fun, and sweet-looking children.
4. Camille Pissarro
Camille Pissarro was born in Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, where his parents had a general store. At 12 years old, he was sent to a school in Passy. When he came back to St. Thomas, his father wanted him to work in the family business, but Pissarro wished to make art instead. In 1852, he sailed to Venezuela with the painter Fritz Melbye to escape what he called the bondage of bourgeois life. A few years later, Pissarro went to Paris and attended private classes at the École des Beaux-Arts. At the Académie Suisse, he met Claude Monet who introduced him to Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley. At the Café Guérbois, he would frequently have debates about art with Renoir and Monet.
He was interested in the effects of weather and light. Pissaro is widely known for his landscape paintings depicting rural life, of which his piece A Cowherd at Valhermeil, Auvers-sur-Oise is an example. The artist was dissatisfied with the jury of the Paris Salon, so he searched for an exhibition different from the one at the Salon. In 1874, the first Impressionist exhibition took place in Paris at the studio of the photographer Nadar. Pissarro was the only one who exhibited his work in all eight Impressionist exhibitions. He was older than the other members of the group and became known as their father figure.
5. Édouard Manet
There’s a debate about whether Manet was an Impressionist or not, however, he certainly impacted the group greatly. Born in 1832 in Paris into an upper-middle-class family, Édouard Manet became one of the most important artists of the 19th century. He is also well-known for his involvement with the Impressionist group, but he never exhibited in one of the official Impressionist exhibitions.
Due to his status as someone from the upper middle class, Manet strived for traditional artistic success even though he was seen as a rebellious painter who created scandalous artworks like Déjeuner sur l’herbe and Olympia. While his work influenced the Impressionists and he himself was influenced by them during the 1870s, Manet also kept a certain distance from the group. He also kept submitting his works to the Salon.
The Impressionist painter and Édouard Manet’s sister-in-law Berthe Morisot encouraged the artist to paint outdoors, in plein air, which was characteristic of the Impressionist movement. Manet’s painting titled Boating from 1874, set in Gennevilliers where Manet vacationed at the time, was inspired by Japanese prints. Like many Impressionist works it depicts an aspect of modern life and leisure. In Gennevilliers, Manet often spent time with Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
6. Berthe Morisot
Berthe Morisot was one of the few female Impressionist artists. She was born in 1841 in Bourges, France, and was a descendant of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, who was an important Rococo artist. Morisot received an informal artistic education from Camille Corot and two of her works were accepted by the Salon on her first try in 1864. She exhibited more of her paintings in the years to come, but despite the positive response she got, she stopped showing her work at the famous exhibition. Instead, Morisot helped organize the Impressionist exhibitions and participated in seven of the movement’s eight shows. She couldn’t participate in the fourth because she was ill after giving birth to her daughter Julie.
Her home also became a popular spot for Impressionist artists and writers. Morisot is known for depicting women, domestic life, and private scenes like in Woman at Her Toilette. Her work has been praised for portraying women in a way that doesn’t objectify them. The artist died of pneumonia in 1895 when she was only 54 years old.
7. American Impressionist Artist in Paris: Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt is another example of a female Impressionist whose work and achievements were often overshadowed by those of her male colleagues. Cassatt was born in 1844 in Allegheny City, which is part of Pittsburgh now. From 1861 to 1865, she attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After her training at the academy, she went to Europe and exhibited her work at the 1872 Salon in Paris. She came into contact with the art of Degas, who also became a close friend.
Degas wanted Cassatt to show her work at the Impressionist group exhibitions, which she did on four of the eight occasions. She was the only American who exhibited with the group. Like other members of the movement, Mary was interested in vibrant colors. She often used people she knew as models for her paintings and showed modern scenes from daily life, like in The Boating Party.
In the later period of her career, Cassatt focused on depictions of mothers caring for their children. A famous example of these works is The Child’s Bath, in which a mother is seen washing a small child’s feet. The striped dress and perspective of the work that depicts the mother and child from above also show how Cassatt was inspired by Japanese art. This influence became even more apparent in a series of prints she made after visiting the 1890 exhibition of Japanese prints in Paris. Cassatt also greatly influenced the American taste in art by encouraging friends to buy Impressionist art.