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"Water Lilies" by Claude Monet | © Public Domain/WikiCommons
"Water Lilies" by Claude Monet | © Public Domain/WikiCommons

An Introduction To Impressionist Art In 12 Works

Picture of Courtney Stanley
Updated: 28 December 2016
Impressionist artwork started to emerge in mid 19th-century France as artists began to break free of the rigid studios and strict lines of typical paintings of the time and painted outdoors with more relaxed, brushed colors.

Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant) by Claude Monet

Impression, Sunrise, painted in 1873, is arguably the most important work of Impressionist art because it gave the movement its name. Monet, regarded as the epitome of Impressionist art, faced plenty of criticism for his style of painting, which involved loose brush strokes that showed a suggestion of a scene rather than a life-like rendition. This painting was deemed unfinished or sketch-like by many critics of the time. Although Impression, Sunrise is mostly painted in hazy, muted tones, the bright sun and its reflection on the water and the dark shadow of a boat are vivid splashes of color.


Paris Street; Rainy Day (Rue de Paris, temps de pluie) by Gustave Caillebotte

This 1877 oil painting is Caillebotte’s best-known and probably his finest work. The painting depicts several figures walking through the Place de Dublin, which was known as the Carrefour de Moscou at the time. Caillebotte often walked the line between Realism and Impressionism, which is clear in this painting’s sharp, clear lines. This work, however, has more similarities with American Realism than French Realism because of its photo-likeness. The subject matter of well-dressed, upper-class citizens is more in line with Impressionism than Realism.


A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Edouard Manet

Manet’s 1882 painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was the last major work he completed. The painting shows a woman in front of a mirror at the Folies Bergère nightclub bar in Paris. The painting has been the subject of many scholarly articles because of some of the oddities and supposed impossibilities, but in 2000 the scene was recreated for a photograph and Manet’s perspective was verified. The detailed, contemporary scene shares similarities with works of Realism.


Water Lilies (Nymphéas) by Claude Monet

Monet’s famous series Water Lilies, which consists of around 250 paintings of water lilies made during the last 30 years of his life, has been described as the ‘Sistine Chapel of Impressionism.’ The vast collection of works showcase the peaceful waters and gently resting water lilies in a series of different colors, seasons, and lights. The paintings, which all have a varying degree of haziness and sweeping strokes, are now separated and displayed all over the world as a testament to Impressionism.


Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes by Alfred Sisley

Sisley loved to paint roads that stretched out to the distant horizon and beyond, and he used this effect of shifting a viewer’s perspective from the foreground to the background in many of his works, including this one. In his 1873 work Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes, Sisley, who excelled in landscape paintings, captured the beauty and light of the Ile-de-France countryside. Sunlight grazes the grass along the side of the road and spills through the line of trees, which cast long shadows.


Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe) by Edouard Manet

Originally titled The Bath (Le Bath), Manet’s 1862-63 painting was admired when it was exhibited in 1863, but it also caused considerable controversy. The rural scene depicts one nude woman and another woman bathing while two fully-dressed men engage in conversation. This work, like most of Manet’s, flirts with Realism, but it was painted with broad brushstrokes. This painting has been puzzling audiences and critics since it was exhibited—namely the nude woman with her unreadable expression and the strange, studio-style lighting. According to Emile Zola, this was Manet’s finest work.


Boulevard Montmartre by Camille Pissarro

This 1897 work was part of Pissarro’s series of paintings depicting different views of the Boulevard Montmartre that he created from a room in the Grand Hotel de Russie. Each of the 13 artworks displays the grand boulevard in a different view, at a different time of day, or in different weather conditions to show the changing light on the city street. In this particular work, the day has a gloomy feeling, but the street is bustling with people and carriages, as depicted by Pissarro’s quick brushwork, which animates the scene of urban life.


The Absinthe Drinker (L’Absinthe) by Edgar Degas

This 1876 painting, which is known by many different names, sets the dismal scene of a woman and a man sitting in a French café. The woman looks somberly down into her glass of absinthe, and the man looks just as grim. In this painting, Degas captured the feeling of isolation in Paris while the city grew rapidly in the 19th century. Critics in France and England did not react warmly to the work at the time, which they called ugly and unpleasant.


Summertime by Mary Cassatt

This vivid, colorful work of art was created in 1894 by Cassatt, an American painter who traveled to France, where she spent most of her life and instilled herself as a pivotal artist of the Impressionist movement. Cassatt encountered one roadblock after another as she was establishing herself as an artist, but she created a portfolio of work that is full of stunning Impressionist paintings. Cassatt was fond of using pastels and etchings in her works, and for a time she worked side-by-side with Degas. They were equally well regarded at the famous Impressionist exhibit of 1879.


Dance at le Moulin de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Renoir was a huge contributor to the Impressionist movement, and this 1876 painting has been described as the most beautiful painting of the 19th century. Renoir chose to paint a typical Sunday afternoon at this open-air dance hall and café that was located near where he lived. Impressionism’s signature aspects are all on display here: an everyday subject presented with vibrant color, fluid brushstrokes, and careful, creative use of light.


Sunset at Ivry by Armand Guillaumin

Created in 1873, Sunset at Ivry features a rather romantic-looking landscape of a Parisian suburb, Ivry. The smoke billowing from factory chimneys is the central focus of the painting. Guillaumin is not a widely known Impressionist artist, but he worked with light in beautiful ways, often using bold, brilliant colors in this paintings. Guillaumin ran in the circles of Renoir, Cézanne, and Van Gogh, and he is most famous for his landscape paintings of Paris, the Provence, and the Mediterranean coast.


The Cradle by Berthe Morisot

After meeting Manet in the 1860s, Morisot became entrenched in the Impressionist movement. Her 1873 work is a portrait of motherhood: her sister Edma watching her sleeping daughter, Blanche. Edma’s pose is relaxed and intimate, a mirror image of her daughter, presented with a clear sentimental touch, a theme that was largely missing from the Impressionist movement. After this painting, Morisot often portrayed scenes of motherhood. The Cradle was overlooked for the most part when it was exhibited, but the feedback it did receive was all positive.