These are the 12 most famous Impressionist paintings from art history.
Impressionism was a 19th-century art movement that originated in France in the 1860s and lasted until the 1890s. It was a radical departure from the traditional style of painting and marked the beginning of modern art. Impressionists were interested in capturing the fleeting effects of light and color in nature, and they sought to convey the sensation of a moment rather than a literal representation of a scene.
Impressionists broke with the traditional academic style of painting, which emphasized realistic representation, and instead, focused on capturing the atmosphere and mood of a scene. They often worked outdoors, directly in front of their subjects, to capture the changing light and atmosphere. This led to a looser, more fluid style of painting, with quick, visible brushstrokes and an emphasis on capturing the sensations of a moment.
One of the key characteristics of Impressionism was the use of light and color. Impressionists were fascinated by the effects of light on color and the way it changed the appearance of objects. They used bright, bold colors and often worked with pure color, without mixing it with white or black. They also used broken brushstrokes and a technique known as pointillism, which involved placing small dots of color next to each other to create the impression of a larger color.
Another hallmark of Impressionism was its subject matter. Impressionists were interested in capturing everyday scenes of modern life, such as cafes, parks, and streets. They also painted landscapes and seascapes, often depicting the effects of weather and light on the natural world. Their paintings were often informal and spontaneous, giving the viewer the sense of being a part of the scene.
The Impressionist movement was led by a group of artists including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, and Camille Pissarro. These artists organized several exhibitions of their work, including the famous Salon des Refusés in 1863, which showcased work that had been rejected by the official Salon.
Impressionism was initially met with hostility and derision from critics and the public, who were accustomed to the traditional academic style of painting. However, the movement gained popularity over time and had a significant impact on the development of modern art. Impressionism paved the way for other movements such as Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, and Expressionism.
Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet (1872)
The term impressionism is derived from the title of this painting – Impression, soleil levant. It depicts the port of Le Havre, in Claude Monet’s hometown in the Normandy region, with two small rowboats in the foreground and the red sun being the focal elements. More fishing boats are shown in the middle, while in the background on the left side of the painting are clipper ships with tall masts. This painting is a depiction of his hometown, and the industry of the time, but is also Monet’s ultimate utopian depiction, as it demonstrates France’s revitalization in the final decades of the 1800s.
Dance de la Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1876)
This famous painting was done by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, He was a French painter who was one of the leading artists of the impressionist style. Bal du moulin de la Galette depicts Sunday afternoons at the Moulin de la Gallete in the Montmartre district in Paris, where in the late 19th century, working-class Parisians would go dancing, drink, and eat galettes into the evening. It can be considered, as his other works, a snapshot of real life.
View of the Canal Saint-Martin by Alfred Sisley (1870)
This painting was done by an impressionist landscape painter named Alfred Sisley who predominantly painted landscapes and deviated into figure painting rarely. It depicts Canal Saint-Martin, which is in Paris, France.
The beauty of the canal is perfectly represented together with its landscape and blue skies revealing how much attention Sisley had paid to his art.
Woman with a Parasol – Madame Monet and Her Son, Camille, and Jean Monet by Claude Monet (1875)
Claude Monet was a founder of impressionist painting, and this painting was painted outdoors, probably in a single session of several hours’ duration. Monet conveyed the feeling of a casual family outing and used pose to suggest that his wife and his seven-year-old son interrupted their stroll while he captured them. The artist’s spontaneous brushwork created splashes of color.
The Cradle by Berthe Morisot (1872)
Berthe Morisot was a French painter whose work was impressionistic. She was described as one of the three great ladies of impressionism, alongside Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt. The model for The Cradle was the artist’s sister Edma, who is depicted watching over her sleeping daughter, Blanche. It is Morisot’s first image of motherhood, which later becomes one of her favorite subjects.
Boulevard Montmartre by Camille Pissarro (1897)
Camille Pissarro painted 14 paintings of the Boulevard Montmartre at several different times of day and seasons of the year because he wanted to capture the true essence of the busy Parisian street in the final years of the 1800s. Therefore, there are paintings such as The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, or Boulevard Montmartre: Afternoon, Sunshine. He painted all fourteen canvases between February and April of 1897, at the age of 66, from his hotel room.
The Cliff at Étretat after the Storm by Claude Monet (1885)
Monet, one of the founders of impressionists, is seen as a key precursor to modernism. The cliffs of Étretat in the Normandy region of northwestern France were an inspiration to other artists, such as Gustave Courbet, and Monet made more than 50 paintings of the Normandy region between October and December of 1885.
Hay Harvest at Éragny by Camille Pissarro (1901)
Pissarro was a Danish and French impressionist whose importance resides in his contribution to both impressionism and post-impressionism, and he was the only artist to have shown his work at all eight Paris impressionist exhibitions. This painting depicts the hay harvest in the French commune of Éragny-sur-Epte in the north and was an inspiration due to the artist living several years of his life in his home near the river Epte.
Reading by Berthe Morisot (1873)
Berthe Morisot was a French painter and one of the impressionists. She was the wife of the painter Eugène Manet. The model for this painting titled Reading was the painter’s younger sister, Edma. She is posing as a woman seated casually in a meadow, reading. Delicate accents of color are used for the dress pattern, and to indicate blossoms and highlights in the grass.
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet (1882)
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is considered to be Manet’s last major work. It is rich in details which undoubtedly provides clues to social class and milieu. The central figure is a real person, known as Suzon, who worked at the Folies-Bergère in the early 1880s. According to several art historians, by including a dish of oranges in the foreground, Édouard Manet identifies the barmaid as a prostitute, because he habitually associated oranges with prostitution in his paintings.
Two Sisters (On the Terrace) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1881)
Renoir was one of the most influential impressionist painters and one of the greatest painters of 19th-century Europe. He was a celebrator of beauty and especially feminine sensuality. The older girl depicted in Two Sisters (On the Terrace) is wearing a female boater’s blue flannel and is shown gazing absently beyond her younger sister, who seems to have just dashed into the picture.
The Child’s Bath by Mary Cassatt (1893)
Mary Cassatt was an American painter and printmaker who often created images of the social and private lives of women, with emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and their children. In The Child’s Bath, the painter addressed the theme for which she is best known – women and children, but with an addition in a form of compositional elements of Japanese art. This painting is the culmination of her investigation of a flattened picture plane and decorative patterning.
What famous Impressionist paintings do you think we should add to this list? Comment below.