The Best Impressionist Paintings
Impressionism - arguably the world's most popular art movement - started as a style of plein air painting, whose aim was the realistic depiction of light: thus if the setting sun turned grass red, then red it would be painted. Its characteristic loose brushwork, along with its bold non-naturalist colour, shocked most spectators. The Impressionism style began in Paris, before spreading across Europe and to America. (See: Origins of Impressionism.)
The nucleus of the early Impressionist group included: Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), Edouard Manet (1832-83), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Jean-Frederic Bazille (1841-70), Berthe Morisot (1841-95), Pierre Renoir (1841-1919), and Gustave Caillebotte (1848-94). Important influences on the origins and early development of the movement included the Romantic landscape painter Camille Corot (1796-1875) and the Le Havre-born artist Eugene Boudin (1824-98), as well as the activities of the Barbizon School of landscape painting. (See: Impressionism: Early History.)
Impressionism takes its name from a highly negative review of written by the French art critic Louis Leroy, who visited the group's first exhibition in 1874 and who used the title of a painting by Monet as the title for his hostile review, "The Exhibition of the Impressionists". Although the show was appreciated by the Parisian avant-garde, more conservative artists, along with most critics and members of the public were shocked by the loose brushwork and unfinished appearance of the canvases on display.
EVOLUTION OF VISUAL
BEST MODERN ART
The founder-members of Impressionism developed in different ways. Monet, Sisley, and to a lesser extent Pissarro, remained the principal exponents of outdoor landscape painting. Monet, in particular, devoted his life to the portrayal of light on canvas, focusing on a number of favourite themes (haystacks, Rouen Cathedral, Water-Lilies). Meantime, Renoir turned increasingly to studio work, while Degas and Cezanne pursued more independent agendas. All, except for Sisley, painted a number of exceptional portraits and self-portraits. (See: Impressionist Painting Developments.)
In all, the Impressionists held eight exhibitions in Paris during the 12-year period 1874-86. (See: Impressionist Exhibitions in Paris.) Despite the artistic success of the group, it fails to attract sufficient numbers of buyers. Only the efforts of wealthy artist-collectors (Bazille, Caillebotte, Samuel Courtauld), individual French patrons (Victor Choquet) and dealers (Paul Durand-Ruel), kept members of the group afloat until the arrival of American collectors during the 1890s. Later Parisian collectors of Impressionist paintings included Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939), Paul Rosenberg (1881-1959) and Paul Guillaume (1891-1934).
Creatively howver, Impressionism was hugely influential. From 1874 onwards, the style was adopted to a greater or lesser extent by the majority of French painters, many of whom were attracted by the creative buzz of Paris, which rapidly became the centre of world art. They were joined by artists from across Europe, including Russia. (See: Impressionist Group Splits.)
Here is a selected list of the greatest Impressionist works of art by artists from around the world, chosen by our Editor Neil Collins. It includes examples from all the genres, including historical works, portraiture, genre-painting, landscape and still-life. For more information, see: Impressionist Portraits and Impressionist Landscape Painting.
Note: unless otherwise stated, paintings are held by the Musee d'Orsay, the world's greatest source of Impressionist works of art.
Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)
Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927)
Anders Zorn (1860-1920)
For more about Impressionism in Germany, see German Art 19th century.
Philip Wilson Steer (1860-1942)
Hone the Younger (1831-1917)
Merritt Chase (1849-1916)
Henry Twachtman (1853-1902)
Alden Weir (1852-1919)
Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
For information about Impressionist painting, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART HISTORY