In the 1870s, the western art world was turned upside-down with the emergence of Impressionism, an avant-garde art movement. Born in Paris, France, Impressionism was founded by a unique group of artists who each opted to abandon traditional rules of art in favor of a new approach. Characterized by quick, painterly brushstrokes and a unique use of color based on the effects of light, this novel style of painting enabled the artists to capture fleeting impressions of everyday life—an interest that unified them and eventually led to their “Impressionist” title.
While a myriad of artists influenced the iconic movement, the work of a select few has resonated particularly strongly over the last century. Here, we explore the work of these iconic Impressionist painters in order to understand their respective contributions to the first modern art movement.
In this Impressionist artists list, we take a closer look at the painters who started the iconic movement.
Claude Monet is the artist most closely associated with Impressionism. This is due in part to Impression, Sunrise, a piece he painted in 1872. A depiction of his hometown's harbor, the painting portrays several characteristics distinctive of the movement, from its thick brushwork to its focus on light. Impression, Sunrise was featured in 1874's Exhibition of the Impressionists—the first Impressionist show—and thereafter inspired the movement's now-household name.
In addition to Impression, Sunrise, Monet is also widely praised for his later canvases. These include depictions of his Japanese bridge in Giverny, snapshots of fin-de-siècle Paris, and his iconic Water Lilies series.
Along with Claude Monet, Édouard Manet pioneered the concept of employing everyday life as subject matter. Even before his involvement with the Impressionists, Manet worked in a style that challenged the academic style of 19th-century France.
His most well-known piece, Luncheon on the Grass, portrays his tendency toward experimenting with a more Impressionist style. Painted nearly 10 years before Impression, Sunrise, this work showcases the start of the artist's interest in a more modern approach to painting.
Over the next decade, his paintings would become increasingly Impressionist, culminating in a body of work largely linked to the movement.
Renowned for his soft depictions of fellow artists, friends, and family members, Pierre Auguste-Renoir is predominantly regarded as a portrait painter. Often set outdoors, his portrayals—like The Luncheon of the Boating Party—are composed of saturated color and illuminated by dappled sunlight.
When not painting large groups, the artist usually employed female subjects, whose beauty he admired. “To my mind, a picture should be something pleasant, cheerful, and pretty, yes pretty!” he famously exclaimed. “There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more of them.”