19 Famous Impressionism Paintings
Some of the most famous impressionism paintings have become images that have been etched in to the public consciousness.
However the were not well received by the critics of the day.
The members of the impressionism movement distinguished themselves from more traditional art forms so much so that the initial reaction to the majority of impressionist paintings was highly negative.
Despite the initial rejection of their artwork the artists persevered and now some of the pieces are considered to be some of the most famous paintings ever produced.
Famous Impressionism Paintings
1. Impression Sunrise
Arguably the most famous of all impressionist paintings is Impression Sunrise by Claude Monet is responsible for the actual name Impressionism.
Monet painted six separate canvases that depicted the port of Le Havre, France which is actually his home town.
Impression Sunrise is the most famous of the series and was first displayed along with works by other artists in 1874, critically this new style of artwork had numerous critics.
The group of what become the most famous impressionist artists in question were resolutely rejected from the Paris Salon which drove them to create their own exhibition to showcase their work.
The work was said to typify the new art movement and it’s name is now synonymous with the style.
Ironically it does not embrace a lot of the style of impressionist artworks as it displays a very restrained use of color and brush strokes.
2. The Starry Night
The Starry Night by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh is considered one of his most famous and the image is instantly recognizable.
Although Van Gogh would technically be considered a post-impressionist painter much of his work is still aligned squarely with the movement.
When Van Gogh painted Starry Night he was in the asylum Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Remy-de-Provence at the time he had been suffering from paranoia and severe bouts of depression.
The scene is actually the view from the east facing window with the town added as what he had imagined an image of the ‘ideal village’ right before sunrise.
3. Luncheon of the Boating Party
In the Luncheon of the Boating Party Pierre-Auguste Renoir displayed three of his favored styles of working: en plein air setting, portraiture and still life a combined with the painters refined brush work and exquisite color palette.
Not only is it Renoir’s most famous paintings it is also one of his largest measuring 129.9cm x 172.7cm.
It actually features the artists friends and his future wife enjoying lunch on a balcony at the restaurant Maison Fournaise on the banks of the Seine in Chatou, France.
The hand rail serves as a cut off point between the more empty left upper side of the picture which contains the river bank and the right hand side which is densely populated with figures.
4. Water Lilies
Throughout his life Monet painted several series of works that focused on a particular theme or subject matter.
Haystacks was one such series, however it is his large catalogue of water lilies that really stand out.
During his last thirty or so years of life Monet spent most of his time devoted to capturing the lilies in his pond garden at his house in Giverny.
One such piece which is the largest tends to stand out as one of the best works of art that he is strongly noted for: Reflections of Clouds on the Water-Lily Pond.
It is widely considered one of the finest impressionism examples.
It is one of the largest canvases of the movement ever produced and measures a gargantuan 200 × 1276 cm laid out as a triptych each panel is 200cm x 424.8 cm.
It is a part of an installation in the Musee de l’Orangerie where eight compositions hand are set out in two consecutive oval rooms allowing the viewer to be almost completely immersed in some of the most famous Monet paintings.
5. A Bar at the Folies-Bergere
Édouard Manet died of syphilis at the age of 51 a year earlier in 1882 he completed A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and it depicts one of the types of scenes that he would become known for namely every day leisure scenes.
It is actually the artists final large work and many consider it to be one of his best.
The image has often posed more questions than it answered as the perspective created by the mirror has been heavily debated as to it’s accuracy.
Degas painted L’Absinthe roughly around 1875 initially it was absolutely panned by critics and went back into storage several times.
The scene features a man and a woman in seated in a cafe drinking a glass of absinthe their expressions appear lethargic and sad.
For a women to be sat in a cafe drinking absinthe at the time was considered immoral, and many British critics at the time were outraged by the work of art.
Degas unlike a lot of impressionist preferred more urban setting for his painting and the female model in the picture is also featured in his other works Plum Brandy and Chez le père Lathuille.
7. The Card Players
There are five paintings in the series of card players by Paul Cezanne which were completed in the early 1890’s.
Most of the individual paintings feature roughly the same scene with all of the characters playing cars with there eyes firmly fixated on the cards.
The works can be almost considered studies in still life with human objects as there is a very real lack of movement or life in any of the images.
The largest canvas features five people in it, with three players in the foreground and two on lookers behind them.
Cezanne created dozens of exploratory sketches for the series many of which can be found in art galleries all over the world.
8. Dance at Le Moulin De La Galette
Dance at Le moulin de la Galette is one of Renoir’s finest works and is considered one of the most recognizable famous impressionist artworks ever created.
Yet again the artist favors everyday scenes from French life and yet again his friends are some of the models in the work rather than strangers.
A somewhat brighter yet smaller picture of the exact same scene was painted by Renoir and this painting is believed to reside in a private collection in Switzerland.
9. The Floor Scrapers
The Floor Scrapers was painted by Gustave Caillebotte in 1875 and one of the few artworks of the style to make strong use of perspective and natural light.
The piece of art was not very well received by the art establishment of the day as it was rejected from the Paris Salon in 1875.
The reason it was rejected was the subject matter of the scene.
Three topless working class men are the focus of the painting and at the time both working class people executing their trade and the thought of a male being seen topless was considered vulgar by critics and the public alike.
10. Paris Street, Rainy Day
Another one of Gustave Caillebote’s works Paris Street Rainy Day is easily his best impressionism painting.
As an painter he has always remained completely overshadowed by his contemporaries even though his work is on a par with some of the best impressionists.
Just like in The Floor Scrapers the artist makes great use of perspective to draw the viewers eye directly to the center of the building in the background.
11. The Dance Class
Degas painted a series of works that focused on ballet or more importantly on the practice and teaching of ballet.
Most of the scenes were in fact imaginary yet they contained people that had a name in the world of ballet.
One of the more complex pieces that Degas produced, it has more than twenty characters contained within it.
The famous ballet conductor Jules Perrot is the instructor in the scene and is a pivotal character the the eye is drawn to.
12. The Avenue in the Rain
Although most impressionist paintings are attributed to French artists there are still some other artists of note that are not French.
The American artist Childe Hassam is known for a series of works that feature the America flag decorating various streets.
Hassam has six pieces of art that belong to the permanent collection of the White House in Washington DC.
This piece in particular has been hung in the oval office for the past three presidential terms.
At the time of the painting there was a sense of growing patriotism in the USA as it was several years before the outbreak of world war one and flags would be routinely hung on some of the biggest streets in America.
13. Le Boulevard Montmartre
Pissaro was a major proponent of en plein air or outside painting of landscapes.
This was one of the major impressionist painting techniques that set them apart from other genres as capturing the natural light was crucial.
Towards the end of his life due to failing health he was forced to paint scenes from indoors many of which were of the Boulevart Montmartre painting the street in both night and day versions.
The painting is less concerned with the structure of the street and more so with the interplay of light.
This is one of the reasons why Pissaro would make several versions of his work including at night.
14. The Swing
The Swing was painted by Renoir in parallel with The Dance at the Moulin de la Galette during the summer of 1876, at his studio in Montmartre.
He is said to have divided his day between the two, focusing on The Swing in the morning and The Dance in the afternoon, presumably due to the different lighting conditions that each part of the day offered.
Like a lot of Renoir’s work it features people that he actually new as his models. His brother Edmond, Jeanne a young woman from Montmartre and the painter Norbert Goenutte.
Both paintings have a very carefree feeling about them and Renoir would have this type of happy idyllic theme in a lot of his work, in fact he rarely if ever painted a sad image.
With both paintings Renoir sought to capture how light moves as it is filtered through the foliage from the trees above.
15. Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge
The Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge was painted by Claude Monet sometime between between 1897 and 1899.
Throughout Monet’s earlier life like a lot of the first impressionists he struggled to find a footing as a professional artist.
The impressionists were largely rejected when they initially displayed their work, it would take several years for them to find favor with the Parisian art market and as a result many of them lived through a lot of austerity.
However, once their new art movement was accepted and celebrated their fortunes started to turn and Monet would finally have financial security in his later life.
This allowed him to purchase his own house which he had been renting for several years in Giverny with land and convert the land into one of the most spectacular water gardens around.
The Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge is unusual in it’s more vertically orientated format.
The shape of the canvas allowed Monet to create a real sense of depth as the viewer is drawn into the image with the Japanese bridge being the focal point.
Like a lot of his paintings of his garden it forms a series of similar works, with 12 of the Japanese bridge being completed.
16. Sunset at Ivry
Although Armand Guillaumin is one of the lesser known French Impressionists his work is still of considerable note due to the amount of vibrant color he would use in comparison to the majority of other impressionists at the time.
He was close friends with Camille Pissarro and Paul Cezanne both of which he met at the Académie Suisse where he studied from 1861.
He is best known for his landscapes and the use of bold colors in contrast to darker shadow’s that certain elements of the scenes cast.
The major element of the Sunset at Ivry is the evening sunset and how it effects the light and color of everything it touches.
The scene beautifully captures the transition from day to night with the silhouettes of industrial chimneys adding movement by way of the smoke that they give off.
17. La Chemin de la Machine, Louveciennes
La Chemin de la Machine was painted by Alfred Sisley in 1873 and is one of the finest examples of en plein air painting.
Both Sisley and Monet would remain faithful to painting outside using the natural yet ever changing light conditions that the movement of the sun would produce as it moved through the sky over the course of the day and the seasons.
Like most of his work La Chemin de la Machine deals uses a very soft and delicate color palette and the focal point of the painting is the disappearing road off into the distance.
This type of focal point was something that Sisley would use time and time again whether it be a road or a river.
A row of evenly planted trees encompass the side of the road which was and still is to this day a very common scene in small towns across France, which Sisley captures in an almost timeless sense.
His sky is considerably lighter than those that Monet would paint and his later work would start to be influenced heavily by Monet with the sky being the most noticeable progression in his work.
18. Monet’s Haystacks Series
Claude Monet more than any other member of the impressionist would devote considerable time and energy into painting the same scene multiple times.
He has several famous paintings of water lilies, haystacks and cathedrals all of which have sometimes up 20 paintings in the series of each type of work.
The Haystacks series are a masterclass in color and light and in particular how the relationship light to the subject matter changes throughout the day and the seasons.
Monet would routinely have up to ten different canvases transported to the fields close to his home in Giverny were he would paint the same group or individual haystacks.
Some would be painted early in the day and more would focus on the evening light, several were also painted in the winter.
Monet would work on one canvas until the light changed and then work on the next canvas that suited the current lighting conditions.
Some of the works would be finished in his studio at his home once the preliminary works were carried out but the bulk were painted out in the countryside.
19. At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance
At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance was painted by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1890.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted this scene several times and it depicts a fairly common scene in the Moulin Rouge at the time with lively revelers enjoying a dance.
De Toulouse-Lautrec made very deliberate use of color in his work and he used it to great effect to draw the eye naturally through the canvas.
The pink of the woman in the foreground forms a near straight diagonal line to the red tights of the dancer back to the red hair and coat of the waiter in the background.
He conveyed a strong sense of movement and the viewer is almost transported back in time as if they were there.
The impressionism paintings featured above heralded in a bold new movement in the art world.
Following on from realism the impressionist aimed to break away from the more traditional imagery in art that would mostly depict the rich and powerful or religious scenes.
They aimed to capture the ordinary scenes and people of everyday life that surrounded them in both the countryside and the urban scenes of the larger French cities namely Paris.
The impressionist sought to deal with color and it’s relationship with light as the major component of their work.
For the first time a large number of canvases were painted outside or en plein air as natural light was considered the best way to explore how light and shadow interacted on the landscape.
Everyday life in the countryside was championed and celebrated, so too was the common man.
Impressionism should be see as one of the most important art movements ever and in many ways was the first true modern art.
Gone were the great historical scenes of old and the portraits of kings and noblemen to be replaced with nothing more than what the artists saw in the world all around them.
Their work had a much looser and lighter brushwork that allowed them to paint an “impression” of the image with particular focus on how light interacted which the world around it.
The majority of the work was oil on canvas, later members of the movement would branch out into pointillism and other such techniques but it was the slow drying oil paint with brush that was most commonly used.
This collections of impressionism paintings although not exhaustive covers the some of the most popular and easily recognizable of the genre