Impressionism: c. 1874-1886

Impressionism is both a style and the name of a group of artists who did something radical—in 1874 they banded together and held their own independent exhibition. These artists described, in fleeting sensations of light, the new leisure pastimes of the city and its suburbs. It’s hard to imagine, but at this time in France, the only place of consequence that artists could exhibit their work was the official government-sanctioned exhibitions (called salons), held just once a year, and controlled by a conservative jury. The Impressionists painted modern Paris and landscapes with loose open brushstrokes, bright colors, and unconventional compositions—none of which was appreciated by the salon jury!

Japonisme thumb
The distinctive qualities of Japanese art offered striking new approaches to modern artists developing alternatives to the Western tradition of naturalistic representation.


Pierre Auguste Renoir, Study: Torso, effect of sun, 1875-76, oil on canvas, 81 x 65 cm (Musée d'Orsay, Paris)
Blue snow and violet-tinted flesh—the Impressionists radically changed our expectation of color.

Impressionist color

Lacking access to the cafes and bars male Impressionists painted, Morisot mastered intimate domestic interiors.

Berthe Morisot, The Cradle

Locomotives and tracks (detail), Claude Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare (or Interior View of the Gare Saint-Lazare, the Auteuil Line), 1877, oil on canvas, 75 x 104 cm (Musée d'Orsay)
Hazy with smoke, the architecture of the train station and technology of the iron engine dissolve before our eyes.

Monet, The Gare Saint-Lazare

Mary Cassatt, In the Loge- detail
The subject looks through opera glasses, but she herself is the object of another man’s gaze—not to mention ours.

Mary Cassatt, In the Loge