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Selected Biographies

Eugène Boudin (1824-1898) was a precursor of Impressionism. He painted along the Normandy coast and is best known for luminous views of fashionable resorts like Trouville. He befriended the teen-aged Claude Monet in their hometown of Le Havre and introduced him to painting directly from nature. Monet later recalled, "Boudin, with untiring kindness, undertook my education. My eyes were finally opened and I really understood nature; I learned at the same time to love it." Boudin regularly exhibited at the Salon and was included in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Despite painting outdoors, Boudin never went as far as the Impressionists in analytical use of color and broken brushwork.

The great realist writer Emile Zola was so taken by the "beautiful truth" in Gustave Caillebotte’s work that he wrote, "When his talent becomes a little more broken in, Monsieur Caillebotte will certainly be one of the boldest of the group." But the wealthy Caillebotte (1848-1894) is probably better known for buying up the works of fellow Impressionists and, in 1894, bequeathing them to the French government for display at Paris’s Musée de Luxembourg. Of sixty-seven works, the museum accepted only thirty-eight, citing lack of space and the still-controversial image of Impressionist art. Included in the final bequest were two works by Cézanne, seven by Degas, eight by Monet, seven by Pissarro, two by Manet, six by Sisley, and six by Renoir. Caillebotte’s gift made up the first museum exhibition of Impressionist art at the Musée de Luxembourg in 1897.

Not until the 1950s did Caillebotte’s own paintings win the attention they deserved.

Paul Cézanne (1839-1906)was born to a wealthy family in the town of Aix-en-Provence. Temperamental and shy, he became an artist against his father's wishes. Fellow artist Camille Pissarro introduced him to Impressionism in the 1870s and became a lifelong friend, encouraging Cézanne to paint from nature and providing emotional support. Still, Cézanne grew disillusioned with Impressionism, distrusted fellow artists, and refused to exhibit with the group after their second show. "I wanted to make of Impressionism something solid and enduring, like the art in museums," he once said.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was born to an affluent Parisian banking family and briefly studied law before turning to art. Although a founding member of the Impressionist group exhibitions, Degas never really thought of himself as an Impressionist. He had received academic art training. He worked more realistically than the other Impressionists for much of his career. His drawing skills, obvious in the clear, deliberate lines around his painting subjects, also set him apart from Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and many others. Unlike his fellow Impressionists, who were criticized for sloppy brushwork and lack of finish, Degas was sometimes questioned for the "low-life" subjects he painted obsessively: laundresses, dancers, and street women. In later life, the artist moved away from realism toward a looser style that would inspire a new generation of painters. This looser style was due, in part, to his failing eyesight.

For much of his career Jean-Baptiste-Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927) was associated with grittier subject matter than most of the Impressionists. He came from a working-class family and was employed on the Paris-Orléans railway. Guillaumin worked at night and painted during the day, and he frequently chose industrial subjects such as laborers and barges along the Seine. In 1891 he won 100,000 francs in the state lottery, which allowed him to paint full-time. After that he spent more time outside of Paris and painted intensely personal landscapes that were an outgrowth of his experiments with pictorial technique in the 1880s. His bold, simplified late work anticipates later movements such as Fauvism.

Claude Monet (1840-1926) grew up in Le Havre, France, where an aunt first financed his painting studies. Later, in Paris, he met and was influenced by future Impressionist colleagues Sisley, Renoir, and others. He was a leading figure in the Impressionists’ first group exhibition in 1874, which one critic ridiculed as "a collection of freshly painted canvases smeared with floods of cream." It was Monet’s painting of the Le Havre harbor in Impression, Sunrise, that gave the fledgling movement its name. Until late in his life, Monet suffered frequent personal and professional ups and downs. Yet, he never wavered in the quest to paint his direct, sensory impressions of nature without intellectual thought. "Paintings aren’t made with doctrines," he declared.

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) struggled to be taken as seriously as male counterparts of the time. Reared in a conservative, cultured family, she received the art lessons given all young ladies of her class. She was excluded, as a woman, from nude life-drawing classes, but her ability emerged in paintings of the outdoors and domestic scenes. She married the brother of her mentor, Èdouard Manet, and exhibited in all but one Impressionist show. During her lifetime, Morisot’s canvases often fetched slightly higher prices than those of her male colleagues, but she remained modest. She had merely wanted to capture "something of what goes by...the smallest thing," she wrote in later life. "An attitude of Julie’s (her daughter), a smile, a flower, a fruit, the branch of a tree, any of these things alone would be enough for me."

The son of a tailor, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) studied with Monet at the classical Ècole des Beaux-Arts. As an Impressionist, he painted human figures enjoying modern pastimes in light-filled gardens, outdoor restaurants, and cafes. Soft brushstrokes and luminous color characterize his work. "For me a picture should be a pleasant thing, joyful and pretty - yes pretty!" he said. Later in life, he favored the more conservative subjects, solid figures, and centered compositions of earlier, academic art. Like fellow artists Monet and Cassatt, he wondered if the Impressionists' views of a fleeting moment in modern life would interest future generations.

Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) was born in Paris of English parents. His merchant father sent him to London to embark on a business career, but he returned to Paris in 1862 and devoted himself full-time to art. The painters Camille Corot and Gustave Courbet were important inspirations for Sisley's carefully structured early work, but his style became looser and more colorful under the influence of Renoir, Monet, and Pissarro. Sisley exhibited with the Impressionists in 1874, 1876, 1877, and 1882. Throughout his career, Sisley painted almost exclusively landscapes and stayed faithful to the original Impressionist approach to painting. Unlike many of his colleagues, Sisley always struggled financially and prices for his work rose only after his death.

The son of a Dutch clergyman, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) tried and failed at dealing art, teaching, and religious evangelism before turning to drawing and painting at age twenty-seven. He was a self-taught and virtually unnoticed painter who sold only one artwork during his lifetime. Soon after finishing Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, van Gogh left the bustle of Paris for the south of France. There he sought the direct inspiration of nature and the color, light, and natural forms he admired in Japanese prints. Unfortunately, his attacks of mental illness continued, and, at the age of thirty-seven, he took his own life.

Federico Zandomeneghi (1841-1917) is the best-known Italian Impressionist. Born in Venice, he spent the years 1862-66 in Florence, working with the artists known as I Macchiaoli. He traveled to Paris in 1874 intending to stay for a few weeks. Instead, he never left. He became friends with Degas, Manet, and Renoir, and exhibited with the Impressionists four times between 1879 and 1886. His most common themes were the daily life of women-he showed them at home or watching children in the park. The dealer Durand-Ruel devoted the first one-man show at his gallery in Paris to Zandomeneghi's work in 1893.

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