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Top Impressionist Artists

Claude Monet (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) was considered the founding father of the impressionist painting style that started in Paris and was the most prolific in the genre.  To talk about impressionism is to talk about his body of work. It all started in 1872, when his Impression, Sunrise, exhibited in the landmark 1874 anti-establishment show spawned the word Impressionist from an artist critic. That same painting is now displayed in the Musee Marmotan Monet in Paris.

Claude showed early talent as a painter and went on to study at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts where he showed his rejection of traditional art values.  He left for the Academie Suisse where his met fellow independently-minded artists Pissarro and Courbet.  It was in Paris where he met with other artists who would soon form the impressionist core.  Among them was Edouard Manet who had a profound influence on him.  In 1862, Claude became a student of Charles Gleyre where he met with Pierre-August Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Frederic Bazille and shared the same impressionist tendencies with raw brushstrokes and broken colors.  It was Monet’s Women in the Green Grass or Camille he painted in 1866 that started his road to fame and with a work that featured his future wife Camille.

During his latter years, his work showed a more reddish overall tone resulting from his cataracts but it never diminished the value of his works that remained on of the pillars in impressionist art.

Today, one of the highest prices paid in art auction was for his Nympheas, Water Lilies sold for more than $71 million.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (25 February 1841 – 3 December 1919) was among the leading French painters in the impressionist style which a distinctly emphatic focus on feminine beauty. His impressionist nudes were his signature subjects with details that are freely suggested in brushed color, allowing the subject to blend with the surroundings. The single largest archive of his opus is at the Barnes foundation in Philadelphia

Noted for their vibrant saturated colors with people as subjects in candid positions, Renoir earned initial recognition when six of his works were exhibited in the first formal impressionist show of 1874, along with his friends Monet and Degas.  But his en plein air (in the open air) landscapes were just as impressionistic in its interplay light and water. 

One of his best impressionist paintings is the 1976 Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette depicting an open air scene, culminating in his superbly executed 1881 On The Terrace now exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago.

For a short time in the mid 1880s, Renoir broke off with the impressionist movement for a more disciplined formal technique in portraits after getting impressed with the works of Raphael and other renaissance artists when he visited Italy in 1881. The decade produced such masterpieces as The Bathers. The decade of the 1890s saw him returning to the impressionist mold with more nudes like the Girls at the Piano in 1892.  His preoccupation with nudes created a wealth of eroticism that generally describes his lasting legacy to the impressionist artistic style.

Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917) was born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas and was regarded as among the Parisian artists who founded impressionism, though he rejected the term and preferred to be called a realist.  He was famous for his printmaking and drawing, aside from sculpture and painting, all making a significant body of work that added weight to the impressionist movement of his time.

Unlike many of his impressionist contemporaries in Paris, Degas started out as a realist with many of his paintings depicting historical subjects and won jury nods to exhibit in the Salon for 5 consecutive years starting in 1865 with is historical painting Scene of War in the Middle Ages. But the latter years saw him shift his attention towards the impressionist school with a preference to observed contemporary life, particularly with women at work and dance.  His Salon exhibit in 1868 defined him as a master in depicting ballet dancers in rehearsals.  As his subjects changed, so did his technique that progressively embraced the impressionist movement and influenced by spontaneity of photographic works.

Vincent van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch painter who work was more characteristically post-impressionist the exuded raw intensity and emotional honesty using bold colors and searing brush strokes that laid much of the foundation of modern 20th century arts. While his artistic talent showed up as missionary pastor which was to be his vocation, it was not until the 1880s when his interest in the arts finally blossomed when he attended the Academie Royale des Beaus-Arts in Brussels where his aspired to become an artist in the service of God.

It was during his stay in Nuenen and Antwerp where his creative works started to gather interest even in Paris.  His studies of peasant characters paid off with his first major opus The Potato Eaters and by August 1885, the exhibits of his works were held through the arts dealer Leurs in the Hague.

His two years in Nuenen produced almost 200 oil paintings that had somber subjects in earth colors with none of the bright colors that characterized his later works. hen then matriculated his way to enter the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1886 already plagued with poor diet, overwork and excessive smoking.

Van Gogh reached the pinnacle of his creative artistry during the last 4 years of his life, starting with a neo-impressionist style of the period along with Paul Signac and Georges Seurat.  His fame had been steadily growing since his exhibits in the late 1880s and his suicide in 1890 launched memorial exhibits in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, The Hague, Cologne, Antwerp and New York that only cemented his place in neo-impressionism alongside Pablo Picasso.  Van Gogh’s works are among the most expensive paintings ever auctioned.

Paul Cezanne (19 January 1839 – 22 October 1906) was a French artists whose works laid the foundation for a smooth transition between late 19th century impressionist style and the early post impressionist cubism.  In 1852, he entered the College of Bourbon (today the Mignet Collet) and then entered law school at the University of Aix while getting drawing lessons.  He eventually gave up his law education to pursue his artistic development.  In Paris, he met with impressionist Pissarro who exerted significant formative influence over him that led to a few collaborative works.

It was natural for Cezanne to adapt the impressionist style when his artistry started to ripen in Paris and Provence between 1870 and 1878, reaching maturity from 1878 to 1890.  But it was not until after his death in 1906 that a series of large-scale posthumous exhibits in Paris in 1907 made a significant dent on the avant-garde Parisian arts that made him one of the most influential 19th century artist leading up to cubism.

For Further Biography reading on more Impressionists Artists, please click here.