The core group of Impressionist painters was a close-knit group living in France. Some were even related. For example, the artist Berthe Morisot was married to Manet’s brother (though Manet is not officially considered an Impressionist, despite his major influence on them). The following list includes a selection of artists who are considered the major impressionist innovators.
- Claude Monet (1840–1926)—Monet favored plein air (outdoor) painting and is known for his landscapes, especially his water lily and haystack paintings. He painted the smoky interiors of train stations, and the façade of Rouen Cathedral more than thirty times. The term “impressionism” comes from a description of his painting, Impression, Sunrise (1873) by art critic Louis Leroy.
- Edgar Degas (1834–1917)—Degas was a painter, a printmaker, and a sculptor, and unlike other impressionists, was not a fan of plein air painting. Instead, he preferred to explore the effects of artificial lighting and usually worked in his studio. He is particularly well known for his paintings of ballet dancers and his other famous works include L’Absinthe (1876) and a sculpture called Little Dancer of Fourteen Years, now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
- Berthe Morisot (1841–1895)—Morisot’s work focused on landscapes and domestic scenes that highlighted the female experience. She regularly showed her work at the Salon and continued to paint professionally even after marriage to Eugène Manet, which was uncommon for the time. Morisot had a close professional relationship with her brother-in-law, Eduoard Manet, and they clearly influenced one another. Some of her most recognizable works include The Cradle (1872) and Summer’s Day (1879).
- Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)—Renoir was a close friend of Monet’s and his work often features dappled light and outdoor urban scenes, such as Moulin de la Galette (1876), which depicts colorfully dressed dancers at an outdoor dance hall in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. His paintings are often cheerful and beautiful, and provide a snapshot of upper-class life in nineteenth-century France.
- Mary Cassatt (1844–1926)—Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania but spent her career in France. A friend of Degas, she also completed most of her work in the studio and she was a major supporter of Impressionism, even encouraging American friends and family to buy impressionist art. Like Morisot, Cassatt focused on domestic scenes and the relationship between mothers and their children. Her work continues to be highly popular, and some of her well-known paintings include The Boating Party (1893–1894), Tea (1880), and The Child’s Bath (1893). She was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 1904.
- Camille Pissarro (1830–1903)—Pissarro was a highly innovative artist who preferred plein air painting and drew inspiration from the countryside and rural peasantry; many of his paintings depict agricultural scenes. Pissarro applied thick globs of paint to his canvases, which didn’t always win him favor with the critics, but greatly influenced the following generation of post-impressionists. Notable works include Avenue de l’Opera, Paris (1898), and his many paintings of the village of Pontoise.