These four paintings encapsulate the natural and unapologetic beauty that impressionism strived to capture from the world around us. More than that, they stand as some of the most iconic artworks of the 19th century in their own right. Often controversial in their day, but undeniably captivating – these are the go-to works for those interested in creative oeuvres of the master impressionists.
The Waterlily Pond by Claude Monet
Undoubtedly the most famous impressionist painter in our modern world, Monet’s famous Waterlily paintings actually come from a series of some several hundred that he painted in house in Giverny, France, over the course of 20 years.
The most iconic of them all, The Waterlily Pond, was actually painted a few dozen times itself. Monet, in typical Impressionist style, approached the same now well-known scene of the waterlily pond and the Japanese bridge from several different angles – and in different seasons and light levels. These paintings now reside in galleries and private collections around the world, from New York to Paris or Moscow. One from the series, Nympheas, sold for £48 million at auction in London in 2017.
Lunch on the Grass by Edouard Manet
One of the first impressionist paintings, and also one of the most controversial when it was released, Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe (titled in the native French) is today a highly regarded and famous work. First debuted in 1863, Lunch on the Grass was denied a position in the annual Academy des Beaux Arts exhibition. Manet went straight to the rejected artists exhibition and his painting soon became the star attraction there.
From the very brushstrokes used to convey the image, right up to the composition and subject of the piece, Lunch on the Grass was designed to revoke Parisian artistic conventions of the time. Flat, broad – impressionist – lines that depicted a naked commoner in public. It’s easy to see the sumptuous, sun-dappled beauty this piece invokes today, but at the time it was mocked and dismissed by the art world.
Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte
Although not impressionist in the strictest definition of the term, Caillebotte was a key artist in impressionist circles and his seminal painting certainly shares some aspects with the movement that he associated with. Showing a number of figures walking through the Place De Dublin crossroads in northern Paris, it is one of the quintessential depictions of 19th century urban living.
Blending impressionist techniques to create a ‘blurred’ effect in the background of the image with traditional realism and sharp lines in the foreground, Paris Street; Rainy Day was apparently inspired by Caillebotte’s love of the emerging art of photography.
L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas
Another highly controversial picture, Degas’ famous female absinthe drinker is a forthright and dreary send up of the realities of alcohol fuelled bawdiness and misery for many lower-class Parisians at that time. Called ‘ugly and disgusting’ by art world critics upon its release in 1875, today it is considered a classic of the time period.
The café in which it was painted was a frequent haunt of Degas’, as well as Mattise and Van Gogh. Known as the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes, it became variously a rock concert venue and striptease club – before burning down in 2014.