Emerging in Paris in the second half of the 19th century, Impressionism’s beginnings were founded in Realism, a movement dedicated to capturing the struggles and beauty of everyday life. Impressionist painters like Edgar Degas, Alfred Sisley, Mary Cassatt, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir desired to express a quick moment, a passing glance, and the movement of light across a landscape on canvas. The creation of tubed paints allowed artists to work outdoors, and plein air painting became a catalyst for the Impressionists’ work, moving the artists away from the studio and into the environment. Technically, Impressionists were dedicated to short brush strokes and paint colors taken directly from the tube. Using moving paint to depict the world, vibrant color and light move across the Impressionist’s canvas capturing landscapes, modern scenes, and the sun’s radiant light.
The following collections of Impressionist painting and sculpture were selected for the scope of their contents as well as the breadth of subject matter and technique that they represent. They were also chosen for their significance within the canon of art history, and their influence on the cultural landscape both past and present.
25. Norton Simon Museum
Home to one of the most significant collections of Impressionist art in California, the Norton Simon Museum, once known as the Pasadena Art Museum and the Pasadena Art Institute, is home to the works of Edgar Degas, Pierre-August Renoir, and Claude Monet. The Degas collection alone comprises over 100 pieces of work by the French Impressionist, and includes many of his images of dancers, a subject for which he perhaps best known. World-renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, who is also a museum trustee, has recently renovated the museum.
24. The Fogg Museum
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
The Fogg Museum, opened in 1895, is Harvard University’s oldest museum. Some of the most interesting paintings from 19th century France call the museum home. Known for his light, airy brushstrokes, and his ability to capture reflections of light on moving objects, Claude Monet has a number of pieces in the collection including The Gare Saint-Lazare, Arrival of a Train from 1877. The Fogg Museum’s Impressionist collection is part of the university’s museum system that includes the Arthur M. Sackler Museum and the Busch-Reisinger Museum, which are reopening this fall in a new building designed by Renzo Piano.
23. Musee d’Orsay
Dedicated primarily to French art and artists, and originally built as a railway station, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, France is the home to some of Impressionism’s biggest names. Renoir’s love of dance, movement, and light, is evident in the Country Dance, a large-scale piece with two figures enjoying some outdoor amusements. The painter, whose wife posed for the female figure in the painting, captures the movement of light in a sunny day in the country.
22. The Sterling and Francine Clark Institute
Well-known philanthropist, explorer, and horse breeder Sterling Clark and his wife Francine amassed a sizeable collection of art during the early 20th century. Collectors of Dutch and Italian Old Masters paintings, the Clarks slowly acquired a number of primarily French Impressionist works in the early 20th century. The collection includes works by Berthe Morisot, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, and Alfred Sisley. Sisley, known for his plain air work, was one of the movement’s most dedicated landscape painters. His painting, Tames at Hampton Court from 1874, captures the warmth of a summer afternoon on the river, and is one of the collection’s excellent examples of Impressionism.
21. Musee Marmottan Monet
The Musee Marmottan Monet houses what is perhaps Impressionism’s most valuable painting, Impressionism, Sunrise created by Claude Monet in 1872. In the piece, a depiction of the harbor of Le Havre, France Monet uses short expressive brush strokes to simply suggest the watery landscape. The painting’s title provided the Impressionist movement with its name, and the style, meant to imply the subject rather than directly represent it set off controversy among critics worldwide. The painting was stolen in 1985 and was recovered five years later, and is currently part of the world’s largest collection of Monet’s work.
20. The National Museum of Western Art
Claude Monet painted numerous images of water lilies, including one from 1916 that is part of the of The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. The collection, compiled by Japanese businessman Matsukata Kojiro, became established as a museum in 1959, nine years after Kojiro’s death. Kojiro also purchased Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell sculpture, which is currently located at the Musee Rodin in Paris.
19. The Phillips Collection
Known as the first museum of modern art, Washington D.C.’s The Phillips Collection houses some of the 20th century’s most seminal works. Founded in 1921, Duncan and Marjorie Acker Phillips built a collection that rivals those of many of the world’s most famous museums. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s most important work, Luncheon of the Boating Party from 1875, is perhaps the collection’s most famous piece, telling the story of an outdoor party rich with light, airy brushstrokes to mimic the ambiance of the painting’s festive setting.
18. National Gallery
The heart of Impressionism is in the movement’s desire to capture light and to render an “impression” of a place. Claude Monet embodied this desire in his numerous series that incorporate images of cathedrals, landscapes, and the lily pond at his home in Giverny. The Water Lily Pond from 1899 is one in a series of nearly 250 pieces of the subject and it currently resides in the National Gallery in London. Home to a number of important pieces from the period the gallery’s collection include Degas’ Beach Scene from 1869, and Renoir’s At the Theater from 1876, Monet’s water lilies sit alongside scenes of middle class life and landscapes that radiate with life.
17. Kimbell Art Museum
One of the greatest collections of art in the Southwest, Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum houses an Impressionist collection that includes works by Monet and Degas. Texas collectors Kay and Velma Kimbell assembled the collection, housed in a building by architect Louis Kahn, over a number of decades.
16. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City, NY
Founded in 1870, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is America’s largest museum. The collection includes nearly 50,000 pieces of European painting, sculpture and decorative art, including a number of Impressionist paintings. Edouard Manet, known for his paintings that depicted working class people and modern life, is known as one of the pivotal figures in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. His piece, Mlle. Victorine Meurent in the Costume of an Espada reveals the artist’s pre-Impressionist work. Unlike an Impressionist scene, which is often taken from life, the piece is staged and flat and somewhat stiff. The brush strokes are refined except for the figures in the background whose Impressionist movements peek from behind their more polished counterparts.
15. Museum of Fine Arts Boston
School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, MA
14. Shelburne Museum
Manet’s In the Garden, is part of the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT. Painted in 1870, one can see Manet transitioning between Realism and Impressionism. The soft colors blend together as if the viewer has taken just a quick glimpse of his subject. The museum’s collection, which was assembled by Electra Havemeyer Webb in the early 20th century, contains work by Monet and Degas as well as a pastel drawing of a mother and child titled Louisine Havemeyer and Her Daughter, Electra.
13. J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, CA
Perhaps one of the world’s most interesting collections in the United States, the J. Paul Getty Museum is home to the work of Monet, Renoir, and Sisley. The collection includes Manet’s The Rue Monsier With Flags from 1878, and again marks a moment in time, a quick glimpse of the 1878 Exposition Universelle, painted from Manet’s studio window above the street.
12. Musee de l’Orangerie
To house eight large panels of Monet’s water lilies, the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris constructed two oval galleries. The galleries, whose walls are covered in water lilies, transport visitors directly to Monet’s garden at Giverny. Most famous for this particular cycle of paintings by Monet, the museum, once the orangery of the Tuileries Palace, has a number of other Impressionist works by Sisley and Renoir.
11. Corcoran Gallery of Art
Corcoran College of Art and Design and George Washington University, Washington D.C.
Originally founded in 1869 by William Corcoran, the gallery’s primary focus was to collect important works of American art. As time passed, the gallery grew to include a number of important works by European painters including a significant number of French Impressionist works. Like many Impressionist painters, Degas dedicated himself to the study of movement and light, and his work is best showcased in his numerous paintings, drawing, and sculptures of ballet dancers at the Paris Opera House.
10. Musee Rodin
While Impressionist artists primarily focused on color and paint on canvas, Auguste Rodin’s sculptural works are often cited for their Impressionistic qualities. Dedicated to capturing movement and feeling, his large figurative works looks as though they have been pulled directly from an Impressionist’s canvas. The Musee Rodin’s collection is dedicated to the work of this vital artist and his dogged attempts to capture movement in marble and bronze.
9. The Art Institute of Chicago
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Mary Cassatt, one of Impressionism’s few female artists, is best known for her paintings and pastel drawings of families and children. The museum’s collection houses one of her most famous works, The Child’s Bath from 1893, as well as nearly 30 works by Monet alone. Like many of the Impressionists, Cassatt’s work was deeply influenced by Japanese wood block prints, and is evident in her use of strong foreground figurative placement, pattern, and color.
8. Courtauld Gallery
University of London, London, England
Known primarily for its Impressionist collection, London’s Courtauld Gallery showcases the work of Monet and Degas as well as those of post-Impressionist artists Cezanne and van Gogh. One of the gallery’s most noteworthy pieces is Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergere from 1882. Known as a piece that embodies the atmosphere of late 19th century Paris, the painting captures the light and chaos of one of the city’s most famous nightclubs.
7. Frederic C. Hamilton Collection
Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
The Denver Art Museum’s Frederic C. Hamilton Collection showcases a considerable number of works of art from around the world and has a particularly significant collection of Impressionist paintings. Along with works by Morisot and Monet, the museum includes work by Pissarro including his plein air painting, Autumn Poplars from 1893. Pissarro, Impressionism’s oldest member, was a pivotal figure in the education of a number of his successors. Mentor to post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, and an inspiration to Renoir, Pissarro’s work was essential to the establishment of Impressionism’s initial theories.
6. Milwaukee Art Museum
While only a few Impressionists worked in a medium other than painting, Degas often used bronze in an attempt to better understand his subject. Many of his smaller sculptures of dancers and figures were used in his studio to help him flesh out the more formal aspects of a painting. The Milwaukee Art Museum’s extensive Impressionist collection showcases a number of Impressionist works including Degas’ Dancer Holding Her Right Foot in Her Right Hand. Not intended for gallery display by Degas, the bronze figure seems to imply the passing movement of a ballerina as she prepares herself for the evening’s performance.
5. Tate Britain
Known as one of Impressionism’s great inspirations, the work of British artist JMW Turner is considered by many to be an early catalyst of Impressionism. His airy brush strokes, and commitment to light are evident in his washy oil painted landscapes and watercolors. One of Britain’s largest collections, Tate Britain is home to a number of works by the artist including Snow Storm-Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth from 1842. Turner’s work exemplifies much of what the Impressionists were after: light across a landscape, a passing storm, and flickering, watery light.
4. Museum of Modern Art
New York, NY
Home to one of the world’s best collections of Modern art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York also has a significant number of Impressionist pieces. Considered an early tenet to Modernism, Impressionist artists like Monet and Degas heavily influenced Modernist successors Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse. In Monet’s Poplars at Giverny, Sunrise, one can almost envision a future Jackson Pollack spilling movement and light across his outstretched canvas.
3. The Chester Dale Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. houses a number of significant collections including American banker Chester Dale’s group of 19th century French paintings. Mary Cassatt’s painting The Loge from 1882 is one of the collection’s seminal works, depicting two young women in their box seat at the theater. Using short brush strokes to evoke the excitement and interest of the subject, Cassatt successfully brings the two figures to life.
2. The Davies Sisters Collection
National Museum Cardiff, Cardiff, UK
Welsh sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies assembled one of Britian’s most important collections of Impressionist art that contains work by Monet, Rodin, and Pissarro. The sisters donated 260 works of art to the museum in the early 20th century including Monet’s Rouen Cathedral Setting Sun (Symphony in Grey and Pink). The painting, another in a series by the artist, evokes the movement of warm sunlight as it cascades across the cathedral.
1. Barnes Foundation
Known across the globe as the home of what is perhaps the most significant collection of painting, sculpture, and objects from ancient cultures as well as modern masters, the Barnes Foundation is steeped in controversy and beauty. Recently relocated from its original location in Merion, PA, the collection, amassed by chemist Albert C. Barnes contains one of the most complete collections of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art in the world. With 181 paintings by Renoir alone, the Barnes Foundation has work by Monet and Degas as well as their successors Picasso and Matisse. The foundation was established in 1922, and was carefully curated by Dr. Barnes with the intention of showcasing a variety of objects including those of regional significance beside the works of modern masters. The grounds were carefully landscaped to align with the works inside, and all aspects of the collection’s layout were thoughtfully considered.