Place Charles de Gaulle in Paris (formerly: place de l’Étoile) and Gustave Caillebotte, A Paris Street, Rain, 1877 (photos By Gérard Janot – Photographed from the air on 26 September 2004, CC BY-SA 3.0, and By Gustave Caillebotte – The first two versions of Ibiblio. The sources of the third and fourth release have not been specified by the uploaders., Public Domain,

During the Second Empire, Napoleon III began a process of urban renewal under Baron Georges-Eugène von Haussmann, known as Haussmannization, which was meant to both increase civic pride and suppress revolutionary activity. This process also expelled lower classes from the city center. This process expanded the sewer system; put gas lighting in throughout the city center; widened streets, and made them more symmetrical and centered around traffic circles; gave a uniform façade to buildings; and organized the city into districts (arrondissements). The effects, which can be seen by looking at the aerial photograph of the Place Charles de Gaulle, made the city seem more uniform and organized, and did away with the narrow, twisting streets of Medieval Paris. Although this was partially done to deal with the rapid growth of the city because of industrialization, it was also meant to discourage revolutionary activities, where the narrow streets could be easily blocked with broken furniture and pried-up cobblestones. A look at Caillebotte’s painting of the effects of Haussmannization also shows the new, middle class Paris, filled with fashionable people and flâneurs, with lower income people in the background, coming into the city to work. In the 1860s, the government decided to hired photographers to capture the look of the medieval city before it was torn down in the wake of modernization. This modernization would have a tremendous effect on the Impressionists of the 1870s, who were, as demonstrated above by Caillebotte, very interested in painting the flâneur, as well as all things modern in this new Paris. There were a number of Impressionist views of the streets of this new, Haussmannized Paris, including by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Camille Pissarro.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Pont-Neuf, 1872 and Camille Pissarro, Avenue de l’Opéra, Sun, Winter Afternoon, 1898 (photos by Pierre-Auguste Renoir [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and By Camille Pissarro – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,


Charles Marville, Rue Glatigny, Paris, 1865 (photo by Charles Marville [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The style used for the rebuilding of this new Paris was the Beaux-Arts style, which looked back to the ornate structures of the Italian Baroque. The best example of this is the Paris Opéra, built by Jean-Louis-Charles Garnier from 1862-1875. This was meant to be the show piece of Second Empire Paris, although it was completed after the fall of Napoleon III. The structure resembles the rectinlinear façade of the east wing of the Louvre, built under Louis XIV, but is capped with a copper dome and gilt statues. Once inside, the structure reflects the opulence of Paris in this period. This was THE place in Paris at the end of the 19th century to see and be seen, and the foyer and staircase of the structure reflect the notion that the audience was as much on display as the performers. This was one of the most influential buildings on the Impressionists as well, as Edgar Degas painted his ballerinas in both the front and back of the house, and both Mary Cassatt and Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted the wealthy bourgeoisie in the opera boxes. Degas’s interest in photography led to interesting cropping of his images of the ballerinas, and he was generally more interested in painting them rehearsing, catching more of a moment in time. Cassatt and Renoir, while both painting the audience, created very different images, although both are very much about the gaze, specifically the male gaze. Renoir’s subject of La Loge is front and center, very much on display in her ornate dress, while Cassatt’s subject of Woman in Black at the Opera, possibly a self-portrait, is doing the gazing, while ignoring the man in the background looking at her. These both tell us something about the status of women in late-19th century French society, but also about women’s efforts to reject this status.facade_opera_garnier

Jean-Louis-Charles Garnier, Opéra, Paris, 1862-1875 (photo By Jastrow (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Charles Garnier, Opéra, Paris, Grand Staircase and Grand Foyer (photos By scarletgreen from Japan – operagarnier11f, CC BY 2.0, and By Photograph: Eric Pouhier, Modifier: Rainer Zenz, Niabot (last modification) – Image:Paris, Palais Garnier’s grand salon 3.jpg (Niabot), Image:Paris, Palais Garnier’s grand salon 1.jpg (Rainer Zenz), GFDL,

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, The Rehearsal Onstage, c. 1874  and Dancing Lesson, 1883-1885 (photo By Edgar Degas – Metropolitan Museum of Art, online collection, Public Domain,

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, La Loge, 1874 and Mary Cassatt, Woman in Black at the Opera, 1880 (Photograph by Mike Peel ( [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons and By Mary Cassatt – [3], Public Domain,

Impressionism had a couple of other influences besides modernity. One was the interest in new scientific studies of the eye and the way we see color pioneered by Ogden Rood and Michel-Eugène Chevreul. These 2 scientists developed the theories of optical mixing, contrast, and the way the eye sees complimentary colors, neutral colors, and high contrast colors. This led to the Impressionists foregoing the mixing of paint on a palette, and opting to place small bits of color next to each other on a canvas, allowing the human eye to mix the colors together. The Impressionists also preferred genre subjects, and were more influenced by Japanese prints and developments in photography than political events. The Japanese aesthetic, called japonisme, became popular following Paris Expo, where woodblock prints were shown, igniting the craze for all things Japanese. The Japanese had developed a technique for making color woodblock prints in the 18th century. A unique woodblock needed for each color in multi-color prints. The Ukiyo-e school identified with the Golden Age of Japanese woodblock prints, with theater, dance, and various female “services” were popular subjects. From these wood block prints, the Impressionists also developed their interest in doing series, something Claude Monet would take to the extreme. The influence of the flattening of forms and colors in Japanese woodblock prints can be seen in many of the works of Mary Cassatt, who was very interested in the new possibilities of Japanese art. In The Child’s Bath, Cassatt flattens the space, and tilts the room up at a strange angle, while allowing the patterning of the rug, dress, and dresser to flatten the space further. Her colored etching and aquatint La Lettre uses a great deal of flat blue and patterns to remove the depth from the scene.

Katsushika Hokusai, Great Wave of Kanagawa, from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, 1831 and Utagawa Hiroshige, Night View of the Saruwaka-machi, from the series 100 View of Edo, 1856 (photos by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons and Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Cassatt, The Child’s Bath, 1893 and The Letter, 1891 (photos By Mary Cassatt – Art Institute of Chicago, Public Domain, and Mary Cassatt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Claude Monet embodied the technical principles of Impressionism. He was a landscape painter who studied light and color, and was very interested in the way time of day and weather impacted the way the eye saw that color. This tendency is already apparent in his earlier work, which has less of the sketchy, Rubenesque brushwork of his Impressionist pieces. Both Garden at Sainte-Adresse and Women in the Garden use his family as models in various gardens, but both of these works really have the effects of different types of light as their subject matter. For Sainte-Adresse, it is about the way the sunlight reflects off both the plants in the garden and the water of the North Sea. Women in the Garden, where his wife is seen 4 times, in four different dresses, is very much about how light filtering through trees can affect the way we see neutral colors. It is said that Monet dug a trench in his garden to paint that scene, raising and lowering his canvas to be sure he was not shifting it in order to capture the light correctly.

Claude Monet, Garden at Sainte-Adresse, c. 1866-67 and Claude Monet, Women in the Garden, 1861 (photos By Claude Monet – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, and By Claude Monet – repro from art book, Public Domain,

In 1874, a small group of artists, the Societè anonyme des artistes, peintres, sculpteurs, graveurs, mounted an exhibition of 165 works at Nadar’s studio on the boulevard des Capucines. This exhibition was really an extension of what Courbet had done with his Pavilion of Realism in 1855, and the Salon des Refusées in 1863, which, although state-sponsored, showed works by artists outside of the academic milieu. Critics widely panned the exhibition, as they considered the works to be unfinished and sloppy, and Monet’s Impression: Sunrise ended up giving the name to an entire avant-garde movement. The work, which depicts the harbor at Le Havre in Normandy at sunrise, uses the quick, soft brushstrokes and unblended color Monet would become known for to show the factories and boats in the early morning. It is the color, and the hazy, smoggy light, that give the view the sense of a coal-smoke filled sunset over the water.Claude_Monet,_Impression,_soleil_levant

Claude Monet, Impression: Sunrise, 1873 (photo By Claude Monet –, Public Domain,

Monet would continue his studies of light and color, but by the 1890s, he had begun to create series of works that focuses on how light and weather affect the way a particular structure, garden, or haystack over a period of time. Monet rented rooms across from the cathedral in Rouen on 2 occasions so that he could study the effects of light and weather on the façade. What makes this particularly interesting is the fact that the Gothic cathedral was originally built as a meditation on divine light, but Monet, in his series of about 30 works, created a meditation on science and optical theories. The series were something he would return to many times, especially after building his home and studio at Giverny, outside of Paris. Here, he built an extensive garden, complete with a pond and Japanese bridge, and reworked images of the garden many times for the rest of his life. One of his most famous series is that of the water lilies, which he returned to even as he began to lose his sight in the early 20th century from cataracts.

Claude Monet, Rouen Cathedral, West Façade, Sunlight, 1894 and Rouen Cathedral, the Portal and Tower of Albane, the Morning, 1894 (photos By Claude Monet – Digital photo by User:Postdlf, Public Domain, and By Claude Monet, Public Domain,

Claude Monet, Bridge Over a Pool of Water Lilies, 1899 and Water Lilies, 1915 (photos By Claude Monet –, Public Domain, and By Claude Monet – Neue Pinakothek, Public Domain,

Other Impressionist artists expressed this new modernity, and the new concept of leisure time brought by factories, ready-to-wear clothing, and department stores, choosing to mainly paint the leisure activities of Paris. Renoir focused on this in many of his Impressionist works (he would renounce Impressionism in his later years), focusing on leisure and the flâneur. Works like Moulin de la Galette and Luncheon of the Boating Party still draw on the interest in light seen with Monet, but here the focus is less on optical theories and more on the fun activities of the Parisian scene. In both, the sunlight is filtered through either trees or the awning, and the scene is about fun, dancing, conversation, and drinking. These are the new Parisians, people who may (or may not) work at a factory or shop, but have leisure time to spend with friends.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Moulin de la Galette, 1876 and Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-1881 (photos By Pierre-Auguste Renoir – (derivative work of image?)Notwithstanding the source description, this is the version at the Musée d’Orsay (in the smaller version the central figure leaning forward lacks an earring)., Public Domain, and By Pierre-Auguste Renoir – plain photo, Public Domain,

The Impressionists counted some female members among their ranks, including Berthe Morisot, the sister-in-law of Édouard Manet, and the American ex-patriate Mary Cassatt. The female artists associated with the movement were expected to paint different subjects than the men, sticking to images of women and children more than explorations of modernity. The impact of the interests of the rest of the artists in the group can be seen in their work, though, as the discussion above of the impact of japonisme on Cassatt’s art shows. These were also women who were interested in carving a place for themselves in what was (and still is) a male-dominated field. They often used the close-up, which was inspired by photography, in composing their scenes, such as Morisot’s The Cradle, which shows a mother watching her child sleep. This work also shows the impact of her explorations of the effects of light on color as well, in the highlights on the gas-lit covering of the cradle, which contrast with the shadows on the curtains behind the mother. Cassatt’s The Boating Party uses a photograph-like cropping method to explore gaze again, much as she had in Woman in Black at the Opera. Here, a lower class man is rowing a middle class mother and child across a lake, and the gazes here hint at class tensions between the 2 adults.

Mary Cassatt, The Boating Party, 1893–94 and Berthe Morisot, The Cradle, 1873 (photos By Berthe Morisot – Unknown, Public Domain, and By Mary Cassatt – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Photographers were interested in motion, and many late-19th century photographs combine science with art. One of the photographers who experimented with this was Eadweard Muybridge, a Scottish-American photographer in San Francisco, whose experiments with motion capture led him to invent the zoopraxiscope, a device for speeding up the film, and making it appear that the images were moving. This was a precursor to the motion picture camera.


Eadweard Muybridge, The Galloping Horse, 1878 (photo by Eadweard Muybridge – Library of COngress Prints and Photographs Division; http://hdl/, Public Domain,

This would prove to be incredibly influential on many of the Impressionist artists. Degas began to use photography as a tool in his studio, even though he did not consider it to be an art form in its own right. Many of Degas’s paintings and drawings have photographic characteristics, including cropping, that make them seem like snapshots. This can be seen in works like L’Absinthe and Visit to a Museum, which have the immediacy of a photograph. Visit to a Museum also features Degas’s friend Mary Cassatt, and is, like many of her works, a study about seeing and the gaze, but here it is a tribute to the manner in which one artist looks at art by others. L’Absinthe is about the other side of this modernity and leisure time as it shows 2 people obviously drunk in a cafe in the middle of the day.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, L’Absinthe, 1876 and Visit to a Museum, c. 1885 (photos By Edgar Degas – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, and Edgar Degas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

There were also some other Americans living in Europe that were also on the fringes of the Impressionist movement. One was John Singer Sargent, who was sometimes not considered an Impressionist because he did not allow form to dissolve into light. This can be seen in works like The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit and Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), where, although the brushstrokes are soft and the light diffused, the paintings still maintain a crispness to them. This is in contrast to James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who may have been the first artist to declare that he was creating art for art’s sake. He began naming his works after musical works of the period, comparing the act of painting with the act of composing. These were often meditations on color and shade, which caused Ruskin to compare them to paint thrown on a canvas. Whistler sued him, and won the case, although he was only awarded a farthing (less than a penny) and had to pay court costs. His works are really the first in Western art to move so far toward abstraction.

John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882 and Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau), 1883-84 (photos By John Singer Sargent –, Public Domain, and By John Singer Sargent –, Public Domain,

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold (The Falling Rocket), c. 1875 and Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge, 1877 (photos By James Abbott McNeill Whistler –, Public Domain, and By Whistler, James McNeill – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,

Although sculptures cannot be discussed as meditations on optical theories and color, there were many changes in sculptures in the late 19th century. Degas created a number, although only one, Little Dancer 14 years old, was the only one cast during his lifetime. Many were cast after his death after the models were found in his studio. Little Dancer shows the young girl stretching before dance class, and is really a mixed-media piece, as the silk ribbon, tulle tutu, and wooden base are all part of the work. Works like Fourth Position Front, on the Left Leg show Degas’s experimental techniques, and remain unsmoothed, with the rough surface caused by the artist’s fingers in the soft surface of the wax. This is very reminiscent of Impressionist brushwork, and Degas own experiments with pastels.

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Fourth Position Front, on the Left Leg, c. 1880s and Little Dancer  14 Years Old, c. 1881 (photos  By Gunnar Bach Pedersen – Own work, Public Domain,

Probably the most influential sculptor of this period was Auguste Rodin, whose influence on twentieth-century art parallels that of Impressionist painters. He was very influenced by Italian Renaissance in his concept of monumental human figure, and his works often recall those of Michelangelo. Rodin was also one of the first major sculptors to create works that focused on less than the whole of the human body. He would also often use parts of a larger work as finished pieces. His Gates of Hell, a commission for a never-built museum of decorative arts, took as its subject Dante’s Inferno. Here, figures swirl in and out of high relief as scenes morph into one another. The figure of The Thinker at the top then becomes Dante himself, thinking about his experiences in this Hell. The Thinker is also a completed, stand-alone piece that emphasizes the musculature of the form, but still contains the rough, unfinished look of Degas’s sculptures.

Auguste Rodin. The Gates of Hell, 1880-1900, cast after 1925 and The Thinker, 1881 (photos By Roland zh – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, and By Daniel Stockman – Flickr: Paris 2010 Day 3 – 9, CC BY-SA 2.0,


Auguste Rodin, The Hand of God, modeled c. 1896-1902, commissioned 1906 (photo By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons)

It was at the end of the 19th century, with the Impressionists, that the pace of change in art became really apparent. Now, art was avant garde, and it was the Academic style that was becoming passé. Artists were showing the influences of new science and technology in their works, as well as the impact of photography on art.


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