Impressionist Portraits
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism in Nineteenth Century Portaiture.

Pin it

Portrait of Isaac Levitan (1893)
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
By Valentin Serov, one of the
great Russian Impressionists.

Impressionist Portraits (c.1870-1900)

Impressionism, the dazzling new school of art that burst upon Paris and the world in the early 1870s, specialized predominantly in landscape and genre painting, rather than portrait art. Even so, Impressionist painters managed to produce a wealth of figure drawing (eg. by Edgar Degas, in pastels, crayon and chalks) and figure painting as well as a number of famous portraits.

Impressionist Portraitists

The great modernist Edouard Manet, whose style encompassed Neoclassicism and Realism as well as Impressionism, produced the iconic Impressionist portrait of his sister-in-law Portrait of Berthe Morisot with Violets (1872), as well as Portrait of Emile Zola (1868).

Portraits at the Bourse (1878)
Musee d'Orsay, Paris. By Edgar Degas.

See: Best Portrait Artists.

Berthe Morisot, herself an Impressionist, completed Portrait of the Artist's Mother and Sister (1869) and The Cradle (1872). Similar to Manet in style, was the Swedish portraitist Anders Zorn, who executed a variety of plein-air nudes as well as numerous portraits of the rich and famous. His works include: Mrs Walter Rathbone Bacon (1897), Hugo Reisinger (1907) and Mrs John Crosby Brown (1900). Claude Monet, the founding member of Impressionism, focused on landscapes but also painted several portraits including: Madame Monet and Her Son Jean (1875). His fellow Impressionist, Auguste Renoir also created numerous nude portraits, such as the unusual El Greco style Young Boy with a Cat (1868), the close-up portrait The Reader (1874) and the dappled Nude in the Sunlight (1876). Frederic Bazille (1841-70) is noted for The Family Reunion (1867), while Edgar Degas executed numerous portraits, such as: The Bellelli Family (1858-67) and Portraits at the Bourse (1879), as well as genre-portraits, of which the most celebrated example is Absinthe (1876). Likewise, the poster-specialist Toulouse-Lautrec populated his genre paintings of night clubs (eg. At the Moulin Rouge, 1892) with mini portraits of friends and real-life personalities.

Neo-Impressionism also featured pictures, such as Model: Front View (1886), by Georges Seurat, founder of the Divisionist technique known as Pointillism which broke down colour into dots of pigment.

Portrait of Madame Charpentier
and Her Children (1879)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
By Renoir.

Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
(1882) Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
By the great American Impressionist
John Singer Sargent. One of the

Greatest Portrait Paintings.

For analysis of modern portraits, see
Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

Post-Impressionist Portraits

Post-Impressionism is a loose description, denoting attempts by numerous artists to move beyond Impressionism to Symbolism, Expressionism and more formal styles (Gauguin, Van Gogh and others), or to produce their own more structural form of Impressionism (Cezanne). The Dutch artist and draughtsman Vincent Van Gogh produced Portrait of Armand Roulin (1888), two portraits of Dr. Gachet (1890), as well as a series of autobiographical self-portraits. The Fauvist Henri Matisse painted numerous highly coloured pictures of his wife, while the primitive artist Paul Gauguin experimented with various styles, producing works like: Young Breton Woman (1889), and Nevermore (c.1898).The influential Paul Cezanne developed his own structuralist style of Impressionism, in classic paintings such as The Boy in the Red Vest (1889-90), Man Smoking a Pipe (1890-2), Woman with a Coffee Pot (1890-5), the iconic Card Players (1892-6) and Lady in Blue (1900).

Among the leading American Impressionist portrait painters of the 19th century, were John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), J. Alden Weir (1852-1919), Theodore Robinson (1852-96) and William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). In addition, Mary Cassatt (1845-1926) was a prolific figure painter.

The next article covers Expressionist Portraiture.

• For more about the different types of painting (portraits, landscapes, still-lifes etc) see: Painting Genres.
• For more about Impressionist portraits, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.