Worldwide icon-chevron-right North America icon-chevron-right United States icon-chevron-right New York State icon-chevron-right New York icon-chevron-right The top 10 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in NYC

The top 10 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in NYC

Masterpieces from Édouard Manet, Claude Monet and more all live in New York City at our major museums

By Michael Wilson |
Advertising
Camille Pissarro, CROPPED SPLASH
Photograph: Flickr/Irina Camille Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning, 1897

New York may be the epicenter of the contemporary art world—or at least the market that buoys it up—but it’s also a treasure house of earlier work. Lovers of Impressionist art in particular are extraordinarily well served by museums in NYC; the Metropolitan Museum of Art owns 37 paintings by Monet alone, and there are stellar works, too, by Cézanne, Manet, Renoir, and others at the Museum of Modern Art and Brooklyn Museum. This loose-knit group of painters was in thrall to urban life—bustling streets and cafés occupy as much canvas as water lilies and haystacks—so the pairing of art and location makes perfect sense. Here’s a Top Ten, listed chronologically, to get you started.

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings

Édouard Manet, Young Lady in 1866, 1866
Photograph: Courtesy Museum of Modern Art

Édouard Manet, Young Lady in 1866 (1866)

Where can I see it? The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Victorine Meurent, the model for this painting, also appears in Manet’s notorious Olympia and Luncheon on the Grass, in which her nudity raised critical eyebrows and earned the artist a bad-boy reputation. Here she wears a long silk dressing gown, but commentators of the time were still rankled, slamming Manet for paying more attention to the figure’s apparel than her face or form. Young Lady was widely regarded as a response to Gustave Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot of the same year, and while the mood is diametrically opposed, it does seem to reproduce some of the Realist painter’s stylistic traits. More recent observers have suggested that the painting might be an allegory for the five senses, with the (perhaps talkative) parrot standing in for hearing.

Photograph: Courtesy Museum of Modern Art

Édouard Manet, Boating, 1874
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Édouard Manet, Boating (1874)

Where can I see it? The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Painted at the artist’s family’s home at Gennevilliers on the Seine, the quick brushwork, outdoorsy subject matter, and leisurely vibe of Boating seem to mark it out as an archetypal Impressionist work. But while the canvas’s theme might suggest that Manet painted it en plein air, its large size and contrived composition show that he made it in his studio. It also retains significant elements of the artist’s earlier practice, with broad swaths of color and diagonal lines that reveal the influence of Japanese prints. Manet often met up with Monet—and sometimes Renoir —on his summer trips to Gennevilliers, but he was never a card-carrying member of their gang, preferring to stick with the established Salon rather than joining them at the upstart Société Anonyme.

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Thomas Hawk

Advertising
Auguste Renoir, Madame Georges Charpentier (Marguérite-Louise Lemonnier, 1848–1904) and Her Children, Georgette-Berthe (1872–1945) and Paul-Émile-Charles (1875–1895), 1878
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Carlos1138

Auguste Renoir, Madame Georges Charpentier (née Marguérite-Louise Lemonnier, 1848–1904) and Her Children, Georgette-Berthe (1872–1945) and Paul-Émile-Charles (1875–1895) (1878)

Where can I see it? The Metropolitan Museum of Art

As recent protests at the Met and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston have demonstrated, Renoir is not to everyone’s taste. And while the Renoir Sucks at Painting (RSAP) movement may be tongue-in-cheek, their dismissal of the artist’s work as frivolous and treacly can’t be dismissed out of hand. Like most likenesses of wealthy patrons, this commissioned family portrait is an exercise in flattery-for-pay, showing off the subjects’ chic Parisian townhouse and fashionable attire. It’s no surprise, then, that Marguerite Charpentier used her sway as a well-connected publisher’s wife to score a prime spot for it at the Salon of 1879. Renoir was unabashed in his celebration of beauty—plump, sensual nudes and sun-dappled outdoor scenes being his specialties—and his work’s carefree aura can grate on tougher contemporary sensibilities. Still, his canonical status is unshakable.

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/CarlosR38

Paul Cézanne
Photograph: Courtesy Museum of Modern Art

Paul Cézanne, The Bather (c. 1885)

Where can I see it? Museum of Modern Art

The subject of Cézanne’s masterpiece—a semi-nude male figure—could hardly be more conventional, and the artist’s stated aim of producing work that was “solid and durable, like the art of museums” might also seem conformist. But this picture plays myriad games with the viewer’s expectations of what a “good” painting should be. There’s a deliberate inconsistency, even awkwardness, to Cézanne’s composition, drawing, brushwork, and coloration that herald a truly modern approach. Focus on the variance in the way the paint has been applied just around the figure’s outline, for example, and the illusion of distance collapses. Similarly, the bather’s anatomy appears to be pulling in opposing directions, while the landscape he’s emerging from is ambiguous and seemingly incomplete. That The Bather remains so compelling is due in large part to the fundamental challenges it presents.

Photograph: Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Lillie P. Bliss Collection

Advertising
Georges-Pierre Seurat, Evening, Honfleur, 1886
Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

Georges-Pierre Seurat, Evening, Honfleur (1886)

Where can I see it? Museum of Modern Art

In this tranquil landscape painting, Seurat depicts a French seaside town using the Pointillist technique that he developed with his contemporary, Paul Signac. Applying pigment in the form of thousands of tiny dots—there are at least a two dozen different unmodulated colors at play here—he aimed to reproduce the endlessly subtle and varied atmospheric effects of natural light by prompting the viewer’s optic nerve to do some of the work. His portrayal of a summer evening is at once open and detailed, as even the compositionally “empty” patches of beach, sea, and sky fizz with chromatic energy. In a highly unusual move for the time, the work’s wooden frame has been painted too, quietly but effectively extending the world of the canvas into the gallery in which it hangs.

Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art

Paul Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890, 1890
Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art/Mrs. David M. Levy

Paul Signac, Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a Background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones, and Tints, Portrait of M. Félix Fénéon in 1890 (1890)

Where can I see it? Museum of Modern Art

By the time Signac made this beguiling portrait of his friend the art dealer, critic and Felix Fénéon, the spontaneity of Impressionism had given way to the more calculated Postimpressionist strategies of Pointillism and Divisionism. Like Georges Seurat during the same period, Signac applied dabs of pure color to mix in the eye of the viewer, aiming to produce a more natural luminosity. Opus 217’s swirling, multihued background riffs on optical theorist Charles Henry's color wheel, while its run-on title echoes the technique’s inspiration, hinting at the exhaustive language of a scientific study. The flower (a cyclamen) proffered by the magician-like figure of Fénéon is a symbolic reference to the visual energy that surrounds him, emphasizing the work’s innovative pairing of analytical figuration with decorative abstraction.

Photograph: Courtesy The Museum of Modern Art/Mrs. David M. Levy

Advertising
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Englishman (William Tom Warrener, 1861–1934) at the Moulin Rouge, 1892
Photograph: History Archiv/REX Shutterstock

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Englishman (William Tom Warrener, 1861–1934) at the Moulin Rouge (1892)

Where can I see it? The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Suffering from a litany of congenital health problems perhaps rooted in inbreeding (his parents were first cousins), the diminutive, alcoholic Toulouse-Lautrec was forced to shun the physical pastimes of his day, immersing himself instead in the worlds of art and theater. This study for a print depicts a painter friend as an aristocratic playboy making the nocturnal rounds of fin-de-siècle Paris’s notoriously decadent nightspot, the Moulin Rouge. Unlike other, more outdoorsy Impressionists, Toulouse-Lautrec was a master of the modern interior, adept at capturing personalities under the glow of gas lamps. As this work’s strong tones and bold composition reveal, he also had a powerful graphic sensibility, and was in perpetual demand as a commercial-poster illustrator.

Photograph: History Archiv/REX Shutterstock

Camille Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning, 1897
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Repoico

Camille Pissarro, The Boulevard Montmartre on a Winter Morning (1897)

Where can I see it? The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Dubbed “the dean of Impressionist painters” by art historian John Rewald, Pissarro was the only member of the group to show his work at all eight of the group’s Paris exhibitions. The fact that he was a more amiable soul than the irascible likes of Edgar Degas may have eased his path. This image of a busy street in the capital was painted from a window in the artist’s apartment at the Grand Hôtel de Russie, and represents one of 16 views from the same vantage point that he produced during a three-month stay. Recording a variety of lighting and weather conditions, the sequence suggests an urban version of Monet’s repeated images of haystacks. Pissarro had just returned to Paris after a six-year stint in rural Éragny, and clearly savored his re-immersion in the City of Lights.

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Irina

Advertising
Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, Sunlight Effect (Le Parlement, effet de soleil), 1903
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Edenpictures

Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, Sunlight Effect (Le Parlement, effet de soleil) (1903)

Where can I see it? Brooklyn Museum

MoMA and the Met can’t have it all: This gem at the Brooklyn Museum is the equal of any other work on this list. Painted from the balcony of Saint Thomas’s Hospital—one of 19 variations produced from the same vantage point—it captures the British Parliament’s distinctive neo-Gothic architecture shrouded in atmospheric color. While laboring away at the series, Monet was also producing other metropolitan vistas: In the morning and early afternoon he worked from his room at the swanky Savoy Hotel on canvases of the Waterloo and Charing Cross Bridges, while later afternoon saw him strolling over to the hospital to continue with the Parliament pictures—until inclement weather finally brought the project to a premature end. Typical London.

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Eden Pictures

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914-26
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Tim Evanson

Claude Monet, Water Lilies (1914–26)

Where can I see it? Museum of Modern Art

MoMA’s Water Lilies is one of some 250 variations distributed around the world’s museums, but it’s a knockout entry from the groundbreaking series. Depicting the surface of a pond in Monet’s Giverny garden, the vast, frieze-like triptych (actually part of a 12-section sequence) collapses vegetation, water, and sky into one proto-abstract panorama of shifting color and texture. Aiming at an immersive experience that departs from his early Impressionist style, the artist has omitted spatial cues in favor of an ethereal expanse that stops only at the panels’ edges. Expanding the boundaries of the medium to become one of the key paintings of the 20th century, its influence begins with Abstract Expressionism and reverberates to this day. Perhaps anticipating its importance, Monet dedicated the last thirty years of his life to the series, sticking with it even as his eyesight began to fail.

Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/Tim Evanson

You may also like

    Advertising