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In 1897, Claude Monet began painting his own elaborate garden in Giverny, which featured a water garden, a small pond, and a Japanese footbridge. For this 1906 painting, Monet gazed downward into the pond, capturing the sky and trees reflected on the water in an unconventional marriage of vertical and horizontal surfaces.
The hat—a prime symbol of the modern bourgeois woman in the works of Edgar Degas—also functions as a metaphor for the artistic process in this painting of a millinery shop. Degas has scraped and repainted the canvas around the woman’s hands and the hat she holds to create a sense of movement. Nearby hats also remain unfinished—awaiting their finishing touches in the shop, they are partially painted in broad strokes, as if Degas himself hasn’t quite finished working on them.
The two girls depicted in this painting, clutching oranges tossed to them from the crowd as gifts, likely performed as acrobats in their father’s famed Cirque Fernando, in Paris. Although they are painted standing in the center of a circus ring, Renoir actually painted them in his studio, where he could take full advantage of natural sunlight.
In her painting Woman at Her Toilette, Berthe Morisot moves discreetly into territory typically untouched by women artists of her time—female eroticism. This lush painting of a woman at her vanity is all feathery brushstrokes, powder puffs, and flower petals. In understated terms, Morisot, like many Impressionists of the day, tried to capture the essence of modern life.
Pierre-August Renoir’s painting of two boaters and their female friend enjoying a lunch alfresco is the picture of idyllic pleasure. Renoir likely created this painting during an extended stay at the restaurant it depicts—the Maison Fournaise, along the Seine. He completed many scenes of boating life during this period.
In 1871, Edgar Degas took up the subject of dancers. He would go on to devote almost half of his work as an artist to this subject, which offered him a contemporary way to depict complex movements of the human body. A frequent observer of the Paris Opéra, Degas places the viewer of this painting, completed in 1876, in the wings, where the most elite patrons of the Opéra would mingle.
There’s a trick at work in this painting by Édouard Manet of a woman sitting in a Parisian café—the scene behind her is actually one of Manet’s paintings, and the table, magazine, and other objects are props set up in Manet’s studio. This highly Impressionistic painting, with its free brushstrokes and light colors, is typical of Manet’s later works.
Set in the Parisian suburb of Chatou, Two Sisters (On the Terrace) features a pair of young women who were not actually sisters. Pierre-Auguste Renoir juxtaposed the girls’ solid, life-size figures against a dreamy, fantastic landscape. The basket of yarn to their left evokes the artist’s palette, and the girls’ contrasting expressions—the elder’s far-off stare and the younger’s eager stillness—make this “sisterly” moment feel casually genuine.
The grain stacks Claude Monet used as his subjects stood 15 to 20 feet tall and rested just outside his farmhouse at Giverny. In 1891, Monet hung 15 of these canvases—including this one—next to each other in the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris marking the first time an artist considered paintings of the same subject as a collective ensemble. For Monet, grain stacks were resonant symbols of sustenance and survival.