Impressionist Portraits

The Impressionists abandoned the centuries-old conventions of formal portrait painting, oftentimes choosing to record their subjects in highly informal settings. Although some Impressionist portraits were commissioned, many also represented the artists’ family and friends. Sometimes these were simply rapid studies of heads in everyday surroundings (as in Renoir’s Woman Leaning on Her Elbows) made largely because the sitters were available to pose at a particular moment. This very intimacy is central to Impressionist portraiture and reflects their reaction against academic studio practice in which artists carefully posed models, who maintained their positions for hours on end.

The portraits in the Bloch collection highlight the Impressionists’ preference for poses that evoke the immediacy of everyday life. A luminous portrait by Berthe Morisot of her daughter, Julie, with her pet parrot—Under the Orange Tree—characterizes this informal approach. The same sitter also appears in Renoir’s pastel, The Flowered Hat. Degas’s images of ballet dancers—in the media of both pastel and sculpture—are studied from unexpected angles that also highlight this new sense of intimacy.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841 - 1919
Woman Leaning on Her Elbows (Femme accoudée), 1875-1885

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841 - 1919
The Flowered Hat (Le chapeau épinglé), 1890-1895

Berthe Morisot, French, 1841 - 1895
Under the Orange Tree (Sous l'oranger), 1889


Edgar Degas, French, 1834 - 1917
Grande Arabesque, Third Time (Grande arabesque, troisième temps), cast 1919-1921

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