Essential French Impressionism Books

Recommended Books on Impressionism and the French Impressionists

Few, if any, other visual arts movements have inspired the literary outpouring devoted to Impressionism. That which follows is an annotated list of "best bets" for those researching and writing papers, along with recommendations for those seeking titles of interest to younger readers.

Notes: This bibliography concerns "French" Impressionism - the birth of the movement - as it occurred in 19th-century Paris and its environs.

Other Impressionisms (North American, Belgian, Eastern European, et. al.), offshoots (Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, etc.) and individual artists are not covered here.

Classic Studies:

  • Mauclair, Camille; P. G. Konady, trans.
    The French Impressionists (1860-1900).
    London: Duckworth & Co.; New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1903.

    The earliest study to be given an English translation, this volume is available in its entirety as a free download at the Project Gutenberg website.

  • Nochlin, Linda (ed.). Impressionism and Post-Impressionism 1874-1904: Sources and Documents.
    Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1966.
    ISBN-10: 0134520033
    ISBN-13: 978-0134520032

    Contents exactly what the title implies, not as dull as it sounds and nearly everyone runs into this title while studying Impressionism at the post-secondary level. In other words, required research reading.

  • Rewald, John. History of Impressionism.
    New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1973 (4th rev. ed.).
    ISBN-10: 0810960354
    ISBN-13: 978-0810960350

    First published in 1946, this is the classic academic text on Impressionism. Nearly encyclopedic in scope, it is worth owning for its bibliography alone.

  • White, Harrison C., & Cynthia A. White.
    Canvases and Careers: Institutional Change in the French Painting World.
    Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993 (Reprint ed.).
    ISBN-10: 0226894878
    ISBN-13: 978-0226894874

    The original edition, published in 1965, was a groundbreaking survey covering how the Académie des Beaux Arts lost its power to individual French artists, artist groups, dealers and critics in 19th-century Paris. Still fresh today, the reprint edition includes an afterword containing more recent scholarship.

    Modern Studies:

    • Clark, Timothy J. The Painting of Modern Life:
      Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers
      Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999 (rev. ed.).
      ISBN-10: 0691009031
      ISBN-13: 978-0691009032

      Professor Clark is an impeccable scholar with a keen eye for detail. Thankfully, he is also a wonderful writer. This is a fascinating, in-depth look at Parisian class structure as it existed in the time of the Impressionists, and how/which elements of this appeared in their works. If the words "legalized prostitution" or "Marxism" make you uncomfortable, give it a pass.

    • Herbert, Robert L. Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society.
      New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
      ISBN-10: 0300042620
      ISBN-13: 978-0300042627

      A lively, engaging read on how the architectural, civic and societal innovations of mid-to-late 19th-century Paris aided in the formation and development of Impressionism. More a social than an art historic approach, which I, for one, found rather refreshing in a steady diet of the latter.

    • Roe, Sue. The Private Lives of the Impressionists.
      New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
      ISBN-10: 0060545585
      ISBN-13: 978-0060545581

      I loved that this book presented the French Impressionists as a group (rather than concentrating on one specific artist), with all the funky dynamics - friendship, rivalry, poverty, wealth, varying social statuses, "office" romances and clashing political views - that any group contains. Well-written and researched, and highly entertaining (read: a gossip lover's treat).

    • Thomson, Belinda. Impressionism: Origins, Practice, Reception.
      London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000.
      ISBN-10: 0500203350
      ISBN-13: 978-0500203354

      Though not exactly light reading, this informative volume pulls together recent scholarship on primary source documents from and concerning the original French Impressionists, and presents all in context.

    Noteworthy Special Exhibition Catalogues:

    • Bomford, David; Jo Kirby, John Leighton, Ashok Roy (eds.)
      Impressionism: Art in the Making.
      London: National Gallery Publications, 1990.
      ISBN-10: 0300050364
      ISBN-13: 978-0300050363
    • Brettell, Richard R., et. al. A Day in the Country:
      Impressionism and the French Landscape
      Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984.
      ASIN: B000F9WAG8
    • Isaacson, Joel. The Crisis of Impressionism.
      Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1980.
      ASIN: B0000EE2DR
    • Moffett, Charles S.; Ruth Berson & Barbara Lee Williams.
      The New Painting, Impressionism: 1874-1886.
      San Francisco: The Fine Arts Museums, 1986.
      ASIN: B000GQQ09I

    For Younger Readers:

    • Bjork, Christina; Lena Anderson (illus.) and Joan Sandin (trans.).
      Linnea in Monet's Garden.
      Stockholm: R & S Books, 1987.
      ISBN-10: 9129583144
      ISBN-13: 978-9129583144

      True, the title zeros in on Monet to the exclusion of others. Nonetheless, this is a lovely introduction to what it meant to see and paint like an Impressionist. Suggested reading level ages 9-12.

    • Mayhew, James. Katie Meets the Impressionists.
      New York: Scholastic, 1999.
      ISBN-10: 0531301516
      ISBN-13: 978-0531301517

      Katie has some highly imaginative experiences in Impressionist paintings while visiting the art museum with her grandmother. This nicely illustrated book held the attention of even the most restless of very young art appreciation recruits. Suggested reading level ages 4-8.

    • Welton, Jude. Eyewitness: Impressionism.
      New York: DK Publishing, 2000.
      ISBN-10: 0789468123
      ISBN-13: 978-0789468123

      Suggested reading level is ages 9-12 but, honestly? The Eyewitness series by Dorling Kindersley is wonderful for readers of any age. These books are always lavishly illustrated with high-resolution images on high-quality paper, and text is broken down into extremely reader-friendly bits. I cannot recommend DK books, in general, highly enough; they consistently represent money well spent.