1. Books - General
Best general introduction
Sue Roe's The Private Lives of the Impressionists (Random House, £12.99) is the best general introduction to the impressionist period and the key painters.
Roe's 268 pages of tightly written text focus on the key impressionist years: 1860 (when the impressionists started to come to Paris) to 1883 (when Manet died).
The book is superbly researched and beautifully written, complete with 23 colour reproductions of the most important impressionist paintings. I have read it at least four times!
Best in-depth analysis
John Rewald's The History of Impressionism (4th revised ed, 1973), published by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, wins our recommendation for the best in-depth impressionism manual.
Its 672 pages are packed with analysis, maps, tables and 623 illustrations (82 of which are in colour). The book covers the period 1855 (when Paris hosted a World Fair) to 1886 (when the Eighth and Final Impressionist Exhibition was held).
Some of the text might be thought a little heavy-going to the modern reader. But if you really want to know your impressionism, then this is the book for you.
Best book for the early years of impressionism
Ross King's The Judgement of Paris (Bloomsbury, 2007) covers the period 1863 (the year Manet submitted Dejeuner sur l'Herbe to the Salon) to 1874 (the year of the First Impressionist Exhibition).
King charts the struggles endured by Edouard Manet and compares Manet's existence with the praise and riches lavished upon the now relatively unknown John-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (who painted in the conventional style loved by the conservative art establishment).
King's research is superb, and his writing flawless, though readers may find themselves skimming through the chapters on Meissonier!
Best book on late impressionist period
Ross King makes a second entry on our list with Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies (Bloomsbury, 2016).
Over 416 pages, King charts Monet's later years. He paints a portrait of a hugely talented, industrious, insecure and often grumpy old man.
For example, King explains how Monet refused to leave his Giverny house when the Germans were approaching at the start of World War One, and how Monet was a terrible patient when he underwent cataract surgery in 1923.
King's main focus is on Monet's promise to paint his 'Grand Decorations' - huge canvasses of water lilies produced for a purpose built museum (now the Musee de l'Orangerie in Paris).
2. Books - By Painter
Best book on Edouard Manet
Beth Brombert's Edourd Manet: Rebel in a Frock Coat (University of Chicago Press, 1997) is the best stand-alone volume on the leader of the impressionists.
Brombert charts Manet's tumultuous life over 570 pages, providing insight into Manet's childhood, motivations and adult relationships (and numerous dalliances).
Best book on Berthe Morisot
Jane Roberts' Growing Up with the Impressionists (Tauris, 2017) is an English translation of selected extracts from the diary of Julie Manet from between 1893 and 1899.
Though covering the tail-end of the impressionist movement, Julie Manet - the daughter of Berthe Morisot and Eugene Manet (Edouard's brother) - provides unique insight into both Paris at the end of the 19th century and the relationships between various members of the impressionist movement (Morisot, Renoir and Degas in particular).
This is not a book for beginners. But it is a great day-long (256-page) read for those looking to expand their knowledge. Buy now on Amazon.
Best book on Vincent van Gogh
We've got two recommendations here.
For those who want a book charting van Gogh's life, we suggest Irving Stone's Lust for Life. This is a biographical novel, based largely on van Gogh's correspondence, which charts van Gogh's life over 496 pages. The pace can be a little slow-going at times, but this can be skimmed - the book, arranged by reference to the places van Gogh lived (London, the Borinage etc) is a fantastic insight into van Gogh's extremely troubled existence. Buy now on Amazon.
Our second selection is Van Gogh's Ear (Vintage, 2017), the 336-page story of Bernadette Murphy's move to France and obsession with researching what happened the night that van Gogh severed his left ear following a fight with Gauguin. Murphy could have been a detective, and the writing is excellent. Buy now on Amazon.
3. Videos and Podcasts
Best General Introduction
We love Waldemar Januszczak's five-episode The Impressionists (2013, Demand Media).
Filmed for BBC2 on location in France, England and as far afield as St Thomas' in the West Indies, Waldemar's introduction is fantastic for beginners and experts alike: it is accessible, entertaining but also contains real insight.
We love lines line:
"It is as if Monet's art doesn't have a care in the world. Everything about it is relaxed, sleepy, happy. ... So you are going to assume that achieving these moods was easy as well. ... And that's where you'd be very wrong. The outdoor art of the impressionists ... was a bitch to paint."
In 2006-7, the BBC produced an excellent dramatisation about the early years of the impressionist period: the un-inspiringly titled The Impressionists.
Starring Richard Armitage/Julian Gover as the young/old Monet, it charts the struggles that Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Sisley endured before their new artistic movement took off. Degas, Cezanne and Manet all feature as well.
The three-part, 3-hour mini-series is easy to watch, historically accurate and really funny at time (for instance when Cezanne - who hasn't washed for two weeks - is introduced to Manet).
Andy Nelson's The Impressionists: Colouring Book is the best book on the market for children, with fairly simple drawings and brief explanations for each work. Buy now on Amazon.
For big kids looking for something a bit more challenging, try Florence Gentner's two-part Coloring Book: the Impressionists. Part 1 deals with artists from Caillebotte to Manet (check Amazon price), Part 2 from Monet to van Gogh (check Amazon price).
Another good option is a jigsaw puzzle. We suggest:
- 252 pieces (8-9 year olds): Etsy offers a great Monet puzzle of Woman with a Parasol, delivered in a nicely made tin. The same manufacturer also offers Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party and Renoir's Two Sisters.
- 2000 pieces (10 years +): We suggest here a 2,000-piece puzzle of Monet's Garden in Giverny, again sold by Etsy.
Best iPhone Case
A great practical and relatively cheap gift is an iPhone case. Etsy offers great options for many of the key impressionist painters:
- Monet: Impression: Sunrise and one of his best Water Lily paintings.
- Renoir: The Swing, The Umbrellas and Two Young Girls at the Piano.
- Cezanne: Apples & Oranges.
- Degas: The Dancing Class.