Start here: Impressionists on Paper

Published 6 October 2023

Find out more about the ways Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists worked on paper ahead of our latest exhibition.

    • Edgar Degas , Dancer Seen from Behind

      Edgar Degas, Dancer Seen from Behind, c. 1873.

      Essence (diluted oil paint) on prepared pink paper. 28.4 x 32 cm. Collection of David Lachenmann.

      In 19th-century France, working on paper was mainly seen as a means to an end – a tool used to prepare for finished paintings.

      The Impressionists changed that. They created works on paper – using pencil, pastels, watercolours and more – which were independent works of art in their own right, and they displayed these works in their exhibitions.

      This exhibition brings together a wide range of those works on paper to show how Impressionist and Post-Impressionist drawings became as significant as their paintings.

    • Federico Zandomeneghi, Waking Up

      Federico Zandomeneghi, Waking Up, 1895.

      Pastel mounted on board. 60 x 73 cm. Musei Civici di Mantova, Mantua. Photo: © Comune di Mantova – Musei Civici.

      The Impressionists

      Sunsets in Normandy, Parisian street scenes, or waterlilies in Giverny – the works of the Impressionists’ are instantly recognisable. They often worked outdoors en plein air, in the city or in the countryside. They sketched, drew and painted scenes from everyday life with a quick, loose touch, vivid colour, daring viewpoints and a deliberate lack of finish.

    • Hippolyte Petitjean, Coastal Landscape with Cliffs

      Hippolyte Petitjean, Coastal Landscape with Cliffs, c.1905.

      Watercolour on paper laid down on board. 30.2 x 49.8 cm. Private collection, Paris.

      Working on paper

      By working on paper, the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists made work that wouldn’t have been possible using oil on canvas.

      They captured a fleeting moment with a few pencil strokes, combined watercolour paints with charcoal sketches to create new effects and worked in pastels to render the effects of light on Normandy cliffs.

    • Georges Seurat, Seated Youth, Study for 'Bathers at Asnières’

      Georges Seurat, Seated Youth, Study for 'Bathers at Asnières’, 1883.

      Black Conté crayon on laid paper. 31.7 x 24.7 cm. National Galleries of Scotland. Purchased by Private Treaty 1982.

      New developments, new techniques

      The 19th century brought innovation to the production of artists’ materials.

      Scientific and technological advancements meant a wider variety of media could be produced at a lower cost, including fabricated chalks and machine-made paper. The development of new dyes meant that pastels, watercolours and inks were now available in new vibrant colours. And the invention of metal paint tubes meant that materials were now easier to transport.

      These developments created opportunities for the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists to work in new ways.

    • Paul Cézanne, Flowerpots

      Paul Cézanne, Flowerpots, c. 1885.

      Watercolour over graphite on laid paper. 23.5 x 30.7 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Bequeathed by Comte Isaac de Camondo, 1911. Photo: © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Tony Querrec.

      Artists’ materials

      You’ll find a broad range of materials in Impressionists on Paper.

      Some, such as pastel and watercolour, might be more familiar than other, lesser-known media such as essence (a kind of dissolved oil paint) and Conté crayon (a type of hard, square stick traditionally made from powdered graphite, black pigment and clay).

      Works on paper can be fragile and often aren’t on public display in museums and art galleries. This exhibition is an opportunity to see masterpieces by more than 20 of the most significant Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists, brought together to tell the story of a versatile, underappreciated medium. See it for yourself, book now.

    • Federico Zandomeneghi,  Study of a Woman from Behind (detail)

      Impressionists on Paper

      25 November 2023 – 10 March 2024

      Degas, Morisot, Renoir, Van Gogh You might recognise their paintings, but it’s their radical works on paper we put the spotlight on in this ground-breaking exhibition.