5 Things Women in Impressionist Paintings Do That Real Women Never Do

Kylie Holloway

Kylie Holloway
Tour Guide

Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: fancy art terms that describe the work of big-name 19th-century artists like Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Renoir, etc. These paintings are easy to spot: the settings are cozy dining parlors, ponds at sunset, misty fields with two haystacks, the color palettes tend to be soft and, well, palatable, and there is usually a woman in the middle of the painting doing something odd.

The women featured in Impressionist paintings are depicted as being incapable of sitting in a chair properly or keeping both boobs in their dresses. There are a lot of theories for why this is such a common theme: maybe none of the impressionist painters had met a real-life lady before, maybe everyone was just trying absinthe for the first time and it warped their brains, maybe there was a Mork & Mindy-type situation going on and the models were all aliens trying to mimic human behavior. These are all legitimate academic theories.

Whatever hypothesis you land on, we’ve compiled some of the downright silliest examples of female behavior in Impressionist paintings. Here are five things women in Impressionist paintings do that literally no actual human woman has ever done.  

Salons and Side Boobs

A Young Woman Reading, Gustave Courbet, 1886-88

There’s nothing more natural than reading in a forest with half of one breast out. By natural we mean that Courbet was like “literacy and nature are cool, but this painting isn’t getting to the Salon without at least the top and side of a boob.”

Not Your Mama’s Sleepover

A Woman Having Her Hair Combed, Edgar Degas, 1886-88

Most ladies have played with each other’s hair at sleepovers, but no human woman has gotten her hair combed buck-ass naked by a fully clothed gal-pal. This was part of a series Degas created in the 1880s of “women bathing, washing themselves, combing their hair or having it combed,” because nothing makes a profound and aesthetically appealing masterpiece like hygiene.

Wash Off The Patriarchy

Luncheon on the Grass, Edouard Manet, 1862-63

It’s not a true Impressionist picnic without at least one naked lady looking bored as hell. Props to the woman in the background who got up from the party to take a bath in the stream. Maybe she’s trying to rinse off the patriarchy?

What’s an Impressionist Painting Without a Phallic Symbol?

Woman with a Parrot, Gustave Courbet, 1866

This painting is the most extra. Not only is this lady (a real woman named Joanna Hiffernan) naked in a weird outdoor lounge area, she’s smiling, pretending she’s not cold, AND holding a parrot. Why the parrot? Well, when this painting came to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was x-rayed and the curators found an outline of a nude man underneath where the parrot stand is now. It is thought that the man in the painting was to be Courbet himself, gazing at the model- yuck. The artist painted over his self-portrait in an attempt to make the piece more tasteful and elegant, but replaced himself with a stick- because it’s not a great painting without some phallic undertones.

The Grand Finale

It’s the Grand Finale, folks! Here are not one, not two, but three paintings entitled Large Bathers, which are just groups of women bathing together, and all the woman look like actual human beings with body fat.

The Large Bathers, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1884-87

Look, it’s pretty weird that Renoir took three years out of his life to work exclusively on this painting, but we can’t deny that this picture looks idyllic as hell. An Impressionist model’s retreat? A naked swim? A delightful absence of fully clothed men staring? Sign us up.  

Large Bather, Pablo Picasso, 1921

Ok, some art history purist might whine about this one because Picasso wasn’t an Impressionist painter. However, this painting was Picasso’s attempt to mimic the Impressionist style, particularly Renoir, so get off my back. The Musée de l’Orangerie, where this painting is currently on view, describes the sitter as having “massive sculptural proportions,” but we think she just looks like a bad bitch who doesn’t skip leg day.

Large Bathers, Paul Cezanne, 1894-1905

Cezanne reportedly would spend “entire days on mountaintops reading Virgil” and sketching groups of nude, faceless women, which might make him the biggest f*ck boy of the turn of the century. Congrats Cezanne!

Shameless Plug

If you want to hear less about the women sitting in paintings and hear more about the women who painted, sculpted, and made moves in art history, come on our Badass Bitches Tours in NYC, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, and DC!

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