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West Building Audio Tour: French Impressionist Paintings, 19th Century

Use your smartphone to explore a wide range of works through the voices of National Gallery of Art curators. Set your own pace by listening to as many stops as you like in the order you choose.


To listen to information about a work of art, enter the stop number in the box below, select go, and press the play button when the stop appears. Please be mindful of other visitors and use headphones while listening to the audio tour.

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    Stop 182
    Auguste Renoir artist
    French, 1841 - 1919
    A Girl with a Watering Can 

    Auguste Renoir’s colors reflect the freshness and radiance of the impressionist palette, while his handling is more controlled and regular than in his landscapes, with even brushstrokes applied in delicate touches, especially in the girl’s face. Brilliant prismatic hues envelop the child in an atmosphere of warm light and charmingly convey her innocent appeal. A similarly depicted child appears in other paintings by Renoir, suggesting she was a favorite figure whom the artist knew from real life. 

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    Stop 210
    Edouard Manet artist
    French, 1832 - 1883
    The Old Musician 

    The Old Musician features a motley group of the urban poor of Paris: a ragpicker wearing a battered top hat, a turbaned man, three children, one of whom carries a baby, and a wandering musician. These characters are set against an undefined background that has been identified as a slum on the edge of Paris known as Little Poland. Édouard Manet’s choice to depict on such a grand scale the people who had been uprooted by the modernization of Paris under Baron Haussmann seems to introduce an element of social commentary. Yet the lack of interaction among the figures and the ambiguity of the setting deprive the painting of a conventional narrative, rendering its ultimate meaning opaque.

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    Stop 202
    Gustave Courbet artist
    French, 1819 - 1877
    Calm Sea 

    Calm Sea offers a spacious view from a beach in Normandy looking across the water of the English Channel on a bright and windless day. Gustave Courbet probably painted the picture at the resort of Deauville during his stay there in 1866. Artists came to the Channel coast for the opportunity to paint scenic locales. Views painted by artists advertised Normandy’s attractions; in turn, tourists’ enjoyment of local sites, facilitated by easy railroad access, increased demand for landscape painting.

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    Stop 218
    Mary Cassatt artist
    American, 1844 - 1926
    The Boating Party 

    In the winter of 1893–1894, Mary Cassatt traveled with her mother to Cap d’Antibes, a peninsula on the French Mediterranean coast. Inspired by the light and color of the local landscape, Cassatt painted this work. With its sharply cropped forms, tilted picture plane, and bird’s-eye perspective, the painting’s debt to Japanese woodblock prints—which Cassatt admired and collected—is undeniable. However, the flattened forms and harsh, acidic color palette are equally a response to the dazzling sun of the south, known to bathe everything in strong, even light. The boldly geometric quality of this composition seems at odds with its subject, resulting in a work of surprising intensity.

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    Stop 179
    Paul Cézanne artist
    French, 1839 - 1906
    Still Life with Apples and Peaches 

    In a still life, each object, each placement, and each viewpoint represent a decision by the artist. Paul Cézanne painted the objects pictured here many times. The table, patterned cloth, and flowered pitcher were all props he kept in his studio. Here, the table tilts unexpectedly, defying traditional rules of perspective. Similarly, we see the pitcher in profile but are also allowed to look down into it. Over the course of days, he would move his easel, painting different objects—or even the same one—from different points of view. Each time, he painted what he saw. It was his absorption in the process of painting that pushed his work toward abstraction.

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    Stop 229
    Edgar Degas artist
    French, 1834 - 1917
    Four Dancers 

    Four Dancers represents the culmination of Edgar Degas’s lifelong fascination with the ballet. His largest, and arguably his last, great painting of the subject, it depicts four dancers adjusting their costumes before going on stage. For this composition, Degas drew upon numerous studies—produced in chalk, pastel, and even photography—of dancers in similar poses. It has been suggested that rather than depicting four different figures, Degas may have portrayed a single dancer as she moves through space, changing position and gesture as she goes. The overall palette of greens and fiery orange lends a dreamlike quality to the subject. 

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    Stop 195
    Paul Gauguin artist
    French, 1848 - 1903

    This self-portrait, painted on a cupboard door from the dining room of an inn in the Breton hamlet Le Pouldu, France, is one of Paul Gauguin’s most important and radical paintings. His haloed head and disembodied right hand, a snake inserted between the fingers, float on amorphous zones of yellow and red. Elements of caricature add an ironic and aggressively ambivalent inflection. Gauguin’s friends called it an unkind character sketch.

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    Stop 238
    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec artist
    French, 1864 - 1901
    Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in "Chilpéric" 

    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec had a passion for theater in all its forms, and among his favorite subjects was the redheaded actress Marcelle Lender. During a three-month run of the operetta Chilpéric, he attended the show more than 20 times, arriving just to see Lender dance the bolero in the second act. He ultimately produced six lithographs and two paintings inspired by her appearance in Chilpéric, including this monumental canvas. Toulouse-Lautrec’s admiration was not reciprocated. “What a horrible man!” Lender is said to have remarked. “He is very fond of me. . . . But as for the portrait you can have it!”

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