Modern life

Detail from a photochrom print of the Opera House, Paris, France, ca. 1890- ca. 1900. LC-DIG-ppmsc-05178 from Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Photochrom Prints Collection
Detail from Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas (1834–1917), Two Harlequins, c.1885
Paris was an exciting place to be in the nineteenth century.  Many Impressionist painters looked to the city for their subject-matter. They wanted to capture the exhilaration and energy of modern urban life. Traditionally artists were expected to produce narrative paintings based upon religious, historical, or mythological subjects. Impressionist painters, however, preferred to focus upon the everyday; to paint people relaxing by the Seine or in public gardens, or peering through binoculars from boxes high up in the theatre. 
 
Detail from Edgar Germain Hilaire Degas (1834–1917), Two Ballet Dancers in a Dressing Room, c.1880
Detail from Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), Young Woman in White Reading, 1873

Artists, such as Degas, were drawn to popular entertainment for their subject-matter. He observed ballet dancers and actors backstage and at rehearsal and created energetic pastel sketches to capture these intimate scenes. Other artists such as Renoir and Morisot depicted domestic scenes in their paintings including intimate images of their families reading, relaxing, eating and even sleeping.