claude monet impression sunrise history
This work was painted from a hotel window at Le Havre in 1873 (Monet later dated it incorrectly to 1872). It was one of the nine works that he showed at the First Impressionist Exhibition of 1874. Of all those displayed there, this is probably the most famous picture, not so much because of any crucial status within Monet’s oeuvre, but rather for the criticism it attracted from the reviewers, which gave rise to the name of the movement. On 25 April, ten days after the exhibition had opened, an article appeared in the satirical journal Le Charivari in which the critic Louis Leroy described a fictitious conversation between two visitors. One of them was a landscape painter who, while looking at this work, exclaimed: ‘Impressionism, I knew it; after all I’m impressed so it must be an impression. What freedom! What ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than this seascape!’ The article was entitled ‘The Exhibition of the Impressionists’, and the label stuck thereafter, as well as being used by such other critics of the exhibition as Castagnary.
Despite its notoriety the painting is in some ways untypical of Monet’s own work of this period and of Impressionism more generally. It shows little of the Impressionist treatment of light and color. The colors are very restrained and the paint is applied not in discrete brushstrokes of contrasting colours but in very thin washes. In some places the canvas is even visible and the only use of impasto is in the depiction of the reflected sunlight on the water. The painting is strongly atmospheric rather than analytical and has a spirit somewhat akin to Turner’s works. Nevertheless, it does illustrate particularly well one of the features of Impressionist painting that was thought so revolutionary. The technique is very ‘sketchy’ and would have been seen as a preliminary study for a painting rather than a finished work suitable for exhibition. (Monet himself saw the work as unfinished, and it was for that reason that he adopted the title ‘Impression’ to distinguish it from such works as his other view of Le Havre in the same exhibition, though this too lacks the finish then expected.) In this work Monet stripped away the details to a bare minimum: the dockyards in the background are merely suggested by a few brushstrokes as are the boats in the foreground. The whole represents the artist’s swift attempt to capture a fleeting moment. The highly visible, near abstract technique, compels almost more attention than the subjectmatter itself, a notion then wholly alien to viewers.
At this time Monet was still painting scenes of urban and industrial life, though his vision was entirely that of a landscape painter and his interest mainly in the effects of light rather than in any specific architectural features or the social significance of the manifestations of industry. The most obvious characteristic of Impression, Sunrise is its immediacy of execution and the way it captures just one perceived instant. The forceful, clear shape and strong colour of the sun provides the keynote for the work, with the dense, muted pale blue surrounding it providing the opposition of complementary colours which enhances the brilliance of both. The dark note of the nearest boat identifies and stabilizes the colour key, the darkest element in the whole painting being the single near-black accented horizontal defining the waterline. With the passage of time, underpainting sometimes begins to come through, and here we can see some early drawing in the lower left- and right-hand areas, further evidence of the urgency and immediacy of the painting.
This painting, whose title the art critic Louis Leroy (1812-1885) used in the headline of his dismissive review entitled “The Exhibition of the Impressionists”, was responsible for naming the world’s most popular style of modern art – a style adopted by modern artists around the globe. The leader of this so-called Impressionism was Claude Monet, whose lifelong quest was the mastery of plein air painting (rather than studio work), so as to capture the momentary effects of sunlight. Among his fellow Impressionist painters, only two others – Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899) – shared this ambition, although Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) maintained it into middle age. (For more information, see: Impressionist Claude Monet and Legacy of Claude Monet’s Impressionism.)
In 1856, under the mentorship of fellow future Impressionist Eugène Boudin, Monet began dabbling in oil paints and painting en plein air, or outdoors—two habits that he would maintain for the rest of his life. “I have never had [a studio]” Monet confided, ” and personally I do not understand why anybody would want to shut themselves up in some room. Maybe for drawing, sure; but not for painting.”
Claude Monet, “La Grenouillère,” 1869 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)
Impression, Sunrise depicts the port of Le Havre at sunrise, the two small rowboats in the foreground and the red Sun being the focal elements. In the middle ground, more fishing boats are included, while in the background on the left side of the painting are clipper ships with tall masts. Behind them are other misty shapes that “are not trees but smoke stacks of packboats and steamships, while on the right in the distance are other masts and chimneys silhouetted against the sky.”  In order to show these features of industry, Monet eliminated existing houses on the left side of the jetty, leaving the background unobscured.
“‘Ah! This is it, this is it!: he cried in front of n. 98. ‘This one is Papa Vincent’s favorite! What is this a painting of? Look in the catalogue.’ ‘Impression, Sunrise.’ ‘Impression– I knew it. I was just saying to myself, if I’m impressed, there must be an impression in there… And what freedom, what ease in the brushwork! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than this seascape!”  
From the 15th April to 15th May 1874 Monet exhibited his work together with Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, and some other thirty artists. They organized their exhibition on their own as they were usually rejected at the Paris Salon. Most visitors were disgusted and even outraged over such a graffiti. Monet’s Impression, Sunrise enjoyed the most attention and some visitors even claimed that they were absolutely unable to recognize what was shown at all.
This famous painting, Impression, Sunrise, was created from a scene in the port of Le Havre. Monet depicts a mist, which provides a hazy background to the piece set in the French harbor. The orange and yellow hues contrast brilliantly with the dark vessels, where little, if any detail is immediately visible to the audience. It is a striking and candid work that shows the smaller boats in the foregrouna almost being propelled along by the movement of the water. This has, once again, been achieved by separate brushstrokes that also show various colors “sparkling” on the sea.