claudet monet impression sunruse 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.
The Beach at Trouville (1870) Wadsworth Atheneum, CT.
Rapid oil painting showing complete mastery of outdoor work.
NOTE: For the story behind French Impressionism and the group of talented artists who created it, see our 10-part series, beginning: Impressionism: Origins, Influences.
“They are impressionists in that they do not render a landscape, but the sensation produced by the landscape,” Jules Castagnary of Le Siècle, wrote. “The word itself has passed into their language: in the catalogue the Sunrise by Monet is called not landscape, but impression. Thus they take leave of reality and enter the realms of idealism.”
Claude Monet, “The Port of Le Havre, Night Effect,” 1873 (Photo: Wiki Art Public Domain)
Most critics did not think Impression, Sunrise was one of the most notable pieces; it was briefly discussed only five times in all the reviews of the exhibition.  However, the reviews of the exhibition and of Monet’s painting both provide insight into the development of the movement and Monet’s work and development as an artist.
Following the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, the regeneration of France was exemplified in the thriving port of Le Havre.  Art historian Paul Tucker suggests that the contrast of elements like the steamboats and cranes in the background to the fishermen in the foreground represent these political implications: “Monet may have seen this painting of a highly commercial site as an answer to the postwar calls for patriotic action and an art that could lead. For while it is a poem of light and atmosphere, the painting can also be seen as an ode to the power and beauty of a revitalized France.” 
In this Monet painting, the sun is placed against the dawn sky, with orange and blue-violet contrast. Because it was a very misty morning on the harbor, the clouds are colored by the rising sun, in the dense mist, and the boats take shape, without great definition. The abbreviated, darker brushstrokes in the water, create motion, and ripples, while hints of orange and yellow appear as a reflection of the sunrise in the harbor water. The ships’ masts are sometimes disrupted by the rippling water, as the silhouettes of the boats seem to be disappearing into the mist.
The great French artist, Claude Monet, was responsible for introducing the idea of impression to the art movement of those who painted what they perceived at a certain point in time. Impressionists paint colors perceived with natural light, with little importance given to details. Shapes are formed by how the colors of the scene are detected, forming pictures naturally. Monet originally named the painting Marina, but changed the title to Impression, Sunrise (Impression, Soleil Levant) for the 1874 Exhibition catalog listing. Little did he know, Impression, Sunrise would become the name of a historical art movement.