impression sunrise monet
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.)
Impression, Sunrise is a slight sketch, almost certainly completed on the spot in a single sitting, depicting the harbour at Le Havre as the sun rises over the cranes, derricks and masts of the anchored ships. It was actually painted in one sitting by Monet, standing at a window overlooking the harbour at sunrise. The only evidence of life is the lazy action of the oarsman in the most sharply defined part of the composition. The painting gives a suggestion of the early morning mist, at that time clogged with the industrial smoke of the city, and has a strong relationship to the earlier views of mist and fog done by the artist in London in 1870. Influenced by both Eugene Boudin (1824-98) and Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891), Monet had only recently returned from London, and his abiding impression of the city, recalled later, was of its fog. While there, he had seen the work of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), who is generally thought to have been an important influence on both him and the other Impressionists, and he may also have seen some of the early Nocturnes by his contemporary James Whistler (1834-1903).
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.
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.
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.
Leroy’s review is a covert backhand at the progressiveness of Impression, Sunrise, and is often attributed with the using the term impressionism for the first time.
The hazy scene of Impression, Sunrise strayed from traditional landscape painting and classic, idealized beauty. Paul Smith suggested that with this style, Monet meant to express “other beliefs about artistic quality which might be tied to the ideologies being consolidated by the emergent bourgeoisie from which he came.”  Loose brush strokes meant to suggest the scene rather than to mimetically represent it demonstrate the emergent Impressionist movement. In the wake of an emergent industrialization in France, this style expressed innovative individuality. Considering this, Smith claims that “Impression, Sunrise was about Monet’s search for spontaneous expression, but was guided by definite and historically specific ideas about what spontaneous expression was.” 
While series such as these now define Monet’s oeuvre, one cannot underestimate the role of Impression, Sunrise—especially in the context of the artist’s own words and wishes.
Having left such an important legacy, you may be wondering what could have set such a monumental movement in motion. Unlike most genres, which develop over time, Impressionism is believed to have to started in the 1870s with a single work: Impression, Sunrise, a light and airy landscape painting by none other than Claude Monet.