monet impressionist paintings sunrise
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.
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 loose brushstrokes of Impression, Sunrise strayed from the more traditional landscapes of the time. The aim of Impression, Sunrise was not to paint a realistic view of the harbor; instead, his style of painting suggests the impressions he felt while looking out the window at the view. The docks in the background are represented by just a few brushstrokes, and in some places the canvas is still visible; rather than striving for realism, Monet was attempting to capture and preserve a certain moment in time.
Impressionism would go on to inspire art movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Minimalism. Artists like Rothko and Pollock were inspired by MonetвЂ™s work, and Warhol stated he was inspired by MonetвЂ™s haystack paintings.
Monet claimed that he titled the painting Impression, Sunrise due to his hazy painting style in his depiction of the subject: “They asked me for a title for the catalogue, it couldn’t really be taken for a view of Le Havre, and I said: ‘Put Impression.'” In addition to this explanation for the title of the work, art historian Paul Smith claims that Monet might have named the painting Impression to excuse his painting from accusations of being unfinished or lacking descriptive detail, but Monet received these criticisms regardless of the title. 
While the title of the painting seemed to be chosen in haste for the catalogue, the term “Impressionism” was not new. It had been used for some time to describe the effect of paintings from the Barbizon school. Both associated with the school, Daubigny and Manet had been known to use the term to describe their own works. 
In 1861, Monet was drafted to Algeria for military service. During his seven years in North Africa, he developed a taste for color and light. When he returned to France, he continued to incorporate a sun-soaked palette into his paintings, which he rendered in quick, expressive brushstrokes in order to capture fleeting “impressions” of his surroundings.
While intended to mock the new movement, these critics—especially Leroy, whose words have become particularly infamous—helped propel the movement; following their reviews, the Société Anonyme Coopérative des Artistes Peintres, Sculpteurs, Graveurs rebranded as the Impressionists.