sunrise impression by claude monet
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.
Poppy Field (Argenteuil) (1873) Musee d’Orsay, Paris.
Masterpiece of plein-air painting.
For analysis of pictures by
modern artists like
Claude Monet, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.
Before the 1860s and the debut of Impression, Sunrise, the term “impressionism” was originally used to describe the effect of a natural scene on a painter, and the effect of a painting on the viewer. By the 1860s, “impression” was used by transference to describe a painting which relayed such an effect.  In turn, impression came to describe the movement as a whole.
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.” 
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.
Why has Impression: Sunrise resonated more strongly than other works in this six-piece series? Ironically, the painting’s fame is predominantly due to its initial unpopularity.
Often referred to as the “Father of Impressionism,” Monet was one of the movement’s most prominent members. While the French painter was already an established artist by the time he completed Impression, Sunrise—and subsequently sparked a major art movement—his earlier work exhibits many of the characteristics that would later come to define Impressionism. With this in mind, it is no surprise that he would be the one to officially initiate the Impressionist Movement.