what is claude monet saying in impression sunrise
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.
For analysis of pictures by
modern artists like
Claude Monet, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.
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.
Jules Castagnary for Le Siècle wrote that the group of painters could be described by no other word beside the new term impressionists, since they rendered the “sensation evoked by the landscape” rather than the landscape. He claimed that “The very word has entered their language: not landscape, but impression, in the title given in the catalog for M. Monet’s Sunrise. From this point of view, they have left reality behind for a realm of pure idealism”, typified by Monet’s Impression, Sunrise. 
However, this idyllic perspective of the exhibition was not the view of all critics. Louis Leroy, for Le Charivari, is often quoted in his review on Monet’s work. His article “The Impressionist Exhibition” is written as a dialogue from the imaginary perspective of an old-fashioned painter, shocked at the works of Monet and his associates:
Great analytical skills used in this document. Love that it was deep and analyzed pretty much everything in Impression, Sunrise. I had to complete an essay analyzing Claude Monet’s famous Impression, Sunrise and all I needed was this one source.
Dunstan, Bernard. Painting Methods of the Impressionists. New York: Watson-Guptill
When he painted ‘Impression, Sunrise’, Monet did not mix colours to create different hues. Nor did he wait for one layer of paint to dry before applying the next. Rather, he used natural colours in layers that each then mixed with the layer of paint below and the production of light, shade and colours happens directly on the canvas. A number of factors may impact on this process, such as temperature, humidity and wind, depending on the setting of the painting.
The term impressionism was not new and was used prior to MonetвЂ™s work, particularly to describe paintings from the Barbizon school. It was also a term associated with the work of Manet and Daubigny. The term was originally used as a way of describing the effects of the scene on a painter or the effect that paintings had on viewers.