First exhibited in Paris in 1874, Monet's Impression Sunrise 2 can be said to have named an entire movement. Gaining instant notoriety, the canvas was derisively described as being "impressionistic" by the art critic Louis Leroy. The small band of like-minded artists that included Degas, Pissarro and Renoir, took the criticism as a badge of honor and declared themselves Impressionists, and their style, Impressionism. The group would hold frequent independent exhibitions, which were each referred to as the “Impressionist Exhibition” and numbered, further turning the derisive criticism on its head. With complete freedom in their curatorial selection and a rising tide of infamy from which to publicize themselves, the group quickly became a dominant force in French painting.
Impression Sunrise features a visual reproduction of the harbor of Le Havre in France. Monet's unorthodox use of loose, vivid, and immensely confident brushwork seems to conjure the scene rather than capture it. Responding to criticism of this seminal work, Monet commented: 'Landscape is nothing but an impression, and an instantaneous one... '. The critic Louis Leroy, in the same review in Le Charivari newspaper that gave the movement's name, Leroy wrote: 'Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.' This opinion did not hold sway for long. Soon, legions of art lovers and students took up the revolutionary techniques of Monet.
The techniques utilized still fascinate academics to this day. A recent study of the scene performed by Dr. Margaret Livingstone, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard University, discovered that the experiential quality of the painting is achieved through the ways the brain registers luminance rather than color. This remarkable study of the human reaction to color, light, shade, and the changing qualities of the day paved the way for a more lived response to the painterly craft, setting the stage for cubism and the birth of modernism.
As an Impressionist, Monet preferred working en plein air – meaning he painted outside – specifically to observe the optical effect of natural light upon the landscape. This masterpiece plays with shadows and complementary color combinations. The scene is mainly painted with shades of blue, violet and green – being that the harbor in the background is blue. Monet features two people on a boat in the forefront by darkening the figures with an almost black pigment. The orange sun reflects on the water, and the top part of the sky has orange strokes as well.
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