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Monet's Impression, Sunrise: Painting & Analysis

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  • 0:00 A Painting with a…
  • 0:45 The Impressionist Movement
  • 1:05 Emotions to Guide…
  • 1:35 Impression: Sunrise
  • 3:00 Monet's Legacy
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Keefe

Jennifer Keefe has taught college-level Humanities and has a Master's in Liberal Studies.

In this lesson, learn more about one of the most notable paintings of France's 19th Century Impressionist Movement, Claude Monet's 'Impression, Sunrise.' After you analyze the painting, take a short quiz about what you learned.

A Painting with a Lasting Impression

When you think about the word 'impression' what does it mean to you? Maybe it's a feeling you get about a person or an idea you get from reading a magazine article or book. In the 19th century, the idea of giving an impression of something took on a whole new meaning. Artists looked for ways to be new and different in a world that was industrializing and becoming somehow more the same as mass-produced goods replaced handmade crafts. One of the most notable French painters of the late 19th century, who really took this idea of being different to heart was Claude Monet. His painting Impression, Sunrise, created in 1872, changed the way society viewed painting.

The Impressionist Movement

Claude Monet (1840-1926) was part of a loosely-associated group of painters called the Impressionists, a name that came from the painting you are about to take a look at. The Impressionist style was all about using color, natural light, and outdoor scenes.

Emotions to Guide the Painting's Interpretation

Unlike other styles of painting popular in the 19th century, such as Realism and Romanticism, Impressionism's goal was to show the feelings and emotions—the very impressions of a moment in time. The Impressionists also wanted to allow the viewer to interpret the emotions being shown. Most of the Impressionists also had paintings that were rejected by the Paris Salon, the government body that determined what paintings were considered art in France from the 1600s to the dawn of the 20th century.

Impression: Sunrise

Taking a look at the painting, Impression, Sunrise; one needs to study its colors and composition and think about what emotions are being shown in the painting. When you look at the painting, what do you see?

The contents of the painting show a morning in the Port of Le Havre in France. The sun is rising over the port as three ships in the foreground try to capture our attention away from the many anchored ships in the haze in the background. The blues and grays throughout the painting reflect a somber mood, which is literally being cut apart by the orange of the rising sun, which brings new life to the port.

The ships in the background create a sense of depth for us, while the fact that we can't really make out the people on the boats in the foreground adds to this idea that the painting is supposed to be an impression of how the port feels in the morning and not an actual representation of the port on any given day. The small, short, dot-like brush strokes allow Monet to quickly capture this changing scene and give us an even greater sense that the moment is not permanent.

If you didn't manage to grab all that feeling or emotion from the painting, don't worry. Art historians have spent a lot of time learning how to analyze works of art. Maybe you just got a sense of new beginnings, hope, confusion, or change in the painting. The great thing about Impressionism is that the paintings of this movement are open to interpretation.

Monet's Legacy

Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise was not well-received by art critics in his time. He believed it was mainly because they failed to understand the point he was trying to make with the painting about the contrast between the peace in the foreground of the painting and the industrial chaos in the background.

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