What was the career of a young impressionist like? Where exactly was Monet on his road to success (and money) when he first exhibited his painting ‘Impression. Sunrise’ in 1874? The first exhibition did not take place at the official Salon, but in the former studio of Nadar, under the aegis of the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers. A promising debut?

The work found an owner, who bought it for 800 French francs. The title Impression was picked up by the press, by several art critics in particular, to eventually produce, as we know, the name of a movement, the impressionists. The first owner, Ernest Hoschedé (with Belgian roots) had to part with his collection, which also included a work by Alfred Stevens (Le bain, undoubtedly bought well above its resale value). Impression was sold in 1878 for 210 francs! The second owner, doctor Georges de Bellio sometimes provided Monet with art supplies, which allowed him to buy works for no more than 70 francs. A stark contrast with the solid prices paid for more traditional works, i.e. paintings found at the official Salon, which reached 3,000 francs on average. De Bellio’s daughter, Victorine, donated Impression. Sunrise to the Marmottan Monet Museum in 1940.

This exhibition is the product of extensive research on the painting and its possible influences at the time, its origin, the date of its creation and its title. Does the painting really represent a sunrise or was it a sunset, as the first owner mentioned in his sales catalogue (Soleil couchant/Sunset)? Donald W. Olson, a professor of physics and astronomy, managed to pinpoint the exact location and time when Monet made the painting from his hotel window overlooking the harbour of Le Havre. An astonishing contribution, which put an end to the many wild guesses.

More than Monet paintings, the exhibition also showcases works by pre-impressionist painters from France (Delacroix , Courbet, Boudin), the United Kingdom (Turner) and the Netherlands (Jongkind). Le Havre was a popular scenery with many landscape painters, including Turner (1832). The views of Le Havre by Eugène Boudin are more contemporary and closer in style to Monet’s work.

The Dutch painter Jongkind often painted the water in the Netherlands, including a reflection of the sun – which also inspired Monet. Less well-known among Monet’s paintings on display here, the view of the harbour of Le Havre by night, featuring the light of the boats. It was quite uncommon for impressionists to paint dark landscapes.

In the exhibition catalogue, 19th century art experts like curators Marianne Mathieu, who’s responsible for the collection, and Dominique Lobstein, shed a critical and new light on the art scene in which the young impressionists had to fight their way to the limelight. The analysis of the critics of that era (those supporting and especially those disparaging their works) is eye-opening.

Located in a pleasant neighbourhood, The Marmottan Monet Museum is a magnificent venue that houses many other treasures: a collection of medieval miniatures, salons in Empire style, two rooms dedicated to Berthe Morisot, a lovely collection of works by Boilly and lots of paintings by Monet … A true gem to discover without the crowds found at the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.

Impression. Sunrise
The biography of Claude Monet’s masterpiece
Marmottan Museum
Until 18 January 2015

Le Havre, Turner – (c) Musée Marmottan
Le Havre, Turner – (c) Marmottan Museum
Le havre, voilier à quai, Boudin – (c) Musée Marmottan
Le Havre, Sailing ships at anchor, Boudin – (c) Marmottan Museum
Le port du Havre, effet de nuit, Monet – (c) Musée Marmottan
The harbour of Le Havre by night, Monet – (c) Marmottan Museum
Impression soleil levant, Monet – (c) Musée Marmottan
Impression. Sunrise, Monet – (c) Marmottan Museum

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