The first Impressionist exhibition opened on April 15, 1874, at the studio of the photographer Nadar, at 34 Boulevard des Capucines. One of the pictures exhibited by Monet, no. 98 in the catalogue, was a canvas titled Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sunrise). Using Monet's title, the critic Louis Leroy coined the term “Impressionist” in a review, ”L'Exposition des Impressionnistes,” which appeared in Le Charivari on April 25, 1874. Leroy could not have foreseen the ramifications of his choice of words, intended in fact to be derisive. In 1877 E. Littré included it in the supplement of his dictionary; impressionniste was officially accepted into the language.
The painting from the Musée Marmottan shown here has been traditionally identified as the work described in Leroy’s article. The first author to specifically identify Impression with the first Impressionist exhibition seems to have been G. Geffroy in 1893. Other earlier references, including Leroy’s, are not specific; some authors mention a “soleil levant” (sunrise) and others refer to a “soleil couchant” (sunset). Students of Impressionism became more aware of the problem when, in 1955, at the suggestion of Daniel Wildenstein, John Rewald brought forward an overlooked painting in a private collection in Paris (see History of Impressionism |fourth edition], New York, 1973, p. 316, illus.). The picture identified by Rewald (Monet : Impression, Sunrise [Le Havre]) has the same date and nearly the same dimensions as the Musée Marmottan painting; the subject, too, is nearly identical. This work will be designated here by the name of its first owner, Henri Rouart.
Rewald's thesis was considered and subsequently accepted by R. Niculescu and M. Bodelsen. However, in a re-examination of the problem in 1970 , Niculescu returned to the traditional point of view; W.C. Seitz had already argued in favour of that position in 1960 .
The articles by Bodelsen and Niculescu provide a detailed record of the provenance of both pictures. Recently most critics have simply affirmed the traditional identification in favour of the work in the present exhibition.
Firm and final identification of the picture in the 1874 exhibition will not be possible until further evidence is uncovered. However, as R. Niculescu notes, the article by Gustave Geffroy seems to justify a choice in favor of the Marmottan painting, because Geffroy knew Monet well and also knew the collector Georges de Bellio, the second owner of the picture (see Provenance); he also probably knew Henri Rouart and his collection. Rouart, in fact, belonged to the group that originated Impressionism and was himself a painter and one of the first admirers of Monet's work. If the Rouart picture was not the notorious Monet in the first Impressionist exhibition, it is unlikely that Geffroy, who was generally accurate in his facts, would have mistakenly identified it. Evidence from another source is also noteworthy : in 1906 Théodore Duret, one of the first critics to defend the Impressionists, cited the Marmottan picture as the work that was the basis of the movement's name.
Finally, several other sources must be mentioned. Paul Durand-Ruel, as quoted by Lionello Venturi, remembered a “seascape with setting sun.” Claude Monet, according to Guillemot (see Selected Bibliography), said in reference to the title, “Just put Impression.” The problem is perhaps traceable to the catalogue for the first Impressionist exhibition : Renoir's brother, Edmond, the editor for the catalogue-checklist, may have added soleil levant as a more accurate and detailed description, without noting that in the painting itself the sun seems to be setting, not rising.
Signed and dated, lower left : Claude Monet, 72
Académie des Beaux-Arts Musée Marmottan, Paris Bequest of Donop de Monchy
The dimensions are close but not exactly the same. The painting proposed by Rewald was in the auction organized by the Impressionists and held at the Hotel Drouot. March 24, 1875; it was no. 8 in the catalogue and titled Sunrise (Seascape) (Soleil levant (Marine)). Rouart purchased it at the auction for 175 francs. The painting reappeared in the Henri Rouart sale (December 9-11, 1912, Paris) and was purchased by Durand-Ruel for 13,100 francs on behalf of the family in whose collection: it remains today (see Gazette de Hotel Drowot, no. 132 [December 10, 1912). In the 1912 sale its title was Morning in the Port of Le Havre (Matinée dans le Port du Havre): in the preface to the sale catalogue Arséne Alexandre said simply, "..by Monet, he (Rouart) owned. various different kinds of landscapes, notably the Boats in the Fog (Bateaux dans la brume) which are the essence of Impressionism — its definition and accomplishment.”
As John Rewald indicates (The History of Impressionism, New York, 1973, p. 339, note 23), this picture originally measured at least one and three-sixteenths inches more in height and width; in fact, the borders of the canvas are painted, and to the lower right there is even a signature, Claude Monet, painted in a blue harmonizing with the overall effect of the painting. The canvas was most likely made smaller by the artist himself, since he signed it a second time (in gray, lower left) to replace the signature that was no longer visible. The second signature was mentioned in the catalogue for the Rouart sale, 1912. The present dimensions are the same as those recorded in the catalogue of the sale (March 24, 1875) organized by the Impressionists themselves; if we can trust the 1875 sale catalogue, it is evident that Monet reduced the size of the picture before the sale.