Célèbre peinture de Claude Monet

The birthplace of Impressionism

Le Havre - the root of modern art

Le Havre : Claude Monet a peint au Havre "Impression, soleil levant"

Boudin, Monet’s master, may have been born in Honfleur but he earned his stripes and developed his talent in Le Havre. Several years later, Monet laid the first stone of the founding movement of Modern Art with "Impression, Sunrise”. It is too often forgotten that it was born at Le Havre, not far from the semaphore because it is conserved at Musée Marmottan. The exceptional light at the mouth of the estuary is critical, as Raoul Dufy writes and claims several years later. Le Havre, its port, beach regattas inspired all the major players in the movement (Pissarro, Sisley, Boudin, Monet, Jongkind, etc.).

Throwing into question centuries of academic and codified painting, Monet and the impressionist painters brought a breath of fresh air to the discipline. To this day, Impressionist paintings are still, in the eyes of the general public, the most fascinating and loved.

The Impressionist painters, while maintaining a connection with the real world, freed themselves completely from the shackles of the past. They freely chose their themes, taken from everyday life, and used a new style of representation. The artist’s vision and the pictorial research were the priority: the subject had little importance.

Impressionism succeeded in giving a modern vision, choosing themes which had never been addressed in paintings, free from ancestral pictorial models. The Impressionists gave priority to the instantaneous “impression” on the mind’s construction: painting nature, motifs and getting out of the workshop and into real life. To hell with the historical or mythological "grandes machines” of academic painters who took orders from those in power. The Impressionists preferred to express the simply beauty of nature, or the lifestyle of their contemporaries.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Portrait de Nini Lopez"
Camille Pissarro, "L’Avant-port du Havre"

All these artists sought sites which had not been touched by the industrial revolution (Barbizon, Normandy, etc.). This gave their style a sociological and geographic dimension.

The disciples of this movement led a battle, launched by Manet in 1860 against the dusty old art produced in a workshop with deeply-rooted conventions. They ushered in a new contemporary and realistic style and forced its recognition, forever rejecting the research, so dear to the classics, for ideal beauty and the eternal essence of things.

An independent and rebellious art opposed the official art of the Second Empire. Manet’s slogan: "I paint what I see - not what others would like to see", summarises in a phrase the artist’s claim to giving his personal vision with his own sensibility. The impressionists introduced certain pictorial methods: the use of light colours: the separation of tones (an orange is represented by the juxtaposition of two pure colours - red and yellow), shapes and volume achieved through touches and colours instead of a drawn outline and the use of thickness.

Alfred Sisley, "Le Loing à Saint-Mammès"
Le Havre : de nombreuses œuvres sont exposées au MuMa
Eugène Boudin, "Etude de ciel sur le bassin du Commerce"

If today the Impressionists are at the firmament of painting, proven by the popularity of the Senn Foulds donation at the MuMa, Musée d'Art Moderne André Malraux, it is important to remember just how much their painting was misunderstood, rejected, and even held in contempt in their day. But the artists all stayed on course and against all odds, not changing anything, even for an instant, to please the public. On the contrary, it is the public who gradually came round.