Can You Learn Art History From Just One Painting?

claude monet impression, sunrise, 1872 oil on canvas
Can You Learn Art History From Just One Painting?Musee Marmottan Monet/Studio Christian Baraja SLB

Some 130 works by 31 artists are on display at the Musée d’Orsay in “Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism,” which marks the 150th anniversary of the show that launched the movement. But of all the pieces across the 10 galleries, one stands out.

“If there’s one painting that is the absolute icon of this moment and show, it’s Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise,” says Kimberly Jones, curator of 19th-century French painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, where the show will open in September. “It’s the painting that gave the movement its name. They weren’t known as Impressionists in 1874, but one critic in particular saw this painting and singled it out. It was a big deal.”

orsay impressionists paris
The Main Hall of the Musée d’Orsay, where “Paris 1874: Inventing Impressionism,” featuring Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise will open through July 14. Later this year, the exhibition will move to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.Barbara Alper - Getty Images

It still is. Impression, Sunrise is the crown jewel in the collection of Paris’s Musée Marmottan Monet, which lent it for this momentous show, and the painting packs just as much of a punch now as it did 150 years ago. “The painting is in the next to last gallery,” Jones says. “So, all the way through, you’re seeing all the other themes, and then, finally, as your big reward, you get to see this iconic work.”

This story appears in the April 2024 issue of Town & Country in a package titled "26 Rooms Shaping Culture." SUBSCRIBE NOW

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