The work that clinched the identity of western art’s first self-consciously avant-garde movement was Monet’s “Impression, soleil levant”, shown at the inaugural Salon breakaway exhibition of the “Anonymous Society of Painters” in 1874. “I had submitted something done in Le Havre, from my window, the sun in the mist and a few masts of ships,” Monet recalled. “They asked me the title for the catalogue: it could not really pass for a view of Le Havre, so I replied, ‘Put Impression’. From that came ‘Impressionism’, and the jokes proliferated.”
The name immediately stuck in the public mind but the now iconic painting did not. It had chequered fortunes, and was not exhibited between the 1880s and 1931. In 1940, it was acquired by Paris’s Musée Marmottan, a marvellously discreet museum on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne – though it did not go on display there until after the war.
The Marmottan went on to acquire the world’s greatest Monet collection: scores of works of intense emotional connection to the artist, bequeathed by his son Michel in 1966. As a result, it rarely bothers with temporary exhibitions – but now an exceptional, erudite, rapturous show recounts the creation, background (works by Renoir, Pissarro, Morisot) and afterlife of its most famous possession: Impression, soleil levant: L’histoire vraie du chef d’oeuvre de Claude Monet.