The painting exemplified the Art for art's sake movement, a philosophy that the intrinsic value of art, and the only "true" art, is divorced from any didactic, moral, politic, or utilitarian function.
Inspired by the Cremorne Gardens, a celebrated pleasure resort in London, it is widely acknowledged to be the high point of Whistler's middle period. Whistler's depiction of the industrial city park in The Falling Rocket includes a fireworks display in the foggy night sky. This painting is also most famously known as the inception of the lawsuit between Whistler and the art critic John Ruskin, who had accused Whistler of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face" upon viewing this painting.
As part of the Art for Art's Sake movement, the artwork seeks to provide complex emotions that go beyond the technicalities of the imagery. Whistler believed that certain experiences were often best expressed by nuance and implication. These compositions were not designed to avoid the truth of a scene, but instead served as a means of reaching deeper, more hidden truths. His artistic endeavours no longer concerned themselves with physical accuracy, seeking only to capture the essence of an intangible, personal and intimate moment. Whistler has been quoted as saying "If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this.鈥?In essence, The Falling Rocket is the synthesis of a fireworks scene in London, and so by no means does it aim to look like it. Like his other Nocturnes, the painting is meant to be seen as an arrangement, set to invoke particular sensations for the audience.