Claude Monet: Second part

At difficult moments in their lives Monet and the other Impressionists were assisted by their friends. They did not have many, but these provided both material support by buying their paintings and, more importantly, the warmth of their friendship. Among them were the amateur painter Gustave Caillebotte, who had exhibited along with the Impressionists and who enjoyed a considerable fortune. The baritone of the Paris Opera, Jean-Baptiste Faure, bought paintings by Édouard Manet and some Impressionists, including many paintings by Monet. The Parisian civil servant Victor Chocquet bought paintings by the Impressionists as soon as he had sufficient funds. Dr. Gachet owned some works by Monet and his friends, whom he treated as the need arose. The financier and editor of the art review L’Art de la Mode (Art Now), Ernest Hoschédé, bought paintings and invited the painters to his estate. In July 1876 Édouard Manet spent two weeks at Hoschédé’s home in Montgeron, south of Paris. Hoschédé commissioned some decorative panels by Monet for the main receiving room of the Château Rottembourg at Montgeron.

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Claude Monet, The Luncheon, Decorative panel, 1868. Oil on canvas, 160 x 201 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Decorative painting was a new field for Monet. These large, almost square canvases are little more than enlarged Impressionist paintings. Because of their dimensions it was impossible to paint out of doors. Monet worked on them in the studio from studies, yet these panels have all the qualities of open-air painting (Corner of the Garden at Montgeron). The flowering shrubs are cropped by the lower edge of the canvas and the bright blue of a part of the pond can be seen. A style of composition that was not classical, but seemed instead to be chosen at random. Another of Monet’s panels begins with a pond shadowed by trees that take up two thirds of the height of the canvas (Pond at Montgeron). The eye can barely make out one lady with a fishing rod standing in the shadow of a tree, another reclining in the grass, and two figures walking away. The painter has overturned all the classical rules of aerial perspective.

At the third Impressionist exhibition in 1877 Monet presented a series of paintings for the first time: seven views of the Saint-Lazare train station. He selected them from among twelve he had painted at the station. This motif in Monet’s work is in line not only with Manet’s The Railway and with his own landscapes featuring trains and stations at Argenteuil, but also with a trend that surfaced after the railways first began to appear.

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Claude Monet, Women in a Garden, 1861. Oil on canvas, 255 x 205 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

The close of the 1870s was the most difficult period in Monet’s life. In 1878 the family had to leave Argenteuil. Monet’s financial situation continued to worsen despite his friends’ assistance. On the banks of the Seine, which he was still painting, Monet discovered Vétheuil, a charming town not far from Mantes. The Monet family moved there in 1878, along with Alice Hoschédé and her six children. The youngest of them, Jean-Pierre, was born nearly at the same time as Michel Monet. There has even been speculation that he himself was Monet’s son because, after the painter’s stay at Montgeron, he and Alice had begun an intimate relationship. In 1881 Hoschédé demanded that Alice return, but it was too late. Monet was happy with Alice, and considered her children his own. Because of their constant financial difficulties they were forced to move to Poissy, not far from Vétheuil.

Beside the house there was a garden full of blossoming sunflowers. Sunlight radiates through the garden in Monet’s canvases. Although Monet’s work didn’t include many still-life paintings, he could not resist the temptation to paint the cut sunflowers in a vase Bouquet of Sunflowers (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art). Under his brush the yellow flowers were miraculously transformed into sunlight. In 1879 Camille died. Monet painted her on her deathbed, unable to resist the pull of colour even at such a tragic moment in his life. During this period he frequently painted in Normandy, exploring the beauty of its seaports: Fécamp, Dieppe, Varengeville. He was often absent for several months at a time, and the search for motifs sometimes took him fairly far from home. In December 1883 Monet and Renoir travelled through Provence together, and afterwards went on to Genoa. Wherever he worked, Monet did not forget his family. However they were not truly a happy family until after the death of Ernest Hoschédé in 1892. The marriage of Alice and Claude Monet took place at Giverny 16 July 1892.

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Claude Monet, The Artist’s Garden at Vétheuil, 1880. Oil on canvas, 151.5 x 121 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

At Giverny, where ten years earlier, Monet had bought a house, series painting became one of Monet’s chief working procedures. Thirty years later he recounted how he had arrived at it. “I was painting some haystacks which had caught my eye and which made a terrific group, just a short distance from here. One day I noticed that my light had changed. I said to my stepdaughter, ‘Go to the house and get me another canvas, if you don’t mind.’ She brought it to me, but shortly after, it was different again. Another ! And one more ! And I wouldn’t work on any of them unless I had my effect, and that was it”. The haystacks became a nearly endless series in his work. He painted them at the very beginning of summer, on the green grass, and in winter, with a thin layer of snow covering them.

In 1892 Monet travelled to Rouen and took a room facing the famous Gothic cathedral. As he was obliged to stay in Rouen for some time he began to paint the cathedral from his window. He painted the cathedral in all weather and at all times of day or night. When lit by the sun at midday the enormous mass of the cathedral dissolved in the hazy heat, its contours became blurred, and the building became lighter and nearly transparent. At night the blue shadows were deeper and denser, and the Gothic-filigree stonework of the façade appeared in all its splendour. In reality the motif in Monet’s painting wasn’t Rouen Cathedral at all, it was the light and air of Normandy. The result was a veritable symphony of colours. Art had never, up to that point, seen anything like it. In the spring of 1895 Monet opened his exhibition, where he showed twenty variations of his Rouen Cathedral.

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Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1907. Oil on canvas, 100 x 73 cm. Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo.

The English serial paintings mark a point in the natural evolution of Monet’s way of rendering atmospherics. Monet began to go to London in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and at the beginning of the 1900s he devoted a series of paintings to the Thames River. The Waterloo bridge series numbered forty-one canvases, and the Parliament series nineteen. Monet was now explicitly making the famous London fog the sole motif of his canvases.

One of Monet’s last trips was one he took with Alice, in 1908, to Venice. Monet was in a bad mood and did not even want to work, declaring that everything was too beautiful in Venice. Nevertheless in the end, as always, he allowed nature to beguile him. The canvases that he painted in Venice are full of vibrating colours. The sunlight’s soft reflections slide over the water of the canals and fade in the humid haze, tracing the shapes of the churches.

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Claude Monet, Rue Saint Denis, National Holiday, 30 June, 1878. Oil on canvas, 76 x 52 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen.

The 1890s were marked by a new passion in Monet’s life. He threw himself into the creation of his garden at Giverny, as he had thrown himself into the creation of serial paintings. Monet himself drew the shape of the pond and the little bridges that crossed it.. He painted an enormous number of landscapes of his own garden. They became a veritable obsession. The motif he loved most were the water lilies.

Monet died at Giverny 6 December 1926. He had survived all the other Impressionists, and had seen Matisse and the “Fauves” at the Autumn Salon of 1905. In 1907 he had witnessed the appearance of Picasso’s Cubism. He had lost a son, dead in 1914, had watched the second go off to fight in the First World War, and had read the Surrealist Manifesto published by André Breton. It is common to observe that at the end of his life Monet was no longer an Impressionist. The Water Lilies is indeed painted, contrary to his usual style, with big brushstrokes, the glittering light has dimmed, the juxtaposed touches of pure colour have disappeared, and the painting has become darker. The painting becomes almost abstract. But in front of the Water Lilies one loses all sense of canvas and of colours. The impression of sensing nature’s breath all around one is so intense that only an Impressionist could have produced it.

The end

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